Thomas Howatt McGovern

Thomas Howatt McGovern
CUNY Graduate Center | CUNY · Program in Anthropology

PhD

About

149
Publications
40,529
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4,079
Citations
Additional affiliations
September 1979 - present
CUNY Graduate Center
Position
  • Professor (Full)
September 1979 - present
City University of New York - Hunter College
Position
  • Professor (Full)

Publications

Publications (149)
Preprint
Full-text available
The Mývatn area in northeast Iceland has been occupied by farming communities since the arrival of Viking Age settlers in the late ninth century. Despite its inland location and relatively high elevation, this lake basin was affected by continuous human occupation through periods of harsh climate, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and world system imp...
Technical Report
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This paper assesses research from cultural anthropology, archaeology, geography, and sociology to define social science concepts relevant to climate change drivers and the factors that influence the effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation strategies. The paper presents significant ways in which these four social science disciplines—often underre...
Article
Full-text available
Archaeological records provide a unique source of direct data on long-term human-environment interactions and samples of ecosystems affected by differing degrees of human impact. Distributed long-term datasets from archaeological sites provide a significant contribution to establish local, regional, and continental-scale environmental baselines and...
Chapter
Full-text available
The Scandinavian Viking Age and Medieval settlements of Iceland and Greenland have been subject to zooarchaeological research for over a century, and have come to represent two classic cases of survival and collapse in the literature of long-term human ecodynamics. The work of the past two decades by multiple projects coordinated through the North...
Article
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This paper contributes to recent studies exploring the longue durée of human impacts on island landscapes, the impacts of climate and other environmental changes on human communities, and the interaction of human societies and their environments at different spatial and temporal scales. In particular, the paper addresses Iceland during the medieval...
Conference Paper
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Floodplains have been the cradle of some of the earliest and richest civilizations in history. While most floodplain management systems tend to be near sea level, there is a unique system in the mountainous Lake Mývatn region in Iceland, the only community that has persisted in that elevation in Iceland since settlement c. 1100 years ago. These flo...
Chapter
In recent decades, sustainability research and historical ecology research have made the incorporation of local and traditional ecological knowledge (LTK) a priority for the purpose of understanding recent environmental change and achieving long-term perspectives on local resource interactions. This chapter brings together the evidence from archaeo...
Research
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A report of the 2013 excavations at Skútustaðir. A long term farm in Mývatn, northern Iceland.
Article
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Objectives: A previous multi-isotope study of archaeological faunal samples from Skútustaðir, an early Viking age settlement on the southern shores of Lake Mývatn in north-east Iceland, demonstrated that there are clear differences in δ(34) S stable isotope values between animals deriving their dietary protein from terrestrial, freshwater, and mar...
Chapter
Full-text available
This book honors the memory of Brian Hesse, a scholar of Near Eastern archaeology, a writer of alliterative and punned publication titles, and an accomplished amateur photographer. Hesse specialized in zooarchaeology, but he influenced a wider range of excavators and ancient historians with his broad interpretive reach. He spent much of his career...
Article
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This paper identifies rare climate challenges in the long-term history of seven areas, three in the subpolar North Atlantic Islands and four in the arid-to-semiarid deserts of the US Southwest. For each case, the vulnerability to food shortage before the climate challenge is quantified based on eight variables encompassing both environmental and so...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The Arctic contains many sites with exquisite organic preservation, which can be used to inform policy decisions in two very different ways. Archaeological sites can be considered at the result of completed experiments in human adaptation. With proper analysis of the multiple types of data they contain, one can see how climate change affected arc...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Arctic regions contain many archaeological sites with exceptional organic preservation is due to the climate. Beyond the features and artifacts left by past humans, these sites archive the residues of human subsistence activities, as stratified layers, often spanning millennia, of the remains of animals and plants gathered from the surrounding area...
Article
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The offshore islands of the North Atlantic were among some of the last settled places on earth, with humans reaching the Faroes and Iceland in the late Iron Age and Viking period. While older accounts emphasizing deforestation and soil erosion have presented this story of island colonization as yet another social–ecological disaster, recent archaeo...
Article
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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, archaeofau...
Article
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During the Viking Age, Norse peoples established settlements across the North Atlantic, colonizing the pristine and near-pristine landscapes of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and the short-lived Vinland settlement in Newfoundland. Current North Atlantic archaeological research themes include efforts to understand human adaptation and impact...
Chapter
Full-text available
The past decade has seen a dramatic expansion of the scope of archaeological and paleoecological work in the islands of the North Atlantic. Supported by major grants from the US, Canada, Scandinavia, UK, and EU sources and coordinated by the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization cooperative (NABO), under the International Polar Year initiative an...
Article
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Previous stable isotope studies of modern and archaeological faunal samples from sites around Lake Mývatn, within the Mývatnssveit region of northeast Iceland, revealed that an overlap existed between the δ 15 N ranges of terrestrial herbivores and freshwater fish, while freshwater biota displayed δ 13 C values that were comparable with marine reso...
Article
Full-text available
Just as the colonies established on the North Atlantic islands in the Viking Age were peripheral to Europe, so these islands had their own peripheral areas. In Iceland the highland margins have long been a focus of archaeological research and the prevailing view has been that highland settlement failed because people had made unrealistic assessment...
Chapter
