AbstractThis article examines the Danish archaeologist Else Roesdahl’s hypothesis that, by the early fourteenth century, an abundance in Europe of elephant ivory from Africa caused a price drop that edged out walrus ivory, with a devastating economic impact on Norse Greenland that directly contributed to the colony’s collapse. While it seems clear that artisanal use of walrus ivory fell from the late fourteenth century onward, and that Greenland exports of walrus ivory decreased in the fourteenth century, evidence for a pre-1500 price drop for African elephant ivory in the European market is lacking. Nor can it be demonstrated that European demand for walrus tusks shrank prior to 1500. Roesdahl’s speculations about changes in the ivory trade and their effect on the Norse Greenland colony are therefore open to question as an explanation for the colony’s demise. An alternative view is proposed, namely that reduced export of Greenland walrus ivory was initiated by the Greenlanders themselves in response to political and economic changes in the Atlantic and North Sea region, at a time when codfish drew English fishermen and fish merchants ever farther west into the North Atlantic, and that the Greenlanders took part in that westward movement.

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