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Review of McGovern, T. H. "The archaeology of the Norse North Atlantic." Annual Reviews of Anthropology 19: 331-51.

McGovern begins his article on the Archaeology of the Norse North Atlantic with a time frame for when the Viking period begins and when it ends. A generic discussion follows about the placement of Viking colonization within the Medieval European timeframe. The structure of the article then continues with the systematic analyses of the archaeological processes which have been undertaken in each landscape which the Viking colonists influenced. He questions why the Viking settlements in North America and outlying territories were not maintained and allowed to become permanent. He also asks what caused this decline or collapse in the western territories. By this systematic evaluation of medieval archaeology, McGovern demonstrates how archaeology is very important in the development of cultural analysis. This article is very much and article which emphasizes the current archaeology of the Viking territories stretching from the core of Norway to the shores of modern day Newfoundland.

This article covers the entirety of the Viking period, from documented colonization in the early ninth century to the systematic failure of colonies starting in the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. The Viking colonies may have started in the seventh century CE on the Faroes Islands, but it definitely ended in the eleventh century with the subsequent failure of the distanced colonies starting with Vinland.

Upon analysis of the footnotes of this article it is clear that the author used a variety of peer reviewed sources as well as a number of direct interpretation reports of Norse excavations. However, the author did not use many primary sources to prove his stance one way or another. Because of the nature of his research questions it is understandable as to why the use of primary sources could been seen as irrelevant and unnecessary. McGovern cited used twelve of his published works, which accompanied 184 of his other sources, which demonstrates that he has a profound knowledge of the topic of analysis.

McGovern used many of his sources in every aspect of his discussion of the archaeology of the Vikings. That being said, he used approximately 200 sources for an article which was only about 15 pages in total written length. It would seem by these numbers here that, although scholarly, this article is not so much a scholarly opinion as it is a summary of the sources used. However, the use of citations should not wholly represent the validity of McGovern's arguments. The use of citations may very well be the representation of conservatism which the author uses in his attempt to be thorough and factual.

The questions which McGovern has asked may very well never be answered fully due to the arbitrary nature of them. However, he shows in this article that medieval archaeology is making great improvements its field as well as in the field of history, and many other social sciences relating to culture. McGovern states that the use of many of the archaeological tools which have been applied on a global scale are all being used in the search for the research questions which he has asked. He states that "With a great deal of excavated material under intensive analysis and with the steadily expanding fieldwork in every part of the region, medieval archaeology in the Norse North Atlantic is proving a highly effective means for finding out what no one knew before."

This article provides the overall interpretation or outlook of the new and old research which is currently being accomplished with the assistance of the field of archaeology. McGovern provides a necessary source where the process of research and interpretation of the Vikings may begin. Here he provides examples and interpretations of sites spanning from Norway to Newfoundland all of which are significant in their own right and each provide insight into the lives of the Vikings. The strengths of this article come directly from its usefulness as an all encompassing source of Viking excavation and interpretation. It weakness comes from its lack of exhaustively analyzed excavations. McGovern does not do this for if he did this article would be much longer than fifteen pages.

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © M. Rhys Stevenson, 2007   Copyright details
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