SASS – UMass Boston – Fiske Center – Archaeology

Blog of the Skagafjordur Archaeological Settlement Survey

July 21, 2014
by ericjohnson002

Summer 2014: Deep Coring and Farm Mound Volume

This year the team is back for a short summer field season to ask a simple – but important – question:  what is the total volume of cultural material accumulated at Viking Age farms in Langholt? Previous work done by the Skagafjörður Archaeological Settlement Survey (SASS) has determined the areal extent of Viking Age farms, but we still don’t know whether some farms are ‘thicker’ than others, meaning they accumulated more refuse over the same amount of time. If we can estimate the volume of cultural deposits and compare them from farm to farm (and from the Viking Age to the Medieval period), we’ll have a better idea of how the landscape was settled and changed over time throughout the region.

Many of the farms in Langholt were occupied from the Viking Age to the 20th century. Sometimes the Viking Age farm is buried deep underneath centuries of cultural deposits. The main types of material we find in farm mounds are architecture and trash:  turf and midden. The accumulated material sometimes creates a visible ‘mound’ on the surface – also known as a farm mound. To get information at the bottom of a farm mound, archaeologists have to dig sometimes up to 3 or 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) deep. This summer, the SASS team is using deep coring to efficiently collect basic data about farm mounds with minimal disturbance to the archaeological record. It takes a little elbow grease, but the quality of the data is worth it!

Eric (MA student from UMass Boston) hammering a deep core into the farm mound at Kjartansstaðir.

Eric (MA student from UMass Boston) hammering a deep core into the farm mound at Kjartansstaðir.

We use tephra layers (ash from volcanic eruptions in Iceland) to helps us date certain deposits. At Kjartansstaðir, for example, underneath 3.5 meters of cultural deposits, we found strips of H1 (dating to AD 1104) and the 1000 layer (dating to around AD 1000) with midden underneath. This gives us a good idea of the depth of the Viking Age farm. Combined with areal extent, we can determine the ‘volume’ of Kjartansstaðir before and after the Viking Age.


Example of tephra and midden from Kjartansstaðir over 3.5 meters deep.

So far things are moving on schedule. We hope to survey at least 7 farms before the end of the field season.

July 16, 2013
by ericjohnson002

Week 1: NABO Conference, Fermented Shark, and One Muddy Church

Hi all!

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

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