Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: The Archaeological Investigation of Erosion and its Effect on Social Processes in the Arctic



This award supports a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement project to investigate the relationship between erosion and economic inequality over the environmentally and socially dynamic first 500 years of Norse settlement in Hegranes, Skagafjörður, Iceland. The agricultural practices of the first settlers of Iceland, ca. 870 CE, caused widespread deforestation and soil erosion. Erosion moves sediments from one place to another, and can lead to either landscape degradation or augmentation. On Hegranes small abandoned farms lie near large successful farms that still operate today, and eroded areas are interspersed with productive grassland. This patchwork landscape allows investigation of erosion as related to farmstead abandonment and the development of social inequality. This research has implication for understanding how coupled human and environmental systems today might affect processes of social change. The researcher will use tephrochronology to compare the settlement sequence of small farms with associated environmental sequences of soil erosion and landscape change. The goal is to explore changes in number and distribution of small household farms, document processes of erosion, and investigate whether social reorganization of the landscape corresponds to increases in erosion. Larger, more powerful households likely benefited from abandonment of small farms, and this project will suggest how abandonment was managed to their advantage. This work will contribute to discussions about social and political consequences of human-initiated environmental change, focusing on unequal power relations between households that facilitate environmental degradation and social inequality.
Date made available2017
PublisherNSF Arctic Data Center

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