Pastures lost? A dental microwear study of ovicaprine diet and management in Norse Greenland

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The management of ovicaprines by the Medieval Norse farmers in Greenland is explored using dental microwear analysis. Adult and juvenile ovicaprines from Norse contexts in Greenland are shown to exhibit microwear patterns very different to those in modern Greenlandic sheep; while modern sheep demonstrate microwear consistent with low levels of soil ingestion under extensive, low stocking-rate grazing regimes, Norse sheep/goat display striated microwear patterns indicative of high levels of soil ingestion and, potentially, overgrazing. This high abrasive grazing signature is present in the inland region of the Western Settlement from 1150 AD onwards, may be evident in the inland Eastern Settlement from an equally early date and is also detected during the later phases of occupation in the Western settlement (14th and 15th centuries AD). It is argued that these results provide further evidence that maladaptive grazing practices led to a decline in the viability of pastoral farming in Greenland, and, moreover, that overgrazing did not merely occur towards the end of the settlement as a consequence of the worsening climate of the 'Little Ice Age' but rather was present in both the Western and the Eastern Settlement from a relatively early date.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-252
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number2
Early online date28 Sept 2005
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2006


  • Goat
  • Greenland
  • Microwear
  • Overgrazing
  • Palaeodiet
  • Sheep


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