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Silver, Butter, ClothMonetary and Social Economies in the Viking Age$
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Jane Kershaw, Gareth Williams, Søren Sindbæk, and James Graham-Campbell

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198827986

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198827986.001.0001

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Tracing the Late Viking Age and Medieval Butter Economy

Tracing the Late Viking Age and Medieval Butter Economy

The View from Quoygrew, Orkney

(p.278) 14 Tracing the Late Viking Age and Medieval Butter Economy
Silver, Butter, Cloth

Aaron J. Critch

Jennifer F. Harland

James H. Barrett

Oxford University Press

Easily preserved and high in energy, butter was a reliable foodstuff during the medieval period for northerners vulnerable to short growing seasons and occasional crop failure. This chapter assesses the value of butter as commodity-money in late Viking Age and medieval Orkney, and advances new methodologies to aid the identification of perishable foodstuffs used in payments. It reviews documentary evidence for payments in butter, which indicates that farms produced butter not only to meet their own needs, but also to pay taxes, rents, and tithes. It then proposes a means of identifying butter payment in the archaeological record. It argues that zooarchaeological and other bioarchaeological evidence from excavated farm sites can elucidate the strategies employed in raising dairy animals, allowing the identification of sites that probably produced high quantities of butter. This is demonstrated through an investigation of local subsistence strategies at Quoygrew, a settlement of farmers and fishers on the island of Westray in Orkney.

Keywords:   butter, commodity-money, Orkney, tax (skat), zooarchaeological evidence, dairy production

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