This last part about lost settlements in Iceland concerns the Commonwealth era that started with the establishment of the Althing in 930 and lasted until Iceland became part of the kingdom of Norway in 1264. As a bonus, there’s an outlier at the end!
The Icelandic Commonwealth Era Sites
Hofsstaðir, Northern Iceland
More than one site is called Hofsstaðir in Iceland. So, I stumbled a few times before realising articles and reports referred to different sites. That was a good crash course to Icelandic geography! The settlement I am referring to here is in northern Iceland along the river Laxá. The area lies near Lake Myvatn. Now, the lake turns out to be a fantastic region for early medieval Iceland. Extensive archaeological work has taken place here over the past decade. The results show at least 30 sites that date back to the Viking Age, and many more, ao the area probably held a sizeable amount of people during the medieval period.1
Hofsstaðir seems an important part of a larger social network, too. It is the largest Viking Age farmstead found in Iceland so far. Originally thought to function as a pagan temple, the site is now a confirmed working farm. Elements of possible rituals were discovered, such as the pit filled with metal-work (magical connotation) and scattered cattle skulls in the hall and doorways from around the time they abandoned the hall to build a new one further along, close to a new church. This begs the question if the abandonment had to do with the transition to Christianity in Iceland around the year 1000.2
Saltvík, Northern Iceland
There is still a farm at Saltvík nowadays, but there was one as early as the 950s, destroyed on purpose before the fifteenth century. 3
Reykholt, Western Iceland
At Reykholt are the remains of Snorri Sturluson’s house and the hot bath. The first building probably stood here as early as the tenth century, and it became a centre of power during Snorri’s lifetime in the thirteenth century.4 See the site on the video by West Iceland YouTube channel:
Skuggi, Western Iceland
The farmstead at Skuggi, Hörgárdalur was a small and perhaps serviced a larger farm, or even the monastery at Möðruvellir. Any existing link to the nearby trading site of Gásir, is an educated guess for the moment.
Archaeologists excavated the site in 2008 and then again in 2013. The first dig revealed parts of a building structure, Viking Age artefacts, and fauna.5 Its height of activity seems to have been between the tenth and eleventh century. The signs of a landslide seem to date the ground layer at c. 1104. Currently, the house is believed to date to the ninth or tenth century.6
Stöng, Southern Iceland
In the valley of Þjórsárdalur lies the farmstead Stöng. This was a Viking Age longhouse that likely disappeared during Hekla’s eruption in 1104. The hall was reconstructed in 1974 and is still open to visitors today.7
Höfn í Hornafirð, Southern Iceland
This is the Easter Egg of this series. Though the area is mentioned in Grettis Saga this is not a real settlement but a film set built in 2018! The movie was never finished, and the set abandoned. It is open for the public to visit.8
Knowing what to look for is paramount when googling. It took me three articles on Iceland to work my way past the tip of the iceberg of search results. The amount of knowledge available about early medieval Iceland is staggering. Even more so, because together the published material shows the evolution of insight into how settlements are discovered, dated and their function analysed. So, whenever possible, I will to continue to update the information in these articles.
To discover how the locations fit into the saga’s there is an excellent resource to help you on your way: Icelandic Saga Map.
- Orri Vésteinsson and Thomas H. McGovern, ‘The Peopling of Iceland,’ in: Norwegian Archaeological Review Volume 45.2 (2012), pp. 214 [pp. 206–218]. ↩
- Astrid E.J. Ogilvie, ‘Hofstaðir: Excavations of a Viking Age Feasting Hall in North–Eastern Iceland. By Gavin Lucas.’ In: Norwegian Archaeological Review Volume 44.1 (2011), book review. Orri Vésteinsson, ‘Icelandic farmhouse excavations. Field methods and site choices,’ in: Archaeologia Islandica Volume 3 (2004), pp. 71–100. Thomas H. McGovern, Orri Vésteinsson, Adolf Fridriksson, et al., ‘Landscapes of Settlement in Northern Iceland: Historical Ecology of Human Impact and Climate Fluctuation on the Millennial Scale,’ in: American Anthropologist. Volume 109.1 (2007), pp. 31–32. ↩
- Orri Vésteinsson, ‘Summary,’ in: Fornleifarannsóknir í Saltvík 2003 edited by Adolf Friðriksson, Colleen E. Batey, Hildur Gestsdóttir, Thomas McGovern & Orri Vésteinsson. (Reykjavík: Fornleifastofnun Íslands 2004), pp. 30 [pp. 30–34]. ↩
- Gudrun Sveinbjarnardottir, Thomas Howatt McGovern, Egill Erlendsson et al., ‘The palaeoecology of a high status Icelandic farm,’ in: Environmental Archaeology Volume 12.2 (2007), pp. 188–189 [pp. 187–206]. ↩
- Ramona Harrison, ‘Small Holder Farming in Early Medieval Iceland: Skuggi in Hörgárdalur,’ in: Archaeologia Islandica Volume 8 (2010), 52, 54, 55–56, 72–73 [pp. 51–76]. ↩
- Aaron Kendall, ‘2013 Excavation at Skuggi,’ Turf Walls | CUNY Academic Commons. Published 6 July 2013. Last Accessed 04 July 2020. https://turfwalls.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2013/07/06/317. Ramona Harrison and Howell M. Roberts, ‘Investigations into the Gásir Hinterlands and Eyjafjörður Human Ecodynamics: Preliminary Field Report of the 2013 Skuggi and Staðartunga Excavations in Hörgárdalur, Eyjafjörðu,’ FSÍ, Reykjavík and CUNY NORSEC, New York, May 2014, pp. 11. ↩
- ‘The Farmhouse,’ Þjóðveldisbærinn Last Accessed 08 July 2020. www.thjodveldisbaer.is/en/buildings/the–farmhouse/. ↩
- Andre Joosse, ‘The Viking Film Set.’ Urbex.nl Last Accessed 22 May 2020. www.urbex.nl/the–viking–film–set. ↩