The settlement at Herjolfsnes was founded c. 985 by emigrants from Iceland, under the leadership of Erik the Red. As was customary, each of the primary settlers took an area for himself, and it was named for him. Herjolf Baardsen took a fjord near the southern tip of Greenland (Herjolfsfiord), but lived in a settlement known as Herjolfsnes. In its time, Herjolfsnes was a major settlement and port. It lasted for approximately 500 years, until politics, weather, and poor diet contrived to wipe out the last of the Greenland settlements.
The people of Greenland had plenty of wool, butter, and cheese to trade, but very little grain. They were expected to be self-sufficient, but in truth, trade ships were vital to their survival. From the style of their clothing, they still considered themselves to be Europeans, copying the garments worn by visitors or received as gifts from the European countries. By early in the fifteenth century, the appointed bishops to Greenland churches didn't even bother to go to their bishoprics. Records show that as of 1492, no clerics had been there for at least 80 years. Norway claimed sovereignty over the colonies, and forbade trade with other countries. The Norwegian ships rarely came to Greenland at all. Native hunters grew bold and attacked a few settlements. The formerly robust Norsemen grew weak and undersized, and the skeletal remains show much sign of deformity due to poor diet. The clothing found in the Herjolfsnes graves shows that some illegal trade did continue into the very early 15th century, but a period of severe winters prevented any further trade. In 1408 an Icelandic ship was taken off course to Greenland, to the settlement in Hvalsey. They departed in 1410, the last known visit of any Icelanders to the Greenland Norse settlements.
The very location of Herjolfsnes was forgotten, and until sometime in the nineteenth century, the remains of the settlement were left to the Eskimo natives, who dismantled most of the structures for building material. A few artifacts were found c. 1885, and brought back to Denmark. In 1921, Dr. Nörlund led a dig at Ikigait, as it was then called. The discovery of the church graveyard, and the remains therein, are the basis for his works on Herjolfsnes.
The graveyard at the Herjolfsnes church contained the remains of some of the original Norse inhabitants. A few were found in coffins, but most were buried simply, wrapped in shrouds. The shrouds were items of clothing, some torn into pieces, some almost intact, and generally assumed to be the personal clothing of that person. There were numerous hoods and hosen, but the best-known finds were the dresses. The dresses were both male and female, adult and child. Dr. Nörlund includes a great deal of research to date these dresses, concluding that most of the finds are consistent with very late 13th c. to very early 15th c. clothing as seen in numerous paintings, illuminations, statuary, and brasses from that period.