Northern Islands, Human Error, and Environmental Degradation

  • Thomas H. McGovern
  • Gerald F. Bigelow
  • Thomas Amorosi
  • Daniel Russell


While we worry today about the environmental crises resulting from industrialization and the use of fossil fuels, in the preindustrial past, humans did not always live in harmony with their environments, and have caused destruction of the resources upon which they depended, to their own detriment. A case of such a process is documented for the North Atlantic offshore islands of the eighth through eleventh centuries ad by McGovern, Bigelow, Amorosi, and Russell. In this instance of medieval colonization by Scandinavian settlers, mixed farming was brought into an environment rich in forests and natural pastures. The settlers, however, overstocked domestic animals, depleted stands of trees, and caused soil erosion with their farming practices. This environmental degradation, the authors suggest, may have played an important role in changing social relationships and in the economic decline of these colonies.


Pasture Productivity Farm Type Pasture Community Pasture Grass Spreadsheet Model 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas H. McGovern
    • 1
  • Gerald F. Bigelow
    • 2
  • Thomas Amorosi
    • 1
  • Daniel Russell
    • 1
  1. 1.NABO, Department of AnthropologyHunter College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies CenterBowdoin CollegeBrunswickUSA

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