SASS – UMass Boston – Fiske Center – Archaeology

Blog of the Skagafjordur Archaeological Settlement Survey

August 11, 2009
by John Steinberg
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GPR at the Stóra Seyla Churchyard

Brian Damiata has put together a quicktime movie of the slices of the Stóra Seyla Churchyard.  The movie shows the radar waves and they reflect off of deeper surfaces.  Usually, GPR data is viewed as a radargram, which shows the microwaves as they reflect off hard surfaces.  Brian has taken 251 radargrams (one each time he walked back and forth) with the 500 MHz antenna.  He took all those radargrams and sliced them using GPR-Slice software.  The result is a map.  The hard reflectors are in red, the soft in blue.

Seyla Churchyard Quicktime Movie

Starting in slice 5 (17 to 25 cm below the ground surface) you can begin to see a round image.  This image goes to Slice 12 (40-47 cm below the ground surface).  This is a round turf churchyard wall.  It surrounds the graveyard.  The wall is about 16 meters in diameter.   In the center of the circle is a square red object.  This is probably the small church.

In the deeper slices, you can see grave cuts (blue) and graves (Red).  A big one can bee seen on slice 33.

In the Radargram you can see the church wall at the top at 5640998.  You can see the grave shaft at 564099  and then just below it at 564100 the ∩ of the strong reflection of the grave.  The church can bee seen at the top  from 564106 to 564109.

August 6, 2009
by Laura Ng

Nearing the End At Seyla

There are only 4 digging days left and the Seyla crew has been very busy removing more modern buildings in order to reach the Viking Age archaeology underneath.  The midieval cow barn has been fully documented and removed and we have begun exploring the area around the cow barn.  The final aerial photograph from the cow barn can be accessed here:

All of the rocks were removed and some even took up to 6 people to move.  Here is an example of the rocks we had, (a rock ledge which was used as the feeding trough for the cows) to move and a picture of us excavating the lower levels of the structure.


The building appeared to have been cut into much of the Viking age building that is apparently located beneath and around this one.  While we excavated the cuts and removed the rocks we discovered evidence of possible floor layers or deposits from the Viking age building.  We removed another wall north of the Midieval cow barn which we believe is contemporaneous or predating the cow barn.  This wall is shown here:

While this wall was poorly preserved – it was to our advantage.  Directly beneath it appears to be remnants of the Viking age building which runs north to south and and has a possible east to west running wall in this location.  It still may be a day or two before the edges of the Viking age building are defined, but it is now clear that we are through most of the midieval archaeology in the area.

All in all, our goals over the next few days will be to resolve much of the archaeology that remains on the site.  We hope to delineate the boundaries of some of the unfinished buildings on the site, examine the relationships between the multiple large buildings and document everything the best we can.


August 6, 2009
by Laura Ng

New photosynth of cow barn at Seyla

Using photos taken from a pole and a kite, a larger "photo" or synth of the medieval cow barn has been created. Here is the link to the synth here.

In the synth, you can see the west room which has a rectangular-shaped hole in it and the east room which has the stone pavement.


August 5, 2009
by John Steinberg

Viking Age Pollen

The Pollen team is one of several groups working on the UMass Boston Archaeological Project in Northern Iceland. 

To find pollen from the Viking Age we dig small holes and sample to soil. We can date the soil because of the Volcanic Ash layers.   This is an expirmental project to see how well pollen is preserved in fields.  We are also digging in bogs, where preservation is usually perfect

August 2, 2009
by Laura Ng

Updates on the cow barn!

We have made great progress on the east room of the cow barn and have recently excavated it down to the stone pavement floor. In the south side of the room, we found rock tumble which makes us believe that area was a trough. [Edit: we no longer believe this is a trough, we think it is turf collapse]

Now that the floors of the cow barn have been found, we are finally able to take the walls of this structure down in order to get to the Viking Age building beneath it. Yesterday the crew began the wall removal which also unfortunately involved moving some very large rocks!

July 30, 2009
by Kathryn Catlin
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Pollen sampling

With the arrival of Heather and Sue, the coring team has morphed into the pollen team!  For the last week we’ve been coring at Meðalheimur, finding locations with good tephra sequences.  So far we’ve finished taking samples from four 1×1 units at different locations around the farm – we have one more to finish up tomorrow before we move on to Reynistaður.   Despite the cold, strong wind, and rain, we’re making excellent progress!  When we get back to Boston, we’ll take the samples to the lab and count the pollen grains preserved at each level.

For the last few days we’ve been working close to the midden team, who are opening a large section in the side of the farm mound.  It’s been fun to hang out with them!  They’ve found lots of bones, plus some wool and a copper pot dating to sometime after 1300.

I’ll have some pictures to post later this week of the pollen team’s exploits!

This morning the whole SASS team visited some other exavations around the valley – the harbor at Kolkuós and an early cemetery on the other side of the fjord.  It was great to see what other groups are excavating, and helpful to get some perspective on our own sites.  We’re looking forward to seeing the Kolkuós folks at Seyla soon!

July 23, 2009
by Laura Ng

Hail at Seyla and other updates

The weather at Seyla today was miserable, it was cold and windy with intermittent rain and yes – hail! The crew attempted to work through the rough weather but it was apparent by noon that it would not be possible. However, there are still updates from Seyla, particularly concerning the cow barn.

In the west room of the cow barn, the crew has successfully excavated down to the floor.

In the east room of the cow barn, the crew is continuing to excavate the room and yesterday they hit upon a well preserved dog skull. The picture below shows the dog skull on the left and a sheep’s jaw on the right. 

And below is a close up of the dog skull.

July 18, 2009
by Laura Ng
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Updates from Seyla

This week at Seyla, we have continued to follow and define walls. Some of us have started excavating what we believe is a medieval cow barn.

In the area where we believe the hay was kept, we have found traces of hay and some sheep, horse, and dog bones. Pictured below is a well preserved and large leg bone (possibly horse or cow) that was found today.

Below is the area where we believe the cows were kept. It is a small room which had space to hold two to three cows. In this room, we have found some animal bones and even some wood fragments in the southwest corner.

In other areas of Seyla, the crew has been successful at exposing the turf walls of several Viking Age buildings.

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