• Iceland Summer 08


    Like many details of Viking history, the settlement of Iceland is clouded in mystery. Vikings did not record their exploits. However tales written in the 12th or 13th centuries, called Sagas, purport to tell of the founding of this far-northern island. According to these stories, many details of which have been confirmed by archeologists, Vikings discovered Iceland in the late 9th when a ship sailing from Norway to the Faro Islands was blown off course. Legend has it that the island had previously been inhabited intermittently by Irish monks. 

    Researchers say the history of the Viking colonization of Iceland could answer many questions about the impact of humans on nature. In most places, human occupation goes back thousands or tens of thousands of years, making it hard to study what role, if any, people had in changes in the flora and fauna. But in Iceland, scientists know almost precisely when settlers arrived, just over 1,000 years ago. Barring evidence to the contrary, they assume that any changes in wildlife since then has been caused by human activities. 

    For the last decade, archeologists in Iceland have been studying a cluster of abandoned Viking settlements near Lake Myvatn, on the island's north side. Carbon 14 dating of specimens from the digs and other evidence suggest these sites were some of the earliest farms in Iceland. The research shows that the impact of Vikings settlers on the wildlife of Iceland was swift and massive. For instance, chunks of charcoal and impressions in the soil of large roots suggest to the researchers that when these people arrived, the land was densely wooded. However within a generation the trees were gone, and irreversible soil erosion had set in.



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