On the Margins of the Marginal? Fringe Settlement and Land Use in Norse Greenland


Just before AD 1000 pioneer Norse hunter-farmers settled in Greenland and established what would be the extreme western outpost of Scandinavia and Europe for the next 450 years. The unexplained disappearance of this marginal medieval colony around AD 1450 has always puzzled researchers and has been proposed as a prime example of maladaptation to climatic and environmental deterioration at the onset of the ˈLittle Ice Ageˈ (LIA).

As part of the Island Ecodynamics in the North Atlantic Project (CIE), we have investigated Norse settlement and land use patterns in what has hitherto been considered the margins of the Norse Eystribyggð, South Greenland, in order to detect early signs of stress related to the LIA. Instead we have been able to outline the layout and dynamics of a complex and adaptive social-ecological system that challenge our very notion of settlement "marginality". It seems that some of the adaptive processes observed may indeed have worked to successfully counter early climatic deterioration. However, such initial and local adaptive successes could have masked underlying forces deeply rooted in established patterns of social organization and hierarchy that were undermining the long-term resilience of the medieval Norse society as a whole.

Cite this Record

On the Margins of the Marginal? Fringe Settlement and Land Use in Norse Greenland. Christian Madsen, Christian Koch Madsen, Ian Simpson, Michael Nielsen, Jette Arneborg. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 428816)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -178.41; min lat: 62.104 ; max long: 178.77; max lat: 83.52 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15010