Icelandic Livestock and Landscapes: Biometrical Signatures of Land Surface Change

Author(s): Kevin Gibbons

Year: 2017


Zooarchaeologists have typically employed faunal biometric data to address questions of domestication, breeding and improvement strategies, animal population demographics, market economies, and the movement of livestock. However, an historical ecology approach to biometrics also suggests the utility of investigating relationships between livestock management strategies and landscape change. Building on over twenty years’ worth of standardized zooarchaeological datasets from across the North Atlantic, this paper examines trends in livestock management across the Scandinavian diasporic world from the ninth to eighteenth centuries and engages with geomorphological data to explore the use of animal remains in recognizing abrupt transitions between contrasting land surface states. Iceland, in particular, offers a unique setting to explore the relationship between vegetation cover and livestock morphometrics thanks to existing regional tephrochronological records. Biometrical data offer new insights on the impacts that livestock grazing had on vegetation cover and the resulting nutritional stresses on stock animals as landscapes flickered between alternative stable states as a potential precursor to crossing an erosional threshold. Were livestock managed at the expense of losing natural capital through soil erosion? Understanding these management decisions allows us to engage with larger issues of climate change, environmental conservation, and sustainable resource management systems.

Cite this Record

Icelandic Livestock and Landscapes: Biometrical Signatures of Land Surface Change. Kevin Gibbons. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430279)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14606