Polar Record


The Norse landnám on the North Atlantic islands: an environmental impact assessment

Andrew J. Dugmore a1, Mike J. Church a1, Paul C. Buckland a2, Kevin J. Edwards a3, Ian Lawson a3, Thomas H. McGovern a4, Eva Panagiotakopulu a5, Ian A. Simpson a6, Peter Skidmore a7 and Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir a8
a1 Institute of Geography, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP
a2 School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Fern Barrow, Poole BH12 5BB
a3 Department of Geography & Environment and Northern Studies Centre, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF
a4 Bioarchaeological Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Hunter College, City University of New York, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA
a5 Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH1 1LT
a6 Department of Environmental Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA
a7 Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN
a8 Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London WC1H 0PY and National Museum of Iceland, 210 Garaðbær, Iceland

Article author query
dugmore aj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
church mj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
buckland pc   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
edwards kj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
lawson i   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
mcgovern th   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
panagiotakopulu e   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
simpson ia   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
skidmore p   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
sveinbjarnardottir g   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The Norse colonisation or landnám of the North Atlantic islands of the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland from the ninth century AD onwards provides opportunities to examine human environmental impacts on ‘pristine’ landscapes on an environmental gradient from warmer, more maritime conditions in the east to colder, more continental conditions in the west. This paper considers key environmental contrasts across the Atlantic and initial settlement impacts on the biota and landscape. Before landnám, the modes of origin of the biota (which resulted in boreo-temperate affinities), a lack of endemic species, limited diversity, and no grazing mammals on the Faroes or Iceland, were crucial in determining environmental sensitivity to human impact and, in particular, the impact of introduced domestic animals. Gathering new data and understanding their geographical patterns and changes through time are seen as crucial when tackling fundamental questions about human interactions with the environment, which are relevant to both understanding the past and planning for the future.

(Received December 2002)
(Accepted April 2004)