The Economics of Sheep and Goat Husbandry in Norse Greenland

Ingrid Mainland and Paul Halstead

Abstract

Insight into the relative importance of sheep and goat herding and of the economic significance of each species (i.e., milk vs. meat vs. wool) in Medieval Greenland is obtained through the application of Halstead et al.’s (2002) criteria for the identification of adult ovicaprine mandibles to faunal assemblages from three Norse farmsteads: Sandnes, V52a, and Ø71S. The economic strategies identified are broadly comparable between the two species and the Eastern and Western Settlement sites examined, and are suggestive of the subsistence production of meat and milk. Comparison with farmsteads elsewhere in Greenland indicates that socio-economic status and/or farmstead size interacted with geographical location in determining the economic strategies employed by the Norse farmers. A broader use of resources and a more varied diet are evident at larger farmsteads in Greenland and this paper suggests that such sites would have been better able than their smaller counterparts to withstand environmental deterioration during the early Middle Ages. These analyses have also confirmed that goats were relatively more common in Norse sites in Greenland than in Norse sites in Iceland, Orkney, or Shetland.

  • Ingrid Mainland, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP

  • Paul Halstead, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield, S1 4ET

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