Landnám, the late 9th century Norse colonization of Iceland, brought profound change to the island (Vésteinsson et al. 2002). Here we can reflect on humans as a ‘force of nature’ – in a system with a clear recent baseline of conditions without people. We can consider how we can both affect environmental changes as well as being influenced by them....
Article
Previous stable isotope studies of modern and archaeological faunal samples from sites around Lake Mývatn, within the Mývatnssveit region of northeast Iceland, revealed that an overlap existed between the δ 15 N ranges of terrestrial herbivores and freshwater fish, while freshwater biota displayed δ 13 C values that were comparable with marine reso...
Article
Full-text available
Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (d 13 C and d 15 N) have been used widely in archaeology to investigate palaeodiet. Sulphur stable isotope ratios (d 34 S) have shown great promise in this regard but the potential of this technique within archae-ological science has yet to be fully explored. Here we report d 34 S, d 13 C and d 15 N values...
Article
Full-text available
Abstract: In 2011 a midden deposit was excavated just outside the churchyard wall at the medieval Christian cemetery at Hofstaðir in the Mývatn Lake Basin area of northern Iceland. This deposit rests on a volcanic tephra H 1300 and has produced two AMS C14 dates from terrestrial diet cattle bone that suggest the archaeofauna was formed at the very...
Article
Full-text available
We report on the earliest archaeological evidence from the Faroe Islands, placing human colonization in the 4th-6th centuries AD, at least 300-500 years earlier than previously demonstrated archaeologically. The evidence consists of an extensive wind-blown sand deposit containing patches of burnt peat ash of anthropogenic origin. Samples of carboni...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Archaeology is increasingly becoming a part of contemporary decision-making because of the insights that its long-term and comparative perspective can provide. As we enter that arena, we have a responsibility to bring with us an understanding of the lives of the people who experienced the past we study. Resilient societies persisted and rigid ones...
Article
Full-text available
In recent years intensive archaeological research on the Viking Age in Iceland has produced much new evidence supporting a late 9th century colonization of the country. It can now be stated not only that people had arrived in Iceland before AD 870 but also that comprehensive occupation only took place after that date. The increased temporal resolut...
Article
Full-text available
Previous studies have suggested that the presence of sea ice is an important factor in facilitating migration and determining the degree of genetic isolation among contemporary arctic fox populations. Because the extent of sea ice is dependent upon global temperatures, periods of significant cooling would have had a major impact on fox population c...
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Article
Human bone collagen from a series of Icelandic human pagan graves was radiocarbon (14C) dated to aid understanding of early settlement (landnám) chronologies in northern Iceland. These individuals potentially consumed marine protein. The 14C age of samples containing marine carbon requires a correction for the marine 14C reservoir effect. The propo...
Article
Current models of DNA degradation and previous research on Icelandic human skeletons predict ancient DNA preservation in the Norse North Atlantic faunal remains to be excellent. In contrast, we found that DNA preservation in Viking-Age pig remains was poor. We posit that this discrepancy in DNA survival between human and faunal remains is due to di...
Article
Full-text available
House mice (Mus musculus) are commensals of humans and therefore their phylogeography can reflect human colonization and settlement patterns. Previous studies have linked the distribution of house mouse mitochondrial (mt) DNA clades to areas formerly occupied by the Norwegian Vikings in Norway and the British Isles. Norwegian Viking activity also e...
Data
Table S1. Primers used to amplify the ancient mtDNA D-loop sequence. Primers in italics were used to amplify a smaller fragment where the first set of primers for that region failed to amplify; in one case (Frag 2) the fragment was sub-divided into two reactions. Fragments marked with an asterisk were cloned.
Article
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Norse Greenland has been seen as a classic case of maladaptation by an inflexible temperate zone society extending into the arctic and collapse driven by climate change. This paper, however, recognizes the successful arctic adaptation achieved in Norse Greenland and argues that, although climate change had impacts, the end of Norse settlement can o...
Article
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A freshwater radiocarbon (14C) reservoir effect (FRE) is a 14C age offset between the atmospheric and freshwater carbon reservoirs. FREs can be on the order of 10 000 14C yr in extreme examples and are a crucial consideration for 14C dating of palaeoenvironmental and archaeological samples. Correction for a FRE may be possible, provided the FRE and...
Chapter
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The end of Norse Greenland sometime in the mid to late fifteenth century AD is an iconic example of settlement desertion commonly attributed to the climate changes of the ‘Little Ice Age’ combined with a generalized failure to adapt (for example, Diamond, 2005). The idea of chronic Norse adaptive failure has been widely accepted, in part because ot...
Article
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The vast databases of natural history collections are increasingly being made accessible through the internet. The challenge is to place this data in a wider context that may reach beyond the interests of scholars only. The North Atlantic Biocultural Organization and Icelandic Institute of Natural History are jointly developing a web based catalogu...
Article
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Lake Mývatn is an interior highland lake in northern Iceland that forms a unique ecosystem of international scientific importance and is surrounded by a landscape rich in archaeological and paleoenvironmental sites. A significant freshwater reservoir effect (FRE) has been identified in carbon from the lake at some Viking (about AD 870–1000) archaeo...
Article
Full-text available
Lake Mývatn is an interior highland lake in northern Iceland that forms a unique ecosystem of international scientific importance and is surrounded by a landscape rich in archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sites. A significant Freshwater 14C Reservoir Effect (FRE) has been identified in carbon from the lake at some Norse (c.870-1000 AD) archaeo...
Chapter
Full-text available
In recent years, c.500 icelandic lava caves have been discovered, explored and mapped. More than 200 of these have produced some form of evidence for human occupation or activities, dating from the time of iceland's initial settlement to the present day. While many caves appear to have been used as animal sheds, archaeological remains in others sug...
Article
Full-text available
Multidisciplinary approaches are used to examine possible changes in North Atlantic sea-ice cover, in the context of seal hunting, during the period of the Norse occupation of Greenland (ca. 985–1500). Information from Iceland is also used in order to amplify and illuminate the situation in Greenland. Data are drawn mainly from zooarchaeological an...