Islands and human impact: Under what circumstances do people put unsustainable demands on island environments? Evidence from the North Atlantic
Kerry-Anne Mairs (2007) Islands and human impact: Under what circumstances do people put unsustainable demands on island environments? Evidence from the North Atlantic. University of Edinburgh, Unpublished PhD Thesis. 398 pp.
This thesis aims to examine the extent to which, and the circumstances whereby people put unsustainable demands on island environments. Firstly, hypothesis-led research focussed on the islands of Suðuroy and Sandoy in the Faroe Islands and the extent to which people have impacted the Faroese environment or not. Secondly, comparative-led interpretations focussed on the importance of the Faroes within the wider Norse North Atlantic (Iceland and Greenland) and aimed to examine the circumstances whereby people put unsustainable demands on island environments. A landscape-scaled, historical ecology approach incorporating original data from landscape mapping, stratigraphic profile analyses, archaeological survey and semi-structured interviews was developed enabling environmental and anthropogenic data to be assessed at a similar comparative scale. Maps were produced of soil degradation and geomorphic features in the Hov catchment and north Sandoy, 226 archaeological structures on two walk-over archaeological surveys were recorded and mapped, in-depth interviews were made with four Sandoy residents, 86 stratigraphic sections were recorded and a chronological framework was provided by 54 radiocarbon dates. The following interpretations were made from the data;
In Iceland, analyses of 98 sediment stratigraphies incorporating 1127 tephras and 769 calendar dates across 10 landholdings were compared with the Faroes data. It is concluded that Iceland may have suffered more severe environmental degradation because its biota and soils were sensitive to human impact and because the Norse subsistence strategy focussed principally on pastoral agriculture. The Greenland Norse, however, shared many similarities with the Faroese Norse in terms of the pre-colonisation open landscape, settlement and population size, and communal exploitation of wild food resources.