Stable isotopic (δ13C and δ15N) characterization of key faunal resources from Norse period settlements in North Iceland

Philippa L. Ascough, Mike J. Church, Gordon T. Cook, Árni Einarsson, Thomas H. McGovern, Andrew J. Dugmore, Kevin J. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the Viking Age, Norse peoples established settlements across the North Atlantic, colonizing the pristine and near-pristine landscapes of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and the short-lived Vinland settlement in Newfoundland. Current North Atlantic archaeological research themes include efforts to understand human adaptation and impact in these environments. For example, early Icelandic settlements persisted despite substantial environmental impacts and climatic change, while the Greenlandic settlements were abandoned ca. AD 1450 in the face of similar environmental degradation. The Norse settlers utilized both imported domestic livestock and natural fauna, including wild birds and aquatic resources. The stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen (expressed as δ13C and δ15N) in archaeofaunal bones provide a powerful tool for the reconstruction of Norse economy and diet. Here we assess the δ13C and δ15N values of faunal and floral samples from sites in North Iceland within the context of Norse economic strategies. These strategies had a dramatic effect upon the ecology and environment of the North Atlantic islands, with impacts enduring to the present day.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-42
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the North Atlantic
VolumeSpecial Volume 7
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by funding from the Leverhulme Trust (“Landscape circum-landnám” Programme Award: grant number F/00 152/F), US National Science Foundation (grant number 0732327 “IPY: Long Term Human Ecodynamics in the Norse North Atlantic: Cases of sustainability, survival, and collapse” awarded by the Office of Polar Programs Arctic Social Sciences International Polar Year program 2007–2010), the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Thanks are due to Olafur K. Nielsen, Institute of Natural History, Iceland, for providing some of the bird samples from the Lake Myvatn area. We would also like to thank Ian Lawson and Katy Roucoux for help gathering the modern vegetation samples; Kerry Sayle, Helen Hastie, and Elaine Dunbar for stable isotope support at SUERC; and to three reviewers of the original submission for their helpful and constructive comments.


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