Comparative Island Ecodynamics Project

North Atlantic Biocultural Organization, Comparative Island Ecodynamics in Iceland & Greenland Project (CIE), US National Science Foundation, Arctic Social Sciences Program, 2012-16, US $1.3 million. Principle Investigators George Hambrecht (U Maryland), Tom McGovern (CUNY), Ramona Harrison (CUNY), Andy Dugmore (U Edinburgh), Orri Vésteinsson (U Iceland and FSI), Adolf Frišriksson (FSI), Jette Arneborg (National Museum of Denmark), Christian K Madsen (National Museum of Denmark), Ian Simpson (U Stirling) Richard Streeter (U St. Andrews). This project funds a series of interlocking excavation and survey projects in Iceland and Greenland aimed at better understanding the complex interactions of human choice, environmental change, climate impacts, and early world system effects on the very different historical pathways of the Nordic settlements in Iceland and Greenland. This is an umbrella program building on the successful NABO International Polar Year collaborations (2007-11), which shares logistics, staff and students, and funded specialists in Zooarchaeology, Archaeobotany, Geoarchaeology, Radiocarbon and Stable Isotope analysis, Models and Data Management, and community outreach. Although one more season of excavation and survey is planned for summer 2016 in Greenland, the CIE project is in process of moving into post-excavation analysis and reporting, and is working to make its diverse data sets fully available on line. We welcome participation in the post-excavation analysis and publication program and will be happy to involve new collaborators in this work.

Since 2013 the CIE project has actively collaborated with the Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES) in the Inscribing Environmental Memory in the Icelandic Sagas (IEM) project and has provided joint funding for multiple meetings and workshops and sponsored several MA and PhD projects. Synergy between the NABO and NIES scholarly spectrum inter-connecting environmental science, archaeology, environmental history, environmental humanities, saga scholarship, arts for sustainability and support for local heritage and sustainability education initiatives has already resulted in multiple new grant applications and publications.

For CIE project reports and updates see , and details on CIE sub projects and other field projects in the region see the NABO Project Management System (PMS) developed and maintained by Dr. Anthony Newton of U Edinburgh Geosciences. Note that the NABO PMS is fully searchable by region and site name and has a map based navigation system to aid access so sub-projects and individual site reports can be easily accessed by either name search or map location if you would like to learn more about any of these sub-projects and download reports. For additional information about the CIE progress or for access to data sets or collections please contact Tom McGovern ( and George Hambrecht (


Mżvatn Landscapes of Settlement Project extension (2012-15) Adolf Frišriksson (FSI) & Megan Hicks (CUNY). CIE NSF with additional NSF Doctoral Improvement Grant to Megan Hicks. This work continues research and education work in a NABO Long Term Interdisciplinary Research Area in the highland lake basin of Mżvatn. Excavation at the deeply stratified site of Skśtustašir spanning 9th-20th century has been combined with extensive survey directed by Megan Hicks locating additional midden deposits with good organic preservation spanning the early modern to medieval/ Viking Age periods. In 2014 further landscape study and excavation led by Adolf Frišriksson was carried out on the slopes of one of the curious pseudo-craters by the lake shore, testing the extent of remains of a Viking Age pagan burial ground. Recurring work in Mżvatn has also maintained collaboration with the local Kids’ and Senior’s Archaeology Project Iceland which directly engages local schools and heritage groups in locating sites and place names with GPS. The Mżvatn Landscapes project is now collaborating with the MYCHANGE project led by Astrid Ogilvie (INSTAAR/ U Akureyri) which is investigating varied written records of the later medieval to early modern periods and their relationship to paleoecological evidence and ongoing zooarchaeological research by Megan Hicks as part of her Ph.D. dissertation (CUNY, Leif Eiriksson Scholarship Foundation). NABO PMS Project Page.

