VestfirĂ°ir, and the Emergence of Fishing Communities in Pre-Modern Iceland
Despite being a country synonymous with fishing and having very strong maritime traditions, the clear origins and development of specialist fishing communities prior to the mechanisation era in Iceland, particularly the VestfirĂ°ir region, remain unclear. Further to this, the details of their chronological development are often erratic if not unknown. Historical records often recollect periods of success or failure, largely driven by economic narrative, however, the context, factors and responses to these changes have never been fully explored. Compounding this absence of information is the tendency for narratives to be accounting for Iceland as a whole, without giving allowance to any regional differences.
By adopting an interdisciplinary methodology, underpinned by the application of geoarchaeology (the interpretation of the cultural record contained within soils and sediments), the chronological developments and historical narrative can begin to be established. The result of this research is a clearer understanding of the environmental history of fishing communities in the VestfirĂ°ir region spanning over eight centuries, displaying evidence of a resilient and responsive society. As a result of this research, a clear distinction can now be made between sites which served maritime and terrestrial purposes based on the interpretation of the cultural material. The findings have produced a narrative detailing how a society has responded to wider environmental and social pressures driven by changes within Iceland and throughout Europe. The sites surveyed display unique variance in their characteristics of adaptation, reflecting a society which maintained a high degree of resilience and flexibility which essentially provides the foundation for one of the most successful fishing grounds in the world today.