Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: IPY: Long Term Human Ecodynamics in the Norse North Atlantic: cases of sustainability, survival, and collapse (Award# 0732327)

PI: McGovern, Thomas H (
Phone: (212) 772.5654 
Institute/Department: City University of New York, Hunter College, Department of Anthropology 
IPY Project? YES
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
Why do societies succeed or fail when confronted with climate change, culture contact, and the unexpected outcomes of long-term human impact upon landscape and resources? Just over 1000 years ago, a wave of Viking-Age Scandinavian colonization brought a common culture, language, and set of economic strategies from Norway to Newfoundland. By 1800, these once uniform island communities had experienced radically different fates: the Greenland colony was totally extinct, Icelanders were barely surviving in a heavily eroded landscape, and the Faroese were continuing a stable and successfully sustainable thousand-year-long adaptation with apparently little erosion or population loss. These contrasting case studies provide the focus for an international, interdisciplinary project that makes use of the International Polar Year (IPY) initiative to bring together scholars, students, and local community members from Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands in a cooperative effort to: 1) understand the complex dynamics of human-environment interaction on the millennial scale, human impact on island flora, fauna, and soils, sustainable and unsustainable resource use, the impacts of climate change, interactions between subsistence and exchange economies; 2) collect and analyze directly comparable data sets (artifacts, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, geoarchaeology) from coordinated regional-scale excavations taking place on all three islands as an IPY surge activity, sharing gear, specialists, and excavation staff for inter-comparability, 3) involve local communities in the research effort and aid them in making inter-island connections which will aid their own outreach efforts, and 4) engage US and international students at high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels in fieldwork and in the development of K-12 classroom materials.

Logistics Summary:
As part of an international cooperative effort to conduct multi-site, regional-scale archaeology, the PI will continue excavations in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands begun under his previous NSF grant, 0352596. The researchers will explore regional-scale questions of differential climate impact, origins and spread of commercial fisheries, and the role of inter-regional trade and exchange. The particular effort will involve coordinating midden excavations, conducting zooarchaeological analysis, and providing student training through the North Atantic Biocultural Organization, or NABO. In the summers of 2008-2010, a large international group will carry out major excavations and survey work on Sandoy in the Faroe Islands, in the northwest and Lake Myvatn areas of Iceland, and at sites near Qaqortoq and Qassiarsuk, in southern Greenland. For 2008, a team of about 12 will travel to Narsarsuaq via commercial air in mid-to-late July, coming from Reykjavik, Iceland, after completing field work there. Project gear will be waiting for them in Narsarsuaq, having been shipped earlier to Kangerlussuaq via the Air National Guard logistics chain and then onward via Air Greenland. The team will camp in the field for a month to six weeks, and will then depart for their home institutions via commercial air. Before departing, the team will arrange to have archaeological material retrograded via ship. In mid/late June 2009, the researchers will work out on two major efforts: a 2-3 week survey of the southern inland and coastal part of the Vatnahverfi region; and a 4-5 week excavation of a well-preserved stratified midden deposit, a coastal farm. For 2010, the researchers will field a joint project with their Danish and Greenlandic colleagues in the Igaliku/Narsarsuaq/Qaqortoq . In early June, the team of 7 will establish a tent camp and start excavating a Norse Farm site at E172 Tatsip Ataa, a continuatinon of a deep statified midden excavation from 2007 and 2009. They will take environmental samples (animal bones, soil samples, pollen cores, wood samples) and archaeological artifacts to be analyzed at different labs. In early August, the team will move the camp from E172 excavation site, to E64 site Innoquassaq, a Medieval Norse churchyard. This is also a continuation of an excavation from 2007 and 2008 aimed at genetic, osteological, and isotopic work on human bones. During the entire 3 months of the field project small teams will take several ~1-2 day survey trips to other archaeological sites in the area for measurements. Also in 2010, as a part of an outreach/education component of the project, researchers will present their work at the High School in Quaqortoq sometime in early July and invite local schoolchildren to the research site. In summer 2011, one person from the research group will revisit the archeological site in southern Greenland, with project collaborators. After travelling via commercial air to Narsarsuaq in late June, the researcher will work in the region until mid-August. He will then fly to Kangerlussuaq, and return to the U.S. via the ANG logistics chain to New York. This grant contributes to “Maritime Adaptations & Resource Exploitation in the North Atlantic,” or MARENA, European IPY project #387, itself part of the larger IPY cross-disciplinary effort “Northern High Latitude Climate Variability During the Past 2000 Years: Implications for Human Settlement” #129, (NORCLIM).

For the work in Greenland, CPS will provide coordination of cargo movement and field gear through the ANG logistics chain. CPS also will provide communications/safety equipment and camping gear from CPS inventory for field work in both Greenland and Iceland. All other logistics will be handled by the investigators from the grant or via arrangements with local collaborators. In 2011 only, CPS will provide one field-team member the following – ANG coordination for one person and freight southbound, AirGL Comair tickets, KISS user days, and a tent/sleep set up and satphone.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2007Faroe Islands - Sandur1
2007Greenland - Qaqortoq1
2007Greenland - Qassiarsuk1
2007Iceland - Myvatn Lake1
2008Greenland - Narsarsuaq07 / 15 / 2008 08 / 26 / 200812
2009Greenland - Kangerlussuaq06 / 18 / 2009 08 / 24 / 20091
2009Greenland - Narsarsuaq06 / 19 / 2009 08 / 22 / 20097
2009Greenland - Sisimiut06 / 19 / 2009 06 / 21 / 20091
2010Greenland - Kangerlussuaq06 / 02 / 2010 08 / 28 / 20109
2010Greenland - Narsarsuaq06 / 02 / 2010 08 / 28 / 20109
2011Greenland - Kangerlussuaq08 / 17 / 20111
2011Greenland - Narsarsuaq06 / 28 / 2011 1

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