History of Greenland

Hunting and whaling have always been important ways to make a living on Greenland. One of the animals found here is the polar bear, which is on the coat of arms of the Danish royal family

The history of Greenland is the history of life under extreme Arctic conditions: an ice cap currently covers about 80 percent of the island, largely restricting human activity to the coasts.

The first humans are thought to have arrived around 2500 BC. This group apparently died out and were succeeded by several other groups migrating from continental North America. To Europeans, Greenland was unknown until the 10th century, when Icelandic Vikings settled on the southwestern coast. This part of Greenland was apparently unpopulated at the time when the Vikings arrived; the direct ancestors of the modern Inuit Greenlanders are not thought to have arrived until around AD 1200 from the northwest. The Norse settlements along the southwestern coast eventually disappeared after about 500 years. The Inuit thrived in the icy world of the Little Ice Age and were the only inhabitants of the island for several centuries. Denmark-Norway nonetheless claimed the territory, and, after centuries of no contact between the Norse Greenlanders and their Scandinavian brethren, it was feared that the Greenlanders had lapsed back into paganism; so a missionary expedition was sent out to reinstate Christianity in 1721. However, since none of the lost Norse Greenlanders were found, Denmark-Norway instead proceeded to baptize the local Inuit Greenlanders and develop trading colonies along the coast as part of its aspirations as a colonial power. Colonial privileges were retained, such as trade monopoly.

During World War II, Greenland became effectively detached, socially and economically, from Denmark and became more connected to the United States and Canada.[1] After the war, control was returned to Denmark, and, in 1953, the colonial status was transformed into that of an overseas amt (county). Although Greenland is still a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it has enjoyed home rule since 1979. In 1985, the island became the only territory to leave the European Union, which it had joined as a part of Denmark in 1973.


Early Paleo-Eskimo cultures

The prehistory of Greenland is a story of repeated waves of Paleo-Eskimo immigration from the islands north of the North American mainland. As one of the furthest outposts of these cultures, life was constantly on the edge and several cultures came and then died out during the centuries. Of the period before the Norse exploration of Greenland, archaeology can give only approximate times.

The Saqqaq culture is the earliest culture established in the southern and western parts of Greenland.[2] It arose around 2500 BC and declined around 800 BC. For much of that time Saqqaq culture coexisted with the Independence I culture, which arrived in northern Greenland from Canada.[3] The earliest culture in the northern and northeastern parts of the island, Independence I arose around 2400 BC and lasted until about 1300 BC. In around 800 BC the Independence II culture rose in the same area where rose Independence I.[4] Independence II has been called an intermediate phase between the earlier cultures and the Dorset culture, which arrived in Greenland in around 700 BC; recent studies have shown the cultures may be identical within Greenland.[4] For this reason the cultures have been designated "Greenlandic Dorset." The most recent dates for Independence II artifacts are from the second or 1st century BC. The Early Dorset culture existed in Greenland until about AD 200, and artifacts have been found as far north as Inglefield Land on the west coast and the Dove Bugt area on the east coast.[5]

There is general consensus that, after the collapse of the Early Dorset culture, the island remained unpopulated for several centuries.[5] The next to arrive may have been people belonging to the Late Dorset culture, perhaps as early as AD 800.[6] The Late Dorset culture was limited to the northwest part of the island, and disappeared around AD 1300. The Norse arrived in AD 980 and began to colonize the island.

Anthropologists once classed the Inuit as members of the Mongoloid race, along with various Siberian tribes such as the Yakut, as well as the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Their physical appearance is closer to what is generally associated with Asian peoples than to other Native Americans, but racial categorisation is no longer considered very productive among anthropologists, in part because of the highly contested nature of racial categories.

