Paleoenvironmental Perspectives on Prehistoric Human Settlement of Arctic Norway: Implications for climate, sea-level, and land-use changes during the Iron Age

Lead PI: Dr. William J. D'Andrea

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2016 - August 2019
Europe ; Norway
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This project will investigate the relationship between environmental change and characteristics of early settlement in Arctic Norway. Research will contribute toward understanding how humans respond to environmental change, and evaluate the sensitivity and resilience of settlements in marginal locations. Arctic Norway is an important region for socio-ecological research because early settlements were at the northern limits for agriculture and had mixed agricultural and maritime economies that were susceptible to changes in climate and sea level. Research will be conducted at sites in the Lofoten Islands, where settlements developed from small pioneering agricultural outposts to prominent nodes of power and trade under Viking chiefdoms during the Iron Age (c. 500 BC-AD 1100). The collapse of these cheifdoms occurred during the late Iron Age at which time these societies were associated with westward migrations to other North Atlantic islands, which helped spread agricultural, maritime, and cultural knowledge that was subsequently adapted to suit these new environments. The Iron Age in Arctic Norway therefore marks an important period in the human history of the North Atlantic and outstanding questions remain concerning the role of environmental changes (both natural and anthropogenic) in this history that paved the way for North Atlantic expansion.

The proposed project will take an interdisciplinary, geo-archaeological approach to reconstruct human-environment interactions. Scientists and students from the College of William & Mary and Columbia University will work alongside Norwegian archaeologists to: compile and synthesize a large number of Iron Age archaeological studies, using mostly unpublished information within Norwegian cultural heritage databases, in order to assess the influence of natural environmental changes within an informed cultural framework, and develop continuous, high-resolution reconstructions of human impacts on the landscape by using lake sediments recovered near key settlements and by applying biogeochemical techniques to directly link human activity with landscape changes. The main objectives are: (1) to establish a more comprehensive understanding of cultural development during the Iron Age, particularly with respect to environmental changes, (2) document the changing patterns of human settlement as the region transformed to a center of power and trade, and (3) test the hypothesis that climate variability and sea-level variations had an impact on patterns of human settlement. The project will also promote teaching and training by engaging undergraduate students in international and interdisciplinary research. It will create strong partnerships among institutions within the U.S. and in Norway, and has outreach components that involve public lectures and the development of a comprehensive museum exhibit that will significantly promote learning and communication of archaeological and environmental sciences with the general public.


William & Mary


National Science Foundation





Balascio, N.L., Wickler, S.. "Human-environment dynamics during the Iron Age in the Lofoten Islands, Norway," Norwegian Journal of Geography, v.72, 2018, p. 146-160.


north atlantic expansion lake sediments socio-ecological research geo-archaeology climate variability cultural development iron age human environment interaction