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10 June, 2000

It's all in the pastů

Before we set sail, I thought I would give you a short history lesson on Greenland. Much of the early history, including both the Inuit and Norse cultures, is up for debate. There are many theories of the evolution of the Inuit culture and the development and ultimate demise of the Norse culture.

The Inuit history dates back 5,000 years ago and can be divided into several time periods with distinct cultural entities. It is believed that the first migrants were of the Stone Age. The Independence I culture is thought to have been made up of fewer that 500 individuals that settled in the northern most regions of Greenland. Over the next 1,000 to 2,000 years, they developed into or were displaced by subsequent cultures that began to migrate to the south in sites along the eastern and western coasts of Greenland. Communal societies and the use of weapons, ornamented hunting tools and sleds appear to have developed around 2,500 years ago. The modern-day Inuit are thought to have descended from the Thule culture that swept out of western Alaska, eastward through Greenland during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Thule culture is credited with the development of the kayak, or qajag, the harpoon, and the dogsled, all of which are still used in today's Inuit culture.

The Norse history is based on two writings done after the fact. These stories give an accounting of several individuals who stumbled onto Greenland accidentally or were outlaws escaping justice in Iceland, none of which tried to settle Greenland permanently. During the late 10th century, Eric the Red left Norway, then Iceland to flee justice. After successfully settling a farm, Eric went back to Iceland and managed to sell the idea of his new settlement to others. The Western settlement around the area of Nuuk, Greenland's present day capital thrived with hundreds of farms and a population of around 5,000. Settlers farmed sheep and cattle, and took advantage of local resources such as seal, walrus, caribou, and polar bears. By the 15th century the all of the colonies had disappeared. Some believe that climate changes caused the disappearance, while others think that the Inuit or English pirates eliminated the population of the colonists. The ultimate cause will likely be debated for years to come.

With interest in finding the North-West passage and the rich resources for whaling, Norway began to show an interest in Greenland. In 1605, Danish king Christian IV sent out an expedition to Greenland which claimed it for Denmark. Permanent settlement did not occur until missionaries started settlements in the 1720's. Nuuk became settled in 1728 and is now the capital of Greenland. More recently, both Norway and Denmark laid claim to Greenland. International courts settled the dispute in the 1930's by declaring Denmark sovereign over Greenland. In 1953 Green land became a county of Denmark, giving its inhabitants full Danish citizenship. Over that past twenty years, Greenland has strived for more independence and has moved toward a Home Rule government.

This has been a very broad overview of Greenlandic history, of which I have left out many interesting stories. All of the history deserves a much more detailed accounting. I encourage you all to get to your local library and check out books to find out more about the Inuit and Norse cultures that have shaped the history of Greenland.

Nuuk, Greenland.

A Nuuk sunset.

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