|In prehistoric times, Greenland was home to a number of Paleo-Eskimo cultures. From AD 984 it was colonized by Norse settlers in two settlements on the west coast on the fjords near the very southwestern tip of the island. They thrived for a few centuries, but after nearly 500 years of habitation, disappeared sometime in the 15th century.
Data from ice cores indicate that from AD 800 to 1300 the regions around the fjords of southern Greenland experienced a relatively mild climate similar to today. Trees and herbaceous plants grew there, and the climate initially allowed farming of livestock as in Norway. These remote communities thrived on farming, hunting and trade with Norway. When the Norwegian kings converted their domains to Christianity, a bishop was installed in Greenland, subordinate to the archdiocese of Nidaros. The settlements seem to have coexisted relatively peacefully with the Inuit, who had migrated south from the Arctic islands of North America around 1200. In 1261, Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Norway.
Around the 14th and 15th centuries, the Scandinavian settlements vanished, likely due to famine and increasing conflicts with the Inuit. The condition of human bones from this period indicates the Norse population was malnourished. Main reasons appeared to have been soil erosion due to destruction of the natural vegetation for farming, turf, and wood by the Norse, a decline in temperatures during the Little Ice Age, and armed conflicts with the Inuit. It has been suggested that cultural practices, such as rejecting fish as a source of food and reliance solely on livestock ill-adapted to Greenland’s climate, caused by the mini-ice age, which resulted in recurring famines, with environmental degradation led to the abandonment of the colony. Research (written before Diamond’s book) has made it clear however that fish were a major source of food for the Norse Greenlanders from the early 1300s on.
Denmark-Norway reasserted its latent claim to the colony in 1721. But ties with Norway were severed by the Treaty of Kiel of 1814, ceding Norway to the king of Sweden while Denmark retained all of her common overseas possessions: the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, as well as Denmark-Norway’s small territories in India (Tranquebar), West Africa (Danish Gold Coast), and the West Indies (Danish Virgin Islands).
Norway occupied and claimed parts of (then uninhabited) East Greenland also called Erik the Red’s Land in July 1931, claiming that it constituted Terra nullius. Norway and Denmark agreed to settle the matter at the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1933, where Norway lost.
During World War II, Greenland’s connection to Denmark was severed on April 9, 1940 when Denmark was occupied by Germany. Greenland was able to buy goods from the United States and Canada, by selling cryolite from the mine in Ivigtût. During the war the system of government changed. Governor Eske Brun ruled the island via a 1925 law that allowed governors to take control under extreme circumstances. The other governor, Aksel Svane, was transferred to the US to lead the commission to supply Greenland. The Sirius Patrol, guarding the northeastern shores of Greenland using dog sleds, detected and destroyed several German weather stations, giving Denmark a better position in the postwar turmoil.
Greenland had been a protected and very isolated society until 1940. The Danish government, which governed its colony Greenland, had been convinced that the society would face exploitation from the outside world or even extinction if the country was opened up. But during World War II, Greenland developed a sense of self-reliance through its self-government and independent communication with the outside world.
However, a commission in 1946 (with the highest Greenlandic council Landsrådet as participant) recommended patience and no radical reformation of the system. Two years later the first step towards changing the governing was initiated when a grand commission was founded. In 1950 the report (G-50) was presented. Greenland was to be a modern welfare society with Denmark as the sponsor and example. In 1953, Greenland was made an equal part of the Danish Kingdom. Home rule was granted in 1979.