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Investigations of the Long Term Sustainability of Human Ecodynamic Systems in Northern Iceland

General

Project start
01.01.2014
Project end
31.12.2016
Type of project
ARMAP/NSF
Project theme
Society, economy and culture
Project topic
Culture & history

Fieldwork / Study

Fieldwork country
Iceland
Fieldwork location

Geolocation is 0, 0

Fieldwork start
01.06.2015
Fieldwork end
01.09.2015

SAR information

Fieldwork / Study

Fieldwork country
Iceland
Fieldwork location

Geolocation is 0, 0

Fieldwork start
01.06.2016
Fieldwork end
01.09.2016

SAR information

Project details

02.05.2019
Science / project plan

.

Science / project summary
This award supports an interdisciplinary team of researchers investigating the long-term sustainability of rural farming in the Myvatn area in northeastern Iceland. The project will use socioeconomic documentary, archaeological, and natural science data to investigate the unique and detailed record of grass growth and hay yield during the period AD ca. 1700 to 1950 in the Myvatn district. One of the key questions for the research team is: what were the varying social and environmental factors that influenced the success or failure of the hay crop and grazing? For the project, the team will analyze the sustainability of the production and use of these resources. The research team has chosen the Myvatn area (named for the ever-present midges Tanytarsus gracilentus that are a key element in the local ecology) for a variety of reasons. The midges provide food for numerous water birds, fish, and are in such large numbers that their corpses add nutrients to the soil. The region has been farmed continuously for many centuries and this farming was supported by a complex, interlinked system of biological (midges, fish, waterfowl) and geological (volcanism) processes coupled with social, cultural, and economic systems. These numerous interlinked factors represent a unique record of a human ecodynamic system in the North. Iceland has a long and diverse written record of farming and the project will draw on numerous published and unpublished historical documents, which have not been examined.. The documents include farmer's diaries, local governmental tax and yield records, hay-inspection reports, parish records, and a unique farmers' "newspaper" dating to the 19th century. However, the backbone of the archival research will be provided by a document collection which is the legacy of one Myvatn farming family. This unique written record, complemented by data from the archaeological record, will add critical social and economic data to the rich environmental data of the Myvan ecosystem. The reason the research team is so interested in grass and hay production is that until very recently grass was Iceland's only viable crop. As such, the early Icelandic economy focused primarily on animal husbandry. The successful harvesting of hay was the most important annual task of rural Icelanders, a task that can be traced to the time of Viking settlement both in form and function. Hay was critical to the economy and the long-term sustainability of Icelandic social systems because, quite literally, if there were not enough hay to sustain the winter feeding of the livestock they could die, and this would lead to famine, migration, and even death among the rural population. By examining the sustainable harvest and use of grass crops in Myvatn the research team will be able to better understand the complex human ecodynamic systems in the north as they undergoes both environmental and social change.
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