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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Charcoal production in the North Atlantic Islands

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


This project, directed by Dr. Mike Church, is investigating charcoal production in two areas of Iceland (Mývatnssveit in north-east Iceland and the Markafljot valley in southern Iceland and in Greenland), to evaluate the role of charcoal production in landnám deforestation, the impact on the environment and potential management of woodland during the settlement of Iceland. The project involves landscape reconstruction through geomorphological and palynological analysis, coupled with archaeological survey and excavation of charcoal production pits, within a geomorphological and chronological context provided by tephrochronology and radiocarbon.

The principal research collaborators are Drs. Ian Lawson and Katy Roucoux (Leeds University), Prof. Andy Dugmore (University of Edinburgh), Dr. Árni Einarsson (Mývatn Research Centre), Professor Tom McGovern (City University New York), Dr. Guðrun Sveinbjarnardóttir (National Museum of Iceland) and Dr. Orri Vésteinsson (University of Iceland). The principal funding bodies are the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (UK), the Leverhulme Trust (UK), the National Science Foundation (US) and NERC (UK).

Section through a charcoal production pit in the Markafljot valley, southern Iceland

Published Results

Journal Article

  • Bishop, R R, Church, M J, Dugmore, A J, Madsen, C K & Møller, N A (2013). A charcoal-rich horizon at Ø69, Greenland: Evidence for vegetation burning during the Norse landnám? Journal of Archaeological Science 40(11): 3890-3902.
  • Church, M J, Dugmore, A J, Mairs, K-A, Millard, A, Cook, G T, Sveinbjarnardóttir, G, Ascough, P A, Newton, A J & Roucoux, K (2007). Charcoal production during the Norse and early medieval periods in Eyjafjallahreppur, Southern Iceland. Radiocarbon 49(2): 659-672.

Chapter in book

  • McGovern, T. H., Arge, S., Arneborg, J., Ascough, P., Casely, A., Church, M. J., Cook, G., Dugmore, A., Edvardsson, R., Einarsson, A., Fridriksson, A., Hambrecht, G., Harrison, R., Ingason, U., Johannesdottir, S., Keller, C., Lawson, I., Lucas, G., Koch Madsen, C., Newton, A., Ogilvie, A., Perdikaris, S., Roberts, H., Simpson, I., Smiarowski, K., Thomson, A. & Vesteinsson, 0. (2011). Vikings in the International Polar Year 2007-09: Still bloodthirsty but also ecodynamic and educational. In Viking settlements and Viking society: Papers from the Proceedings of the 16th Viking Congress, Reykjavík and Reykholt, 16-23 August 2009. Sigmundsson, S., Holt, A., Sigurðsson, G., Ólafsson, G. & Vesteinsson, O. Reykjavík: University of Iceland Press. 290-309.
  • Church, M. J., Duarte, L., Edwards, K. J., Lawson, I. T. & Newton, A. J. (2010). The palaeoenvironment of Mývatnssveit: Vegetation. In Hofstaðir: Excavations of a Viking Age feasting hall in north-eastern Iceland. Lucas, G. Reykjavík: Institute of Archaeology. 32-38.
  • Dugmore, A J, Church, M J, Mairs, K-A, McGovern, T H, Newton, A J & Sveinbjarnardóttir, G (2006). An over-optimistic pioneer fringe? Environmental perspectives on medieval settlement abandonment in Þórsmörk, south Iceland. In Dynamics of northern societies proceedings of the SILA/NABO Conference on Arctic and North Atlantic Archaeology, Copenhagen, May 10th-14th, 2004. Arneborg, J & Grønnow, B Copenhagen: Aarhus University Press. 335-345.


From the Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China