About The Project 

The History, Archaeology and Biology of Norse Use of Whales, Seals, and Walrus, 800 – 1500 CE

Our project (NSF #1503714) seeks to answer important and timely questions about prehistoric and historical Norse uses of marine mammals – whales, seals, and walruses – in the North Atlantic and Eastern Arctic over the course of the Middle Ages, from 800 – 1500 CE (Common Era). In this region where modern industrial whaling was born, and where indigenous whaling and sealing continue today, the prehistory and early history of marine mammal use remains unclear. Archaeological evidence from Arctic, Subarctic, and North Atlantic sites – from Labrador to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroes, and Scotland – shows frequent use of marine mammals by early hunters and scavengers. Early Norse histories and literature record Viking Age and later observations of whale, walrus, and seal use. All of this evidence, though, is scattered and fragmented in texts and archaeological collections. Our project relies upon the expertise of specialists in many fields – historians, literary scholars, archaeologists, biologists, geneticists, and others – to investigate the deep history of northern marine mammal use.