SASS – UMass Boston – Fiske Center – Archaeology

Blog of the Skagafjordur Archaeological Settlement Survey

Excavations at Stóra-Seyla, continued


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 ensure that the pole camera is operating as expected

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.

Cuts in the landnám tephra indicate probable graves

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.

Guðný Zoëga, director of archaeology at Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga

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 carefully brushing the bones of a neonate

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.)

Kat carefully removing soil from around a probable young woman’s skull

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.

Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) at Stóra-Seyla

Meanwhile, John was flying the kite overhead whenever the the winds were right!

Author: Kathryn Catlin

Kathryn Catlin is an alumna of UMass Boston's Historical Archaeology MA program and a current PhD student in Anthropology at Northwestern University. Kathryn's research interests include the social and economic dimensions of settlement and colonization in Iceland, medieval England, and the colonial US. She is interested in developing survey techniques, including geophysical survey as well as more traditional archaeological methods, to describe relationships between the development of social inequality and the causes and consequences of environmental change. She has participated in numerous Fiske Center projects, including seasons in Iceland, Greenland, the Caribbean, and across New England.

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