Summer Farms - Seasonal Exploitation of the Uplands from Prehistory to the Present - John R. Collis

Summer Farms - Seasonal Exploitation of the Uplands from Prehistory to the Present - John R. Collis

Elusive sel sites: the geoarchaeological quest for Icelandic shielings and the case of Þorvaldsstaðasel, in northeast Iceland

Summer Farms - Seasonal Exploitation of the Uplands from Prehistory to the Present - John R. Collis

Patrycja Kupiec
University of Aberdeen
Karen Milek
University of Aberdeen
Guðrún Alda Gísladóttir
James Woollett

Description

The seasonal movement of grazing livestock to upland pastures (shielings) is believed to have played an important role in the subsistence economies of small farms in Scandinavia and the North Atlantic region during the Viking Age, Medieval and Post-Medieval periods. Historical sources, saga literature and place-name evidence strongly suggest that transhumance had been practised in Iceland since the settlement period in the ninth century, and that it formed an important part of a decentralised farming economy. However, since only eight putative shieling sites have been subjected to archaeological investigation in Iceland, little is known about the size and character of these sites, the full range of activities that took place in them, or the degree to which they were materially distinct from upland farms. This paper examines how microscopic analysis of floor surfaces can aid the detection of seasonally occupied sites and improve our understanding of livestock management in the North Atlantic region. The potential of micromorphological analysis of floor deposits to distinguish between periodically and permanently occupied sites is illustrated by a case study of a putative shieling site at Þorvaldsstaðasel, in northeast Iceland. The analysis of two thin sections taken from this site showed that its floor deposits exhibited a pattern of thin, periodic occupation surfaces, separated by thicker and less compacted accumulations of aeolian silt and fine sand. This pattern reflects the periods of intermittent occupation, separated by the periods of abandonment, and therefore it is consistent with the interpretation of the site as a periodically occupied shieling. The thin sections also captured a phase when the site was permanently occupied (characterised by thick and compacted floor deposits), which suggest that the occupation history of Icelandic shieling sites may have been more variable and complex than is normally recognised by archaeologists.

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Citation

Kupiec, Patrycja; Milek, Karen ; Gísladóttir, Guðrún ; Woollett, James . Elusive sel sites: the geoarchaeological quest for Icelandic shielings and the case of Þorvaldsstaðasel, in northeast Iceland. Summer Farms - Seasonal Exploitation of the Uplands from Prehistory to the Present. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 220-235 Aug 2016. ISBN 9780906090565. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=28015. Date accessed: 26 Sep 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.28015. Aug 2016

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