Norse settlement

Islands off Greenland were sighted by Gunnbjörn Ulfsson when he was blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland, probably in the early 10th century. During the 980s, explorers from Iceland and Norway arrived at mainland Greenland and, finding the land unpopulated, settled on the southwest coast. The name Greenland (Grænland in Old Norse and modern Icelandic, Grønland in modern Danish and Norwegian) has its roots in this colonization and is attributed to Erik the Red (the modern Inuit call it Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning "Land of the Kalaallit (Greenlanders)"). There are two written sources on the origin of the name, in The Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók), a historical work dealing with early Icelandic history from the 12th century, and in the medieval Icelandic saga, The Saga of Eric the Red (Eiríks saga rauða), which is about the Norse settlement in Greenland and the story of Erik the Red in particular. Both sources write: "He named the land Greenland, saying that people would be eager to go there if it had a good name." Although there is no special reason to doubt the authority of this information, it should always be borne in mind that the sagas embody the literary preoccupations of writers and audiences in medieval Iceland, and they cannot always be treated as reliable sources for the history of Norse Greenland.[7]

At the time of the Norse settlement, the inner regions of the long fjords where the settlements were located were very different from today. Excavations show that there were considerable birch woods with birch trees up to 4 to 6 meters high[citation needed] in the area around the inner parts of the Tunuliarfik- and Aniaaq-fjords, the central area of the Eastern settlement, and the hills were grown with grass and willow brushes. This was due to the medieval climate optimum. The Norse soon changed the vegetation[citation needed] by cutting down the trees to use as building material and for heating and by extensive sheep and goat grazing during summer and winter. The climate in Greenland was much warmer during the 1st centuries of settlement but became increasingly colder in the 14th and 15th centuries with the approaching period of colder weather known as the Little Ice Age.

According to the sagas, Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland for a period of three years, due to a murder.[8] He sailed to Greenland, where he explored the coastline and claimed certain lands as his own. He then returned to Iceland to bring people to settle on Greenland. The date of establishment of the colony is said, in the Icelandic sagas, to have been AD 985, when 25 ships left with Erik the Red. Only 14 arrived safely in Greenland.[9] This date has been approximately confirmed by radiocarbon dating of some remains at the first settlement at Brattahlid (now Qassiarsuk), which yielded a date of about 1000. According to the sagas, it was also in the year 1000 that Erik's son, Leif Eirikson, left the settlement to discover Vinland, generally assumed to be located in what is now Newfoundland.

The last written records of the Norse Greenlanders are from a 1408 marriage in the church of Hvalsey — today the best-preserved of the Norse ruins.

This colony existed as three settlement areas — the larger Eastern settlement, the smaller Western settlement, and the still smaller Middle Settlement (which is sometimes considered part of the Eastern). Population estimates vary from highs of only 2000 to as many as 10,000 people. More recent estimates such as that of Professor Niels Lynnerup in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, ed. by William W. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth I. Ward, have tended toward the lower figure. Ruins of around 600 farms have been found in the two settlements, 500 in the Eastern settlement, 95 in the Western settlement, and 20 in the Middle. This was a significant colony (the population of modern Greenland is only 56,000) and it carried on trade in ivory from walrus tusks with Europe as well as exporting rope, sheep, seals and cattle hides according to one 13th century account. The colony depended on Europe (Iceland and Norway) for iron tools, wood, especially for boat building, which they also may have obtained from coastal Labrador, supplemental foods, and religious and social contacts. Trade ships from Iceland and Norway (from late 13th century all ships were forced by law to sail directly to Norway) traveled to Greenland every year and would sometimes overwinter in Greenland.

In 1126, a diocese was founded at Garðar (now Igaliku). It was subject to the Norwegian archdiocese of Nidaros (now Trondheim); at least five churches in Norse Greenland are known from archeological remains. In 1261, the population accepted the overlordship of the Norwegian King as well, although it continued to have its own law. In 1380 the Norwegian kingdom entered into a personal union with the Kingdom of Denmark. After initially thriving, the Norse settlements declined in the 14th century. The Western Settlement was abandoned around 1350. In 1378, there was no longer a bishop at Garðar. After 1408, when a marriage was recorded, not many written records mention the settlers. There are correspondence between the Pope and the Biskop Bertold af Garde from same year.[10] The Danish Cartographer Claudius Clavus seem to have visited Greenland in 1420 from documents written by Nicolas Germanus and Henricus Martellus who had access to original cartographic notes and map by Clavus. Two mathematical manuscripts containing the second chart of the Claudius Clavus map from his travel to Greenland where he himself mapped the area were found during the late 20th century by the Danish scholar Bjönbo and Petersen. (Originals in Hofbibliothek at Vienna. A Greenlander in Norway, on visit; it is also mentioned in a Norwegian Diploma from 1426, [Peder Grønlendiger][11])