Hofstašir Cemetery project (2010-15) Hildur Gestsdóttir (FSI): Tephrochronology demonstrates that the small Christian cemetery at Hofstašir near Mżvatn went out of use before 1300, although use of the church itself may have continued. The main aim of the investigation is to carry out a comprehensive investigation of an early medieval church and cemetery, to increase our understanding and knowledge of church structures and burial practices from the period in Iceland. With that in mind, the long term aim of the investigation is to excavate the entire cemetery, not only inside the cemetery boundary, but also outside it to investigate whether there are structural features located outside it, and in particular whether there are any extramural burials of individuals who for some reason could not be laid to rest in sacred ground. Another aim of the project is to carry out intensive osteoarchaeological analysis of the human skeletal remains in combination with stable isotope (N, C, S, Sr) and ancient DNA approaches. One PhD, two M.Sc., one MA, and two BA theses have so far resulted from this work, and two additional doctoral theses are in preparation. The final season of excavation to complete this first whole-cemetery recovery program took place in 2015 and the project is now in post-excavation analysis. NABO PMS Project Hofstašir Page.

Gįsir Hinterlands Project Expansion (2012-14) Ramona Harrison (CUNY) and Howell Roberts (FSI) CIE support with NSF Doctoral Improvement grant to Ramona Harrison. The Gįsir hinterlands project (GHP) aims at the integration of documentary sources, site-focused environmental archaeology, and an integrative regional landscape approach to better understand economic and environmental relationships of farms within the Eyjafjöršur region that played an integral part in the food supply and exchange net connected with activities at the Gįsir market place. The initial project funded by Harrison’s NSF project and Icelandic sources has expanded to a landscape scaled investigation of the Hörgįrdalur valley system in Eyjafjöršur involving systematic testing and large scale excavation at Skuggi, Oddstašir, and Möšruvellir sites. This project is now in post-excavation phase and has resulted in a new perspective on both lower-status Viking Age settlement and subsistence and the local impacts of early world system connections in the High Middle Ages. PhD earned by Ramona Harrison 2013. Dr. Harrison is now at the Department of Archaeology of U Bergen Norway. NABO PMS Project Page.

Siglunes rescue project (2013-14) Ramona Harrison, Birna Lįrusdóttir and Howell Roberts. Excavation and survey at a multi-phase fishing site at the entrance to Siglufjord in N Iceland with a newly documented Viking Age component that is currently the earliest specialized fishing site known from Iceland. This site complex allows comparison between the early Viking Age artisanal fisheries and the later fully commercial fisheries of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods. Collections of bird, fish, and sea mammal bones are now under study (stable isotopes and aDNA) as part of the NABO-IHOPE Distributed Observing Networks of the Past program in an integrated effort to mobilize dated archaeological deposits for attempts to reconstruct population dynamics and food web relationships during the MWP-LIA transition in the North Atlantic. This important site is heavily endangered by accelerating marine erosion and has been targeted for more extensive rescue excavation as part of a new NSF proposal. NABO PMS Project Page.

Svalbardshreppur regional landscapes project (James Woollett, U Laval Quebec). A re-excavation of a deeply stratified midden at Svalbard farm in NE Iceland first investigated 1986-88 has developed into a landscape scaled project involving extensive survey and excavation on multiple sites, notably the Viking Age- Early Medieval site of Hjalmarsvķk which has generated a second very large archaeofauna from contexts dating from first settlement to 1300 CE. The recurring patterns of upland settlement expansion and contraction in this region are partly tied to climate fluctuation but also respond to medieval and modern globalization impacts. PhD project for Céline Dupont-Hébert, U Laval. NABO PMS Project Page.

Gufuskįlar rescue project (Lilja Pįlsdóttir FSI and Frank Feeley CUNY) CIE with NSF doctoral improvement grant to Frank Feeley. This coastal site has been heavily impacted by both marine and wind erosion, with extensive rich bands of well-preserved bone and artifacts exposed along nearly a km of coastline at the tip of the Snaefellsness peninsula in W Iceland. Radiocarbon dates indicate intense “proto-industrial” scale fishing effort in the 15th century and artifact finds (medieval pottery, seals, jewelry, chain mail) suggest the possible presence of English or other non- Icelandic merchants. The occupation of the larger site area extends from Viking Age to modern period and this endangered site is being developed for a combined field school and community outreach center. PhD project for Frank Feeley CUNY. See the Gufuskalar Archaeology Drone Tour and Facebook and NABO PMS Project Page.

