Saturday, October 27, 2012

Origins of the Icelandic Horse--History

From Hathi Trust Digital Library
In 1905, Annandale published Iceland and the Faroes: Studies in Iceland Life.  Almost 50 years before Watson and Crick discovered DNA, Annandale used the Landnámabók to try to deduce the origin of the Icelandic horse. Per the Landnámabók, the earliest permanent settlers in Iceland came from two major groups.  In the late 880s, the majority of the first settlers were Norsemen, originally from Norway, who had occupied pockets of modern Britain including the Shetlands and Faroe islands.  They brought in “Westman” slaves from those Islands and settled mainly in the south of the Island.  About 20 years later, a second batch of settlers, mostly nobles and their households, arrived either directly from Norway or after short stays in the northern Scottish islands, and settled in the north of Iceland.  Annandale speculated that first group brought mostly Shetland-like pony type stock from northern Britain islands; and the second, Norwegian horse/pony stock and probably some pony stock from the northern British islands.
Annandale also mentions that after the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in the early 1000s, Icelanders made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and that ambitious young Norse men took service in the Varangian Guard, the personal bodyguards of the Byzantine emperor from the ninth to the fourteenth century.  As he concludes, “In short, it is probable that the original breed of horses in Iceland and the Faroes was of mixed origin, in which the Hebridean and the Scandinavian predominated, though blood from South Europe or even from the African and Asiatic coasts of the Mediterranean may [emphasis added by the author of this article] have contributed to its formation” (p, 175).  Annandale also highlights the resemblance between native Norwegian stock and the Mongolian pony. 
But was Annadale correct in what he postulated?  Check tomorrow's post for the results of recent mtDNA studies.

Annandale, N., & Marshall, F.  (1905) Iceland and the Faroes:Studies in Iceland Life, Oxford, Clarendon Press.   Available via Hathitrust Library.  Found September 19, 2012, at;page=root;view=image;size=100;seq=7;num=i

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