Viking Faroes: Settlement, Paleoeconomy, and Chronology

Viking Faroes: Settlement, Paleoeconomy, and Chronology

By Símun V. Arge

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 7 (2014)

Faroe Islands - photo by Mariusz Kluzniak / Flickr
Faroe Islands – photo by Mariusz Kluzniak / Flickr

Abstract: The paper presents a synopsis of the current evidence for the settlement chronology and Viking Age to Early Medieval paleoeconomy of the Faroe Islands. Special emphasis is placed on the recent interdisciplinary research carried out in the village of Sandur, on the island of Sandoy, as part of the Heart of the Atlantic project. A particularly important outcome of this recent work has been the wide application of scientific dating methods to the early settlement remains. Recent AMS radiocarbon dates push the earliest settlement of the islands further back in time than traditionally thought, results that are of great importance because the Faroes were the first stepping-stone for the Viking diaspora west across the North Atlantic.

Introduction: The Faroe Islands are a group of some 18 islands located in the North Atlantic almost midway between Norway, Iceland, and Scotland. The islands, separated by narrow fjords and sounds, together have an area of ~1400 km2 . When the first Viking settlers arrived, they encountered a landscape characterized by grasses, sedges, and ericaceous shrubs. Woodlands—small groups of juniper and birch—seem to have been of minor importance. In other words, the landscape was rather similar to what we see today. The rugged topography of the islands restricted the settlements mainly to the coastal strips along the sounds and the fjords.

Whether these settlers came directly from the east—from a Norwegian homeland—or from the south—via northern Scotland and Ireland, as indicated by archaeological and recent genetic evidence—they brought with them a Norse or Hiberno-Norse culture, which was subsequently adapted to local conditions in the North Atlantic.

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