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Part IV - Environmental Impact and Land Use

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

When Scandinavians arrived in Scotland, they brought with them subsistence practices from their homelands: animal husbandry, dairying, grain cultivation, an infield-outfield system and the intensified exploitation of marine resources (for example, Barrett and Richards 2017), and their impacts on the environment can be seen in the botanical and faunal material. These include the probable introduction of flax cultivation in Orkney (Bond and Hunter 1987), the practice of manuring crops and possibly hunting red deer to extinction in the Western Isles (Jones, this section). However, much of this evidence was previously overlooked; Graham-Campbell and Batey (1998: 50) noted that the original Jarlshof excavation publication (Hamilton 1956) had devoted only one page to environmental evidence, whereas by the late 1990s it was routine to recover environmental samples during excavation.

Since 1998, further developments in stable isotope analysis and aDNA, plus new approaches to studying older collections from sites such as Earl’s Bu (Orphir, Orkney), are allowing researchers to learn not just which species were present on a site, but how they were used and the social implications of that management (see Jones and Mainland, both this section). Food production is now seen as part of a more complex social system which included gifting and displays of wealth, such as feasts hosted by the local Earls. Although attested to in written sources such as the Orkneyinga Saga, feasting is now convincingly identified in the archaeological record in Viking-Age Scotland, with evidence for the slaughter of animals for meat at a prime age and large-scale consumption causing farms to become increasingly specialised in the Late Norse period.

Scandinavians would have had to adapt their farming practices to suit the landscapes and soils of Scotland, and it appears that cultural contact between Scandinavians and native groups took place on the farm. Cattle were important to all groups during the Viking Age. Foster (this section) argues that the separation of milk cows from other cattle in shielings rather than grazing them all together, may have been a practice learnt by the Norse from the native inhabitants, as seen in the place-name elements of Gaelic ærgi and Old Norse sætr.

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 153 - 154
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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