Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the oldest Viking settlement ever found in Iceland. But this discovery raises a lot of questions since the Vikings were believed to have arrived there only decades later.
Archaeologist Bjarni Einarsson who led the excavations at the site said that the ancient longhouse was discovered underneath a newer longhouse that contained quite a few treasures. The ancient longhouse, which was thought to have been a summer residence, was constructed during the 800s. Einarsson found the ruins of the longhouse back in 2007 but didn’t start the excavations until 2015.
Longhouses are big wooden halls that can measure up to 250 feet in length and 20 feet in width. They were covered with thatch and turf that the Vikings lived in. Numerous different families could have lived in them as the spaces were divided. Additionally, stone hearths were located in the center of the longhouses where farm animals lived during the cold months. The structures were located in Stöð which is close to the village and fjord of Stöðvarfjörður on the eastern side of Iceland.
In an interview with Live Science, Einarsson stated, “The younger hall is the richest in Iceland so far,” adding, “It is hard not to conclude that it is a chieftain's house.” The younger structure, which measured 130 feet long, was built around the year 874 and contained several items which included silver, ornamental beads and ancient coins (Middle Eastern and Roman silver coins) – some of the most valuable treasures ever discovered in Scandinavia.
They even found “hacksilver” which are pieces of silver that were cut and bent which were used as currency by ancient settlements like the Vikings. Other items that were unearthed include rings, decorative glass beads, a small piece of gold, and weights. It is believed that the Vikings obtained these items as part of trade deals that other settlements would have given them for their meat and animal skins. Several pictures of the recovered items as well as the excavation site can be seen here.
As for the older longhouse, since it was built several decades before the Vikings were believed to have settled permanently in Iceland, it’s been suggested that the structure may have been used temporarily during the warmer months of the year – similar to how modern day humans go to their camps or cottages for the summer.
Since it was one of the biggest longhouses ever discovered in Iceland, it definitely had enough room for workers to perform their jobs there as well. “We know that the westernmost part of the older hall was a smithy [for working with metal] — the only smithy within a hall known in Iceland,” Einarsson said.
Another interesting fact about the structure is that it is very similar to the Viking settlement that was found at L’Anse aux Meadows which is located in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and dates back to around the year 1000. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the only authenticated Norse site in all of North America. Einarsson explained the significance of this discovery, “This was a pattern of the settlement of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean.” “First, we had the seasonal camps, and then the settlement followed.”