Skagafjörður Church and Settlement Survey


Excavating Graves at Keflavík


Joe's feet at Keflavik Cemetery

Joe’s feet at Keflavík Cemetery

After several weeks of clearing fill, aeolian deposits, and more recent turf layers, the Keflavík cemetery excavation team finally began excavating. Investigating the burials has contributed to the project’s understanding of interment rituals over time, the eventual retiring of cemeteries. We have located a total of 14 graves, most of which have been identified as cuts into an in situ AD 1104 Hekla tephra layer. A smaller number of graves have been cut into older turf that was used to cover the cemetery. These graves date to the cemetery’s earlier internment events, prior to AD 1104.

The grave that I personally investigated was right next to the church and partially under a more recent expansion of the church wall. The boundaries of this grave have not been determined, and contained AD 1104 tephra despite it likely being an older grave below the in situ AD 1104 tephra layer. I encountered a variety of stratigraphic complications and questions as the boundaries seemed to shift. Another member of the crew uncovered an infant burial partially overlapping the grave I was excavating, at a shallower depth, more than 40 cm above the bottom pit. When I finally reached the bottom of my own excavation (well over a meter down from the layer of removed turf), I found most of the remains of a coffin. Though it was not in good shape, the recovery of such a find may allow for analyses of the kinds of wood being used for coffin making, as well as for possible radiocarbon dating. While the actual skeleton had been exhumed (probably when the cemetery had been retired), the grave offers plenty of opportunities to answer questions about the practice of moving graves to functioning cemeteries. By studying the makeup of the grave fill from the exhumation and the cuts into the grave, we may learn when the cemetery was finally closed, and create a tighter chronology of this site!

— Joe Trebilcock

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