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Landscapes of settlement in northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of human impact and climate fluctuation on the millennial scale

McGovern, TH; Vésteinsson, O; Friðriksson, A; Church, MJ; Lawson, IT; Simpson, IA; Einarsson, A; Dugmore, AJ; Cook, GT; Perdikaris, S; Edwards, KJ; Thomson, AM; Adderley, WP; Newton, AJ; Lucas, G; Edvardsson, R; Aldred, O; Dunbar, E

Landscapes of settlement in northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of human impact and climate fluctuation on the millennial scale Thumbnail


TH McGovern

O Vésteinsson

A Friðriksson

IT Lawson

IA Simpson

A Einarsson

AJ Dugmore

GT Cook

S Perdikaris

KJ Edwards

AM Thomson

WP Adderley

AJ Newton

G Lucas

R Edvardsson

O Aldred

E Dunbar


A thousand years ago Viking age voyagers crossed the grey waters of the North Atlantic, colonizing the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland between AD 800 and 1000. However, early transatlantic migration was not to have the historical impact of the later European re-discovery of North America, and by the 16th century the Scandinavian North Atlantic island communities had become either extinct or were marginalized colonies of continental states. Climate change and unintended human impact upon island ecosystems have long been proposed as root causes of the decline of the Norse Atlantic colonies, but interdisciplinary research had usually been restricted to short term investigations of single sites. In an attempt to better understand the complex interactions of culture and nature in early Iceland and to contribute a long term perspective to larger issues of sustainable resource use, soil erosion, and the historical ecology of global change, since 1996 the NABO research cooperative has mounted a sustained program of interdisciplinary collaboration focused upon 9th-13th century sites and landscapes in the highland interior lake basin of Mývatn. A multi-site, interdisciplinary, landscape based approach to human-environment interaction on the millennial scale has modified many early assumptions about human impact in the region, while documenting a case of 1200 year-old sustainable management of wildfowl and substantial internal exchange of marine products within 9th-10th century Iceland. Organizational background of the research cooperative and management lessons learned are also presented.


McGovern, T., Vésteinsson, O., Friðriksson, A., Church, M., Lawson, I., Simpson, I., …Dunbar, E. (2007). Landscapes of settlement in northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of human impact and climate fluctuation on the millennial scale. American Anthropologist, 109(1), 27-51.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2007
Deposit Date Dec 2, 2008
Publicly Available Date Dec 2, 2008
Journal Journal of the American Anthropological Association
Print ISSN 0002-7294
Electronic ISSN 1548-1433
Publisher American Anthropological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 109
Issue 1
Pages 27-51
Keywords Iceland, Sustainability, Historical Ecology, Paleoecology
Publisher URL


Published Journal Article (965 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Published as McGovern, T.H.; Vesteinsson, O.; Fridriksson, A.; Church, M.; Lawson, I.T.; Simpson, I.A.; Einarsson, A.; Dugmore, A.J.; Cook, G.; Perdikaris, S.; Edwards, K.J.; Thomson, A.M.; Adderley, W.P.; Newton, A.J.; Lucas, G.; Aldred, O. (2007) Landscapes of Settlement in Northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of Human Impact & Climate Fluctuation on the Millennial Scale. American Anthropologist, 109(1), pp.27-51 © 2007 by American Anthropological Association. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the American Anthropological Association for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on [Caliber (] or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,

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