Historical overview

Ancient history, history and modern times

The first people to set foot in Greenland arrived around 4-5000 years ago from the North American continent via Canada when the sea froze in the narrow strait at Thule in northern Greenland. No less than six different Inuit cultures have immigrated in several waves, and Greenland's population today is descended from the last immigration, the Thule culture, which arrived here in around the 9th century AD.

The Norse settlers and the Viking period in Greenland

This final Inuit immigration took place at around the same time as the arrival in Greenland of the Norse settlers and Erik the Red, which was in 982 AD, and which is described in detail in the Icelandic sagas. The Norse population disappeared from Greenland in around 1500 AD for reasons that have never been fully explained - although countless well-founded theories about their disappearance still flourish today. Many of the Norse settlers' ruins are still visible on plains and mountainsides in South Greenland and at Nuuk, and they are therefore popular destinations that attract tourists wishing to gain an insight into an exciting culture from the Viking period.

The encounter with Danes, Norwegians and whalers

Following the disappearance of the Norse population, expeditions from England and Norway came to Greenland throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and from the 17th and 18th centuries it was primarily the European whalers who came into contact with the Inuits. This resulted in extensive trade, and the Inuits were particularly taken with the Europeans' small glass beads, which today are used in the national costume. The missionary Hans Egede from the joint kingdom of Denmark-Norway arrived in what is today known as Nuuk in 1721 in his search for the Norse settlers. He never found them, but instead converted the Inuits to the Christian faith. The Inuits today are Lutheran evangelists.

Tools from the past until the present day

The hardy Inuit cultures have survived in Greenland by inventing and developing essential tools and implements that have been adapted and refined over generations, and which are in fact still in use today. This applies to, for example, the qajaq- the Greenlandic sea kayak - which is perhaps the best symbol of an Arctic culture that has lived on, by and from the sea and its resources. The ulo, which is a special, curved knife used by the women to cut up the prey the men brought home from the seal hunt, is also worthy of mention.

From dogsled to snowmobile

Like the qajaq and the ulo, the dogsled is also a tool from the past, although it is probably the traditional appliance that is most used in today's modern society. Indeed, Greenland has become a modern society, where snowmobiles have in some cases replaced the sleds and where mobile phones and the Internet have become common means of communication for young and old alike. However, some things never disappear from even the most modern cultures, and the traditional myths and legends still hold a key place in the Greenlandic consciousness.