Understanding Icelandic Pre-Industrial Fishing Economy: Multidisciplinary Approach

By

Home / Understanding Icelandic Pre-Industrial Fishing Economy: Multidisciplinary Approach

Remains of fishing booth in a fjord, West o Iceland. Note on the forefront driftwoods that might have played a role in the medieval economic development of the region. Image by Val Dufeu

Relational analogy is based on fundamental linkages between attributes that renders possible the development of theories on non-observed behaviour and activities by reference to observed behaviour and activities.

Actually, by observing traditional fishing (using sail, lines and fishing nests), and fish folks, it is achievable to build up economic modelling on medieval fishing. Such fishing practices are still used in Africa and Asia, as well as in the Lofoten Islands (North Norway).

Multi-century life-span studies about groups of humans evolving in comparable environments and interacting in similar ways with their environment and its resources allow us to address specific questions about how societies developed without damaging their environment.

Such an issue is of particular interest when a society settles a pristine landscape and chooses to base part of its economy on the exploitation of natural renewable resources such as aquatic ecosystems.

Anthropological Study of Fishermen

An anthropological study of fishermen comes to the conclusion that the ‘psychological characteristics of fishermen’ present strong similarities across the world and that their adaptability to their environment is directly linked to their psychological capacity to cope with the aquatic world.

Writing in 1930, Johnsson notes that most Icelandic chieftaincies were located with respect to ‘the convenience of access to the sea […] or to inland rivers.

In the last decades, archaeological excavations have unearthed several settlements corresponding to Johnsson’s statement. For instance, faunal taxa that had been recovered from two sites in the interior of northern Iceland, Hofstaðir and Sveigakot, can be interpreted as the product of both subsistence and non-subsistence activities.

Besides, excavated sites located in the northern coastal area of Iceland present a high percentage of gadids (Cod family) in the archaeofauna taxa that could be interpreted as the product of both subsistence and non-subsistence activities. These sites range from the ninth to the eleventh century, which suggests that the settlers exploited marine resources and especially fish as early as the settlement for both domestic consumption and trade.

Resources

Dalton, G.  Theoretical Issues in Economic Anthropology. (2009). Current Anthropology 10, No.1. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Renfrew, C. Approaches to Social Archaeology. (1984). Harvard University Press (Massachusetts).

26  Johnsson, S.  Pioneers of Freedom, An Account of the Icelander and the Icelandic Free State, 874-1262 (1930). The Stratford Company Publishers (Boston).

Acheson, J.M.  Anthropology of Fishing. (1981). Annual Review of Fishing. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Johnsson, S.  Pioneers of Freedom, An Account of the Icelander and the Icelandic Free State, 874-1262 (1930). The Stratford Company Publishers (Boston).

Tynsley, C.M.  The Viking Settlement of Northern Iceland: A Preliminary Zooarchaeological Analysis. (2002). Environmental Archaeology 6.

Amundsen, C. et al. Fishing Booths and fishing Strategies in Medieval Iceland: An Archaeofauna from the site of Akurvík, North-West Iceland. (2006). Environmental Archaeology. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Leave a Comment