In a letter dated 1448 from Rome, the Pope Nicholas V prescribe the bishops of Skálholt and Hólar (the two Icelandic episcopal sees) to ensure to provide the inhabitants of Greenland with priests and a bishop, which of the latter they hadn't had in the 30 years since the apparent coming of the heathens when most churches were destroyed and the people taken away as prisoners.[12]

It is probable that the Eastern Settlement was defunct by the middle 15th century although no exact date has been established.

The demise of the Greenland Norse settlements

A graphical description of changes in temperature in Greenland from AD 500 – 1990 based on analysis of the deep ice core from Greenland and some historical events. The annual temperature changes are shown vertical in ˚C. The numbers are to be read horizontal:
1. From AD 700 to 750 people belonging to the Late Dorset Culture move into the area around Smith Sound, Ellesmere Island and Greenland north of Thule.
2. Norse settlement of Iceland starts in the second half of the 9th century.
3. Norse settlement of Greenland starts just before the year 1000.
4. Thule Inuit move into northern Greenland in the 12th century.
5. Late Dorset culture disappears from Greenland in the second half of the 13th century.
6. The Western Settlement disappears in mid 14th century.
7. In 1408 is the Marriage in Hvalsey, the last known written document on the Norse in Greenland.
8. The Eastern Settlement disappears in mid 15th century.
9. John Cabot is the first European in the post-Iceland era to visit Labrador - Newfoundland in 1497.
10. “Little Ice Age” from ca 1600 to mid 18th century.
11. The Norwegian priest, Hans Egede, arrives in Greenland in 1721.

There are many theories as to why the Norse settlements collapsed in Greenland. Jared Diamond, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, suggests that some or all of five factors contributed to the demise of the Greenland colony: cumulative environmental damage, gradual climate change, conflicts with hostile neighbors, the loss of contact and support from Europe, and, perhaps most crucial, cultural conservatism and failure to adapt to an increasingly harsh natural environment. Numerous studies have tested these hypotheses and some have led to significant discoveries. On the other hand there are dissenters: In The Frozen Echo, Kirsten Seaver contests some of the more generally-accepted theories about the demise of the Greenland colony. Thus Seaver asserts that the Greenland colony, towards the end, was healthier than Diamond and others have thought. Seaver believes that the Greenlanders cannot have starved to death. They may rather have been wiped out by Inuit or unrecorded European attacks, or they may have abandoned the colony to return to Iceland or to seek out new homes in Vinland. However, these arguments seem to conflict with the physical evidence from archeological studies of the ancient farm sites. The paucity of personal belongings at these sites is typical of North Atlantic Norse sites that were abandoned in an orderly fashion, with any useful items being deliberately removed but to others it suggests a gradual but devastating impoverishment. Midden heaps at these sites do show an increasingly impoverished diet for humans and livestock.

Greenland was always colder in winter than Iceland and Norway, and its terrain less hospitable to agriculture. Erosion of the soil was a danger from the beginning, one that the Greenland settlements may not have recognized until it was too late. For an extended time, nonetheless, the relatively warm West Greenland current flowing northwards along the southwestern coast of Greenland made it feasible for the Norse to farm much as their relatives did in Iceland or northern Norway. Palynologists' tests on pollen counts and fossilized plants prove that the Greenlanders must have struggled with soil erosion and deforestation.[13] As the unsuitability of the land for agriculture became more and more patent, the Greenlanders resorted first to pastoralism and then to hunting for their food.[14] But they never learned to use the hunting techniques of the Inuit, one being a farming culture, the other living on hunting in more northern areas with pack ice.

