Gruel, Bread and Fish – Changes in the Material Culture related to Food Production in the North Atlantic 800-1300 AD: A Network Meeting in The North Fish Network

  • Mahler, Ditlev L. Dall (Project participant)
  • Øye, Ingvild (Project participant)
  • Larsen, Anne Christine (Project participant)
  • Arge, Sìmun V. (Project participant)
  • Michelsen, Helgi Dal (Project participant)
  • Baug, Irene (Project participant)
  • Olsen Ramsey, Ole Mikal (Project participant)
  • Owen, Olwyn (Project participant)
  • Gibson, Julie (Project participant)
  • Traustadóttir, Ragnheiður (Project participant)
  • Murray, Jenny (Project participant)
  • Turner, Val (Project participant)

    Project: Research

    Project Details


    The purpose with the project is to map and compare the distinctive changes we can see in the archaeological material in the eastern part of the North Atlantic – West Norway, the Faroe Island, Shetland, Orkney and Caithness – during 800-1300 AD. To that end we plan to arrange a network meeting in Lerwick in March 2016 for the North Fish Network. The network was established in 2014 and consists of 12 archaeological researchers.
    The changes in the archaeological material are for the most related to food production and consumption. The scientific question is whether we can spread light on these connections and the economic and the political changes. Bergen and Trondheim developed as centers of commerce and are the basis for the development of the Norwegian kingdom; furthermore the two centers play an important role for the relations with the continent.

    The Source Material
    The historical material is sparse and consists of collections of documents, legal texts, and accounts, saga texts etc. and are all relatively well known. They represent the core of the holistic understanding we have achieved today. The archaeological material is far from exhausted and may cast new light over the period if we look at it in its totality and not just as geographical separate components. The source material consists of fishing tools, traces of fish working, baking plates, farming implements and different types of quern stones among other things for horizontal mills. Baking plates and quern stones and their respective quarries points to the growing importance of cereals especially barley. At the same time copper pots are introduced and replace the steatite bowls in the cooking process. One of the central factors for the development of the West Norwegian society was the production of homespun and the textile production will be looked into, too.

    There is a huge gap from the autonomous islands in the North Atlantic during the Viking Age to the important year 1261/62 where the whole of the North Atlantic pay tax to the Norwegian king. The North Atlantic islands played a key role for stabilizing the Norwegian state formation and church power not at least by the production of dried fish for the harbor of Bergen. The rising population and urbanization of the continent and of England created large markets and the need of homespun and dried fish. The intermediate between Bergen and the continent was the Hanse. This organization played a growing role for the transportation of the goods produced in the North Atlantic. How did this affect the material culture and the archaeological culture in relation to food production and consumption? Lastly the National Museum of Denmark runs a research project People, Food and Society which our project and network meeting could benefit from.

    The Theoretical and Methodological Approach
    Besides using the typological, comparative method typical of archaeology in order to achieve a chronological overview of the mentioned categories of artifacts the approach shall use models of human networks among others as presented in The Structure and Dynamics of Network by Newman from 2006. Instead of seeing the eastern part of the North Atlantic and Bergen/Trondheim as a typical example of center-periphery relationship, it would be much more fruitful to view the relation between the North Atlantic islands and the centers of commerce on the Norwegian coast as a robust, complex human network.

    The North Fish Network
    As a result of a 2014 grant from the Ministry of Culture to senior researcher Ditlev L. Mahler in order to formulate the research project, the following network was established: Professor. Dr. Philos. Ingvild Øye, University of Bergen, Head of department Anne-Christine Larsen, the National Museum of Denmark, Deputy Director of the National Museum of the Faroe Islands
    Símun V. Arge, Søvn Landsins – Faroe National Heritage, Curator Helgi Dal Michelsen, Søvn Landsins – Fornminnissavnið, The Faroe Islands, Iren Baug, Postdoctoral researcher in archaeology at Institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen, Curator, MA, Ole Mikal Olsen Ramsey , The Horda Museum, Museum of Bergen, Olwyn Owen, Head of Scheduling, Marine and Battlefields at Historic Scotland, Scotland, County Archaeologist Julie Gibson, Orkney Island Council, Researcher Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, Háskólinn á Hólum, Iceland, Curator of collections Jenny Murray, Lerwick Museum & Archives, Shetland, County Archaeologist Val Turner, PhD FSA. FSA Scot MIFA, Lerwick Museum & Archives, senior researcher Ditlev L. Mahler, the National Museum of Denmark.

    The Network Meeting, March 2016 in Lerwick
    The main focus of the network meeting will be the discussions of the given papers in relation to the main topic. A discussion on what may be done in the future is of great importance. The discussions will also center on the possibility of the next network meeting – place and time. The program intends as followed (Changes may appear):
    Day 1: Day of arrival researchers from Norway, The Faroe Islands, Iceland, Orkney, Caithness and Denmark.
    Day 2: Day of papers, three during the morning and three during the afternoon.
    Day 3: Day of excursions among other localities also to Unst.
    Day 4: Day of papers, three during the morning and three during the afternoon. Concluding remarks and deadline for papers to the coming publication.
    Day 5: Day of departure.

    “Gruel, Bread and Fish – Changes in the Material Culture related to Food Production in the North Atlantic 800-1300 AD” could be publicized in Acta Archaeologica as it is an outstanding Scandinavian periodical with a tradition of bringing papers and volumes from the North Atlantic (1991 & 2013). Other possibilities will be discussed during the network meeting,

    Effective start/end date01/09/201501/09/2016


    • Archaeology