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Master Thesis

Meules et moulins en Islande, du XVe au XIXe siècle : histoire d'une amnésie

Abstract : The aim of this master thesis is to investigate on an almost untouched part of Iceland ; the place of cereals in the organisation of Icelandic society. This approach has proved its pertinence in many European countries and is seducing more and more scholars, as it appears to potentially open a very large field of investigation, not only for rural society but also for the overall structure of society itself.
Initially, this work focused on Icelandic archaeological material and in particular grindstones, in the aim to learn about Icelandic use of cereals. This large research project thus covered not only the fields of agriculture and food, but also the circulation of goods throughout the country and within the regions. Thus, grindstones are testimonies of everyday life, then quarries teach us about production and commercialisation of the grindstones. Over represented in the folklore of Norway and Sweden, grindstones seem to have disappeared from the memory of Iceland, as well as the cereals themselves. Our work will then be to over look this amnesia in the wish to encourage research in a field which seems to have been put aside without reason. The following study is divided into three chapters. These chapters aim to reflect the cosmological construction of Icelandic society. The first part will be dedicated to the Icelandic world itself from an anthropological perspective. The second part will reflect the inner part of this world as embodied in the material artefacts we had the possibility to analyse. Finally, the last chapter will look over this material and, representing the outer part of the same perception of the world, will be focused on the study of millhouses all over the country. This paper is almost the first one focusing on this topic. Therefore, it might sometimes be imprecise and many aspects might be forgotten, however the aim has been to serve as a starting block for further studies.
The theoretical background of research into this subject is based on former historiography concerning rural icelandic society. The organisation and structure of this society appears thus to be more or less constant throughout the centuries, and this since the end of the Commonwealth. The population was divided into bæir, and organised within the . Each individual existence was related to his or her particular function within the microcosm of the . From this interpretation, there is was no place for outsiders or for independent individuals. This has for consequence that the millstones discovered on almost every excavation site are believed to have been made by the bondí himself. According to this point of view, there is no proper profession linked to the production and commercialisation of these artefacts. Looking further at the material however it appears that, if many millstones may have been made by a novice, most of them could well have been made by a professional, even a foreigner working during the summer season when boats were allowed to reach the island. Indeed, we have been able to extract many pieces showing remarkable properties of sophistication and skill that contrast with the conception of a nation without any specialised artisans. This remark leads us to an alternative interpretation of the organisation within the and between the different bæir on a small, but also perhaps on a larger scale. It is thus difficult to admit that Icelanders zere not interested in cereals and their transformation when looking at this material. Even if it was hard to study because of the pooreness of its conservation and registration, it was rich enough to reveal the complex structures involves in its creation.
The last chapter confirms our doubts. It appears then that, instead of a country without millhouses, Iceland might have had more than 500 little mills by the 18th century. This means almost one mill per hundred inhabitants, the same rate in France which is considered as being one of the highest rates in Europe according to recent studies on millstones. This rate is still to be confirmed, but it is hard not to be convinced that cereals may have been part of Icelandic daily life. It is also an attractive perspective of research if we want to learn more about Modern Age of Iceland, because it stresses the role of unknown professions all over the country and the existence of still badly recorded communication and exchange. Then, if millstones may have been produced in precise sites, as the toponymy has revealed, the construction and repair of not only watermills but also windmills and tidalmills, may have required particular professional skills.
In the future, this fields needs to be taken into consideration because, with the help of archaeological investigations, it can become an alternative way to look at Icelandic society and its history. A certain ignorance concerning rural life may be enlightened through this perspective. Our paper does not presume to give an answer, but enlarges the investigations through the proposition of possible further research.
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Master Thesis
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Anouchka Hrdy. Meules et moulins en Islande, du XVe au XIXe siècle : histoire d'une amnésie. Histoire. 2009. ⟨dumas-00432686⟩

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