Open Access

Marine Shielings in Medieval Norse Greenland

Christian Koch Madsen


The Norse that settled Greenland between ca. AD 985 and 1450 were sedentary agropastoralists that combined farming with hunting and organized after a North Atlantic socioeconomic model. Research of the last 40 years has emphasized the great and increasing importance of marine resources for both the Greenland Norse local subsistence economy and long-distance trade. However, the archaeological sites and features associated with the marine economy have not been systematically investigated. This study reviews documentary records and archaeological site evidence of medieval Norse marine-resource use in Greenland on local to regional scales. Contextualizing this evidence within a locally adjusted, Arctic version of a general North Atlantic settlement and land-use model, and applying a formalized interpretational framework, the study implies the existence of at least four types of seasonally occupied, specialized satellite sites related to marine-resource use—sites that tentatively may be labeled “marine shielings.” Marine shielings likely served to improve the expediency and safety of Norse marine-resource use on both Greenland’s west and east coasts, where marine hunting appears to have been a frequent, specialized, and cooperative activity.

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