Shieling activity in the Norse Eastern Settlement: palaeoenvironment of the 'Mountain Farm', Vatnahverfi, Greenland

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Abstract

Transhumance agriculture formed a key component of subsistence strategies in the Norse economies of the North Atlantic, with evidence of shielings or sæters found in Norway, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. It is frequently assumed to have played a role in Norse Greenland, yet little enquiry has been made into such activity. This paper seeks to address this deficit, presenting the first palaeoenvironmental study of a suspected Greenlandic shieling site in the uplands of the former Norse Eastern Settlement. Pollen analysis, 14C and associated proxies are used to date and assess the environmental and landscape impact of shieling activity. Evidence for vegetation disturbance associated with Norse settlement is indicated from c. AD 985, but the shieling itself is interpreted as having been established somewhat later (cal. AD 1050–1150). Initially the site appears to have been used exclusively for grazing of livestock and there is tentative evidence for the use of burning to stimulate the spread of pastures. Pollen influx figures suggest the intensification, or initiation, of hay production c. cal. 1225–1325 reflecting either the spread of settlement from the lowland valleys, or evolution of the site into a full farm in response to population pressure. A reduction of human impact cal. AD 1300–1390 suggests a reversion to shieling activity, indicating similarities to transhumance in northern Iceland. Abandonment of the site dates to cal. AD 1325–1415 and is in agreement with previous evidence from Norse Greenland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)810-822
Number of pages13
JournalThe Holocene
Volume23
Issue number6
Early online date15 Feb 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Keywords

  • age-depth modelling
  • Bayesian
  • Greenland
  • Norse Eastern Settlement
  • palaeoecology
  • transhumance

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