November 21, 2012 9:45 am
Despite their barbaric reputation, the Viking-era Norse typically worked as farmers rather than hunters. But new archeological evidence reveals that, when abroad, they quickly adapted to the hunter lifestyle. During their time in Greenland in the 14th century, seals made up between 50 and 80 percent of their diet.
Researchers from Canada and Denmark came to this conclusion after getting acquainted with 80 Norse skeletons. They analyzed carbon isotope ratios to figure out the Viking’s dietary habits, which revealed traces of their ancient meals. Although the arrived in Greenland with livestock from Iceland and agricultural gear, they likely had to quickly start catching seals as a necessity for survival, taking a hint from the local Inuit who had arrived on Greenland a century or so earlier.
In the past, archaeologists wondered why the Norse eventually fled Greenland, speculating that a natural disaster or food shortage drove then back across the sea. But this new finding tells a different story. “If anything they might have become bored with eating seals out on the edge of the world,” the researchers say in a statement.
Towards the end of the Norse occupation in Greenland, young women became scarcer and scarcer in grave sites, implying that the ladies in particular were picking up shop and returning east. As the women took off, the population could no longer self-sustain.
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