The Eastern Settlement Reconsidered. Some analyses of Norse Medieval Greenland

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Christian Keller (1989) The Eastern Settlement Reconsidered. Some analyses of Norse Medieval Greenland. University of Oslo, Unpublished PhD Thesis, 372 pp.


Southern Greenland was settled by Norse immigrants around A.D. 1000.

They developed a flourishing settlement of 4 - 6000 inhabitants until it mysteriously disappeared, probably some time in the late 1400s.

From the time of Hans Egede's arrival in Greenland in 1721, the fate of the colonists has been the subject of massive research. The author gives a summary of the history of the settlement and a summary of its research from the Late Middle Ages to 1987, including an extensive bibliography.

The archaeological material from the Eastern Settlement includes 444 registered sites or "ruin-groups", dating from around A.D. 1000 to the late 1400s. The material has been made available for studies through surveys and excavations carried out by the Danish National Museum.

In this book, spatial analyses are used to study the settlement-distribution, its relationship to vegetational resources, and ecological adaptation. Demographic development and chronological problems are discussed, and attempts are made to locate the initial settlement areas. The dating and location of the churches and their churchyards are also discussed, and a possible early Celtic Christian influence on the Norse culture is suggested. Written sources, especially the "Description of Greenland" by Ivar Baardson, are discussed. The author rejects previous interpretations of this source as evidence of massive land control on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. A proprietary church system in Greenland is suggested on the basis of Norwegian and Icelandic church history. The author considers Norse Greenland a conservative society, which resented intervention from abroad, including attempted church reforms. Finally, a historical periodization and a chronological summary is presented.

The book aims create a discussion on certain topics of general nature concerning the Eastern Settlement, its settlement pattern, social organization and its relationship to Europe. The author presents a picture of Greenland as the last refuge for the Norse social system of the Viking Period. He regards Norse Greenland as opposed to political influence from the society that developed in Scandinavia during the High Middle Ages.

Thesis (PDF files)