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How Did Greenland Get Its Misleading Name?

Beginning around 982 AD, Greenland’s west coast was settled by a group of Icelanders and Norwegians, led by the Viking explorer Erik the Red. Erik had been banished from Iceland after he killed three people in a feud, so he assembled a 14-boat exploration party and sailed west in search of a new home. He found an imposing ice-covered island and, according to Icelandic legend, named this cold new place Greenland, hoping that the pleasant name would attract other settlers. Erik’s recruitment efforts included the false claim that Greenland had better farmland than Iceland. Today, more than 80 percent of Greenland is covered in ice, but back in Erik the Red’s day, historians say that the island was probably warmer and greener -- so perhaps Erik's choice of name wasn't entirely misplaced.

Iceland, Greenland, Vinland:

  • Norse custom was to name a place after what the explorers saw. For example, Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erikson, named part of Canada “Vinland” because he saw wild fruit-bearing vines growing along the shore.

  • The Vikings did not discover Greenland -- it has been inhabited intermittently by Arctic peoples for about 4,500 years.

  • Greenland is the world’s largest island, with a population of about 56,480. Australia and Antarctica are larger, but they’re considered to be continental land masses, not islands.

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More Info: National Geographic

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