Viking Age Economics and the Origins of Commercial Cod Fisheries in the North Atlantic

Viking Age Economics and the Origins of Commercial Cod Fisheries in the North Atlantic

By Sophia Perdikaris and Thomas H. McGovern

Beyond the Catch: Fisheries of the North Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic, 900-1850, edited by ouis Sickling and Darlene Abreu-Ferreira (Brill, 2008)

Introduction: This paper presents the results of sustained investigations in Iceland over the past two decades, which have produced large archaeofauna from both coastal and inland sites dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries. It seeks to place these collections in the wider context provided by new inter-regional syntheses and to present a series of analytical approaches to understanding patterning within fish-dominated archaeofauna. A multi-indicator approach is applied to the complex issues of distinguishing fish consumer and fish producer sites, and the still more complex problems of distinguishing probable subsistence production from possible market production on coastal sites.

Nearly a decade of investigation of Viking-age inland sites around the highland lake Mývatn in northeastern Iceland has produced archaeofauna rich in domestic mammals and freshwater fish, but also containing significant amounts of apparently preserved salt water fish. Work in the West Fjords of northwestern Iceland has produced fish-rich archaeofauna from coastal sites (both classic deeply stratified farm mounds and shallow seasonal fishing stations) dating (from the twelft h to the nineteenth centuries). These sites have all been comparably excavated (stratigraphic excavation with 100 percent sieving) and recorded into a common data management system, and provide the basis for systematic comparison between archaeofauna. Thanks to the support of the Leverhulme Trust’s Landscapes Circum Landnám project, a series of radiocarbon dates and Carbon and Nitrogen isotopic assays are also now available for Viking age human and animal burials in the inland Mývatn region, providing a check and supplement to the (zooarchaeological) evidence.

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