Geochemical and mineralogical fingerprint of soapstone from Greenland

Geochemical and mineralogical fingerprint of soapstone from Greenland

Research leader: Majken Djurhuus Poulsen, Researcher, GEUS Nuuk.

Other participants and affiliated institutions: Christian Koch Madsen, Deputy Head, Greenland National Museum & Archives; Nynke Keulen, Senior Researcher, GEUS Copenhagen; Martin Appelt, Senior Researcher, National Museum of Denmark; and Sólveig Guðmundsdóttir Beck, Postdoc., Geoarchaeologist, Institute of Archaeology, University of Iceland.

Research area, purpose, and research questions:
The project ‘Geochemical and mineralogical fingerprints of soapstone from Greenland’ is an interdisciplinary research project between geologists and archaeologists from Greenland, Denmark and Iceland. The purpose is to examine soapstone from all over Greenland with geological and geochemical tools, in order to characterize the soapstone deposits that are most known and have been used for over 4000 years in Greenland by the Saqqaq, Dorset, early and late Thule cultures, the Norsemen and the Herrnhutes. Soapstone has been quarried in several places in Greenland and the purpose of the project is that we can identify the various sources of soapstone objects in Greenland based on their geochemical and mineralogical composition, and on that basis be able to identify the origin of soapstone objects and their trade that has taken place over time. Thorough studies have been made of soapstone from other Nordic countries, as well as the British Isles, but there is still a great lack of knowledge about the Greenlandic soapstone deposits. This study will be the first to carry out a major geochemical and mineralogical characterization of Greenlandic deposits, which can therefore help to characterize soapstone trade across the entire North Atlantic. In this study, we will test a geochemical method (Sm-Nd isotope ratio), which so far has only been tested on very few samples, mostly from the Nuuk area, but gave very promising first results. The research question: Can we characterize the known soapstone deposits in Greenland using geochemistry and mineralogical tools, and find special characteristics, so that it is possible to track the soapstone trade in Greenland and across the North Atlantic?

Methods for competence building in the form of inclusion of society and dissemination to society:

Lecture to students of Cultural & Social History at the University of Greenland about the use of soapstone over time and results from this project, as well as conveying the results of the project to Greenland Science Week.

We expect to publish our data in an open access peer-reviewed publication in a journal open to interdisciplinary studies, such as the Journal of Archaeological Science. Popular scientific article in Danish/Greenlandic, e.g. in Sermitsiaq, KNR, the airline magazine Suluk or to Samples from many Greenlandic deposits outside Nuuk will be included in the project and provide new knowledge about the history of these local communities.

Granted: DKK 250,000.

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