Land management at the bishop's seat, Garðar, medieval Greenland

Paul Buckland, Kevin John Edwards, Eva Panagiotakopulu, James Edward Schofield

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The image of Norse Greenland as a marginal community of subsistence farmers whose eventual failure in the fifteenth century reflected an inability, or unwillingness, to change in the face of climate change and increased environmental stress has become something of a topos (cf. Diamond 2005). Evidence of increased erosion as a result of grazing pressure after the introduction of sheep, goats and cattle is widespread in southwest Greenland (e.g. Fredskild 1992), and some details of the fortunes of individual farms have been presented from palaeoecological records (e.g. Mainland 2006; Panagiotakopulu et al. 2007).
Contrasts have been drawn between the more northerly Western Settlement (Figure 1), as a place where hunters farmed, and the Eastern Settlement, whose farmers appear more akin to those of contemporary Iceland, except for the virtual absence of fish as part of their diet or economy (cf. Berglund 1986). An econocentric view (Dugmore et al. 2007) is that Norse Greenland existed as an outpost of Iceland occupied to secure access to élite trade materials, principally walrus ivory, skins and furs, for medieval Europe, and that collapse in Greenland was a consequence of the re-orientation of supply and the development of alternative materials.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number315
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008


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