Roles and perceptions of shielings and the mediation of gender identities in Viking and Medieval Iceland

Patrycja Kupiec, Karen Milek

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This paper examines archaeological and written sources for the shieling activities, the extent to which these may have had a role in the enactment of different genders, and possible attitudes towards shielings in Viking Age and medieval Iceland. By comparing the archaeological, legal, and saga evidence for the separation of infield from outfield, the distances between shielings and farms, and gendered activities, a new picture of summer pasture sites emerges. Archaeological investigations of boundary walls and medieval laws support the notion of the homefield as a demarcated social space separated from the outfield. However, the estimates for average distances between shielings and farms suggest that contact could have been maintained between the two, which stands in contrast to the saga narratives that tend to depict shielings as secluded and dangerous. While the sagas portray shielings as predominantly female domains, the archaeological evidence suggests that some shieling sites were associated with a wide range of activities and genders. The paper concludes with a suggestion that the ambiguous status of shielings may have been only partly due to their physical isolation; even more important may have been the shifting roles and gender identities of the people who used them.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationViking Worlds
Subtitle of host publicationThings, Spaces and Movement
EditorsM.H. Eriksen, U. Pedersen, B. Rundberget, I. Axelsen, H.L. Berg
PublisherOxbow Books
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)1782977279, 978-1782977278
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

This paper forms part of Patrycja Kupiec's PhD dissertation, which is supervised by Karen Milek


  • Viking Age
  • medieval
  • shielings
  • Iceland
  • gender


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