SASS – UMass Boston – Fiske Center – Archaeology

Blog of the Skagafjordur Archaeological Settlement Survey

EAGER: Assessing the Reliability of the Geophysical identification of Early Christian Churchyards and burials in Northern Iceland

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Brian Damiata using the CMD Explorer at Hegranes thing

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
ABSTRACT

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.

Author: John Steinberg

Dr. John Steinberg has been a Research Scientist at the Fiske Center since 2006. He received his PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 1997. Before coming to UMass Boston, John taught at UCLA and California State University Northridge. He is interested in economic problems of colonization, both in New England and across the North Atlantic. He uses GIS and shallow geophysics to study settlement patterns to understand broad trends over the landscape. In addition to John's New England work, he is a co-PI on the the Skagafjordur Church and Settlement Survey (SCASS). SCASS is a multi-year project in Northern Iceland to understand the formation of social stratification and property rights during the Viking Age and after (AD 874-1700). For this work in Iceland, as well as other projects, John and his colleagues have received over $1,000,000 in research grants, mostly from the National Science Foundation. John is the director of the Digital Archaeology Laboratory at the Fiske Center.

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