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May 30, 2008

Kontrovitz's article about Vikings accepted for publication in 'Irish Naturalists' Journal'

Dr. Mervin Kontrovitz, ULM professor emeritus of geosciences, and Dr. Scott W. Snyder of East Carolina University, have had an article accepted for publication in the "Irish Naturalists' Journal."

The study "Ostracodes and Foraminifera from Two Viking Sites in Dublin" deals with ninth and 11th century sites that have been extensively investigated by Irish archaeologists. The Dublin scientists suggested that Kontrovitz and Snyder attempt to provide a high-resolution interpretation of the paleoenvironments. There had been a lively controversy over whether the area had been dominated by freshwater or saline environments.

Ostracodes and foraminifera are mostly microscopic organisms that produce shells that are widely preserved in ancient sediments, and their environmental sensitivity renders them useful in studies of past conditions. Archaeological sites that were once wet were common habitats for the organisms; thus, the microscopic shells could be useful in paleoenvironmental interpretations, especially related to paleosalinity and paleotemperature.

The ninth century site (Golden Lane) in central Dublin contains a Viking burial uncovered during excavations related to modern construction. The presence of foraminifera represents an environment similar to that of a saltmarsh or marginal marine setting – that is, a shallow-water, brackish to marine association, characteristic of an open sound or the inner continental shelf. The occurrence of those species further suggests that at that time there was a warm-temperate setting at Dublin (Dubh-linn in the Irish Gaelic of that time).

The late 11th century site, at Hammond Lane in north Dublin, yielded materials that were dated by C14 methods. The well-preserved foraminifera shells that were recovered are typical of a marginal marine or brackish waters, including salt marshes. Brackish water and marine podocopid ostracodes also were recovered from Hammond Lane, supporting this interpretation of the environment at the time of deposition (slightly more than 1,000 years before present).

Sinead Phelan, one of the main excavating archaeologists, wrote that the study of ostracodes and foraminifera "…has played a very important part of our post-excavation analysis, proving that the sites were indeed an area of marine marsh."

Although Ireland has many ostracode and foraminifera species, archaeological applications have been largely absent. The authors expect to participate in other such projects in The Republic of Ireland as the usefulness of the minute shells becomes better known for excavation sites.

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