A multiple profile approach to the palynological reconstruction of Norse landscapes in Greenland's Eastern Settlement

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Palynological research is increasingly revealing the landscape impacts of Norse colonisation in southern Greenland. Typically, although not exclusively, these studies are from depositional environments with highly localised pollen source areas close to fjord-side centres of medieval power. In contrast, this paper presents data from Vatnahverfi, an inland district of the Eastern Settlement, and explores the emergence of a cultural landscape through three pollen sequences at variable distances from Norse farms. Two are from mires with small pollen source areas close to (< 100 m) and distant from (≥ 1500 m) probable farming activities. The other provides a more regional signal of vegetation change, albeit one located close to a Norse settlement. Landnám is marked primarily through an increase in microscopic charcoal and the appearance of pollen from Rumex acetosella, although significant differences between profiles are noted. Close to Norse ruins, pollen productivity from grassland communities increases and woodland and scrub representation declines. Further from archaeological remains, palynologically inferred human activity is primarily characterised by decreased productivity, notably declining influx from woodland and scrub species, reflecting grazing herbivores or coppicing. Abandonment of Vatnahverfi is indicated from the late 14th to early 15th century AD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-37
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number1
Early online date9 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

The Leverhulme Trust is thanked for financial support. Gordon Cook provided radiocarbon dates. Thanks are also due to Andy McMullen for botanical identifications and assistance in the field, and to Sikuu Motzfeld for hospitality during fieldwork. We are also grateful to Emilie Gauthier, Mike Kaplan, Pete Langdon and Alan Gillespie for their comments.


  • paleoecology
  • Norse Eastern Settlement
  • Landnam
  • pollen
  • Greenland
  • grazing
  • woodland management
  • cultural landscape
  • pollen influx


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