There have been cultures in Greenland for more than four thousand years!
Settlement in Greenland: Ever since the first settlers migrated across the Bering Strait via Alaska and Canada to the Thule area around 2500 BC, life in Greenland has been shaped by the interaction of what humans were able to do and the changes in nature. The next settlements were along the west coast and the culture survived almost a thousand years before disappearing, probably due to climate changes. Later, another couple of migrations occurred along the east and west coast. The current population originates from the last of these, around 1000 AD. Cultures have left different traces in the landscape and one of the most spectacular finds are the 15th century mummies of six women and two children from Qilakitsoq.
Watch Mysterious Ice Mummies >>
Norsemen: The Norsemen lived in Greenland for around 500 years. They were the descendants of Vikings, who came to Greenland led by Erik the Red in 985, searching for new lands to farm. They found what they were looking for in Østerbygden, now Julianehåb Bay, and in Vesterbygden, now Godthåb Fjord.
There are many different ideas about why the Norse disappeared from Greenland during the 16th century. Maybe it was because of changes to the climate. The Norsemen came to Greenland during a warm period and disappeared during an extremely cold period, described as a minor ice age.
Colonization: In 1721, the Danish King Frederik IV sent the priest Hans Egede to Greenland to find the Norsemen. He discovered many remains, but no surviving Norsemen. Instead, he was met by Kalaallit, the Inuit people who had come from the north and who with whale and seal hunting as their main source of food were adapted to the colder climate.
Hans Egede founded Godthåb (Nuuk) and initiated both mission and trade on behalf of the Danish King. Greenland became a Danish colony and over the next century several trading stations were established on Greenland’s west coast. East Greenland was difficult to access due to the ice cap and the pack ice in the sea, so it was not colonized until 1892, when Gustav Holm led an expedition to the area around Ammassalik.
International recognition: In 1921, Denmark announced that all of Greenland was under Danish sovereignty. To mark the Danish rule in North Greenland as well, the town of Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) was established in 1925. However, Norway regarded it as an old Norse possesion and pursued extensive seal and whale hunting in East Greenland. The Norwegian government therefore believed Denmark was infringing Norwegian rights and officially occupied the area 1932-33. The Danish government brought the case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which decided that the area was Danish. The decision was among other things influenced by the polar explorer Knud Rasmussen’s many sleigh expeditions. To maintain Danish sovereignty, the Sirius Patrol – a military patrol operating by dog team - was established to carry out tours of inspection in the uninhabited parts of North and East Greenland.
Home Rule to Independence: Greenland’s Home Rule was established on May 1st 1979. As a symbol, the flag Erfalasorput (Our Flag) was chosen. It was drawn by the painter and graphic artist Thue Christiansen.
The flag is white and red horizontal bands with a circle in the opposite colors.
In 1999, the Landsstyre set up an Independence Commission to clarify Greenland’s future status with Denmark. The Commission presented its report in 2003 and since has worked within the framework of the Greenlandic-Danish Independence Commission with a mandate that it is for the Greenlandic people to decide when they want independence. The work was concluded on 17 April 2008 and formed the basis of a referendum that was voted upon in the Fall of 2008 which brought Greenland to be on the path to absolutely independence. The referendum was instated on June 21st, 2009.
The first people migrated across the Davis Strait from the Ellesmere Island in what is today Canada around 2200 BC.
Settlement since has not been continuous. The communities have always been dependent on hunting and with climate changes, over-exploitation and natural ups and downs in the resources available, the settlers had to follow the animals and at times simply died from starvation.
The first links with Europe were established with the Norse settlements from 982 AD and lasted until the mid 15th century, when the settlers moved away, most likely because of a colder climate coming on which meant hardship in farming on Greenland.
During the time of whaling flourishing in the 16th century restored whalers visited Greenland but no one settled.
In 1721 Hans Egede settled on Håbets Ø (Hope Island) near the current capital, Nuuk. The KGH – Kongelige Grønlandske Handel (Royal Greenland Trade Company) was established and with its trade monopoly it formed the basis of Danish sovereignty for the next 258 years.
Until the Second World War, Greenland was a closed country, based primarily on subsistence production and the sale of catch to the trade monopoly. In 1906, sheep farming was introduced in South Greenland and commercial fishing started in 1908.
During the Second World War, the German occupation of Denmark meant that all contact with Greenland was suspended. Instead, the administration in Greenland and the Danish legation in Washington contacted the US government, who agreed to defend Greenland against possible occupation. Among other things, this resulted in the establishment of military bases at Narsarsuaq, Kangerlussuaq and Grønnedal in 1941 and at Thule in 1951-1952.
After the war a popular movement arose in Denmark in favor of modernization of the Greenlandic society. There were calls for an opening of the economy and investment in both housing and production as well as a change of the country’s colony status. The basis of the welfare state in Greenland today was laid during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The Qilakitsoq mummies
Qilakitsoq is an old Inuit settlement on the Nuussuaq peninsular on the west coast of Greenland around 450 km north of the Arctic Circle. In 1972 two brothers on a grouse hunt found a number of 500-year-old mummies in the same grave underneath an outcrop of rock.
There were six women and two children, all of whom were fully dressed dresses for hunting as it was custom to prepare the dead for hunting after death. The discovery of the remains brought with it a lot of new knowledge about the ancient way of life and their clothing.
The original mummies are now on display at the National Museum in Nuuk the capital of Greenland.