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With reference to 18 tephra isochrones, we present six reconstructions of landscapes in South Iceland at precise times through the last 1200 years and develop three related models of soil erosion. Before the late ninth century A.D., the landscapes of Iceland were without people and resilient to natural processes. The initial impact of human settlement in the ninth century AD was most profound in ecologically marginal areas, where major anthropogenic modifications of the ecology drove geomorphological change. In the uplands, overgrazing contributed to the formation of a dense patchwork of breaks in the vegetation cover where soil erosion developed and resulted in the rapid denudation of large areas. As the upland soils were shallow (generally <0.5 m), the overall impact of erosion on total aeolian sediment fluxes before AD 1510 was modest. Later erosion of the deeper lowland soils (generally >2 m) involved a lower spatial density of eroding fronts and a slower loss of soil cover, but a much greater movement of sediment. Land-management strategies, changes in species patterns of plant communities, extreme weather events, and climate changes have combined in differing degrees to initiate and drive rates of soil erosion. Sensitivity to change and the crossing of erosion thresholds has varied through time. The record of soil erosion has major implications for both archaeology and contemporary land management.
This paper discusses the evidence for pig husbandry in the Faroes during the Norse and early Medieval periods. The evidence from zooarchaeology, biomolecular archaeology, and place-name evidence is reviewed, proposing that the keeping of pigs was an important part of the early paleoeconomy of the islands.
The two archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland, which form the Northern Isles of Britain, are an active focus of archaeological research. The rich Neolithic heritage of Orkney has been acknowledged by the granting of World Heritage status. Although set in both a biogeographically peripheral position and within what may be considered to be marginal landscapes, these North Atlantic islands have a large number of settlement sites with long occupational sequences, often stretching from the Neolithic to the Late Iron Age or into the Norse period. The mixed paleoeconomic strategy presented by three of these settlements—Tofts Ness, Sanday, Orkney (excavated 1985–1988); the Iron Age sequences at Old Scatness, Shetland (excavated 1995–2006); and Late Neolithic and Bronze Age cultivated middens from Jarlshof, Shetland (investigated in 2004)—provide the core of the evidence discussed within this paper (the radiocarbon chronologies for the key sequences from these three sites are provided as Appendix 1). The role of the prehistoric paleoeconomy is argued to be of central importance in the longevity of these settlements. In particular, barley production is evidenced on all three sites by the plant macrofossils and by the human investment in the creation and management of manured soils, providing an infield area around the settlement.
This paper focuses on the identification of these anthropogenic soils in the archaeological record. The investment in and management of these arable soils provides clear evidence for resource creation on all three sites. It is argued that these soils were a crucial resource that was necessary to support intensive barley cultivation. The intensive management implied by the presence of these soils is seen as a catalyst for sedentary living and sustainability within a marginal landscape. The evidence also demonstrates the continuity of agricultural practice from the Neolithic to the Iron Age together with the social dynamics that such a practice generates.
This paper is in two parts: the first section examines in detail the evidence for the presence of anthropogenic soils and the mixed economic strategies for the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age presented by the evidence from Tofts Ness and Jarlshof. The evidence for the continuity of this intensive strategy of soil management is seen from the later evidence of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age at Tofts Ness and the Middle Iron Age evidence at Old Scatness. The second part of the paper examines the importance of these soils as an inherited resource within the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age paleoeconomic system. Two models are presented. The first examines the cyclic importance of human creation and maintenance of small arable plots to high barley production yields and therefore to site viability, and the effect this has within a mixed resource system in providing settlement viability through time. The second explores the theoretical land and seascape that would provide this mixed resource base.
This paper reports on the results from stable isotope analysis of faunal bone collagen from a number of Iron Age and later sites on the island of South Uist, in the Western Isles, Scotland. This preliminary investigation into the isotopic signatures of the fauna is part of a larger project to model the interaction between humans, animals, and the broader environment in the Western Isles. The results demonstrate that the island fauna data fall within the range of expected results for the UK, with the terrestrial herbivorous diets of cattle and sheep confirmed. The isotopic composition for pigs suggests that some of these animals had an omnivorous diet, whilst a single red deer value might be suggestive of the consumption of marine foods, such as by grazing on seaweed. However, further analysis is needed in order to verify this anomalous isotopic ratio.
Multidisciplinary approaches are used to examine possible changes in North Atlantic sea-ice cover, in the context of seal hunting, during the period of the Norse occupation of Greenland (ca. 985–1500). Information from Iceland is also used in order to amplify and illuminate the situation in Greenland. Data are drawn mainly from zooarchaeological analyses, but written records of climate and sea-ice variations, as well as paleoclimatic data sets are also discussed. Although it should be noted that any use of seal bones from excavated archaeofauna (animal bone collections from archaeological sites) must recognize the filtering effects of past human economic organization, technology, and seal-hunting strategies, it is suggested that differing biological requirements of the six seal species most commonly found in Arctic/North Atlantic regions may provide a potential proxy for past climate, in particular sea-ice conditions. It is concluded that an increase in the taking of harp seals, as opposed to common seals, in the Norse Greenland “Eastern Settlement” in the late-fourteenth century, may reflect an increase in summer drift-ice.
The grass-covered top of the Brough of Deerness, a small sea stack in Orkney, Scotland, holds the remains of a substantial Viking Age settlement and associated chapel. The chapel was excavated by Christopher Morris in the 1970s and discovered to have two phases, one above and one below an Anglo-Saxon coin minted between 959 and 975. New excavations of two buildings from the surrounding settlement aim to illuminate the function of the site, and to inform our understanding of the relationship between power and religion during the Viking Age diaspora. At least one of the buildings was a domestic dwelling, of typical Scandinavian style, abandoned in the 11th to 12th centuries. However, both structures represent only the top of a long stratigraphic sequence, with underlying middens radiocarbon dated to as early as the 6th to 7th centuries A.D. In its latest phases, the site was probably a chiefly stronghold (as previously suggested by Morris) with a symbiotic relationship with surrounding farms. In this preliminary report on new research, several models are tentatively proposed to account for the role of such a settlement within the political economy of late Viking Age Scotland.