To investigate the possibility of climatic cooling, scientists drilled into the Greenland ice caps to obtain core samples. The oxygen isotopes from the ice caps suggested that the Medieval Warm Period had caused a relatively milder climate in Greenland, lasting from roughly 800 to 1200. However from 1300 or so the climate began to cool. By 1420, we know that the "Little Ice Age" had reached intense levels in Greenland.[15] Excavations of midden or garbage heaps from the Viking farms in both Greenland and Iceland show the shift from the bones of cows and pigs to those of sheep and goats. As the winters lengthened, and the springs and summers shortened, there must have been less and less time for Greenlanders to grow hay. By the mid-14th century deposits from a chieftain’s farm showed a large number of cattle and caribou remains, whereas, a poorer farm only several kilometers away had no trace of domestic animal remains, only seal. Bone samples from Greenland Norse cemeteries confirm that the typical Greenlander diet had increased by this time from 20% sea animals to 80%.[16]

Although Greenland seems to have been uninhabited at the time of initial Norse settlement, after a couple of centuries the Norse in Greenland had to deal with the Inuit. The Thule-Inuit were the successors of the Dorset who migrated south and finally came into contact with the Norse in the 12th century. There are limited sources showing the two cultures interacting; however, scholars know that the Norse referred to the Inuit (and Vinland natives) as skraeling. The Icelandic Annals are among the few existing sources that confirm contact between the Norse and the Inuit. They report an instance of hostility initiated by the Inuit against the Norse, leaving eighteen Greenlanders dead and two boys carried into slavery.[17] Archeological evidence seems to show that the Inuit traded with the Norse. On the other hand, the evidence shows many Norse artifacts at Inuit sites throughout Greenland and on the Canadian Arctic islands but very few Inuit artifacts in the Norse settlements. This may indicate either European indifference—an instance of cultural resistance to Inuit crafts among them—or perhaps hostile raiding by the Inuit. It is also quite possible that the Norse were trading for perishable items such as meat and furs and had little interest in other Inuit items, much as later Europeans who traded with Native Americans.

We know that the Norse never learned the Inuit techniques of kayak navigation or ring seal hunting. Indeed, they never learned to adjust to the cold winters as the Inuit did. Archeological evidence plainly establishes that by 1300 or so the Inuit had successfully expanded their winter settlements as close to the Europeans as the outer fjords of the Western Settlement. Yet by 1350, the Norse, for whatever reasons, had completely deserted their Western Settlement.[18] It may also have to do with the Inuit being a hunting society, hunted the Norse livestock, forcing the Norse into conflict or abandonment.

In mild weather conditions, a ship could make the 900-mile (1400 kilometers) trip from Iceland to Eastern Settlement within a couple of weeks. Greenlanders had to keep in contact with Iceland and Norway in order to trade. Little is known about any distinctive shipbuilding techniques among the Greenlanders. However, since Greenland lacks a supply of lumber, they were completely dependent on Icelandic merchants or, possibly, logging expeditions to the Canadian coast.

The sagas mention Icelanders traveling to Greenland to trade.[19] But the settlement chieftains and large farm owners controlled this trade. The chieftains would trade with the foreign ships and then disperse the goods by trading with the surrounding farmers.[20] The Greenlanders' main commodity was the walrus tusk, which was used primarily in Europe as a substitute for elephant ivory for art décor, whose trade had been blocked by conflict with the Islamic world. Professor Gudmundsson also suggests a very valuable narwhal tusk trade, through a smuggling route via western Iceland (where the Greenlanders came from) to the Orkney islands (where Western Icelanders came from).

