Greenland has been in waves populated by small groups of
people migrating across the sea ice from Alaska and northern
Canada. Through tools and housing finds, it has been
possible to distinguish several cultural forms, which have
been named after the finds.
Independence I (ca. 2500 BC – about 2000 BC),
which found in Peary Land in northeast Greenland. Especially
muskox hunting was important. The houses were low, with
slate floors and a fireplace in the middle; driftwood was
used for heating. The tools were predominantly of flint.
Saqqaq culture (c. 2400 BC – c. 800 BC),
especially widespread along Disko Bay in western Greenland.
Reindeer, seal and whale hunting were conducted, using
harpoons with leg tips.
The Dorset culture (ca. 700 BC – 200 AD), named
after a place in Canada. Sea ice hunting on seals and walrus
was important. The Dorset culture disappears from western
Greenland about 100–200 AD. Then there are only dates from
the late Dorset, ie. between 1000 and 1200 AD, which
probably means that parts of Greenland were depopulated
between about 200 and 1000 AD.
The people of the Thule culture
immigrated from Alaska to Greenland around the year 1000.
Unlike earlier people, these were certainly Inuit (Eskimos).
The main industry was whaling and seal fishing, based on the
use of kayaks and open "women's boats" (see umiak), and with
a highly developed hunting technique. The spoil of the prey
animals provided both light and heat, thanks to blubber
lamps. The houses were made of stone and peat with rafters
of vault. The people settled mainly in the Thule district in
northwestern Greenland, from where they spread to eastern
Greenland and gradually down to the west coast, whose
southern tip (Cape Farewell) they reached around 1500. After
1200, the Thule culture's hunting pattern was replaced by a
more varied catch range, with seal traps. fishing from
well-developed kayaks. It is hereafter referred to as the
Inugsukk cultureand has largely remained unchanged
into the present, especially in eastern Greenland and in the
Thule district. Characteristic of this Inuit community was a
high degree of social equality, with the family and the
countryside as the center of existence.
Our knowledge of the Nordic people in Greenland is partly
based on extensive archaeological investigations and partly
on the stories of the Icelandic sagas. However, these have
only been written down two hundred years after the events,
and no written sources have been preserved from Greenland
According to the stories, Erik Röde sailed 982 from
Iceland, where he was convicted of being outlawed, and came
to Greenland, where he settled in the green, fertile fjords
around Julianehåb (Qaqortoq). In 986, a true colonization
from Iceland followed. Erik himself settled in Eriksfjord
(Tunugdliarfik), where he built the farm Brattalid, which
later became the legal center and district court of the
Over the course of the following decades, the north-born
community expanded north to the "Västerbygden" around the
Godthåbsfjord, where 80 farms were found, and south to the
"Österbygden" at the Julianehåbsfjorden, where there were at
least 250 farms. The largest was the bishopric of Gardar
(Igaliko), which was established in 1126 with a cathedral
and a large bishop's yard. The total population consists of
4,000-6,000 people. In 1261, the Nordic Greenlanders
recognized the supremacy of the Norwegian king and
periodically paid taxes to him.
The main industries were fishing and sheep farming. Cows,
goats and horses were also kept. Seeds barely matured but
were grown as winter feed. Significant was also the hunt for
reindeer, whales, seals and bears. Nordborna produced
valuable export goods such as leather and teeth from walrus,
fur mills and woven woolen fabrics. On the other hand, they
were completely dependent on the import of iron and other
metals and bread cereals. The trade seems to have been
concentrated to Herjolfnes (Ikigait), and the most important
trading partner was Bergen in Norway.
The Bishop's seat was not occupied after 1347, and the
Västerbygden was destroyed about 1350. Regular segregation
in Greenland ceased in 1369. The last written testimony of
the existence of the Österbygden dates from 1409, but the
Norwegians appear to have survived until about 1500. Many
attempts have been made to explain the northern settlement:
attacks from Eskimos, climate deterioration, degeneration,
plague, attacks by Basque pirates and over-exploitation of
natural resources. However, no single comprehensive
explanation can hardly be stated.
During the 16th and 16th centuries, the Dutch in
particular conducted significant whaling around Greenland,
and trade occurred, though without a permanent settlement.
At the initiative of Hans Egede, 1721 Greenlandic
Company was formed, which gained a monopoly on trading
in Greenland. As leader of the company and missionary, Hans
Egede founded the first Danish-Norwegian settlement in
Greenland, Godthåb (Nuuk). In the following decades, mission
operations expanded, at the same time as the Danish
administration expanded to the entire West Coast. It was not
until the 1880s that the east coast was integrated into the
management of Greenland.
In 1778, the Royal Greenland Trade (KGH) took
over the administration of Greenland together with the
monopoly on trade, which was closed to European private
individuals. In principle, this arrangement was maintained
At the peace in Kiel in 1814, Greenland remained as part
of Denmark, but still in the 1920s Norway demanded parts of
Greenland (compare the Greenland issue). In a judgment in
1933, the International Court of Justice in The Hague
granted Denmark sovereignty over Greenland.
In 1911, municipal councils and two elected national
councils in Greenland had been set up with limited powers.
KGH's monopoly was abolished in 1950, and limited
nutritional freedom was introduced. By the 1953
Constitution, Greenland formally became an equal part of the
Danish Empire. However, it presented great difficulties to
give the Greenlanders real equality with the Danes. In the
1960s, the modernization of Greenland was accelerated by
large investments in business, especially the fishing
industry, and by concentration of the population into larger
Strong population growth contributed to difficult social
problems. Despite strong local resistance, Greenland joined
the EC in 1972 with Denmark. In 1979, Greenland gained
self-government (home rule) with the elected County
Council as the legislative assembly and the National Board
as government. Greenland retired from the EC in 1985; KGH
was transferred to the Home Rule in 1986. In 2009,
self-government was expanded following a referendum.