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North Atlantic Marine Mammal Project

Distribution and Variability of Marine Mammals

The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Project (NSF # 1503714, Assessing the Distribution and Variability of Marine Mammals through Archaeology, Ancient DNA, and History in the North Atlantic) uses the transdisciplinary tools of history, saga studies, archaeology, ancient DNA (aDNA), and marine mammalogy to reconstruct economic contributions of cetaceans and pinnipeds across premodern Iceland, Greenland, North America, and Orkney, ca. 800 – 1500 CE. Using aDNA and ZooMS analysis, over 180 animals, comprising 14 species, have been identified from archaeological sites in northern Iceland, including blue, right, and gray whales, species whose populations were devastated by industrial whaling.

Our analysis not only contributes to zooarchaeological and economic analyses of the premodern Arctic and Subarctic, but also contributes to conservation genetics and population reconstructions of diminishing marine mammal species. Our project team has also produced the first complete translation into English of Jon the Learned’s 17th century natural history of Iceland, featuring folk taxonomies and illustrations of the whales of Iceland, along with previously unpublished charters documenting active exploitation of cetaceans across medieval northern Iceland. These data are helping to produce a new picture of marine mammal use across the premodern northern world for diverse academic and public audiences.

Link to the project page for Assessing the Distribution and Variability of Marine Mammals through Archaeology, Ancient DNA, and History in the North Atlantic on the NSF website at
https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1503714