University of Oulu

Kruse F, Nobles GR, de Jong M, van Bodegom RMK, van Oortmerssen GJM, Kooistra J, van den Berg M, Küchelmann HC, Schepers M, Leusink EHP, Cornelder BA, Kruijer JD, and Dee MW. Human–environment interactions at a short-lived Arctic mine and the long-term response of the local tundra vegetation, Polar Record 57(e3): 1–22.

Human–environment interactions at a short-lived Arctic mine and the long-term response of the local tundra vegetation

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Author: Kruse, Frigga1; Nobles, Gary R.2; de Jong, Martha3;
Organizations: 1Kiel University, Institute for Ecosystem Research, Olshausenstr. 75, 24118 Kiel, Germany
2Koç University, Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, İstiklal Cd. No: 181, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
3Independent Scholar, Wingerdhoek 10, 9713 NR, Groningen, Netherlands
4University of Groningen, Groningen Institute of Archaeology, Poststraat 6, 9712 ER Groningen, Netherlands
5University of Oulu, Pentti Kaiteran katu 1, 90570 Oulu, Finland
6Knochenarbeit, Speicherhof 4, 28217 Bremen, Germany
7University of Groningen, Centre for Landscape Studies, Oude Boteringestraat 34, 9712 GK Groningen, Netherlands
8Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden, Netherlands
9University of Groningen, Centre for Isotope Research, Nijenborgh 6, 9747 AG Groningen, Netherlands
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Cambridge University Press, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-03-29


Arctic mining has a bad reputation because the extractive industry is often responsible for a suite of environmental problems. Yet, few studies explore the gap between untouched tundra and messy megaproject from a historical perspective. Our paper focuses on Advent City as a case study of the emergence of coal mining in Svalbard (Norway) coupled with the onset of mining-related environmental change. After short but intensive human activity (1904–1908), the ecosystem had a century to respond, and we observe a lasting impact on the flora in particular. With interdisciplinary contributions from historical archaeology, archaeozoology, archaeobotany and botany, supplemented by stable isotope analysis, we examine 1) which human activities initially asserted pressure on the Arctic environment, 2) whether the miners at Advent City were “eco-conscious,” for example whether they showed concern for the environment and 3) how the local ecosystem reacted after mine closure and site abandonment. Among the remains of typical mining infrastructure, we prioritised localities that revealed the subtleties of long-term anthropogenic impact. Significant pressure resulted from landscape modifications, the import of non-native animals and plants, hunting and fowling, and the indiscriminate disposal of waste material. Where it was possible to identify individual inhabitants, these shared an economic attitude of waste not, want not, but they did not hold the environment in high regard. Ground clearances, animal dung and waste dumps continue to have an effect after a hundred years. The anthropogenic interference with the fell field led to habitat creation, especially for vascular plants. The vegetation cover and biodiversity were high, but we recorded no exotic or threatened plant species. Impacted localities generally showed a reduction of the natural patchiness of plant communities, and highly eutrophic conditions were unsuitable for liverworts and lichens. Supplementary isotopic analysis of animal bones added data to the marine reservoir offset in Svalbard underlining the far-reaching potential of our multi-proxy approach. We conclude that although damaging human–environment interactions formerly took place at Advent City, these were limited and primarily left the visual impact of the ruins. The fell field is such a dynamic area that the subtle anthropogenic effects on the local tundra may soon be lost. The fauna and flora may not recover to what they were before the miners arrived, but they will continue to respond to new post-industrial circumstances.

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Series: Polar record
ISSN: 0032-2474
ISSN-E: 1475-3057
ISSN-L: 0032-2474
Volume: 57
Article number: e3
DOI: 10.1017/S0032247420000418
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
1172 Environmental sciences
Funding: The fieldwork was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO; grant number 866.12.405). Michael W. Dee is supported by a European Research Council Grant (7146779, ECHOES).
Copyright information: © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.