As The Viking Herald has previously reported, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (NIKU) archaeologists are busy working on ground penetrating radar surveys in Iceland this summer. 

Two elements separate current surveys from past research – the scale of the project and the new technologies that are being used to analyze the sites.

The Viking Herald reached out to project leader Knut Paasche of the NIKU to get the latest updates on the ongoing research in Iceland.

TVH: What are the key research ambitions of the "Archaeological mapping above and below ground in eastern Iceland" project?

KP: The main idea is to test out full-scale motorized ground penetrating radar (GPR) in Iceland. Quite a lot of geophysics work was done in Iceland earlier, but not at this scale and not with this type of equipment. The main challenge was the Icelandic turf houses; could turf be detected by GPR? 

For Norwegian archaeologists, it is also very important to study archaeology in Iceland since it can tell us so much about the Vikings emigrating from Norway in the 9th and 10th centuries.

I'd also like to mention that we're working in partnership with the Icelandic company Antikva, headed by Ragnheidur Traustadottir. They're responsible for the excavation in Seydisfjordur. 

Field research is underway at several archaeological sites in Iceland. Photo: Knut Paasche / NIKU

TVH: Could you tell us more about the excavation at Fjörður, which is expected to be one of the most extensive investigations in Iceland up to date? 

KP: This is the 3rd year that research has been undertaken on the land at the settlement farm Fjörður. The research was initiated due to the construction of a wall for avalanche defense from the Bjólfur mountain. The Fjörður farm mound was known, but we have discovered that it is much larger than it was thought to be. It is over 70 meters long and 30 meters wide.  

Last year, in 2021, we excavated another farm mound from the 19th century, which is 100 meters north of the Fjörður farm mound. 

At the end of the excavation last summer, we found a landslide from 1150, a cultural layer beneath, and four graves. The graves contained numerous artifacts dating to the Viking Age, one of the graves was a boat grave.

TVH: Up to this summer, what are the most important finds made at the Fjörður site?

KP: A longhouse, storage, and outhouse have been found at the site from around 940 to the 13 century. The structures are still being excavated. A landslide that occurred around the year 1150 covered the houses in the settlement town of Fjörður, so part of the site has been well preserved under the landslide. 

Outside the house, there is a midden layer (cultural layer) of over 1 meter from the period 940-1100, unique from that period in Iceland where the finds have been found.

A lot of artifacts have been found from the daily lives of the settlers; among those finds are whetstones (from Norway), soapstone pot (from Norway), three spindle whorls (two made in Iceland, one from Norway), and iron objects such as knives, fire steel ("strike-a-lights") and flint, boat nails...

Examples of finds from the Fjörður site. Photo: NIKU

TVH: Which other sites of interest do you plan to investigate this summer?

KP: Except for the excavation at Fjörður, where NIKU only has a minor part, we're only doing geophysics and 3D modeling of the landscape on the other sites this year. We're using GPR, drones, laser scanners, photo and thermal cameras as our main tools.

TVH: How will new technology support your work in Iceland this summer? 

KP: We can already say, at this stage, that new technology will make a big change in Icelandic archaeology. The results from this summer are just fantastic. 

We have visited 11 different sites: three medieval monasteries and eight different Viking and early medieval sites. Among these are the known archaeological sites of Skriduklaustur, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Þingeyrar, Keldur, and Glaumbær.  

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NIKU's archaeologists plan to continue the research work with their Icelandic partners throughout the autumn and winter.

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