Paleo-Eskimos arrived in Greenland around 2500 BCE and has a diet including a substantial component of Bowhead whales based upon ancient DNA analysis of the contents of middens from 2000 BCE.
Previously it was thought the Thule culture was the first to hunt and eat whales extensively, 800 to 600 years ago. Evidence of hunting large mammals prior to this was largely missing because of the lack of bones and weapons for hunting.
However, samples show whale was very much part of the diets of humans before 1200 CE. Most notably, findings revealed bowhead whales and other large mammals were being exploited by the Saqqaq culture 4,000 years ago.
At one of the sites, the bowhead whale was the most abundant species identified, making up almost half of the DNA analysed. At another site, it was the second or third most utilised species.
The team believes these prehistoric Greenlanders would have transported large carcasses from the shore to the settlement as a result of their size – a bowhead whale can reach up to 60ft and weight between 75 and 100 tonnes.
"The underrepresentation of whale bones in archaeological sites is a well-known phenomenon, typically ascribed to difficulties in transporting large carcasses from shore to the settlement in combination with the higher value of blubber or meat compared with bones," they wrote.
"In the Arctic, several studies have suggested that the fossil record may underestimate the importance of whales to ancient Arctic cultures, however, the lack of suitable methods to detect remains of tissue like blubber and meat in sediment have prevented further investigations on this matter. As such, our findings represent the first tangible evidence that bone counts alone may underestimate large whales in Arctic midden remains."
Concluding, they added: "These findings expand our current knowledge of the Paleo-Inuit and illustrates that the Saqqaq people had a wider diet-breadth than was previously thought and were able to exploit most of the mammals available to them."Vikings arrived around 1000 CE, but had vanished by the 15th century, possibly as a consequence of a failure to adapt to climate changes during the Little Ice Age. But, the demise of the four or five century long occupation was more complex than that:
Over the last decade, however, new excavations across the North Atlantic have forced archaeologists to revise some of these long-held views. An international research collective called the North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation (NABO) has accumulated precise new data on ancient settlement patterns, diet, and landscape. The findings suggest that the Greenland Norse focused less on livestock and more on trade, especially in walrus ivory, and that for food they relied more on the sea than on their pastures. There's no doubt that climate stressed the colony, but the emerging narrative is not of an agricultural society short on food, but a hunting society short on labor and susceptible to catastrophes at sea and social unrest.Read the whole thing which is dense with paleo-climate data and a rich description of Viking Greenlander's history.