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Disappearance of Icelandic Walruses Coincided with Norse Settlement

Disappearance of Icelandic Walruses Coincided with Norse Settlement

Title: Disappearance of Icelandic Walruses Coincided with Norse Settlement
Author: Keighley, Xénia
Palsson, Snaebjorn   orcid.org/0000-0002-4297-3500
Einarsson, Bjarni F
Petersen, Ævar
Fernández-Coll, Meritxell
Jordan, Peter
Olsen, Morten Tange
Malmquist, Hilmar   orcid.org/0000-0001-6307-083X
Date: 2019-09-12
Language: English
Scope: 2656-2667
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
School: School of Engineering and Natural Sciences (UI)
Verkfræði- og náttúruvísindasvið (HÍ)
Department: Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences (UI)
Líf- og umhverfisvísindadeild (HÍ)
Series: Molecular Biology and Evolution;36(12)
ISSN: 0737-4038
1537-1719 (eISSN)
DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msz196
Subject: Palaeogenetics; Extinction; Human impacts; Exploitation; Odobenus rosmarus; Viking Age; Forndýrafræði; Rostungur; Víkingaöld; Útdauðar lífverur; Ísland; Landnám
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/1515

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Xénia Keighley, Snæbjörn Pálsson, Bjarni F Einarsson, Aevar Petersen, Meritxell Fernández-Coll, Peter Jordan, Morten Tange Olsen, Hilmar J Malmquist, Disappearance of Icelandic Walruses Coincided with Norse Settlement, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 36, Issue 12, December 2019, Pages 2656–2667, https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msz196


There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the impacts of human arrival in new “pristine” environments, including terrestrial habitat alterations and species extinctions. However, the effects of marine resource utilization prior to industrialized whaling, sealing, and fishing have largely remained understudied. The expansion of the Norse across the North Atlantic offers a rare opportunity to study the effects of human arrival and early exploitation of marine resources. Today, there is no local population of walruses on Iceland, however, skeletal remains, place names, and written sources suggest that walruses existed, and were hunted by the Norse during the Settlement and Commonwealth periods (870– 1262 AD). This study investigates the timing, geographic distribution, and genetic identity of walruses in Iceland by combining historical information, place names, radiocarbon dating, and genomic analyses. The results support a genetically distinct, local population of walruses that went extinct shortly after Norse settlement. The high value of walrus products such as ivory on international markets likely led to intense hunting pressure, which—potentially exacerbated by a warming climate and volcanism—resulted in the extinction of walrus on Iceland. We show that commercial hunting, economic incentives, and trade networks as early as the Viking Age were of sufficient scale and intensity to result in significant, irreversible ecological impacts on the marine environment. This is to one of the earliest examples of local extinction of a marine species following human arrival, during the very beginning of commercial marine exploitation.


Publisher's version (útgefin grein).


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