International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 472–487 | Cite as

Zooarchaeology and Modernity in Iceland

  • George Hambrecht


This paper follows the lead of the increasing numbers of scholars utilizing the methods and theory of environmental archaeology within historical archaeology. This paper addresses the issue of “modernity” in early modern Iceland through the analysis of faunal assemblages from historic sites in Iceland. It examines the idea of modernity through the ideas of commoditization of animals as well as the improvement of domestic animals as seen through these faunal assemblages. There are a number of possible faunal indications of processes associated with modernity in the existing historic assemblages of Iceland though at least some of these have deep roots in the medieval period. Examining the idea of modernity through the faunal assemblages of historic-period Iceland both help refine the idea of modernity as well as reveal the medieval roots of much of what we term “modern”.


Zooarchaeology Environmental archaeology Commoditization Improvement Metrics/Size analysis 


  1. Albarella, U. (1997). Shape variation of cattle metapodials, age, sex, or breed? Some examples from mediaeval and post-mediaeval Sites. Anthropozoologica 25–26: 37–47.Google Scholar
  2. Abu-Lughod, J. L. (1991). Before European hegemony, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Barrett, J. H., Locker, A. M., and Roberts, C. M. (2004). Dark Age economics’ revisited: The English fish bone evidence AD 600–1600. Antiquity 78: 618–636.Google Scholar
  4. Bath Slicher van, B. H. (1966). The agrarian history of Western Europe, A.D. 500–1850, E. Arnold, London.Google Scholar
  5. Bowen, J. (1999). The Chesapeake landscape and the ecology of animal husbandry. In Michaels, R. L., and Egan, G. (eds.), Old and new worlds, Oxbow, Oxford, pp. 358–367.Google Scholar
  6. Brook, T. (2007). Vermeer’s hat: The seventeenth century and the dawn of global world, Bloomsbury, New York.Google Scholar
  7. Cronon, W. (1983). Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England, Hill and Wang, New York.Google Scholar
  8. Crosby, A. W. (2004). Ecological Imperialism: The biological expansion of Europe, 900–1900, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  9. Crumley, C. L. (1994). Historical ecology: Cultural knowledge and changing landscapes, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.Google Scholar
  10. Deetz, J. (1977). In small things forgotten: The archaeology of early American life, Doubleday, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Driesch von den, A. (1976). A guide to the measurement of animal bones from archaeological sites, Harvard University, Cambridge, Peabody Museum.Google Scholar
  12. Edvardsson, R., Perdikaris, S., McGovern, T., Zagor, N., and Waxman, M. (2004). Coping with hard times in NW Iceland: Zooarchaeology, history, and landscape archaeology at Finnbogastaðir in the 18th Century. Archaeologia Islandica 3: 20–47.Google Scholar
  13. Fisher, C. T., Hill, J. B., and Feinman, G. M. (2009). Introduction: Environmental studies for twenty-first century conservation. In Fisher, C. T., Hill, J. B., and Feinman, G. M. (eds.), The archaeology of environmental change: Socionatural legacies of degradation and resilience, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  14. Hambrecht, G. (2006). The bishop’s beef: Improved cattle at early modern Skálholt, Iceland. Archaeologia Islandica 5: 82–94.Google Scholar
  15. Hambrecht, G. (2007). The bishop’s beef: Improved cattle in 18th century Skálholt, Iceland. Stanford Journal of Archaeology 5.
  16. Hambrecht, G. (2009). Zooarchaeology and the archaeology of early modern Iceland. Journal of the North Atlantic 2: 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hambrecht, G., Kuchar, P., Pallsdottir, A., and Woollett, J. (2006). Preliminary Report of the Archaeofauna at Skálholt, Iceland. NORSEC Zooarchaeology Laboratory Report, CUNY Northern Science and Education Center, New York.Google Scholar
  18. Hardesty, D. L. (2007). Perspectives on global-change archaeology. American Anthropologist 109: 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harrison, R., Alexander, E., Feeley, F., Gorsline, M., Hicks, M., and Mitrovic, S. (2008). Faunal Analysis from the 2005 Excavation at Aðalstræti Nr. 10 in Reykjavík, Iceland. NORSEC Zooarchaeology Laboratory Report, CUNY Northern Science and Education Center, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Hicks, M. T., and Harrison, R. (2009). A Preliminary Report of the 2008 Midden Excavation at Skutustadir, N Iceland. NORSEC Zooarchaeology Laboratory Report, CUNY Northern Science and Education Center, New York.Google Scholar
  21. Hoffmann, R. C. (2001). Frontier foods for late Medieval consumers: Culture, economy, ecology. Environmental History 7: 131–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Horrebow, N. (1758). The natural history of Iceland, A. Linde, London.Google Scholar
  23. Johnson, M. (2006). The tide reversed: Prospects and potentials for a postcolonial archaeology of Europe. In Hall, M., and Silliman, S. (eds.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell, Malden MA, pp. 313–330.Google Scholar
  24. Kantanen, J., Olsaker, I., Adalsteinsson, S., Sandberg, K., Eythorsdottir, E., Pirhonen, K., and Holm, L. E. (1999). Temporal changes in genetic variation of north European cattle breeds. Animal Genetics 30: 16–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kantanen, J., Olsaker, I., Brusgaard, K., Eythorsdottir, E., Holm, L. E., Lien, S., Danell, B., and Adalsteinsson, S. (2000). Frequencies of genes for coat colour and horns in Nordic cattle breeds. Genetics Selection Evolution 32: 561–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Karlsson, G. (2000). The history of Iceland, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.Google Scholar
