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The Horses and Sheep of the Vikings: Archaeogenomics of Domesticates in the North Atlantic

The Vikings introduced a complex of cultural tools, domestic plants and animals to the new territories, and adapted their farming practises to a wide variety of climates and environments. This in turn had a profound impact on the subsistence strategies and culture of the Viking settlers (Dugmore et al., 2012; Dugmore, Keller, & McGovern, 2007; McGovern et al., 2007). Despite their clear dependency on livestock production there is little understanding of the settlement process and the origin of genetic adaptations of the Viking’s domestic animals–e.g., horses, cattle, sheep, goat and pig–as they were introduced to the wide range of different environments and climates over this relatively short period of time. For instance, the human settlers of the North Atlantic are of mixed origin, yet paradoxically, modern domestic breeds in the area indicate a singular introduction. It is currently unclear how and when this disparity emerged. Bringing together an interdisciplinary, international team of scientists, this project will increase our understanding of the underlying genetic diversity and adaptability of Viking livestock. We focus on two domestic species, sheep and horses; each species having distinct roles in Viking Age subsistence and culture that could have affected their distribution patterns through the North Atlantic region. By comparing archaeological remains from early settlement to extant breeds we will investigate how sheep and horses were affected by environmental changes such as the onset of the Little Ice Age and catastrophic events such as volcanic eruptions.