Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Archeology

Icelandic settlement in Greenland now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

By Staff

  • Remains of the day Toruists relax by the ruins of Hvalseyjarfjarðarkirkju church in the Eastern settlement in Greenland. Photo/Kristján Már Unnarsson.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has named a Viking settlement in Greenland that was abandoned more than 500 years ago as a World Heritage Site.

Settlers from Iceland, led by Erik the Red, are believed to have reached Greenland in the 10th century. The Norse settlement was concentrated in two main settlements, the larger Eystribyggð (e. Eastern Settlement) and the smaller Vestribyggð (e. Western Settlement).

The Eastern Settlement is the third Icelandic relic that becomes a World Heritage Site. Þingvellir National Park made the list in 2004 and four years later Surtsey, the island formed off the south coast of Iceland in the 1960's, followed suit.

Ruins of a cathedral and churches
It's the Eastern Settlement, near the southern tip of Greenland, that UNESCO named as a World Heritage Site. According to local TV station Stöð 2, the site is defined as a 350 sqare kilometer area within the settlement.

Among the relics left behind by the Vikings are ruins of a cathedral as well as other church ruins.

Abandoned because of the ivory market?
Norse men are believed to have abandoned the settlements abruptly in Greenland in the 15th century. The demise of the Viking settlements there has long been blamed on a cooling climate associated with the so-called Little Ice Age.

Recent research has suggested, though, that the real reason may have been plummeting demand for ivory in Europe. According to that theory, Norse men settled Greenland to hunt walruses for their ivory which was extremely valuable at the time.

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