Many scholars believe that the royal Norwegian monopoly on shipping contributed to the end of trade and contact. However, Christianity and European customs continued to hold sway among the Greenlanders for the greater part of the fourteenth and 15th centuries. In 1921, a Danish historian, Paul Norland, found human remains from the Eastern Settlement in the Herjolfsnes church courtyard. The bodies were dressed in 15th century medieval clothing with no indications of malnutrition or genetic deterioration. Most had crucifixes around their necks with their arms crossed as in a stance of prayer. Perhaps the buried were sailors having died en route or while over wintering. It is known from Roman papal records that the Greenlanders were excused from paying their tithes in 1345 because the colony was suffering from poverty.[21] The last reported ship to reach Greenland was a private ship that was "blown off course", reaching Greenland in 1406, and departing in 1410 with the last news of Greenland: the burning at the stake of a condemned witch, the insanity and death of the woman this witch was accused of attempting to seduce through witchcraft, and the marriage of the ship's captain, Thorsteinn Ólafsson, to another Icelander, Sigridur Björnsdóttir.[22] However, there are some suggestions of much later unreported voyages from Europe to Greenland, possibly as late as the 1480s.[23]

The last of the five factors points to the failure of the Norse to adapt to the changing conditions of Greenland. We know that some of the Norse left Greenland in search of a place called Vinland. When hostile natives injured several of them, they returned to Greenland after only 10 years. The Greenland colony survived for some 450–500 years (AD 985 to 1450-1500). The Norse struggled to adapt, as the excavations show plainly. Some of the Norse, perhaps most, dramatically changed their folkways. But it is not known whether they adapted the ways of the Inuit, even, it seems, when faced with extinction. Most likely no single factor brought about their extinction. What is plain is that the settlement died out once and for all, while contributing 5% to the West Greenlanders' gene pool.[citation needed]

One intriguing fact is that we find very few fish remains among their middens. This has led to much speculation and argument. Most archeologists reject any decisive judgment based on this one fact, however, as fish bones decompose more quickly than other remains, and may have been disposed of in a different manner. Isotope analysis of the bones of inhabitants shows that marine food sources in fact supplied more and more of the diet of the Norse Greenlanders, making up between 50% and 80% of their diet by the 14th century.[24]

One Inuit story recorded in the 18th century tells that raiding expeditions by European ships over the course of three years destroyed the settlement, after which many of the Norse sailed away south and the Inuit took in some of the remaining women and children before the final attack.[9]

Late Dorset and Thule cultures

The Thule were skilled whalers, as depicted here by Norwegian missionary Hans Egede in the 18th century.

The Norse may not have been alone on the island when they arrived; a new influx of Arctic people from the west, the Late Dorset culture, may predate them.[6] However, this culture was limited to the extreme northwest of Greenland, far from the Norse who lived around the southern coasts. Some archaeological evidence may point to this culture slightly predating the Norse settlement. It disappeared around 1300, around the same time as the westernmost of the Norse settlements disappeared. In the region of this culture, there is archaeological evidence of gathering sites for around four to thirty families, living together for a short time during their movement cycle.

Around 1200, another Arctic culture, the Thule, arrived from the west, having emerged 200 years earlier in Alaska. They settled south of the Late Dorset culture and ranged over vast areas of Greenland's west and east coasts. These people, the ancestors of the modern Inuit, were flexible and engaged in the hunting of almost all animals on land and in the ocean, including big whales. They had dogs, which the Dorset did not, and used them to pull the dog sledges; they also used bows and arrows, contrary to the Dorset. Increasingly settled, they had large food storages to avoid winter famine. The early Thule avoided the highest latitudes, which only became populated again after renewed immigration from Canada in the 19th century.

The nature of the contacts between the Thule, Dorset and Norse cultures are not clear, but may have included trade elements. The level of contact is currently the subject of widespread debate, possibly including Norse trade with Thule or Dorsets in Canada or possible scavenging of abandoned Norse sites (see also Maine penny). No Norse trade goods are known in Dorset archaeological sites in Greenland; the only Norse items found have been characterized as "exotic items". Carved screw threads on tools and carvings with beards found in settlements on the Canadian Arctic islands show contact with the Norse. Some stories tell of armed conflicts between, and kidnappings by, both Inuit and Norse groups. The Inuit may have reduced Norse food sources by displacing them on hunting grounds along the central west coast. These conflicts can be one contributing factor to the disappearance of the Norse culture as well as for the Late Dorset, but few see it as the main reason.

