Skútustađir Excavation

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Parent name: Mývatn Landscapes Project

Project Details

Title:Skútustađir Excavation
Abstract:Skútustađir is an active farm and hotel center on the south side of Lake Myvatn. It figures in sagas as the home of "Killer Skuta", an early chieftain, and historically was one of two parish church centers in the Myvatn area and has remained one of the most prosperous farms down to modern times. In 2007 Dr. Arni Einarsson of the nearby Myvatn Science Center noticed animal bones and charcoal eroding from previously unsuspected midden deposits south of the present farm dwellings. Follow up work by collaborating FSI and NABO teams (led by Orri Vesteinsson, Agusta Edwald, Tom McGovern, George Hambrecht, Ian Simpson and Astrid Ogilive) in 2007 and 2008 has revealed a deeply stratified set of midden deposits with excellent organic preservation. Test trenches in 2008 have allowed for collection of ecofacts and artefacts datable by a combination of tephra and AMS C14 from first settlement (cultural deposits are directly upon the AD 871+/-2 Landnám tephra) down to the late 19th c. Analysis is still in preliminary stages and a much larger excavation is planned for 2009-10, but initial results suggest some significant changes in economy through time, including a surprisingly substantial amount of seal bones deposited post-1477 (Skútustađir is about 60 km from the sea).
Sponsors/Funders: US National Science Foundation (both Arctic Social Sciences and HSD)
Project Start Year:2007

Account Owner

Contact: Megan Hicks
Postal Address: Hunter College Anthropology,695 Park Ave, NYC NY
Post Code: 10065
Telephone: 9177444795

Project Collaborators

Name: Adolf Fridriksson
Institution: FSI The Institute of Archaeology Iceland
Address: Barugarta 3, Reykjavik
Postcode: 101
Country: Iceland
Name: Tom McGovern
Institution: Dept Anthropology, CUNY
Country: USA

Project Content

DSCF4095.JPG Photo of profile of Unit D at Skutustadir [2.25 MB]
Photo of profile of Unit D at Skutustadir, two tephra horizons (1717 and 1477) are present in this section. Photo Agusta Edwald 2008.

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Öskuhaugsrannsóknir á Skútustöđum í Mývatnssveit 2008 - Framvinduskýrsla I [5.50 MB]
A part of a midden in Skútustađir was excavated. Two trenches were opened up and in addition an open profile which had been cleaned previously was moved back and an area behind it excavated. The midden proved to be extensive, up to 1,5 m deep and contains cultural layers from modern times back to the settlement period. It is well stratified, thanks to several tephra layers . Bones are well preserved and have already provided an interesting insight into the development of the Skútustađir farm throughout the centuries. Excavations will continue over the next summers.

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Excavations at Skútustađir, Mývatn Northern Iceland: Preliminary Field Report After the Excavation Season June – July 2010 [5.73 MB]
In 2007 a joint FSÍ/CUNY NABO team, conducting a coring and test trenching survey, visited Skútustađir following the discovery of a patch of eroding midden, noted by Árni Einarsson ( of the Mývatn Research Station). Investigations in 2008, lead by Agusta Edwald and Thomas H. McGovern, followed up on the 2007 results with a set of test trenches. The three 2008 test units (D, E1&2, and F) located midden deposits with excellent organic preservation and multiple tephra horizons. Artifacts recovered and tephra observed in area D indicate that the deposits sampled date from ca. 1717-1477, E1 & 2 have an early Viking Age deposit directly upon the Landnám surface, and F revealed a very rich early modern midden deposit and an unexpected structural wall. The 2009 season saw a major expansion of the area D unit into two connected larger units G (13 sq m) and H (20 sq m). Unit G was carried-out down to lava bedrock, revealing an exceptionally productive Viking Age midden deposit packed into the natural fissures and crevices. Large artifact and eco-fact collections were recovered from the early modern and Viking age deposits, with excellent conditions of preservation throughout.

