Historically, few environments have challenged human survival more than Greenland – a territory of Denmark for nearly 300 years. Early settlers came and went, but from the late 18th century, indigenous Inuit and European Norse managed to sustain their existence permanently by raising farm animals, along with hunting marine animals. Honoring the survival skills of these two different cultural groups in the harsh sub-arctic landscape, UNESCO recently granted World Heritage status to “Kujataa, Greenland: Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap.”

World Heritage designations recognize natural or human-made structures or traditions that have outstanding, global value and therefore deserve special protection. A UNESCO-run fund provides about $4 million annually to support heritage sites. The agency also offers advice about managing related tourist traffic, to preserve the environment and benefit local communities.

This is Greenland’s second World Heritage honor. In 2004, UNESCO chose Ilulissat Icefjord – the sea mouth of one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers. Frozen over in winter, this spectacular fjord crackles in warmer months as ice calves from the glacier and fills the water with icebergs. Greenland is hoping for a third World Heritage title – the Aasivissuit-Nipisat Inuit hunting range between the western ice and sea. It applied in 2003. UNESCO – a United Nations agency – makes between 20 and 30 new choices each year and now lists 1,073.

Ilulissat Icefjord

Drawing from Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations, 1856
UNESCO grants World Heritage status to Kujataa, Greenland
UNESCO Heritage information and photos on Kujataa
Science Magazine: The Lost Norse
UNESCO Heritage information and photos on Ilulissat Icefjord
About UNESCO World Heritage
Greenland tourism
Photo of Ilulissat Icefjord, by NordForsk/Terje Heiestad via Wikimedia Commons