Date of Award

6-2011

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

John M. Steinberg

Second Advisor

Heather B. Trigg

Third Advisor

Dennis Piechota

Abstract

Saga accounts describe Viking Age Iceland as an egalitarian society of independent household farms. By the medieval period, the stateless, agriculturally marginal society had become highly stratified in exploitative landlord-tenant relationships. Classical economists place the origin of differential wealth in unequal access to resources that are unevenly distributed across the landscape. This irregularity is manifested archaeologically as spatial variations in buried soil horizons, which are addressed through thousands of soil cores recorded across Langholt in support of the Skagafjörður Archaeological Settlement Survey. Soil accumulation rates, a proxy for land quality, are derived from tephrochronology and correlated with archaeological and historical data to describe relationships between local environmental conditions, farm size, and farm settlement order. Spatial variations in soil accumulation rate are inherent, persistent, and magnified by environmental decline. Settling early on high-quality land leads to long-term success, while farmers who settle later, or on more marginal land, can maintain high status by leveraging alternate sources of wealth to gain control over more productive agricultural land. Subtle differences in the rate of soil accumulation lead to large differences in the wealth of farmsteads during the Viking Age on Langholt in Skagafjörður, Iceland.