Was it for walrus? Viking Age settlement and medieval walrus ivory trade in Iceland and Greenland

Karin Margarita Frei, Ashley N. Coutu, Konrad Smiarowski, Ramona Harrison, Christian Koch Madsen, Jette Arneborg, Robert Frei, Gardar Gudmundsson, Søren M. Sindbæk, James Woollett, Steven Hartman, Megan Hicks, Thomas H. McGovern

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Walrus-tusk ivory and walrus-hide rope were highly desired goods in Viking Age north-west Europe. New finds of walrus bone and ivory in early Viking Age contexts in Iceland are concentrated in the south-west, and suggest extensive exploitation of nearby walrus for meat, hide and ivory during the first century of settlement. In Greenland, archaeofauna suggest a very different specialized long-distance hunting of the much larger walrus populations in the Disko Bay area that brought mainly ivory to the settlement areas and eventually to European markets. New lead isotopic analysis of archaeological walrus ivory and bone from
Greenland and Iceland offers a tool for identifying possible source regions of walrus ivory during the early Middle Ages. This opens possibilities for assessing the development and relative importance of hunting grounds from the point of view of exported products.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWorld Archaeology
Pages (from-to)1-28
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Cite this