Wood resource exploitation in the Norse North Atlantic: a review of recent research and future directions
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Original versionIn: Mooney, D. E., Guðmundsdóttir, L., Dahl, B., Roberts, H. & Ramstad, M. (eds.), Expanding Horizons : Settlement Patterns and Outfield Land Use in the Norse North Atlantic, 187-208.
The North Atlantic islands have always been relatively wood-poor. Nonetheless, from the Viking Age they were home to Norse settlers who in their homelands relied significantly on wood resources for the production of a huge variety of objects from cooking utensils to ships. The story of how these settlers adapted their craft processes and exploitation strategies to the limited wood resources available on these islands has only in the last decade begun to be explored in detail through the examination of archaeological remains. Assemblages of wooden artefacts, woodworking debris, charcoal and mineralised wood have been examined from across the region, with a view to understanding patterns of both wood exploitation and woodland management. In the absence of significant forest areas with large trees suitable for construction and boatbuilding, driftwood became an extremely important source of timber. However, several of the wood species which arrive as driftwood also could have been imported to the islands, and as yet there is no reliable method for conclusively identifying archaeological wood remains as driftwood. This paper presents a review of recent research in wood resource exploitation in Iceland and Greenland, along with possibilities and potential pitfalls in future research.