Eiderdown has long been an important resource for northern cultures in the past but is overlooked in archaeology. Down, presumed to be from Eider ducks, has only been identified from a handful of high status burials in Scandinavia. In order to test whether an archaeoentomological indicator for eiderdown production could be established, a survey of insects from two eiderdown productions sites in Iceland was conducted. The results identified over 500 duck fleas Ceratophyllus garei Rothschild and several beetle species from raw eiderdown and processing residue, as well as from pitfall traps placed in the floor of buildings where the down was stored and processed. It is argued that despite the fact that bird fleas parasitic on Eider ducks are not host-specific, their life history and microhabitat requirements, as well as the method employed to collect eiderdown, makes duck fleas a reliable indicator for eiderdown harvesting in archaeology.
This project was undertaken as part of my doctoral studies funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CACR-2009-39) in the United Kingdom. I would like to thank my supervisors Karen Milek and Andrew Dugmore for their help and support. I also wish to thank Jónas Helgason, his son Alexius Jónasson and Baldur Vilhelmsson for kindly having allowed access to the eiderdown stores and workshops at Æðey and Vatnsfjörður and for having provided assistance when needed. I would like to thank Fornleifastofnun Íslands for supporting my fieldwork at Vatnsfjörður, as well as Paul Ledger and Garðar Guðmundsson for their help during fieldwork. I am especially grateful to Richard Marriott for his invaluable help with flea identifications and for lending me reference material. Erling Ólafsson and Jan Klimaszewski also helped with the beetle identifications. Consultation of the BugsCEP database (Buckland and Buckland, 2006) aided the redaction of this paper.
- Eider ducks
- Bird fleas