Environmental impacts around the time of Norse landnám in the Qorlortoq valley, Eastern Settlement, Greenland

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Palynology, radiocarbon dating, and open-section stratigraphies from archaeological trenches are used to examine the impact of human activity around the time of Norse landnam on vegetation and landscape associated with a small farm (emptyset 34) in the Qorlortoq valley, Eastern Settlement, Greenland (61 degrees N 45 degrees W). Peat deposits from a mire abutting the Norse ruins revealed a discontinuous palaeoenvironmental record containing a possible hiatus from ca. AD 410-1020. Palaeovegetational data were recovered either side of this period. Pollen assemblages suggest that open Salix scrub dominated the landscape during the pre-settlement phase. The later phases of landnam resulted in the creation of hay fields and heavily-grazed grassy heath. Site abandonment is reflected by a re-expansion of Salix. This occurs shortly before the onset of deposition of a Sphagnum peat, dated to cal AD 1420-1630 (2 sigma) and reflecting an increase in mire surface wetness, probably in response to a deteriorating climate. Radiocarbon dates were obtained on peat and plant macrofossils sampled from either side of the proposed hiatus at two different but closely-spaced (<20 m) locations across the mire. These produced significantly different dates for the cessation of peat formation in the pre-landnam period (cal BC 2130-1770 and cal AD 240-410 respectively), but near-synchronous dates for the recommencement of peat growth (cal AD 890-1150 for peat and a probably more reliable interval of cal AD 1020-1190 based on plant macrofossils). It is suggested that this hiatus may represent the first direct evidence for peat cutting in Norse Greenland. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1643-1657
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number6
Early online date21 Dec 2007
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Greenland
  • Norse Eastern Settlement
  • landnam
  • pollen analysis
  • radiocarbon dating
  • peat cutting


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