August 19, 2013
by John Steinberg
August 19, 2013
July 23, 2013
by Kathryn Catlin
Julie, Eric, and I spent most of today at Stóra-Seyla clearing, photographing, and beginning to excavate several grave cuts to the north of the church.
Julie and I put our heads together and got the pole camera running. We got several good, clear shots of the cleaned grave cuts. The outlines of the graves – where the gravediggers cut through the earth to bury their dead in 11th century Stóra-Seyla – are extremely clear now that we have opened the area down to the level of the landnám tephra. The contrast between the dark-colored tephra and the lighter brown, mottled grave fill makes the interface stand out. These cuts in the tephra are also visible in the ground-penetrating radar results from our 2009 survey.
This photo, with southeast at the top, shows the area where we were working. At left are two possibly connected graves that I began to clear just after the photo was taken. Eric traced the outlines of the two connected cuts that show most clearly at center, while Julie worked in the small area at right, in shadow.
With lots of guidance from Guðný, the director of archaeology at the museum who has been excavating cemeteries in Skagafjörður for many years, we began to (carefully) excavate.
Julie’s area soon began to reveal the very small bones of an infant. This newborn had been carefully placed in the small grave very close to the church with its head resting on a pillow of H3 tephra (the lighter soil under the skull in the photo). (Much like the landnám layer in the pole photos, H3 also covers the entire site, but at a depth below the landnám.)
The northernmost of my two cuts revealed a skull late in the afternoon, probably that of a young woman. Women were usually interred to the north of the church, and men to the south.
We don’t yet know whether Eric’s area contains human remains. Many of the people buried here were disinterred during the late Viking Age and reburied elsewhere, meaning that many of the graves we are excavating contain only fill. We hope to learn more tomorrow.
Meanwhile, John was flying the kite overhead whenever the the winds were right!
July 19, 2013
by Julie Powers
After a long week of digging, most of Stóra-Seyla has been cleaned from last year and progress has been made. Earlier in the week, the team worked on cleaning off the excavation area and taking off the remaining top layers of soil. After removing some soil, Eric uncovered a turf structure, relatively small, to the southwest of the church, right outside the cemetery wall. James and I removed soil that contained the 1104 tephra to the west of the cemetery wall, making sure there were no graves outside the cemetery wall. After no graves were found, we moved to the east of the church, inside the circular wall enclosure, where we removed soil from an area where previous excavators who, when the church was moved up the hill, took most of the individuals in the graves out and moved them into the new cemetery.
We have been cleaning off the fill that these previous excavators put back into the holes they dug when they were removing graves and this afternoon after much hard work, we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow that slowly moved across the landscape as the sun and the rain just matched up in a single spot. It was absolutely beautiful!
Clearly we all just had to stop and admire the beautiful sight Mother Nature laid out for us!
July 17, 2013
by John Steinberg
The NSF website just put up our project abstract. This is the basis for the field season. The abstract is reprinted below. This work is done under permits kindly granted by The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland.
The EM unit we are using this year is a CMD explorer. We will put up some results when we get a chance.
Award Abstract #1345066
This is an EAGER project to test the reliability of geophysical reconnaissance methods to identify buried Christian churchyards and cemeteries in Iceland.
The research will allow the joint Icelandic/US team to evaluate the reliability of two geophysical methods on five known or suspected early Viking Age churchyards that are in a variety of geophysical environments. Currently, the most reliable geophysical method to detect Viking Age Christian cemeteries in Iceland is GPR. The problem is that for GPR to be effective, it is necessary to strip off the grass in advance of survey. This is expensive and potentially destructive to archaeological contexts. The team will employ electromagnetic (EM) surveying with new multi-sensor instrumentation as an alternative method for locating preserved walls of churchyards.
Positive results from this unique opportunity to evaluate these geophysical applications could greatly expand our knowledge of early Christian practices of the Viking Age. More broadly, many of the innovations, especially in identifying cemeteries and mapping graves, have applications in other archaeological regions and periods, as well as other fields (e.g., forensic sciences). The ability to identify cemeteries and map the distribution graves and possibly to assess skeletal preservation has obvious value to archaeological investigations, heritage management efforts, and forensic scientists around the world.
July 16, 2013
I thought I’d share my first impressions as newcomer to the SCASS (Skagafjörður Church and Settlement Survey) team this year. But first, a little about me. I recently graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Anthropology. This fall I’ll be a UMass Boston Master’s student starting focusing on Iceland for my thesis. I’m currently getting a feel for Icelandic archaeology (quite literally) before launching into my studies in September.
This week has flown by since arriving in Iceland on the 9th of July. After doing some geophysics on Hegranesþing, we headed over to Akureyri for the NABO conference over the weekend. John, Brian and Doug gave a talk on their current and future research. Based on the presentations over the course of two days, the North Atlantic is brimming with exciting research right now, especially with rapidly changing environmental conditions threatening archaeological sites all the way from Greenland to the UK.
On Monday, one team scouted out some potential Viking Age church sites to prep for geophysics while the rest of us cleaned up the ongoing excavation of the church at Stora-Seyla which began last year. The team has been working with Guðný Zöega and the Skagafjörður Museum the past couple of years, we’re excited to have them as official collaborators this year.
