By Knut Helle
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Extra resources for Cambridge History of Scandinavia
The central and southern regions are characterised by lava fields and volcanoes that have been active in historical time. The majority of the glaciers were formed during the last glaciation when practically the whole country was covered by ice. Today four large glacier regions remain, of which Vatnaj¨okull in the south-east is by far the largest. As for minerals, Iceland’s basalt rocks and inland ice give little hope of future development. Historically, however, sulphur has been an element of some economic importance.
In the river valleys sediments of sand and/or silt were deposited in front of the receding ice, just below the highest shoreline. During the subsequent shore displacement rivers deposited their sediments in the form of deltas at successively lower levels. The older delta deposits emerged early in post-glacial time. They consist of fluvial material, silt or fine sand, which retain water and are relatively difficult to cultivate. They were, however, decisive in the creation of the first rural landscapes in northern Scandinavia, especially those areas bordering the Baltic.
The harsh, wet climate is favourable to grass while trees are stunted by strong westerly winds and frequent gales. But there 41 Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 The geography and prehistory of Scandinavia is also a cultural influence: large flocks of sheep contribute to keeping trees and bushes down. Animal husbandry and fishing in coastal waters have been the main means of subsistence throughout most of the history of the islands. In the voes flocks of pilot whales have traditionally been slaughtered.