Interpreting the Viking Age to Medieval Period Transition in Norse Orkney through Cultural Soil and Sediment Analyses

I. A. Simpson, J. H. Barrett, Karen Beatrice Milek

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28 Citations (Scopus)


The transition from the Viking Age (ca. A.D. 800-1050) to the Medieval period (ca. A.D. 1050-1500) saw the development of widening trade activities that incorporated peripheral North Atlantic Polities into mainstream Europe and contributed to the intensification of marine-resource exploitation and agricultural production in these localities. As yet, there is only limited understanding of these intensification processes and their interrelationships, particularly at a local, site-based level. Through the micromorphological analysis of cultural soils and sediments at Quoygrew, Westray, Orkney, we explore the characteristics of fanning and fishing activity during the Viking Age-Medieval transition period and establish their chronological relationships. The study demonstrates: (1) that intensification took place from ca. A.D. 966-1162 on an already existing Viking Age settlement, (2) that intensification of fishing activity occurred prior to the intensification of arable agriculture, and (3) that the Quoygrew site continued throughout this period as an economically diverse permanent settlement. When viewed in a wider North Atlantic context, these findings indicate that intensification of different economic activities proceeded at different rates and that intensification of specialized economic activities during the transition from the Viking Age to the Medieval period was dependent on existing knowledge of local environments. (c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-377
Number of pages23
JournalGeoarchaeology-An International Journal
Issue number4
Early online date7 Mar 2005
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005


  • Orkney
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Viking Age
  • Medieval Period
  • Anthropogenic soil
  • Fish midden
  • Soil micromorphology
  • Geochemistry


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