  27. Kjaergaard, T. (1994). The Danish revolution, 1500–1800: An ecohistorical interpretation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Koerner, L. (1996). Carl Linnaeus in his time and place. In Jardine, N., Secord, A., and Spary, E. (eds.), Cultures of natural history, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 145–162.Google Scholar
  29. Koerner, L. (1999). Linnaeus: Nature and nation, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  30. Kurlansky, M. (1999). Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world, Vintage, New York.Google Scholar
  31. Lucas, G., and McGovern, T. (2007). Bloody slaughter: Ritual decapitation and display at the Viking settlement of Hofstaðir, Iceland. European Journal of Archaeology 10: 7–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Marks, R. (2007). The origins of the modern world: Fate and fortune in the rise of the West, Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham, MD.Google Scholar
  33. McGlade, J. (1995). Archaeology and the human ecodynamics of human-modified landscapes. Antiquity 69: 113–132.Google Scholar
  34. McGovern, T. H. (2010). Report and Community Statement Global Long Term Human Ecodynamics Conference Eagle Hill Maine October 14–18th 2009.
  35. McGovern, T. H., Vésteinsson, O., Fridriksson, A., Church, M., Lawson, I., Simpson, I. A., Einarsson, A., Dugmore, A., Cook, G., Perdikaris, S., Edwards, K., Thomson, A., Adderley, P., Newton, A., Lucas, G., Edvardsson, R., Aldred, O., and Dunbar, E. (2007). Landscapes of settlement in northern Iceland: Historical ecology of human impact and climate fluctuation on the millennial scale. American Anthropologist 109: 27–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mrozowski, S. A. (1999). Colonization and the commodification of nature. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3: 153–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mrozowski, S. A. (2006). Environments of history: Biological dimensions of historical archaeology. In Silliman, S., and Hall, M. (eds.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 23–41.Google Scholar
  38. Ogilvie, A. E. J., Woollett, J. M., Smiarowski, K., Arneborg, J., Troelstra, S., Kuijpers, A., Pálsdóttir, A., and McGovern, T. H. (2009). Seals and sea ice in Medieval Greenland. Journal of the North Atlantic 2: 60–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Overton, M. (1996). Agricultural revolution in England: The transformation of the agrarian economy, 1500–1850, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Perdikaris, S., Amundsen, C., and McGovern, T. H. (2002). Report of Animal Bones from Tjarnargata 3C, Reykjavík, Iceland. NORSEC Zooarchaeology Laboratory Report, CUNY Northern Science and Education Center, New York.Google Scholar
  41. Perdikaris, S. (1999). From chiefly provisioning to commercial fishery: Long-term economic change in arctic Norway. World Archaeology 30: 388–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Perdikaris, S. and McGovern, T. H. (2007). Cod fish, walrus, and chieftains: Economic intensification in the Norse North Atlantic. In Thurston, T. and Fisher, C. (eds.), Seeking a richer harvest, Springer, New York, Vol. 3, pp. 193–216.Google Scholar
  43. Perdikaris, S., Hambrecht, G., Brewington, S., and McGovern, T. H. (2007). Across the fish event horizon: A comparative approach. In Plogmann, H. H. (ed.), The role of fish in ancient time, Verlag Marie Leidorf, Rahden Westphalia, pp. 51–62.Google Scholar
  44. Pope, P. E. (2004). Fish into wine: The Newfoundland plantation in the seventeenth century, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  45. Puputti, A. K. (2008). A zooarchaeology of modernizing human/animal relationships in Tornio, northern Finland, 1620–1800. Post-Medieval Archaeology 42: 304–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Redman, C. L., Grove, J. M., and Kuby, L. H. (2004). Integrating social science into the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) Network: Social dimensions of ecological change and ecological dimensions of social change. Ecosystems 7: 161–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Richards, J. F. (2006). The unending frontier, University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  48. Thomas, R. (2005). Zooarchaeology, improvement and the British agricultural revolution. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 9: 71–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tinsley, C., and McGovern, T. H. (2001). Zooarchaeology of Aðalstræti 14–16: Assessment Report of the Post-Medieval Contexts. NORSEC Zooarchaeology Laboratory Report, Hunter College Department of Anthropology Bioarchaeology Laboratory, New York.Google Scholar
  50. von Troil, U. (1780). Letters on Iceland, W. Richardson, London.Google Scholar
  51. Wallerstein, I. (1980). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century, Academic, New York.Google Scholar
  52. Woollett, J. (2007). Labrador Inuit subsistence in the context of environmental change: An initial landscape history perspective. American Anthropologist 109: 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Worster, D. (1994). Nature’s economy: A history of ecological ideas, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  54. Wubs-Mrozewicz, J. (2008). Fish stock and barrel: Changes in the stockfish trade c.1360–1560. In Sicking, L., and Abreu-Ferreira, D. (eds.), Beyond the catch: fisheries of the North Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic, 900–1850, Brill Academic, Leiden, pp. 187–208.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHunter College (CUNY)New YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations