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The focus of the paper is twofold: the first part is about how property rights were assigned and ranked in finds, both in those items such as bees, rings and other valuables which were previously owned, and also in those things, like whales, which were unowned. We focus on Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian laws from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, yet most of the provisions were copied into later laws and were in force up until modern times, some even current now. The second part treats the question of how risks of loss were handled, and how simple forms of insurance-like institutions arose, aggressively, to encourage risk spreading and overall risk lowering by sharing. The Icelandic laws, especially, show a rather remarkable sophistication regarding risk sharing. They were very alert to the kinds of strategies of avoidance people might employ to evade the rules.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Comparative Legal History on 09 Jun. 2015, available at: