Place, Practice, and Pathology in Medieval Iceland: A Bioarchaeological Analysis of the Human Skeletal Remains from the Church Cemetery at Haffjarðarey (ca. 1200-1556)


The dissertation project, “Place, Practice, and Pathology in Medieval Iceland,” explores the complex relationship between human health and socially constructed landscapes at the dawn of economic globalization. Haffjarðarey is a small island off the western coast of Iceland, just south of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Historical records indicate the presence of a Catholic Church dedicated to Saint Nicholas on Haffjarðarey in ca. 1200 CE. The church and cemetery served the entire region of Eyjahreppur, today Eyja-og-Miklaholtshreppur, up until 1563 when the landscape was deconsecrated during the Protestant Reformation. The church, dedicated to the patron saint of fishing, and the individuals buries there were directly involved in the growing international fishing industry throughout the middle ages. This ongoing project combines an analysis of biological health and landscape through paleopathology, bioarchaeology, and GIS-based computer mapping. This project also allows for a discussion of local folklore related to historical events and the impacts of said folklore on the landscape.

Research carried out in collaboration with: Þjóðminjasafn Íslands, Minjastofnun Íslands, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum, and The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Research Funded by: The American Scandinavian Foundation, The Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology (IEMA), and the Mark Diamond Research Foundation.

TBD Áftanes Project

This project involves the analysis of human remains from the Áftanes (ca. 1000-1850) cemetery in Iceland collected in 1905 by a geological team from Harvard University. This project is in its early stages and focuses on the analysis of historical period skeletal remains from a medical anthropology perspective.

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