Skaftįrtunga Human Ecodynamics Project 2012-15, Andy Dugmore, Elķn Hreišarsdóttir, George Hambrecht, Richard Streeter). This project combines archaeological excavation and survey with innovative high resolution tephrochronology developed by Streeter and Dugmore to better understand change in complex socio-ecological systems, develop the use of tephra layers as indicators of land surface conditions at the time of past eruptions and assess threshold crossing events in soil erosion and accumulation patterns in this tephra-rich portion of Iceland. See the Anticipating land surface change and Late-Holocene land surface change in a coupled social–ecological system papers.


Gardar/Igaliku RAPID Rescue Project (2012-13) National Museum and Archives Greenland, Inst. Archaeology Iceland, CUNY, NSF RAPID grant 2012-13. an intensive international multi-disciplinary effort to salvage critical organic remains (zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, artifactual, geoarchaeological, bioarchaeological, and archaeoentomological) from rapidly degrading cultural deposits at the unique site of Garšar E47 at modern Igaliku. Collaborative field and laboratory work have recovered and analyzed a substantial archaeofauna as well as a large amount of preserved wooden and leather artifacts. Part of a PhD project for Konrad Smiarowski (CUNY).

Vatnahverfi Project (2012-15) Jette Arneborg and Christian K Madsen (Nat. Mus. DK) Ian Simpson (Stirling) and Konrad Smiarowski (CUNY). Interdisciplinary research into settlement and subsistence in another NABO Long Term Interdisciplinary Research Area in the former Eastern Settlement Greenland. Multiple seasons of excavation of farm middens and churchyards combined with high resolution GPS survey, geoarchaeology, and multiple AMS dates is dramatically changing our understanding of Norse Greenland diet, settlement chronology, and response to LIA climate impacts. Combined isotopic and aDNA work with large new stratified archaeofauna and complete survey coverage reveals major shift of settlement and human diet following the rapid cooling of the later 13th c and an intensification of seal hunting as an adaptive response. Continued survey and site assessment work took place in summer 2015 leading to new understanding of the process and dating of settlement expansion and contraction in the Eastern Settlement. Additional excavations targeting surviving organic deposits located in prior survey and assessment work will continue summer 2016. Christian K Madsen earned his PhD (U Copenhagen) 2014 and is now director of Norse archaeology at the Greenland National Museum and Archives in Nuuk. The zooarchaeological part of this project is part of the PhD project of Konrad Smiarowski (CUNY). See: Christian Madsen's PhD thesis and NABO PMS page.

CIE-IEM Collaborative Projects

MYCHANGE- Investigations of the Long Term Sustainability of Human Ecodynamic Systems in Northern Iceland (Astrid Ogilvie INSTAAR and Stefansson Arctic Institute) funded 2014 NSF. This interdisciplinary NABO-NIES project combines environmental history, ethnography and archaeology to focus on the document-rich period from ca. AD 1500-present in the well-studied Mżvatn region. Grant Information.

North Atlantic Cyberinfrastructure Project, cyberNABO (Colleen Strawhacker NSIDC) funded 2014-16 NSF Collaboration with the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO, pan-North Atlantic), The Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES - Sweden), a consortium of Scottish Universities with expertise in climate science (St. Andrews and Edinburgh), and HumLAB (Sweden) to develop cyberinfrastructure tools and interoperable databases to analyze and visualize long-term human ecodynamics across the North Atlantic. See (temporary link for proof of concept prototype tool) and grant information.

NUMMMNA (Vicki Szabo and Cecelia Anderung) project approved by NSF: innovative use of aDNA , marine conservation science and environmental history to investigate human interactions with N Atlantic Marine Mammals in the Viking to Early Modern Periods. Pilot project has had success in species level identification of very fragmentary whale and seal bone from Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland.

TIMES (Ramona Harrison), in review NSF: Response to growing marine erosion hazard to the early fishing site of Siglunes in North Iceland (see above) with coordinated isotopic and aDNA laboratory support


This research was made possible by generous grants from the National Geographic Society, Icelandic RANNIS, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the UK Leverhulme Trust, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Leifur Eiriksson Fellowship Program, the American Scandinavian Foundation, the US National Science Foundation (grants 0732327, 1140106, 1119354, 1203823, 1203268, 1249313, 1202692, & 1439389), and the University of Iceland Research Fund.