Why Did the Vikings Leave Greenland?

The Vikings called Greenland home for over 400 years. During their stay in Greenland, they constructed houses and even practiced agriculture. They established numerous farms and kept different livestock, including cows, sheep, and goats. After residing in Greenland for centuries, they decided to leave. So, what made them make such a move?

Archeologists have come up with various theories to try and explain why the Vikings left Greenland. While some people believe that the main reason for their departure was climate change, others believe that the Vikings left Greenland due to food shortage. In this article, we will explain such reasons in detail. Read on!

Viking ship

Climate change

Scientists reveal that they found human bones in Greenland that were similar to those found in Scandinavian countries. Since Vikings originated in Scandinavian countries, these scientists concluded that they also stayed in Greenland. They found ruins of a church that the Vikings constructed in the southern part of Greenland. Though the roof and door were rotten, the granite walls were still intact.

According to their findings, the Vikings settled in Greenland during the 11th century around 980 AD. Certain researchers suggest that between the late tenth century and the early 11th century, the weather in Greenland was warm. During this period, Greenland was green. These are some of the things that captivated the Vikings to settle there.

The period between the late tenth century and early 11th century was referred to as the medieval warm period. The temperatures during this period were not very different from the temperatures in the 20th century. During the medieval warm period, sea ice decreased. This made it easier for the Vikings to move from Scandinavian countries to Greenland.

Though different causes may have forced the Vikings to leave Greenland, some researchers believed that climate change was one of the major contributors. By the 14th century, the weather had changed significantly. Greenland became too cold for the Vikings to continue staying there, and so they were forced to vacate.

The researchers who believed in this theory took mud cores from lakes in Greenland to try and reconstruct the region’s climate. While analyzing the mud cores, these researchers measured the levels of fats in the mud. The measurements allowed them to determine the climate in the 11th century compared to the 14th century when the Vikings left Greenland.

These researchers believe that in 1100, the climate in Greenland had cooled rapidly. The significant drop in temperature forced the Vikings to leave Greenland in the 14 century. This phase was referred to as the Little Ice Age.

There was also a volcanic eruption in 1257 that occurred on an Indonesian island. Certain scientists discovered ash from this eruption in Greenland’s ice sheet. This calamity may have affected the Vikings living in Greenland at that time.

Not everyone, however, believes that the Vikings left Greenland since they could not adapt to the change in the climate. According to some scientists, the weather in Greenland was already harsh by the time the Vikings settled there.

Though certain climate scientists believe that areas like Iceland and Europe experienced high temperatures, they believe that the impact was not global.  Researchers reveal that the North Atlantic region remained cold during the warm periods based on certain glacial deposits.

According to them, the temperatures in Greenland did not rise during the so-called Medieval warm period.  Whether climate change had any role in the departure of Vikings from Greenland is still a hot topic among researchers since the evidence remains inconclusive.

Vikings Leave Greenland

Food shortage

Besides climate change, many people believe that food shortage was also one of the things that made the Vikings leave Greenland. The Vikings engaged in activities like livestock keeping and hunting. The long growing seasons in Greenland made it easy for the Vikings to graze their animals.

Archeologists collected one sample from Greenland that suggests even the smallest farms kept a few animals. Though life was easy for the Vikings during the first centuries on Greenland, they began experiencing particular challenges. For instance, overgrazing caused soil erosion on the land. The Vikings damaged their environment.

Climate change also had a negative effect on the plants that the Vikings grew in Greenland since it led to crop failure and caused famine. When the climate started changing, the Vikings began thinking of ways to survive. They stopped relying on their livestock as the primary food source and switched to seafood.

Instead of cattle herding, the Vikings began hunting seals from the coastal regions of Greenland. Some researchers, therefore, argue that food shortage was not one of the reasons why the Vikings left Greenland since they had an alternative source of food. By the time the Vikings were settling in Greenland, 20% of their diet had originated from the sea. This percentage went up to 80 by the 14th century when the Vikings were leaving Greenland.

Their diet became similar to that of the Inuit, who were their rivals. According to a specific study, young Vikings left Greenland since they got fed up with their boring diet as well their monotonous lives in the region.

Some people also suggest that a particular plague that was referred to as Black Death could have made the Vikings leave Greenland. Though this plague swept a lot of agricultural lands in Iceland, those who disagree with this theory suggest that it did not have a significant impact on Greenland.

The Vikings also engaged in other activities like importing stained glass and exporting walrus tusk ivory. Due to the decline in the demand for seal skins and walrus tusk ivory, the Vikings were forced to leave Greenland since they could not survive without trade. They also struggled to maintain their culture and way of life in Greenland. This may also have compelled them to leave Greenland.


Numerous theories regarding why the Vikings left Greenland have come up over the years. Some of the significant factors that the majority believes led to their departure include food shortage, climate change, and loss of trade.