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Degrees of success : evaluating the environmental impacts of long term settlement in South Iceland.

Mairs, K-A. and Church, M. J. and Dugmore, A. J. and Sveinbjarnardóttir, G. (2006) 'Degrees of success : evaluating the environmental impacts of long term settlement in South Iceland.', in Dynamics of northern societies : proceedings of the SILA/NABO Conference on Arctic and North Atlantic Archaeology, Copenhagen, May 10th-14th, 2004. Copenhagen: Aarhus University Press, pp. 365-373. PNM studies in archaeology & history. (10).


This paper focuses on the occupation and landscape history of Dalur and Mörk, two areas of long-term settlement in the Eyjafjallahreppur district of southern Iceland. The aim is to illustrate the importance of evaluating not only farm occupation and abandonment, but also to assess the complexities of the environmental interactions of long-term settlements. Environmental records are assessed using data from 50 sediment profiles, constrained by tephrochronology, located in the farm infields (tún) and outfields (hagi). This record indicates that despite similar outward appearances today, the environs of Dalur and Mörk have experienced different histories of environmental change over the last 1000 years. At least 14 subsidiary settlements were at one time or another established within Dalur, or were dependent on the Church farm there. Ten of these settlements were subsequently abandoned and sediment accumulation rates, a proxy indicator of erosion, remained low, indicating restricted local human impact. We conclude that this illustrates the importance of access and rights to additional resources out with the principal farm. In addition, much of the immediate environs of the main farm site was probably un-wooded at the time of settlement, so the total degree of vegetative change was limited. In contrast, palaeoenvironmental data indicates that the environs of Mörk were extensively wooded at the time of Landnám, but this woodland was rapidly cleared and this was followed by several centuries of landscape instability. In a cultural contrast, the landholdings of Mörk experienced less subdivision with a total of only five dependent farms established across the land belonging to three main farms (all of which had chapels). From the early 10th to 14th centuries there was significantly enhanced erosion within the Mörk landholdings, but this stabilised and the principal farms endured and to form sites of long-term settlement. The ownership of additional resource rights, including woodland further up-valley, may have made the crucial contribution to long term endurance.

Item Type:Book chapter
Keywords:Settlement and abandonment, Woodland clearance, Soil erosion, Iceland, Norse.
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Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:22 April 2009
Date of first online publication:June 2006
Date first made open access:No date available

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