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14 - Norse Shielings in Scotland: An Example of Cultural Contact

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

Shielings were a characteristic feature of Scandinavian infield-outfield farming from the Iron Age up until relatively recent times. To sustain fertility of the limited arable land in Norway, cattle were stall fed in winter and the manure collected to fertilise the arable land (Zimmermann 1999: 313–16). Shielings are secondary farming units, where livestock were driven to provide summer grazing and allow winter fodder collection. The Norse infield-outfield system involved an integration of arable and pastoral farming. The growing of cereal crops and hay in the infield was directly supported by the addition of nutrients from the outfield, through the input of cattle manure (Øye 2009: 101).

The export of this type of farming system has been suggested through onomastic (place-name) and archaeological evidence in Scandinavian settlements abroad (Fellows-Jensen 1980). What is unusual in Britain and the Faroe Islands was that Scandinavian settlers also adopted ærgi, a Gaelic word for a shieling (Fellows-Jensen 1980: 67), alongside the Old Norse (ON) sætr. As one of the few Gaelic words adopted into Old Norse, ærgi highlights an important area of cultural contact.

Definitions

The two most common names for a shieling in ON were the related terms setr and sætr (Beito 1949: 11–84). Cleasby and Vigfusson (1874: 525, 619) give the meaning of setr n. as: 1. seat, residence, or 2. a mountain pasture or dairy lands; while sætr n. was a specific term for a mountain pasture. The two terms are now indistinguishable from each other in the Scottish onomastic corpus (Crawford 1987: 102–3), and for simplicity will be referred to as sætr hereafter.

Ærgi (erg) n. has the same definition as sætr (Cleasby and Vigfusson 1874: 133), and was adopted from either Scottish Gaelic àirigh f.: 1. hill pasture, 2. shieling (MacBain 1911: 10) or Old Irish áirge f.: 1. herd of cattle, 2. pasture, 3. herdsman’s hut, 4. milk herd (Dineen 1904: 24).

Contact linguistic theory

For any word to be adopted into another language, there needs to be contact between speakers of the two languages. Weinreich emphasised social indicators in borrowing, with the less prestigious language borrowing from the more prestigious one (1968: 3).

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 189 - 194
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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