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Pushing the limits: palynological investigations at the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet in the Norse Western Settlement

Schofield, Edward and Pearce, Danni and Mair, Douglas and Rea, Brice and Lea, James and Kamenos, Nicholas and Schoenrock, Kathryn and Barr, Iestyn and Edwards, Kevin (2019) Pushing the limits: palynological investigations at the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet in the Norse Western Settlement. Environmental Archaeology. ISSN 1461-4103

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Abstract

This paper presents two high-resolution pollen records dating to ~AD 1000-1400 that reveal the impacts of Norse colonists on vegetation and landscape around a remote farmstead in the Western Settlement of Greenland. The study is centred upon a ‘centralised farm’ (ruin group V53d) in Austmannadalen, near the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (64º13’ N, 49º49’W). The climate is low arctic and considered marginal in terms of its suitability for the type of pastoral agriculture that the Norse settlers introduced. The data reveal that at a short distance (~500 m) from the farm buildings, the palynological ‘footprint’ for settlement becomes extremely indistinct, the only clear palaeoenvironmental evidence for a human presence being elevated levels of microscopic charcoal. This contrasts with the Eastern Settlement, where a strong palynological signature for Norse landnám is evident, from the local (individual farm) through to the regional (landscape) scale. The palynological data from Austmannadalen, and the Western Settlement more generally, imply that farming occurred at very low intensity. This aligns with ideas that promote the importance of hunting, and trade in valuable Arctic commodities (e.g. walrus ivory), ahead of a search for new pasture as the dominant motivation driving the Norse settlement of this region.

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