Later European colonization and exploration

In 1536, Denmark and Norway were officially merged by personal union into Denmark–Norway, and the old Norwegian land claims were taken up by the new kingdom. In the 1660s, this was marked by the inclusion of a polar bear in the Danish coat of arms. In the second half of the 17th century Dutch, German, French, Basque, and Dano-Norwegian ships hunted bowhead whales in the pack ice off the east coast of Greenland, regularly coming to shore to trade and replenish drinking water. Foreign trade was later forbidden by Danish monopoly merchants.

In 1721 the Dano-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede asked King Frederick IV for permission to found a mission in Greenland and search for any trace of the old Norse colony that may have survived. He feared that any surviving Norse would have remained Catholic after the Protestant Reformation, or worse, abandoned Christianity altogether and reverted to paganism. Frederick agreed to fund a partial recolonization effort as part of a new wave of Danish colonization of the Americas. Egede did not find the colony, but established a successful mission among the Inuit. After fifteen years on the island, Egede left his son Paul Egede in charge of the mission and returned to Denmark where he established a Greenland Seminary. Gradually, Greenland became opened for Danish merchants, and closed to those from other countries. This new colony was centered at Godthåb ("Good Hope") on the southwest coast. Some of the Inuit that lived close to the trade stations were converted to Christianity. In 1733 German followers of Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf from Herrnhut founded a mission post in South Greenland; this attracted southeast Greenlanders, who subsequently abandoned that part of the coast.

As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was ceded to Sweden at the 1814 Treaty of Kiel. The colonies, including Greenland, remained in Danish possession. The 19th century saw increased interest in the region on the part of polar explorers and scientists like William Scoresby and Greenland-born Knud Rasmussen. At the same time, the colonial elements of the earlier trade-oriented Danish presence in Greenland expanded. In 1861, the first Greenlandic-language journal was founded. Danish law still applied only to the Danish settlers, though. At the turn of the 19th century, the northern part of Greenland was still sparsely populated; only scattered hunting inhabitants were found there.[25] During that century, however, Inuit families immigrated from British North America to settle in these areas. The last group from what later became Canada arrived in 1864. During the same time, the Northeastern part of the coast became depopulated following the violent 1783 Lakagígar eruption in Iceland.

Democratic elections for the district assemblies of Greenland were held for the first time in 1862–1863, although no assembly for the land as a whole was allowed. In 1888, a party of six led by Fridtjof Nansen accomplished the first land crossing of Greenland. The men took 41 days to make the crossing on skis, at approximately 64°N latitude.[26] In 1911, two Landstings were introduced, one for northern Greenland and one for southern Greenland, not to be finally merged until 1951. All this time, most decisions were made in Copenhagen, where the Greenlanders had no representation. Towards the end of the 19th century, traders criticized the Danish trade monopoly. It was argued that it kept the natives in non-profitable ways of life, holding back the potentially large fishing industry. Many Greenlanders however were satisfied with the status quo, as they felt the monopoly would secure the future of commercial whaling. It probably did not help that the only contact the local population had with the outside world was with Danish settlers. Nonetheless, the Danes gradually moved over their investments to the fishing industry.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, American explorers, including Robert Peary, explored the northern sections of Greenland, which up to that time had been a mystery and was often shown on maps as extending over the North Pole. Peary discovered that Greenland's northern coast in fact stopped well short of the pole. These discoveries were considered to be the basis of an American territorial claim in the area. But after the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917, it agreed to relinquish all claims on Greenland.

Strategic importance

After Norway regained full independence in 1905, it argued that Danish claims to Greenland were invalid since the island had been a Norwegian possession prior to 1815. In 1931, Norwegian whaler Hallvard Devold occupied uninhabited eastern Greenland, on his own initiative. After the fact, the occupation was supported by the Norwegian government, who claimed the area as Erik the Red's Land. Two years later, the Permanent Court of International Justice ruled in favor of Denmark.

