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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Mike Church

Lawson, I T, Gathorne-Hardy, F J, Church, M J, Newton, A J, Edwards, K J, Dugmore, A. J & Einarsson, Á. (2007). Environmental impacts of the Norse settlement: palaeoenvironmental data from Mývatnssveit, northern Iceland. Boreas 36(1): 1-19.

Author(s) from Durham


The first stratigraphically continuous pollen profile spanning the Norse and Medieval periods from the
archaeologically-rich My´vatnssveit region of northern Iceland is presented. Detailed analyses were made of the
tephra, sediment characteristics, pollen and chironomids of a 3 kyr sediment sequence from Helluvaðstjo¨ rn, a
small, shallow lake. The pollen data show a steady decline in the percentage abundance of tree birch (Betula
pubescens) pollen between the Norse settlement (landna´m, c. AD 870) and c. AD 1300, a pattern that contrasts
with the abrupt fall in birch pollen percentages immediately following the Norse colonization at almost all
previously studied sites in Iceland. Some lines of evidence suggest that the gradual birch decline could be a result
of reworking of soil pollen, but independent evidence suggests that this may not necessarily be the case. The pollen
record indicates that birch woodland was replaced by acidophilic taxa (notably Empetrum nigrum and Sphagnum),
again contrasting with the more usual pattern of Poaceae expansion seen in post-landna´m pollen diagrams from
mires close to farm sites. Chironomid and Pediastrum accumulation data show that the limnic environment
became more productive immediately after landna´m, probably because of anthropogenic disturbance. An increase
in sedimentation rate after landna´m appears initially to have been caused by increased lake productivity, while
reworked inorganic soil materials became a significant contributor to the sediments after c. AD 1200. The data
suggest that the impact of settlement on terrestrial vegetation may have been more variable than previously
thought, while freshwater ecosystems experienced significant and rapid change.