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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Andrew R Millard

Church, MJ, Dugmore, AJ, Mairs, KA, Millard, AR, Cook, GT, Sveinbjarnardóttir, G, Ascough, PA & Roucoux, K.H. (2007). Charcoal Production During the Norse and Early Medieval Periods in Eyjafjallahreppur, Southern Iceland. Radiocarbon 49(2): 659-672.

Author(s) from Durham


Timber procurement and the use of woodlands are key issues in understanding the open landscapes of the Norse and Medieval periods in the North Atlantic islands. This paper outlines evidence for the timing and mechanisms of woodland use and deforestation in an area of southern Iceland, which is tracked through the mapping and analysis of charcoal production pits. Precise dating of the use of these charcoal production pits within a Bayesian framework is demonstrated through the combination of tephrochronology, sediment accumulation rates, and multiple radiocarbon dates on the archaeological charcoal. Two phases of charcoal production and woodland exploitation have been demonstrated, the first within the first 2 centuries of settlement (cal AD 870-1050) and the second phase over 100 yr later (cal AD 1185-1295). The implications for using charcoal as a medium for 14C dating in Iceland and the wider North Atlantic are then explored. Archaeobotanical analysis of the charcoal sampled from the pits has indicated that birch roundwood was the dominant wood used, that the roundwood was stripped from larger shrubs/trees in late spring/early summer, and that certain sizes and ages of roundwood were harvested. Finally, the timing of the charcoal production is placed into the wider debate on deforestation across Iceland during the Norse and early Medieval periods.