European Exploration of America

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What happened to the Viking colonies in North America?

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As far as we know, Viking colonies didn't get any farther into North America than Newfoundland, which is on the eastern tip of present-day Canada. The Vikings did have colonies in Greenland, which is part of North America, for 500 years—a significant period of time.

Scholars are uncertain what happened to the colony in Newfoundland, but they speculate that perhaps tensions with the local Native Americans led to its demise. As for the Greenland settlements, Jared Diamond argues in his book Collapse that the Vikings refused to adapt to the needs of their new environment. They did farming as they did in their home country, which eventually depleted the soil, and refused to adopt, for example, Native American fishing kayaks so that they could effectively fish to survive. When boats from Norway stopped arriving, Diamond contends, the colonists gradually died out.

While we don't know with certainty what happened to these settlements, which predated the English arrival in North America (the Viking settlements lasted from the late 900s to the late 1400s), troubles with native peoples and refusal to adapt to Native American ways were also hallmarks of the English colonists. They also could easily have died off. One advantage, however, was the sheer number of colonists who came, almost ensuring some would survive. However, it is worth noting that the English colonial period up through today is not even 500 years yet, and we have done grave damage to the environment, just as the Vikings did. Maybe we too will be gone by 2107. But presumably we have a large enough population that that won't happen, and we will hopefully learn to adapt to environmental realities so as to survive.

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