Grazing impacts and woodland management in Eriksfjord: Betula, coprophilous fungi and the Norse settlement of Greenland

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This paper focuses on the impact of Norse settlement on vegetation and landscape around the head of Tunulliarfik (Eriksfjord) in southern Greenland. Pollen, radiocarbon, microscopic charcoal and fungal spore data are presented from a peat monolith which was collected close to the ruins of a large Norse farm complex (group Ø39 at Qinngua in the former Eastern Settlement). Landnám is identified at ca. cal. a.d. 1020 by a small decrease in pollen from Betula, a slight increase in Poaceae, and the appearance of pollen from Norse apophytes (native plants favoured and spread by human activity) and anthropochores (not native and unintentionally introduced by people). Increases in microscopic charcoal and palynological richness are also apparent. This pattern is broadly consistent with that seen in other pollen diagrams from this region. The sequence is unusual for Greenland, however, in that relatively high Betula pollen percentages (average 20% TLP) are recorded throughout the period of settlement, up to the end of the 14th century a.d. before the profile becomes truncated. If these data are primarily representative of the dry land vegetation, then they suggest that birch woodland and scrub may well have persisted close to the farm throughout the Norse period. Given the potential resource value of woodland to the settlers, this may imply that birch was being managed sustainably, as was the case in Iceland during the medieval period. Coprophilous fungal spores typically found on animal dung are abundant during the early phase of settlement, yet subsequently decline in abundance. This may indicate a likely decrease in grazing intensity or livestock numbers over time, possibly in response to climatic deterioration and/or soil erosion that is expected to have placed increased stress on the pastoral farming system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-197
Number of pages17
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number3
Early online date28 Jan 2011
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Greenland
  • Norse
  • pollen analysis
  • Betula
  • woodland management
  • coprophilous fungal spores


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