Landscape Stability, Environmental Resilience and Anthropocene Transformations in Iceland

Author(s): Richard Streeter; Andrew Dugmore

Year: 2015


Before the Norse settlement, Iceland was characterised by substantial areas of birch woodland in sheltered valleys, highland willow tundra and birch-willow scrub extending into more exposed areas of upland, coast, and marginal wetlands. Terrestrial mammals had been extirpated by the Quaternary glaciations. Aeolian sediment accumulation rates were low and correlated over kilometre–scales. Rapid colonisation by the Norse (perhaps 20,000 settlers in less than 30 years) and their introduction of domesticated animals triggered a step-wise change in some environmental processes. In the first four centuries after settlement woodlands were cleared, grassland expanded, soil erosion developed, aeolian sediment accumulation rates increased and spatial variability of Earth surface processes intensified. These changes drew down natural capitals but collectively may have enhanced pastoral productivity and societal resilience in the face of climate change. Tephrochronology (a dating technique based on the identification and correlation of volcanic ash) enables us to understand these transformations in detail, track change across the landscape and correlate episodes of landscape change with putative drivers of subsistence strategy, economic practise and climate. This helps us to understand when humans became dominant drivers of change, and the implications of this development in the interplay of resilience, sustainability, climate and society.

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Cite this Record

Landscape Stability, Environmental Resilience and Anthropocene Transformations in Iceland. Andrew Dugmore, Richard Streeter. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397017)