The geophysical surveys have been carried out at archaeological sites such as the monasteries at Skriðuklaustur, Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Þingeyrar, and the Keldur and Glaumbær Viking Age farms.

Manuel Gabler, head of the geophysical survey in the field, is very excited about the preliminary results.

"The surveys have given us two clear answers: The radar signal easily penetrates through several meters of sand and ash," Gabler stated, adding that the geophysical results show a clear contrast between peat and the surrounding soil.

"This is good news for Icelandic archaeology and suggests that there is a possibility for new and exciting discoveries in the coming years," project leader Knut Paasche noted.

Too early for final results

"It will take time to process and analyze all the data, and it is therefore too early to come out with any final results," Gabler added. 

Still, NIKU's archaeologists already see that this summer's research is generating results. They plan to continue working on the material together with their Icelandic partners throughout the autumn and winter.

There are notable differences between the process of carrying out ground-penetrating radar surveys in Iceland and in Norway, as both the soil and the geology are different.

"Iceland is a volcanic island where much of the ground consists of ash and volcanic rocks. In addition, soil erosion has caused thick layers of sand to accumulate over and cover the archaeological finds in many areas, especially in the south of the island," Paasche noted.

Scarce forests in Iceland mostly disappeared after the island was populated in the 8th and 9th centuries. Due to the absence of wood, peat became the most important building material. Buildings were constructed using peat up to the 1950s.

Therefore, archaeologists were also interested to find out if these turf walls could be revealed using the new geophysical survey methods.

The tradition of building houses of peat, older than 1000 years, is still present in Iceland. Photo: Knut Paasche / NIKU

Exciting results

NIKU archaeologists were able to put their assumptions to the test at the Keldur farm in southern Iceland.

The surveys there were carried out in collaboration with the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðdminjasafn Íslands) and architect Guðmundur Lúther Hafsteinsson.

The results? Very exciting! 

The foundations of several turf-built houses on the land below today's farmyard were revealed. The houses date to the Viking and medieval periods.

The story of Keldur

The famous Keldur farm has a rich history. According to Icelandic archaeologist Ragnheiður Traustadóttir from the archeology company Antikva, the farm is located in a landscape dominated by the Hekla volcano. 

The name Keldur means "springs" and refers to numerous springs and the river that flows on the south side of the farm. At the site, Iceland's oldest preserved longhouse – dating back to the 11th century – stands to this day. The longhouse survived largely thanks to a farmer who lived on the farm at the beginning of the 20th century.

"Keldur is a historic place that appears in many literary sources. According to Njáls saga, Ingjaldur Höskuldsson lived here. He became famous for his betrayal of Flosi Þórðarson when he burned Njál and his sons inside Bergþórshvoll.

"In Torlak's saga, it is said that Jón Loftsson, Snorri Sturluson's stepfather, wanted to establish a monastery on the farm when he lived there 1193-1197," Traustadottir explained, according to the NIKU website.

"Further geophysical investigation could shed light over the theory that this is the location of the monastery mentioned in the saga," Paasche added.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Keldur belonged to one of the country's five chief clans, Oddaverjar, who were constantly at war with the other clans. Before the battle of Örlygsstaðir in 1238, where all the most powerful families clashed, Keldur was subjected to a raid in which raiders took away all weapons and horses on the farm.

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