Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Gayle Fritz


In this dissertation, I examine the process of state formation during the Viking/Medieval transition: c. 1050 A.D.) as it took place in the North Atlantic region. Specifically, I use paleoethnobotanical analysis of remains from Quoygrew farm, an archaeological site located on Westray in the Orkney Islands, to examine the reciprocal relationship between farm production and changes associated with state formation and the Viking/Medieval transition. Towards this goal, I analyzed carbonized plant remains from midden contexts as well as from floor deposits, hearths, pit fills, and dumps. Seed densities and distributions reveal a closely integrated system of farm production including cereal agriculture and flax production, pastoralism, and fishing at Quoygrew. Crops present at the site include barley, oats, flax, gold-of-pleasure, a very small amount of wheat, and woad. I interpret shifts in ratios of oat to barley and distribution of cereal caryopses to an increasing use of oats as animal fodder and the formation of semi-specialized fishing middens to potential changes in household organization and labor distribution. Seed assemblages suggest expanding use of highly fertilized infields as well as expanding use of naturally fertile machair: sandy loam) soils for agriculture. Seeds from plants with a variety of ecological preferences show wide use of outland resources, especially collection of turf and peat. In addition to describing production at Quoygrew, I examine how patterns of increasing production at Quoygrew revealed through archaeobotany are tied to changes associated with the Viking/Medieval transition elsewhere in the North Atlantic, including increasing state administration practices, changes in household structure and gender roles, increasing trade networks and the rise of urban centers. Major contributions of this work include: 1) full description and analysis of a significant arcaheobotanical assemblage, including description of the earliest find of woad: Isatis tinctoria) in Scotland; 2) discussion of farm management practices at Quoygrew including interrelationships between areas of production; and 3) thorough discussion of implications of paleoeconomic data for understanding socio-political aspects of state formation as they occurred at Quoygrew.


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