The Thule Air Base, established after World War II, is the northernmost base of the US Air Force

During World War II, when Germany extended its war operations to Greenland, Henrik Kauffmann, the Danish Minister to the United States — who had already refused to recognize the German occupation of Denmark — signed a treaty with the United States on April 9, 1941, granting the US Armed Forces permission to establish stations in Greenland. Because of the difficulties for the Danish government to govern the island during the war, and because of successful export, especially of cryolite, Greenland came to enjoy a rather independent status. Its supplies were guaranteed by the United States and Canada.

During the Cold War, Greenland had a strategic importance, controlling parts of the passage between the Soviet Arctic harbours and the Atlantic, as well as being a good base for observing any use of intercontinental ballistic missiles, typically planned to pass over the Arctic. The United States therefore had a geopolitical interest in Greenland, and in 1946, the United States offered to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000 but Denmark did not agree to sell.[27][28] In 1951, the Kauffman treaty was replaced by another one. The Thule Air Base at Thule (now Qaanaaq) in the northwest was made a permanent air force base. In 1953, some Inuit families were forced by Denmark to move from their homes to provide space for extension of the base. For this reason, the base has been a source of friction between the Danish government and the Greenlandic people. Tensions mounted when, on January 21, 1968, there was a nuclear accident — a B-52 Stratofortress carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed near the base, contaminating the area with radioactive debris. Although most of the contaminated ice was cleaned up, controversy currently surrounds recently declassified information indicating that one of the bombs was not accounted for. A 1995 Danish parliamentary scandal, dubbed Thulegate, highlighted that nuclear weapons were routinely present in Greenland's airspace in the years leading up to the accident, and that Denmark had tacitly given the go-ahead for this activity despite its official nuclear free policy.

Another recent controversy surrounds the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), which the United States Air Force upgraded in recent years to a phased array radar.[29] Opponents argue that the system presents a threat to the local population, as it would be targeted in the event of nuclear war.

Home rule

The colonial status of Greenland was lifted in 1953, when it became an integral part of the Danish kingdom, with representation in the Folketing. Denmark also began a program of providing medical service and education to the Greenlanders. As a result, the population became more and more concentrated in the towns. Since most of the inhabitants were fishermen and had a hard time finding work in the towns, these population movements may have contributed to unemployment and other social problems that have troubled Greenland lately.

As Denmark engaged in the European cooperation later to become the European Union, friction with the former colony grew. Greenlanders felt the European customs union would be harmful to their trade, which was largely carried out with non-European countries such as the United States and Canada. After Denmark, including Greenland, joined the union in 1973 (despite 70.3% of Greenlanders having voted against entry in the referendum), many residents thought that representation in Copenhagen was not sufficient, and local parties began pleading for self-government. The Folketing granted this in 1978, the home rule law coming into effect the following year. On February 23, 1982, a majority (53%) of Greenland's population voted to leave the European Community, which it did in 1985, the only governmental entity to have done so.[30]

Public housing in today's Greenland

Self-governing Greenland has portrayed itself as an Inuit nation. Danish placenames have been replaced. The center of the Danish civilization on the island, Godthåb, has become Nuuk, the capital of a close-to-sovereign country. In 1985, a Greenlandic flag was established, using the colors of the Danish Dannebrog. However, the movement for complete sovereignty is still weak.

International relations, a field earlier handled by Denmark, are now left largely, but not entirely, to the discretion of the home rule government. After leaving the EU, Greenland has signed a special treaty with the Union, as well as entering several smaller organizations, not least with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and with the Inuit populations of Canada and Russia. It was also one of the founders of the environmental Arctic Council cooperation in 1996. Renegotiation of the 1951 treaty between Denmark and the United States, with a direct participation of self-governing Greenland, is an issue, and the 1999–2003 Commission on Self-Governance suggested that Greenland should then aim at the Thule Air Base eventually becoming an international surveillance and satellite tracking station, subject to the United Nations.[31]

Modern technology has made Greenland more accessible, not least due to the breakthrough of aviation. However, the capital Nuuk still lacks an international airport (see transportation in Greenland). Television broadcasts began in 1982.

