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September 23, 2003

Blonde Inuits?

DNA study to settle ancient mystery about mingling of Inuit, Vikings asserts the headline-but read on, the story makes clear that it won't settle jack. Did some of the Greenland Norse become absorbed into the skraeling peoples? Surely. But if you read any of Gretel Ehrlich's books on Greenland you will note how much intermarriage has occurred between Danes, natives and other visitors since "re-contact" (one Inuit family notes proudly their Jewish ancestry from an early 19th century merchant in This Cold Heaven). I am skeptical that even "pure" Inuit who seem phenotypically non-European have escaped Danish taint in the past 300 years. I am a big fan of using genetics to answer historical questions, but 'tis often far easier to falsify than validate, and the archaeology to me implies that 1) Most Greenlanders left for Iceland or 2) if they were desparate they became accultured to Inuit methods and lost their Christian faith and European ways. Because there is an alternative and more plausible pathway to explain the presence of exogenous DNA from Scandinavia this seems more like a publicity stunt than an honest quest for an answer.

Via Human Races. Also, I recommend The Greenlanders if you are curious to read a novelization of the history & culture of the Norse.

Posted by razib at 04:32 PM




What I've read indicated that the Greenlanders were strongly resistant to Inuit ways, even on technology, and may have died out partly for that reason. A change in climate (Little Ice Age?) made life there harder as well as making passage East more difficult (because of icebergs). As I recall, a Greenlander made a round trip to Rome early in the 15th century, and there may have been a little contact after that, but if there was a migration back to Iceland I'm pretty sure it would have been recorded.

A well-documented piece of Inuit trivia. The word "kayak" is found in Turkish or Turkish-influenced languages as far W as tha mediterranean ("caique" in the Adriatic). The Inuit were the last migrants to the new world and had relatives in Asia with whom they maintained some contact. Probably the Ur-homeland of the word is in E. Siberia and it spread East and West from there. (Greenland walrus ivory also reached China by ~1100 or so.)

Posted by: Zizka at September 23, 2003 09:09 PM


but if there was a migration back to Iceland I'm pretty sure it would have been recorded

but why? the greenlanders were poor people, there were very few of them in any case, and i believe most records of non-elites in that time consisted of baptism & marriage (the last record of greenlander is of a marriage of an icelander to a greenlander in about 1410). this is a debateable question...but what i have read indicates that there was a rather abrupt "vanishing." as you've stated, greenlanders were resistant to inuit ways-so iceland is the other alternative.

i'm sure we'll find out in a few decades as more written evidence turns up....

Posted by: razib at September 24, 2003 12:37 AM


I believe that Iceland, beside the sagas, has a lot of chronicles, local histories, etc. (Does anyone have an Iceland consultant?) As an outlier of Norse culture, Greenland would have had a significance beyond the significance of its members. As I remember (again) the official version is that the Greenlanders were probably massacred or kidnapped after a long dwindling. It's been awhile since I read anything and at the time that was just the best guess.

Posted by: Zizka at September 24, 2003 09:01 AM


Greenlanders went to Iceland....Bjork's Kunta Kinte?

Posted by: Diana at September 24, 2003 09:44 AM


"What I've read indicated that the Greenlanders were strongly resistant to Inuit ways, even on technology, and may have died out partly for that reason."

For as long as the Vikings were raising cattle and wheat I can imagine they got along well with the Inuit

However, if they had quit farming and started spearing seals and whales, conflict would have escalated rapidly - a conflict the vikings would have inevitably lost for demographic, technological and logistical reasons

Posted by: Alf at October 8, 2003 09:19 AM