$487K Study of Viking Textiles During Little Ice Age To ‘Mitigate Climate Change’

By Alissa Tabirian | July 15, 2013 | 3:07pm EDT


Icelandic volcano erupts in 2010 (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $487,049 grant to a Brown University archaeologist for her “three-year study exploring gender, textiles and society in Iceland from the Viking Age (ca. 874-1050) until the early 19th century.”

The "Rags to Riches" project “may also have practical applications in efforts to understand, and possibly mitigate for, the effects of changing climate in different areas of the world,” NSF spokesperson Peter West said in response to an inquiry from CNSNews.com.

Smith, a research scientist at Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, has been collaborating with other universities and archaeological laboratories in the U.S., as well as museums in Iceland.

Her research “will document and analyze women’s roles and women’s involvement in textile production” in order to “shed new light on women’s power within Icelandic households at different levels of the social system, providing a valuable contribution to social archaeological research in the North Atlantic,” according to the grant abstract.

“Women were also in charge of transforming cloth into clothing and, through that process, produced the most essential items of daily life – clothing, blankets, tents, and other utilitarian items – that buffered Icelanders against a changing climate and often-severe conditions during the Little Ice Age,” principal investigator Michele Smith said in the grant abstract.

The continuing grant was first awarded by NSF on July 1, 2010 and will end on June 30, 2014.

“By exploring the decisions that women made in transforming textiles – both domestic and imported – into clothing, this project will investigate the roles they played in establishing and changing markers of individual, family, regional, and national identity as well as decisions they may have made when facing increasing global climate cooling in the North Atlantic.”

West noted that “this research provides information about a relatively unknown historical phenomenon,” specifically “the historical roles of women in the economy of the North Atlantic over a 1,000-year period.”

When contacted by CNSNews with questions about the relevance of Smith’s research, West noted that congressional legislation supports activities to “Initiate and support specific scientific and engineering activities in connection with matters relating to international cooperation, national security and the effects of scientific and technological applications upon society.”

“The National Science Foundation’s mission and charter, as spelled out in its organic act, is to support fundamental research that adds to the knowledge base of specific disciplines,” said West. “While some NSF-supported research may, in some cases, have immediate benefits to economic activity, this is not the foundation’s role, as defined by congressional mandate,” he noted.

This project was “evaluated and supported as a result of a thorough examination of its intellectual merit and broader impacts in the NSF merit-review process,” West added.

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