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       Greenland history is a life under extreme Arctic conditions. In 2017 an ice cap still covers over 70 percent of the island, which confines human activity largely to the coasts.


       The first people are believed to have arrived in Greenland around 2500 BCE. Their descendants may have died out and were succeeded by several other groups immigrating from continental North America.  There has been no evidence that Greenland was known to Europeans until the 10th Century, when Icelandic Vikings settled on its southwestern coast, which was probably uninhabited when they arrived.  The ancestors of the Inuit Greenlanders who live there in the 21st Century are thought to have emigrated there later, around 1200 AD, from northwestern Greenland.  While the Inuit survived in the icy world of the Little Ice Age, the early Norse settlements along the southwestern coast disappeared, leaving the Inuit as the only inhabitants of the island for centuries.  During this time, Denmark and Norway, apparently believing the Norse settlements had survived, continued to claim sovereignty over the island despite the lack of any contact between the Norse Greenlanders and other Scandinaviand.  In 1721, aspiring to become colonial powers, Denmark and Norway sent a missionary expedition to Greenland with the aim of reinstating Christianity among descendants of the Norse Greenlanders who may have reverted to paganism.  When the missionaries found no descendants, they baptized the Inuit Greenlanders they found living there instead.  Denmark and Norway then developed trading colonies along the coast and formed a trade monopoly and colonial privileges on the area.


       The earliest known cultures in Greenland are the Saqqaq Culture (2500–800 BCE) and the Independence I Culture in northern Greenland (2400–1300 BCE).  These two cultures are believed to have descended from separate groups that came to Greenland from northern Canada.  Around 800 BCE, the so-called Independence II Culture arose in the region where the Independence I Culture had previously existed.  The Independence II Culture may have been succeeded by an early Dorset Culture (700 BCE to 1 AD), but some Independence II artifacts date from as recently as the 1st century BCE.   Archeological studies suggest that in Greenland the Dorset Culture may be a continuation of the Independence II Culture; the two cultures have thus been called "Greenlandic Dorset".  Artefacts associated with early Dorset Culture in Greenland are found as far north as Inglefield Land on the west coast and the Dove Bugt  area on the east Greenland coast.


       After the Early Dorset Culture disappeared by around 1 AD, Greenland was apparently uninhabited until Late Dorset people settled on the Greenlandic side of the Nares Strait around 700.  The late Dorset Culture in the north of Greenland endured until about 1300.   Meanwhile the Norse arrived and settled in the southern part of the island in 980.


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Norse Settlement


       Europeans became aware of Greenland's existence, probably in the early 10th Century, when Gunnbjörn Ulfsson, sailing from Norway to Iceland, was carried there by a storm.  He found some islands off the mainland.  During the 980s, explorers led by Erik the Red sailed from Iceland and reached the southwest coast of Greenland.  They found the region uninhabited, and settled there.  Erik named the island Greenland (Grœnland in Old Norse, Grænland in modern Icelandic, Grønland in modern Danish and Norwegian) in effect to attract settlement.  Both the Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók), a medieval account of Icelandic history from the 12th century onward) and the Saga of Eric the Red (Eiríks saga rauða), a medieval account of his life and of the Norse settlement of Greenland) state "He named the land Greenland, saying that people would be eager to go there if it had a good name."


       The Norse established their settlements along fjords (such as the Tunuliarfik and Aniaaq fjords in the central area of the Eastern settlement).  Because this was during a Medieval Warm Period when the vegetation there was more abundant from what it is in the 21st Century.  Excavations reveal that the fjords at that time were surrounded by forests of 4 to 6 metre tall birch trees and by hills covered with grass and willow brush.  The Norse probably cleared the landscape by felling trees to use as building material and fuel, and by allowing their sheep and goats to graze in both summer and winter.