Monday night we partook in the yearly ritual of eating hákarl (fermented shark) and Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps). John deemed it “the ideal survival food.” I think most of the Americans agreed it should be reserved only for life or death situations.
Today, we continued excavating the church site at Stóra-Seyla, clearing out overburden in new sections and revealing turf walls and grave-cuts. The rain held off for most of the day, but we had to end a little early before we started troweling through straight mud.
Looking forward for week 2!
Rainbow count: 4
July 11, 2013
by Kathryn Catlin
Welcome to the SCASS 2013 season! We have a new acronym for a new project: the Skagafjörður Archaeological Settlement Survey is joining with the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum (Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga) to form the Skagafjörður Church And Settlement Survey (SCASS).
This year we are here to follow up on last year’s successes at locating Viking Age churches with multi-depth conductivity meters. And starting next week, the crew from UMass Boston will be joining with the museum to continue the church excavation at Stora-Seyla. After one day of work we’ve already completed our first geophysical survey of the church at Hegranesþing – including a fantastic set of air photos with the high-wind kite! We have clearly visible churchyard walls in the geophysical results, so things are looking good.
This weekend we will be at the NABO conference in Akureyri, where John, Doug, and Brian will be giving a talk and presenting several posters. The last of our crew arrives on Monday and then it’s back to work!
Stay tuned – it looks like this will be another fantastic season.
April 12, 2013
by John Steinberg
We have lost a great friend. Grétar Guðbergsson passed away last week at the age of 78. Grétar, who called himself an agricultural geologist, set the stage for our archaeological work in Skagafjörður by understanding the nature of the erosion and soil deposition. His findings were published in three important works:
1975 Myndun móajarðvegs í Skagafirði. Íslenzkar Landnúnaðarrannsóknir 7(1-2):20-45.
1994 Myndun móajarðvegs í Skagafirði. Rit Landverndar 10:133-157.
1996 Í norðlenskri vist. Um gróður, jarðveg, búskaparlög og sögu. Búvísindi 10:31-89.
Grétar taught us to use a fishing knife rather than a Marshalltown trowel to investigate the tephra and the soil. In the future, when I get out my knife, I will think of him.
I already miss his good nature, his quick wit, and his inquisitive mind. Our thoughts are with his wife Guðný and his family.
August 2, 2012
by Kathryn Catlin
Today was my last day of fieldwork in Iceland for 2012! (Don’t worry, everyone else is staying for a few more days, and they’ll keep blogging.) I’m sorry to leave just when so many exciting things are coming in to view at Seyla – a few more grave cuts are exposed, and the church in the center of the yard is beginning to take shape.
Over the weekend we traveled to Kumlabrekka, an early Viking Age boat burial on the side of a pseudocrater, to test the CMD and GPR through volcanic scoria. The Mývatn region is one of the most beautiful in Iceland. But Mývatn means “midge lake,” and when the wind dies down, the midges come out! They are everywhere and they bite.
The survey went great – which I’m especially happy about, because I carried the CMD for most of it!
This afternoon I spent some time showing Guðmundur, an archaeologist who works at the museum here in Sauðarkrókur, how to work our float machine so he can process macrobotanical samples after we leave. We decorated the Minja Husið sign with beautiful pink and blue chiffon!
Early tomorrow morning I leave for England, where I’ll be doing some survey work with Matthew Johnson’s project at Bodiam and Scotney Castles. Then I’m moving from Boston to Chicago to start my first quarter as a PhD student at Northwestern University. I’m very excited about all of this, but sad to leave Iceland (and UMass) behind. I hope to be back in Skagafjörður next summer!
Stay tuned to this blog for more about the last week of excavation at Seyla!
August 1, 2012
by John Schoenfelder
Excavation at Seyla has been continuing right along. I put the kite up again yesterday afternoon, and got some shots that give a nice overview of what we’ve got. North is at about one o’clock in this photo:
In the northwestern quadrant (at the top), you can see Doug and some of the UMB/Kenyon team investigating the deposits that are over and around what should turn out to be the church at the center of the yard. In the southeast (at the bottom), Guðný and her Icelandic colleagues are working near the cut of the grave that was excavated in 2009 (the darkest, deepest hole). As you might be able to make out, they’ve uncovered several other graves adjacent to that one. So far, these new graves have proved to be largely empty. There’s much more to do, though!
Surrounding all of us (and clearest on the eastern side of the excavation), there are the stones of the circular wall that defines the churchyard. This is the same wall that we first saw in the ground penetrating radar data in 2009!
There’s a lot of detail in the linked version of the above photo, so try zooming in!
July 26, 2012
by Kathryn Catlin
Over the past few days, we’ve started to clear off the churchyard wall and some of the other buried features at Seyla. We’re slowly mapping out the features that correspond to the anomalies we’ve seen in the geophysical results, including the central structure.
Viking Age floors in Iceland are thick, compacted, somewhat greasy layers composed of pink peat ash, black charcoal, white wood ash, and other colorful detritus of everyday life. This morning as I was tracing out the edges of the floor that seems to go with a later phase of the central structure, a small silver pin appeared under my trowel:
This afternoon, John and Brian visited Keflavík and Mið-grund, two other farms in Skagafjörður where we will be testing our geophysical instruments early next week. Tomorrow we’re back at Seyla, then it’s a weekend trip to Mývatn to survey a boat burial and see the sights!