Palynology supports 'Old Norse' introductions to the flora of Greenland

J. Edward Schofield, Kevin J. Edwards, Egill Erlendsson, Paul M. Ledger

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22 Citations (Scopus)


This paper integrates pollen-analytical data from sites across southern Greenland to revisit the debate regarding which plants may have been introduced during the Norse colonization or landnám c. ad 985.

Palynological data are drawn from 14 sites (lakes and mires) located within the former Eastern Settlement of Norse Greenland (c. 60.9° N, 45.5° W).

Maps are presented displaying palynological data for three taxa (Rumex acetosella, Polygonum aviculare and Achillea millefolium), which earlier scholars have argued are ‘Old Norse’ anthropochores. The maps display pollen frequencies at regular (c. 100-year) intervals across a period (ad 800–1500) encompassing Norse settlement.

Maps for c. ad 800 and 900 (prior to Norse arrival) display the taxa as locally absent, with the appearance and expansion of their pollen at multiple sites from c. ad 1000 (landnám) providing support for the assumption that each taxon arrived with the first settlers. A general and widespread decline in pollen frequencies for these ‘Old Norse’ elements on the c. ad 1500 map (following Norse abandonment) demonstrates a close connection between these plants and a cultural landscape that was shaped and maintained predominantly via animal husbandry.

Main conclusions
Patterns emerging from this exercise may initiate wider debates related to the pattern and character of the Norse colonization of Greenland. It is suggested that differences in the function or role of farm sites could have led to the creation of greater areas of favourable habitat for ‘Old Norse’ flora in some locations relative to others, and that uneven patterns of colonization and the spread of ‘Old Norse’ plants might be explained if their introduction – presumably from Iceland – first occurred at only a few locations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1119-1130
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number6
Early online date27 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Achillea millefolium
  • anthropochores
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • landnám
  • Norse
  • palaeoecology
  • pollen
  • Polygonum aviculare
  • Rumex acetosella


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