Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin 21 - 2010


Exploration history and place names of northern East Greenland

Anthony K. Higgins

This Bulletin records the exploration history of northern East Greenland in three phases: the pioneer exploration and discovery from c. 2400 BC to 1912; commercial activities, early mountaineering and geological mapping from 1919 to 1960; and modern scientific investigations, adventure and sporting expeditions from 1961 to 2008. The catalogue of place names that forms the bulk of this volume gives the location and origin of more than 5650 approved and unapproved names.

The early exploration of northern East Greenland was carried out by many different nations, whose objectives varied from seeking a route to the North Pole, searching for missing polar explorers, commercial whaling and sealing to primary exploration and mapping. After the Norwegian–Danish dispute over the sovereignty of parts of East Greenland was settled at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1933, the Place Name Committee for Greenland (Stednavneudvalget) was established, and the place names used on existing published maps of Greenland were systematically reviewed and with few exceptions approved in danicised form.

More than 3000 place names were officially approved by the Place Name Committee for use in northern East Greenland up to the end of 1984, after which responsibility passed to the Home-Rule government at Nuuk in Green- land. More than a third of these place names were proposed by members of the expeditions led by the Danish geologist Lauge Koch. The post-war expeditions led by Lauge Koch were almost entirely geological in nature, and the place names given reflect in part geological characteristics of the features named, the animals encountered and events during the expeditions, as well as commemorating the mountains, lakes and other features of the home countries of the participants. 


The first recorded landing by Europeans on the coast of northern East Greenland (north of 69°N) was that of William Scoresby Jr., a British whaler, in 1822. This volume includes a chronological summary of the pioneer 19th century exploration voyages made by British, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, French and German expeditions – all of whom reported that the region had previously been occupied by the Inuit or Eskimo; also included are brief outlines of the increasing number of government and privately sponsored expeditions throughout the 20th century, whose objectives included cartography, geology, zoology, botany, trapping and the ascent of the highest mountain summits.

In 1934 the Place Name Committee for Greenland was established, the tasks of which included a review of all place names hitherto recorded on published maps of Greenland, their formal adoption in danicised form, and the approval or rejection of new name proposals. In northern East Greenland, by far the largest numbers of new place names were those proposed by scientists associated with Lauge Koch's geological expeditions that lasted from 1926 until 1958. This volume records the location and origin of more than 3000 officially approved place names as well as about 2650 unapproved names.

The author's interest in the exploration history and place names of northern East Greenland started in 1968, when the Geological Survey of Greenland initiated a major five-year geological mapping programme in the Scoresby Sund region. Systematic compilation of names began about 1970, initially with the names given by William Scoresby Jr., and subsequently broadened in scope to include the names proposed by all expeditions to northern East Greenland. The author has participated in 16 summer mapping expeditions with the Survey to northern East Greenland. Publication of this volume represents the culmination of a lifetime working in the Arctic.

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The Bulletin contains five maps with the most important place names used in northern East Greenland