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Midden Excavations at Skútustađir N. Iceland, 2011 [2.19 MB]
Excavations have been ongoing at the N. Icelandic farm, Skútustađir, since 2008 as an outgrowth of the Landscapes of Settlement project. The major objective of the 2011 excavation season at Skútustađir was to complete the excavation of an already begun, large Trench, Area H (measuring 8.36 x 4 meters) by continuing the excavation down to the natural bedrock surface. This was completed by a four person team from CUNY and FSI directed by Adolf Friđrikson, with Francis Feeley, George Hambrecht and Megan T. Hicks (of CUNY, Ph.D. Program in Archaeology). The archaeological deposits encountered contained animal bone, artifacts and were divided by several datable volcanic tephra layers: the V 1477, V1410, H 1104/1158 and the V940, and the V871 were all identified both in the field and reconfirmed in the lab by Magnus Á. Sigurgeirsson. As in other trenches previously excavated, the late medieval phases directly above and below the V1477 volcanic tephra were nearly entirely void of bone and artifacts. The high medieval phase – above and below the 12th c Hekla volcanic tephra generally rich, culminating in a very dense deposit which lay upon the V940 tephra, context [317]. As always, a program of initiatives outside the excavation enriched the digging season. Garđar Guđmundson (FSÍ) completed a contour survey of the entire farm mound which will contextualize other GIS features. A small survey was carried out, locating potential remains of Skútustađir´s medieval church and churchyard- this was completed using both late 19th c. photographs and modern photography. An annual session of educational programming with KAPÍ (Kid´s Archaeological Program, Iceland), included on-site experiences and a mock-excavation for the school age kids in the county. Analysis of artifacts, bones, soils, and archaeobotanical remains is currently underway at the Hunter College Laboratories and Fornleifastofnun Íslands.

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Excavations at Skútustađir, N. Iceland 2013 Preliminary Report [12.19 MB]
The purpose of the 2013 excavation was to recover additional animal bone, artifacts and botanical samples - from the Middle Ages, roughly AD 1000-1500. To accomplish this, an excavation area E4, a 5 x 5 m trench, was opened adjacent to a previous area E3, investigated in 2010. It was hoped that the new area E4 would contain a continuation of the same deposits of previously found material dating to the Middle Ages. Midden material including animal bone, hearth sweepings, discarded household objects, and discarded turf from this phase were indeed identified and samples revocered. Density of anthropogenic debris increased below the V1477 tephra. In addition, collapsed turf and stone structural remains were encountered and were left unexcavated - their disuse was provisionally, albeit broadly, dated to before the fall of the 1410 Veiđivötn volcanic tephra. An additional test excavation area was opened, Area I, which was a 2 x 3 meter test trench slightly to the south of the hillcrest and of interest because of the dense Early Modern material present. Both excavation areas were exclusively targeting midden material including samples of bone, archaeobotanical remains and artifacts and successfully recovered samples from every phase. The confirmation of the presence of a structure at least as old as the Middle Ages provides a potential subject for future field investigations.

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Archaeoentomological investigations at Skútustađir, Mývatnssveit, N-Iceland [1.17 MB]
This describes the sampling methodology that was used for the collection of bulk samples for archaeoentomology during the summer of 2008, and discusses the results of the preliminary analysis undertaken in 2009-2010. King G. & Forbes V. (2010) Archaeoentomological investigations at Skútustađir, Mývatnssveit, N-Iceland. Université Laval.

Excel File (.xls) Working register October 2008 [0.51 MB]
This is a working register which we are using both as a digital backup/ equivalent for the paper site files and a way to share C14 and phasing information as the analysis progresses. The C14 and matrix data here supplement and update some of the statements made in the preliminary report. We will update this file as the analysis progresses. Contact Tom McGovern for updates.

Excel File (.xls) Working spreadsheet with digital versions of the site - December 2008 [0.51 MB]
This is a working spreadsheet with digital versions of the site registers and annotated profiles with the dating evidence and the working Harris matrix for the excavation areas. This will be updated regularly. Comments and suggestions on format very welcome. Contact Tom McGovern

PDF File
Initial Field Report: Skútustađir Midden Investigations , Mývatn, Northern Iceland 2008 [5.68 MB]
This is the initial post-season report, it will be updated (we now have tephra and C14 dating and some initial bones analysis done). Contact Tom McGovern

icon Walking on eggshells? Millennial-scale sustainable community management
A new article on the website discuss the NABO communities research into over 1000 years of sustainable natural resource management of waterfowl around lake Mývatn, Iceland. Written by Árni Einarsson, Megan Hicks, Kesara Anamthawat–Jónsson and Tom McGovern. Archaeological excavations of a midden at Skútustađir has revealed large numbers of egg shell fragments in contact with the well dated Landnám (871±2 CE) tephra layer. This demonstrates that sustainable egg collection and water fowl began as soon as the first settlers colonised this area.

icon Initial Field Report for the 2009 Skútustađir Midden Investigations, Mývatn, Northern Iceland.

icon Skútustađir: An Interim Zooarchaeological Report following the 2009 Field Season. This NORSEC report presents the initial findings of zooarchaeological work carried out since the 2009 field season at Skútustađir, Mývatn, Iceland.

Project Location

Latitude: 65.566124°N
Longitude: 17.033931°W