       According to the sagas, Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland for three years for committing murder.  He sailed to Greenland, where he explored the coastline and claimed certain regions as his own.  He then returned to Iceland to persuade people to join him in establishing a settlement on Greenland.  The Icelandic sagas reveal that 25 ships left Iceland with Erik the Red in 985 AD, and that only 14 of them arrived safely in Greenland.  This date has been approximately confirmed by radiocarbon dating of remains at the first settlement at Brattahlid (now Qassiarsuk, which yielded a date of about 1000 AD.  According to the sagas, it was also in the year 1000 AD that Erik's son, Leif Eirikson, left the settlement to explore the regions around Vinland, which included Newfoundland and some Midwestern North American areas.


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The Saqqaq Culture


       The Saqqaq Culture (named after a Saqqaq settlement that is the site of many archaeological finds) was a Paleo-Eskimo Culture in Greenland.


       The earliest known culture in southern Greenland, the Saqqaq Culture, existed from around 2500 BCE until about 800 BCE.  This culture coexisted with the Independence I Culture of northern Greenland, which developed around 2400 BCE and lasted until about 1300 BCE.  After the Saqqaq Culture disappeared, the Independence II Culture of northern Greenland and the Early Dorset Culture of West Greenland emerged.  The timeframe of the transition from Saqqaq Culture to Early Dorset in western Greenland is not definitely known.


       In the northeastern part of Greenland, the culture is designated "Independence I" while in the western part of Greenland, it is the  "Saqqaq Culture".  The Saqqaq Culture came in two phases, the main difference of the two being that the newer phase used  sandstone as a tool.  The younger phase of the Saqqaq Culture coincides with the oldest phase of the Dorset Culture.


       Frozen remains of a Saqqaq called "Inuk" were found in western Greenland (Qeqertarsuaq) and have been DNA sequenced.  He had brown eyes, black hair, and shovel-shaped teeth.  It was determined that he lived about 4000 years ago, and was related to native populations in northeastern Siberia.  The Saqqaq people are not the ancestors of contemporary Kalaallit people, but instead are related to modern Chukchi and Koryak peoples.  It is unclear whether they came to Greenland in boats or by traveling over the frozen sea during winter.


       Saqqaq peoples were adapted to extremely cold climates.  During the warmer parts of the year they lived in small tents (like the later Thule people)  and hunted seals, seabirds, and other marine animals.  The people of the Saqqaq Culture used silicified slate, agate, quartzite, and rock crystals as materials for their tools.


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The Independence Cultures


       The Independence I Culture was a Paleo-Eskimo culture of peoples who lived in northern Greenland from 2,400 to 1,000 BCE.  It is named after Independence Fjord.  They lived at the same time as the Saqqaq Culture of southern Greenland.  The Independence II Culture had a similar geographical distribution from the 8th Century BCE, about 600 years after the disappearance of Independence I.  Nevertheless, the Independence I occupation of northern Greenland seems to have been much more intensive than that Independence II.


       The archaeological finds of both Independence cultures are credited to Danish explorer Eigil Knuth.


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The Dorset Culture


       The Dorset Culture (also called the Dorset Tradition) was a Paleo-Eskimo culture (500 BCE to between 1000 and 1500 AD) that preceded the Inuit in the Arctic of North America.  It is named after Cape Dorset in Nunavut, Canada where the first evidence of its existence was found.  The culture had four phases according to differences in the technologies for hunting and tool making.  Artifacts include distinctive triangular end-blades, soapstone lamps, and burins.


       The Dorset  were first identified as a separate culture in 1925.  The Dorset may have become extinct by 1500 AD at the latest and perhaps as early as 1000 AD.  The Thule people, who began emigrating east from Alaska in the 11th Century, spread through the lands previously inhabited by the Dorset.  However, there is little evidence that the Inuit and Dorset ever met.  Modern genetic studies reveal that the Dorset population was distinct from later groups and there was virtually no evidence of genetic or cultural interaction between the Dorset and the Thule peoples.


       Inuit legends recount them encountering people they called the Tuniit  (singular Tuniq or Sivullirmiut ) "First Inhabitants".  According to legend, the First Inhabitants were giants, taller and stronger than the Inuit but afraid and not sociable.  It is believed that the Dorset and the later Thule people were encountered by Norsemen who visited the area.  The Norse called these indigenous peoples Skrælings.





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