Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Doctoral Dissertation Research: Maritime Adaptations and Early North Atlantic Fisheries at Gufuskalar Iceland (Award# 1203823)

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

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Science Summary:
This award supports a Dissertation Improvement Grant for doctoral student Frank Feeley. Researcher Feeley will be working closely with PI Tom McGovern to explore the site of Gufuskálar in western Iceland. This dissertation improvement grant will support two seasons of archaeological investigation of the site in order to better understand its role in the early "global" economy of Iceland, as well as the origins of the modern world economic system. The site of Gufuskálar is important as it's one of the few surviving examples of the handful of large medieval fishing stations. These stations marked Iceland's introduction into the growing world system of medieval trade, which is the basis for our modern world economic system. The investigation will use a unique methodology of examinining fish crania to determine the movement from subsistence to commodity fisheries in Iceland during the Viking period. In addition, both sea and wind are quickly eroding the site, which is one of the largest medieval fishing stations in Iceland. This project will contribute to the preservation of information in danger of being lost and will contribute to the preservation of this important site itself.

Logistics Summary:
The objective of this project is to build on research produced in the 2008 and 2011 fieldwork seasons in order to rescue the fishing station and associated farm mounds at the site of Gufuskalar, Iceland. Gufuskalar is a unique chance to look at a fish producing farm from its Viking Age beginnings through to its end in the mid-20th century. The work plan consists of a coastal survey, open area excavation, post-excavation analysis of artifacts in Reykjavik, Iceland, and laboratory analysis of faunal collection in New York. Beginning in June 2013 and June 2014, a field team of approximately 6 will continue archeological surveys and excavations at Gufuskálar in two, month-long trips. Planned Fieldwork Components and Analysis: 1. Survey: Fieldwork will include a survey of at least 7 km of coastline from just before Gufuskalar to the village of Rif to the east. Coring of coastal sites and small shovel test pits will be used to gather materials for radiocarbon dating. Systematic coring and selective test trenching of the Viking Age farm house will be performed to confirm the structure’s age. Structures visible on the surface of the wind erosion zone will be cleaned, planned and photographed for future excavation. 2. Excavation: Excavation work will depend on data gathered during the survey, but will prioritize the eroding coastal fishing structures. All excavation work will follow the standard NABO practice of sieving 100% of anthropomorphic strata through a 4mm screen. - Zooarchaeological: Analysis, which will be supported by the CUNY Zooarchaeology Laboratories at Hunter and Brooklyn Colleges, will use the same methods as in 2008, where each skeletal element will be identified to the lowest taxon possible and selected elements will also be measured for size and age reconstruction. All zooarchaeological data will be recorded using the NABONE recoding system and entered into a database. - Archaeoentomology: Samples will by systematically collected for insect analysis. - Archaeobotany: Wood, charcoal, and carbonized seed remains will be sampled directly and through flotation and analysis, with coordination through the NABO cooperative. - Material Culture: Analysis will be carried out by the Archaeological Institute, Iceland and all finds (with digital photography) will be entered into a common database created by a CUNY doctoral student. - Soil Science: Micromorphological sampling will be carried out by collaborating geoarchaeologists based at Stirling University in Scotland. The Fornleifastofnun Íslands Institute of Archaeology, which maintains the Icelandic Sites and Monuments record and digital archives of excavation data, has offered to support the project’s fieldwork by aiding with the preparation of all government permits and logistical support. Additionally, the Institute will make available access to scientific equipment and specialist services

All logistics would be organized by the researcher and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2013Iceland - Gufuskálar06 / 03 / 2013 07 / 19 / 20136
2014Iceland - Gufuskálar06 / 03 / 2014 07 / 19 / 20146

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