See also


  1. ^ "Yanks Clear Greenland of Nazis,1944/12/27 (1944)". archive.org. http://www.archive.org/details/1944-12-27_Yanks_Clear_Greenland_of_Nazis. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  2. ^ "Saqqaq culture chronology". Sila, the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark. http://www.natmus.dk/sw18632.asp. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  3. ^ "Independence I". From natmus.dk. Sila, the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  4. ^ a b "Independence II" From natmus.dk. Sila, the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Early Dorset/Greenlandic Dorset". From natmus.dk. Sila, the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Late Dorset". From natmus.dk. Sila, the Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  7. ^ Grove, Jonathan. "The place of Greenland in medieval Icelandic saga narrative", in Norse Greenland: Selected Papers of the Hvalsey Conference 2008, Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 2 (2009), 30–51
  8. ^ Timeline of the history of Norse Greenland
  9. ^ a b The Fate of Greenland's Vikings
  10. ^ Transcription of the original letter (latin): Diplomatarium Norvegicum XIII p.52 Date: 29 August 1408. Place: Svartland. ("[...] Bertoldus eadem gracia episcopus Gardensis [...]")
  11. ^ Transcription of the original letter: Diplomatarium Norvegicum XIII p.70 Date: 12 February 1426. Place: Nidaros.
  12. ^ Transcription of the original letter: Diplomatarium Norvegicum VI p.554 Date: 20 Septbr. 1448. Place: Rom.
    Original DN summary: "Pave Nikolaus V paalægger Biskopperne af Skaalholt og Hole at sörge for at skaffe Indbyggerne i Grönland Prester og en Biskop, hvilken sidste de ikke have havt i de 30 Aar siden Hedningernes Indfald, da de fleste Kirker bleve ödelagte og Indbyggerne bortförte som Fanger."
    ("Pope Nicholas V prescribes the Bishops of Skálholt and Hólar to ensure to provide the inhabitants of Greenland priests and a bishop, which of the latter they haven't had in the 30 years since the coming of the heathens when most churches were destroyed and the inhabitants taken away as prisoners.)
  13. ^ Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking Press. p. 217. 
  14. ^ Diamond, 2005: p. 222
  15. ^ William W. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth I. Ward, ed (2000). Vikings: the North Atlantic saga. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press in association with the National Museum of Natural History. p. 330. 
  16. ^ Fitzhugh and Ward, 2000: p. 290
  17. ^ Fitzhugh and Ward, 2000: p. 336
  18. ^ Kendrick, Thomas Downing (1930). A History of the Vikings. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons. p. 366. 
  19. ^ Grove, 2009: p. 40
  20. ^ Fitzhugh and Ward, 2000: p. 307
  21. ^ Fitzhugh and Ward, 2000: p. 315
  22. ^ Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking Press. p. 270. 
  23. ^ Seaver (1995) The Frozen Echo p.205: a reference to sailors in Bergen in 1484 who had visited Greenland (Seaver speculates that they may have been English); p.229ff: archeological evidence of contact with Europe towards the end of the 15th century
  24. ^ "C-14 dating and the disappearance of Norsemen from Greenland". europhysicsnews.org. http://www.europhysicsnews.org/articles/epn/pdf/2002/03/epn02301.pdf. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  25. ^ Thule Nationalmuseet of Denmark.
  26. ^ Farley Mowat, The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole. McClelland and Stewart, 1967, pp. 199-222
  27. ^ Time Magazine Monday, January 27, 1947 “Deepfreeze Defense”:
  28. ^ National Review May 7, 2001 "Let’s Buy Greenland! – A complete missile-defense plan" By John J. Miller (National Review's National Political Reporter:
  29. ^ Taagholt, Jørgen & Jens Claus Hansen (Trans. Daniel Lufkin) (2001). "Greenland: Security Perspectives". Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. pp. 35–43. Archived from the original on 2009-05-04. http://www.arcus.org/publications/downloads/greenland.pdf. 
  30. ^ History of Greenland
  31. ^ "International relations". Archived from the original on 2007-02-21. http://web.archive.org/web/20070221153441/http://dk.nanoq.gl/English/International_relations.aspx. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 


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