Archaeology of Marginal Settlements and Environmental Change in Hegranes, North Iceland


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This research examines connections among the environment, inequality, and sustainability at medieval Icelandic settlements. Iceland's environment changed dramatically after its settlement by Norse peoples in the late ninth century, from dense woodlands to a propertied, agricultural, and heavily eroded landscape. Results of archaeological investigation show that numerous marginal settlements on Hegranes, in northern Iceland, were inhabited in the late ninth century, then deserted prior to the twelfth century, concurrent with both human-caused environmental degradation and increasing control of the landscape by elites. After abandonment, infrastructure at the sites was reused to support livestock within a pastoral, tenancy-based economic system. By foregrounding marginal households and long-term landscape change in a political-ecological analysis, this project demonstrates that medieval Icelandic society became environmentally sustainable within a degraded landscape, at the cost of increasing social inequality.