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The initial settlement of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries AD was based on animal husbandry, with an emphasis on dairy cattle and sheep. For this activity, land resources that offered a range of grazing and fodder production opportunities were required to sustain farmsteads. In this paper, the nature of land within the boundaries of settlements in an area of Western Iceland centered on Reykholt, which became the estate of the writer and chieftain Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, is analysed with a geographical information systems (GIS) approach. The results, combining historical, archaeological, and environmental data with the GIS-based topographic analysis, suggests that, although inherent land qualities seem to have played a part in shaping the initial hierarchy of settlement in the area, it was the acquisition of additional property and of access to resources outside the valley that ultimately pushed Reykholt to the forefront in the hierarchical order.
Recent archaeology has introduced a new people into the scenario of 13th-century Greenland – the Dorset people of the Paleo-Eskimo tradition. These people were encountered by Norse hunters who travelled northwards on their hunting forays, as described in Historia Norvegiae, which recounts contact with the so-called Skrælíngja. The question of who these Skrælíngja were has been discussed since the discovery of the source in the late 19th century. It has been proposed that they were the Inuit of the Thule culture. We now know that three different cultures—Paleo-Eskimo, Inuit, and Europeans—impacted on the development of Greenland's history in the first half of the second millennium AD. This paper addresses issues of interactions between them.
This paper takes a fresh look at what is known about the 17th–18th century Basque-Icelandic glossaries and reassesses their historical importance from a cultural perspective. These anonymous glossaries have been published a number of times since Deen's first publication (1937) and attracted some interest in the 1980s because of the few Basque pidgin sentences included in the second glossary. I maintain that their importance goes well beyond the undoubtedly interesting pidgin section of glossary II. To prove this point, I sketch a brief history of the context in which Basques and Icelanders came together, and analyze some of the words in the glossaries to offer an explanation of some obscure terms, as well as to re-assess the origin of the informants and the circumstances that gave rise to these unique documents.
Long-term environmental change and human impact have been reconstructed at fine spatial and temporal resolutions in an archaeologically rich, and floristically interesting, part of southwestern Ireland, namely the Beara peninsula, County Cork. Detailed pollen and macrofossil analyses, and radiocarbon dating have been carried out on several short peat monoliths, and on a peat core and a lake core from small basins. Landscape evolution, vegetation dynamics, and farming activity from the end of the Neolithic (c. 2500 B.C.) to the present day, i.e., the period of greatest human impact in southwestern Ireland, have been reconstructed. While significant opening-up of the landscape began relatively early in the Bronze Age (between c. 2400–2100 B.C.), the main woodland clearances took place in the later Bronze Age (beginning c. 1400 B.C. and continuing into the Iron Age, i.e., to c. 400 B.C.). In the mid- and later Iron Age, there was considerable fine-scale spatial variation, with activity being concentrated mainly in the uplands (at c. 200 m asl) and at lower elevations. Radiocarbon dating and pollen evidence show that the linear stone-wall system, now partly obscured by shallow peat, was laid out towards the end of the Iron Age (c. A.D. 400) in the context of a largely open landscape. While the initial foci of bog growth appear to relate to the late Neolithic/beginning of the Bronze Age, widespread development of blanket bog was essentially a phenomenon of the late 1st/early 2nd millennium A.D. It was probably favoured by wetter and cooler conditions during the Little Ice Age. Detailed records are presented for the filmy ferns, Hymenophyllum tunbrigense, H. wilsonii, and Trichomanes speciosum, and also Myrica and Ulex, both shrubs with pronounced, oceanic distribution patterns.
Whilst there has been an increasing recognition of the influence of natural agency on human society in Scotland in the medieval period, conventional historiography has generally presented the wholesale reconfiguration of structures of secular lordship in the Scottish central Highlands in the 14th century as an essentially political consequence of the socio-political dislocation associated with the Anglo-Scottish wars that occurred after 1296. The establishment within the region of militarised Gaelic kindreds from the West Highlands and Hebrides of Scotland has come to be regarded as either a symptom of efforts by externally based regional lords to bolster their authority, or an opportunistic territorial aggrandise-ment by newly dominant neighbouring lords. Feuding and predatory raiding associated with these kindreds is recognised as competition for resources but generally in a context of projection of superior lordship over weaker neighbours. Evidence for long-term changes in climate extrapolated from North Atlantic proxy data, however, suggests that the cattle-based economy of Atlantic Scotland was experiencing protracted environmentally induced stress in the period c.1300–c.1350. Using this evidence, we discuss whether exchange systems operating within traditional lordship structures could offset localised and short-term pressures on the livestock-based regime, but could not be sustained long-term on the reduced fodder and contracting herd sizes caused by climatic deterioration. Territorial expansion and development of a predatory culture, it is argued, were responses to an environment-triggered economic crisis.
One current hypothesis for the Pleistocene peopling of the Americas invokes a dispersal by European hunter-gatherers along a biologically productive “corridor” situated on the edge of the sea-ice that filled the Atlantic Ocean during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). In this paper, we assert that critical paleoceanographic data underpinning this hypothesis has not yet been examined in sufficient detail. To this end, we present data which show that the corridor may not have existed, and that, if it did, its suitability as a migration route is highly questionable. In addition to demonstrating that the hypothesized migration was unlikely, this highlights the importance of integrating paleoceanographic and archaeological data in studies of paleo-coastal societies.
The site of Gásir in Eyjafjörđur in northeast Iceland was excavated from 2001–2006, revealing details of one of the larger seasonal trading centers of medieval Iceland. Interdisciplinary investigations of the site have shed light upon the organization of the site and provided confirmation of documentary accounts of both prestige items (gyrfalcons, walrus ivory) and bulk goods (sulphur) concentrated for export. Gásir was a major point of cultural contact as well as economic exchange between Icelanders and the world of medieval Europe, and the zooarchaeological analyses indicated a mix of foodways and the presence of exotic animals and a well-developed provisioning system, which supplied high-quality meat and fresh fish to the traders. The excavations demonstrated an unexpected regional-level economic impact of the seasonally occupied site on the surrounding rural countryside, and contribute to ongoing investigations of the extent and impact of overseas trade in medieval Iceland.