Dear 2019 Arctic Viking Field School Students,
As you are now preparing for your upcoming travel, I would like to take the opportunity to share a few words that will help to frame the significance of the work you will be engaged in this summer when you arrive in South Greenland on 22 June…
Many of you are probably already aware that South Greenland is rapidly becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination due to its new UNESCO World Heritage status. This UNESCO World Heritage area, known as Kujataa, is made up of five component parts which, when grouped together, encompass the core area of Greenlandic sheep farming in the South. The components’ boundaries also delimit the central part of the Norse Greenlandic settlement of Eystribyggð (Eastern Settlement). As you will learn, while the area is widely known for the Norse history and archaeology, the property encompasses several different archaeological sites and landscape elements representative of many different phases in Greenland’s history (eg. Paleo, Thule-Inuit, Colonial, etc.), making it a rich palimpsest of overlapping stories and histories spanning several millennia.
Kujataa comprises 348.92 square kilometers of land and submerged land located in the inner parts of Tunulliarfik Fjord and Igalikup Kangerlua Fjord as well as the southern part of Qaqortup Imaa. Many visitors travel to the area each year to hike, camp, and see the many visible Norse archaeological ruins still present on the landscape. Cruise ships and private tour operators are also active in the area during the summer months, providing visitors with the opportunity to see and experience famous sites such as Brattahlíð (Eric the Red’s Farm) and Hvalsey Church. Access to South Greenland is becoming easier by both plane and cruise ship, and the rise of tourism – while potentially an economic boom for local people – also presents several challenges. The scale of climate change effects and environmental uncertainty coupled with rising human impacts presents an imminent threat to the integrity of the archaeological record and the survival of South Greenland’s heritage landscape in the 21st century.
When you step off the plane on 22 June, all of you will be part of something that is much bigger than a just a four-week field school – you will be all be honorary stewards of South Greenland’s heritage during your stay. We will be stationed in a very popular destination for tourists, and at some point, all of you will have the opportunity to meet and interact with visitors. Your knowledge and leadership and the positive interactions you have with these visitors and tourists can have enormous influence – they will want to know about why you are in Greenland and will have many questions about the history of the area and the work you are doing. It is during these interactions that you can help to impress upon people the fragile nature of Greenland’s archaeology and environment and engage in dialogues about how to show respect for local people, traditions, and culture.
The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) have been very proactive in recent years in developing resources to help educate tourists travelling to the Arctic. These include raising awareness around protecting the fragile, natural environment, preserving cultural remains and being sensitive and respectful to local cultures and traditions. I encourage you all to take five minutes and watch the short video link below on Guidelines for Visitors to the Arctic. Although it is generally intended for cruise ship visitors visiting Svalbard–the main themes are widely applicable to South Greenland and serve as a nice entry point for you to start thinking about how you can help educate and encourage visitors to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner during their stay in Greenland.
I also attach here two new recent Guidelines produced by AECO – one on protecting cultural remains (AECO Cultural remains guidelines v2019) and the other on protecting Arctic plant life (AECO Vegetation Guidelines v2019). Please commit the bullet points to memory and think about how you might be able to share these “best-practices” when you meet someone who is visiting Greenland and the Arctic for the first time. With your help, we can foster new perspectives for protecting Greenland’s archaeological resources and environment while promoting new attitudes centered on both sustainable site use, heritage preservation, and a shared sense of collective stewardship of Greenland’s past, present, and future.
The AVFS staff are looking eagerly to meeting all of you on 22 June and wish you all the best in your exams and finals as your spring semesters come to a close!
Hans Husayn Harmsen, PhD, RPA
Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu
Greenland National Museum & Archives