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Towards a First Chronology for the Middle Settlement of Norse Greenland: 14C and Related Studies of Animal Bone and Environmental Material

Kevin J Edwards, Gordon T Cook, Georg Nyegaard, J Edward Schofield

Abstract


The so-called Middle Settlement (Mellembygden) of Norse/Viking Greenland has received far less attention than either of its larger Eastern and Western counterparts. The Greenlandic Norse occupation is nominally taken to date between AD 985 and about AD 1450 and it is generally assumed that the Western Settlement was abandoned prior to the Eastern, but where the Middle Settlement fits into the pattern temporally has hitherto been completely unknown. This paper presents the first absolute dating evidence from the Middle Settlement. In addition to providing the results (14C, δ13C, δ15N) of a radiocarbon dating and stable isotope measurement program from domesticated (Bos, Ovis/Capra) and wild (Rangifer) animal bone and cultural-environmental (coastal, possibly midden) samples, the paper also addresses some problems of 14C estimation for the period of Norse occupation in Greenland. Investigations show a Medieval Scandinavian presence close to the start of the conventional landnám period (after AD 985) and with occupation continuing up to at least the 14th century AD. The start of this activity, found at 2 sites, bears comparison with various locations in both the Eastern and Western Settlement areas. The terminal phase of activity in the Middle Settlement is represented at 1 site only, but despite this limitation, it shows that the Norse may have been present for most of the period that they occupied sites in both the Western and Eastern settlements. Caribou bone from separate contexts that also contained Thule Inuit material proves useful in indicating dates for a probable post-Norse Inuit presence. The position of age estimates on the calibration curve underscores the need to look critically at such evidence when making chronological inference during the Norse period owing to the existence of plateaus and wiggles. The inclusion of samples from both domesticated and wild fauna considered to be possibly modern, yet reported from archaeological assemblages, provides a warning to archaeozoologists to be especially vigilant when considering the potential non-contemporaneity of material.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.v55i1.16395


Keywords


14C; isotope; Norse; Middle Settlement; Greenland

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