Koch Madsen Christian, Pastoral Settlement. Farming and Hierarchy in Norse Vatnahverfi, South Greenland, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2014, (Université de Copenhague)
Norse farmers settled Greenland around AD 1000. They established two settlements, where the southernmost – the Eastern Settlement – was the largest and lasted until ca. AD 1450, where after it was depopulated for unknown reasons. Through an archaeological study of one of the Eastern Settlement’s core areas – ‘Vatnahverfi’ – this dissertation analyses and discusses how the settlement was organized and changed throughout time. New precision surveys of 157 sites and 1308 individual ruins show that the dispersed settlement was organized after strongly hierarchical patterns. The Norse pastoral farming system relied on extensive land use practices organized around shielings, and apparently after unique Greenlandic patterns. A population estimate based on these settlement patterns implies an average population in Vatnahverfi of only ca. 225-550 people, and an average maximum population of ca. 1400-1940 in the whole of the Eastern Settlement. New and old 14C-dates show that the settlement expanded in two phases: the best agricultural areas were quickly occupied around AD 1000, more marginal areas about a century later. The settlement reached a maximum between AD 1100-1200, where after it quickly contracted and power was centralized on fewer manors. Already by AD 1250 the settlement was again concentrated on those areas that had initially been settled, and after AD 1350 even these areas witnessed a decline in land use. Although climatic deterioration towards the ‘Little Ice Age’ undoubtedly made it harder to be a farmer in South Greenland, this study implies that low population densities – and a very unequal access to resources and options – was perhaps the major problem facing the Norse and ultimately a key reason for the abandonment of the settlements.