Ruins of the Viking church in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Archaeologists now suspect the economic and identity issues ~ not starvation and disease ~ caused Vikings to abandon Greenland in the 15th century, something that has puzzled researchers for centuries. According to Spiegel Online:
Until now, many experts had assumed that the cooling of the climate and the resulting crop failures and famines had ushered in the end of the Scandinavian colony. But now a Danish-Canadian team of scientists believes that it can refute this theory of decline.
The scientists suspect that a combination of causes made life there unbearable for the Scandinavian immigrants. For instance, there was hardly any demand anymore for walrus tusks and seal skins, the colony's most important export items. What's more, by the mid-14th century, regular ship traffic with Norway and Iceland had ceased.
As a result, Greenland's residents were increasingly isolated from their mother countries. Although they urgently needed building lumber and iron tools, they could now only get their hands on them sporadically.
"It became more and more difficult for the Greenlanders to attract merchants from Europe to the island," speculates Jette Arneborg, an archeologist at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen. "But, without trade, they couldn't survive in the long run."
Speculation is that the settlers probably also worried about loss of their Scandinavian identity. They saw themselves as farmers and ranchers rather than fishermen and hunters, with their social status based on the land and livestock they owned.