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Palynology supports ‘Old Norse’ introductions to the flora of Greenland

Authors

  • J. Edward Schofield,

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
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  • Kevin J. Edwards,

    1. Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
    2. Department of Archaeology, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
    3. St Catherine's College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
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  • Egill Erlendsson,

    1. Department of Geography and Tourism, Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
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  • Paul M. Ledger

    1. Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
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Correspondence: J. Edward Schofield, Department of Geography & Environment, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK.

E-mail: j.e.schofield@abdn.ac.uk

Abstract

Aim

This paper integrates pollen-analytical data from sites across southern Greenland to revisit the debate regarding which plants may have been introduced during the Norse colonization or landnám cad 985.

Location

Palynological data are drawn from 14 sites (lakes and mires) located within the former Eastern Settlement of Norse Greenland (c. 60.9° N, 45.5° W).

Methods

Maps are presented displaying palynological data for three taxa (Rumex acetosella, Polygonum aviculare and Achillea millefolium), which earlier scholars have argued are ‘Old Norse’ anthropochores. The maps display pollen frequencies at regular (c. 100-year) intervals across a period (ad 800–1500) encompassing Norse settlement.

Results

Maps for cad 800 and 900 (prior to Norse arrival) display the taxa as locally absent, with the appearance and expansion of their pollen at multiple sites from cad 1000 (landnám) providing support for the assumption that each taxon arrived with the first settlers. A general and widespread decline in pollen frequencies for these ‘Old Norse’ elements on the c. ad 1500 map (following Norse abandonment) demonstrates a close connection between these plants and a cultural landscape that was shaped and maintained predominantly via animal husbandry.

Main conclusions

Patterns emerging from this exercise may initiate wider debates related to the pattern and character of the Norse colonization of Greenland. It is suggested that differences in the function or role of farm sites could have led to the creation of greater areas of favourable habitat for ‘Old Norse’ flora in some locations relative to others, and that uneven patterns of colonization and the spread of ‘Old Norse’ plants might be explained if their introduction – presumably from Iceland – first occurred at only a few locations.

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