Historical Ecology of Norse Greenland: Zooarchaeology and Climate Change Responses

The Abstract and the PDF file have been kindly provided by Konrad Smiarowski who retains copyright. Konrad can be contacted by email.

Konrad Smiarowski(2022) Historical Ecology of Norse Greenland: Zooarchaeology and Climate Change Responses Hunter College of the City University of New York, Unpublished PhD Thesis. 270 pp..


This thesis invokes Historical Ecology approach to better understand human impacts on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and the creation of cultural landscapes and seascapes in Norse Greenland. It also investigates climate impacts on human economic strategies, as they vary substantially by island and region in the North Atlantic but were especially important in arctic Greenland.

The analysis centers on the animal bone data and uses both existing and newly generated zooarchaeological collections to contribute to the study of Norse Greenland and its place in human ecodynamics research. The newly analyzed archaeofauna shows that the culturally Nordic European settlers used to the life based around domestic livestock and associated foddering rapidly transformed their subsistence strategies to the limits and opportunities of the new environment. Marine fishing was immediately supplanted by intensive communal seal hunting, caribou hunting was rapidly organized by the elite managers, and the herding strategies were adapted to the less productive pastures. At the same time the data shows early prolonged commitment to the Nor├░ursetur walrus hunt, despite the high risks, and does not show evidence for a reduction of the hunting effort after the 1300 CE climate impacts.

Climate change played significant role in the Greenlandic adaptations, and intensification of seal hunting and modification of the herding economy after 1300 CE, were successful strategies until a conjunction of environmental and economic events caused the disappearance of the settlements.

Different trajectories for large and small farms through time, and elite takeovers of smaller holdings after ca. 1250 CE support the picture of medieval Greenland as fully hierarchical society, which was sustainable for a prolonged period of time.

Through fieldwork that generated the new archaeofauna the research community was made aware of current climate change caused degradation of organic preservation at archaeological sites in SW Greenland, and enabled researchers to study these processes, and to organize excavations aimed at saving the remaining fragile sites from complete decomposition in the immediate future.

Suggestions for future research to make best use of available sites and materials is also provided.

This research was made possible by generous grants from the National Geographic Society, RANNIS, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Leverhulme Trust, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Liefur Eirkisson Fellowship Program, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the US National Science Foundation (grants 0732327, 1140106, 1119354, 1203823, 1203268, 1202692, & 1821284).

Thesis (PDF file)