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The horses and sheep of the Vikings: archaeogenomics of domesticates in the North Atlantic

About the project

Although the modern Nordic livestock breeds are genetically well characterized, many questions regarding their origin and breed formation remain unanswered. Our project will add a critical historical dimension to previous research, determining the origin of the horse and sheep breeds and reveal migration patterns in the North Atlantic. Our analysis will enhance understanding of how the rapid settlement of the North Atlantic in the Viking Age followed by a thousand years of isolation shaped population structure and genetic diversity.

Applying state-of-the-art genomic tools, such as high throughput sequencing, to the study of ancient DNA, modern genetic datasets and the unique collections of animal bones from Viking Age archaeological excavations in the North Atlantic will give a long-term view of the development of Nordic livestock. The project will solidify a budding interdisciplinary network of Nordic researchers and train Icelandic scientists in ancient DNA methods, high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics analyses, all of which are important tools for modern-day evolutionary, ecological and archaeological research.

The project falls into the new and rapidly developing field of conservation archaeogenomics as it addresses major questions regarding the adaptability of livestock breeds to changes in climate and agricultural practice, an issue no less important for societies today than it was during the settlement of the North Atlantic.

Principal investigator: Dr Jón Hallsteinn Hallsson (Agricultural University of Iceland)


Co-applicants: Sanne Boessenkool (CEES, UiO), Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir (CEES, UiO; Agricultural University of Iceland), Juha Kantanen (Natural Resources Institute Finland)


This project is funded by the Iceland Research Fund grant no. 162783051

Start:  2016 End: 2020

Want more information about this project? Then please follow this link to the York Archaeological Trust.

Animal bones from the Kirkjubæjarklaustur Nunnery

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About the project

The site of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur nunnery in southeast Iceland was excavated between 2002-2006. An animal bone collection of around 4000 fragments was recovered during the excavation. The collection contains whale bone, sheep/goat bones, cattle bones and more. As part of the project the analysis of the collection will be completed, a technical report and article about the results of the analysis published and the collection will be repacked and permanently curated at the National Museum of Iceland.

Principal investigator: Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir

This project is funded by the The Archaeological Heritage Fund of Iceland [Fornminjasjóður] grant no. 162783051

Project period
Start: 2019 End: 2020

Analysis of the Litlibær animal bone collection

We are currently analysing a small animal bone collection from the site of Litlibær in Nes in Seltjarnarnes. The excavation was conducted as part of an undergraduate course in field methods at the Department of Archaeology University of Iceland in between May 14th and June 1st 2012. The course was supervised by Dr. Gavin Lucas and Guðmundur Ólafsson and six students participated in the excavation.


The site was a domestic residence built around 1900, a farm without hay-cutting rights (þurrabúð). Around 1100 animal bone fragments were recovered during the excavation and the collection includes domestic animals, birds and fish.


The analysis is being done by zooarchaeologist Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir with assistance from Indriði Skarphéðinsson, an undergraduate at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Iceland. The analysis will be completed in June 2018 and a report published before the end of the year in the Agricultural University of Iceland report series.


References Lucas, G., & Ólafsson, G. (n.d.). Archaeological Investigations at Litlibær, Nes in Seltjarnarnes 2012.

Stakeholder analyis

Breeders of local domesticates in the North Atlantic - stakeholder analysis

About the project

Domestic animals have through thousands of years been an important part of human history with the settlement of the North Atlantic by the seafaring Vikings being the most recent one. The local domesticates had both production and cultural value to the Vikings, values, which still can be attributed to the local domesticates found in the North Atlantic. The domesticates are of interest for various reasons, one being that they may shed light on historical aspects of the Vikings. More importantly these breeds can be of great value as reservoirs of genetic diversity benefiting future food security. As the environment changes livestock will be subject to new diseases and environmental challenges, which they will be better equipped for if the various traits of local domesticates can be used and introduced to other popular breeds. Before disseminating new scientific findings, which might affect our understanding of origin of individual breeds, it is important to interact with stakeholders in order to understand better their motivations and needs. Here a stakeholder analysis will be made of breeders of four local domestic breeds, namely the sheep, horses, chickens, and goats. This will help the future dissemination of results regarding the local domestic breeds and provide researchers with valuable information regarding the most important stakeholders.


Investigators: Christina Joensen (Leiden University; Agricultural University of Iceland); Dr Jón Hallsteinn Hallsson (Agricultural University of Iceland); Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir (CEES, UiO; Agricultural University of Iceland)



This project is funded by the Erfðanefnd landbúnaðarins and Iceland Research Fund grant no. 162783051

Jan. 2018 - Aug. 2018

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