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Parent name: Mżvatn Landscapes Project

Project Details

Abstract:The Hofstaūir project aimed at re-excavating and re-evaluating Viking Age remains previously investigated in 1908. This project was the flag-ship project for the Landscape of Settlements project.
Project Start Year:1991

Account Owner

Contact: Fornleifastofnun Õslands
Postal Address: BŠrugata 3, 101 ReykjavŪk, ICELAND
Post Code: 101
Telephone: 00354-5511033
Website: http://www.instarch.is
Email: fsi@instarch.is

Project Content

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Hofstaūir 1995: Interim Report [0.18 MB]
The aim of the research in 1995 was to investigate the pit south of the large skŠli in Hofstaūir and try to get a better idea of its date and function. An old trench opened by Daniel Bruun in 1908 was reopened. Judging from tephra the structure was built at the end of the ninth century. A floor layer was discovered at the bottom of the trench, a clear sign of a dwelling but previous excavators had interpreted the structure as either a cooking pit or simply a midden hole. The connection of the pit to the skŠli was also investigated and the pithouse proved to be earlier.

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Hofstaūir 1996: Interim Report [0.29 MB]
In 1996 two areas in Hofstaūir were excavated: The pit house (Area G) and a building adjacant to the SW-corner of the skŠli (Area D), interpreted by Daniel Bruun as a storage for objects used in pagan rituals. No finds were retrieved and no floor layer found and therefore the function is still not clear. The building is most likely contemporary with the skŠli but postdates the pit-house. Deposits in G seem to reflect two different phases: 1) occupation, 2) abandonment and midden accumulation.

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Hofstaūir 1997: Interim Report [0.18 MB]
The aim of the excavations in 1997 was threefold: 1) To continue the investigation of midden layers in pit-house G. By the end of the season around 1/3 of the midden had been excavated. Preservation of bone and other organic material proved to be excellent. 2) To continue excavation in structures adjacant to the skŠli on the SW-corner (D) and NW-corner (E). Results: D is in fact the remains of two different buildings. Only one of them (D2) has been explored and alredy shows clear signs of rebuilding. No function has been established yet. Similarly E is clearly two buildings, one of them most likely contemporary with the skŠli. 3) Thirdly to excavate other types of sites near the skŠli to try and locate other remains contemporary with the skŠli, dating to the 9th-11th centuries. The so called "hestarťtt" (horse-pen) predates H-1104/1158 and has possibly been used for some kind of cultivation. The homefield boundary predates the 1477 tephra by far.

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Hofstaūir 1998: Interim Report [0.74 MB]
In 1998 the southern end of the skŠli was revealed but not fully excavated as the main aim was to look at the connection of the skŠli to the buildings D on the southwest corner and pit-house G. Structures were discovered at the SE-corner of the skŠli but had been heavily truncated by a possible haystorage dated to the 18th-19th centuries. Excavation of area D, a building adjacant to the SW corner of the skŠli, was continued and proved to be even more complex than previously thought. The phases belonging to D clearly date to the 9th-11th centuries. The excavation of area E, a structure adjacant to the skŠli close to the NW corner was completed. It clearly postdates the skŠli but its function still remains a mystery - at least it is not a dwelling space. Last but not least all midden layers were removed from pit-house G this year.

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Hofstaūir 1999: Interim Report [1.04 MB]
This year (1999) saw the completion in excavating area D, a structure adjacant to the skŠli on the SW-corner and area G, a pithouse south of the skŠli, now interpreted as a temporary structure, possibly used for weaving. Furthermore excavation continued in areas A and AB which form the S and SE part of the skŠli. Area Z, west of the skŠli, despite much of its upper horizons having being bulldozed, revealed the remnants of a structure in the position of the chapel and the presence of numerous graves with excellent bone preservation.

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Hofstaūir 2001: Interim Report [1.58 MB]
The main aim of the 2001 season was to fully expose the whole longhouse and to conduct a full scale excavation on the undisturbed layers under Daniel Bruun´s backfill, with an emphasis on removing the floor layer which had been recorded the previous year. The floor was excavated in squares and sampled 100% for flotation. Area C, a structure on top of the northern end of the skŠli was completely opened up for the first time. The latest phase is most likely the remains of a 19th century stable but the earliest one could date to the Viking Age. 51 possible graves have been identified in the graveyard (Z) out of which 16 have been excavated. A church ruin was also revealed in 2001. The graveyard wall predates 1300 but some of the graves date to the early 15th century according to tephra.

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Hofstaūir 2002: Interim Report [2.98 MB]
Work on the skŠli was concluded and no new areas opened in 2002. The main task was to look at the internal structures of the skŠli as the floor layer had already been removed: Postholes and - pads, stone/beam slots. The focus was on structural aspects: How the building was constructed, the internal arrangement of space. Judging from postholes and other structural elements the skŠli can be divided into three seperate entities. The excavation of the chapel (called Z) was continued. Two graves were located within the porch but not excavated. It was concluded that the chapel was stave built. No signs of an earlier structure were seen beneath athough it can still not be completely ruled out. Test pits were dug in a levelled area close to the early medieval to modern farm mound in search of a midden. Three test pits were dug and a well stratified cultural deposits seem to be more or less preserved under the levelled surface. Test pits did however not reveal rich concentrations.

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Hofstaūir 2003: Interim Report [0.84 MB]
Excavation in the skŠli area was completed the previous year so in 2003 the focus was completely on the chapel and cemetery site called Z. The entire cemetery excavation area from 2001 was reopened and extended 2 m to the north and east to try and find the limit of burials. The aims of this year were threefold. 1) To excavate layers around the chapel, which itself had been completed in 2002. 2) to try and find the limits of the burials to the north and east. 3) to continue the burial excavations. A pit was discovered, probably associated with the post-medieval farm. A total of 12 graves were excavated, two of them within the porch of the church, but around sixty three graves remain unexcavated within the area. Two additional post-holes belonging to the earliest church were excavated and a turf leveling layer from underneath the chapel.

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Hofstaūir 2004: Interim Report [0.97 MB]
This season the entire cemetery excavation area from 2003 was reopened and no extensions made. The aims were twofold: Firstly to investigate the area in the centre of the cemetery to ensure that all features in the area had been investigated and secondly to continue the excavation of the burials. The remains of an earlier structure were found underneath the church face called Z2 but had nearly been erased completely before Z2 was erected. A total of 48 skeletons were excavated and ca. 20 additional graves have been revealed but remain unexcavated.

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Report of Cattle and Sheep Skulls Recovered from Hofstaūir, Mżvatnssveit N Iceland. (NORSEC Report 5) [0.59 MB]
In 1996, 1999 and 2000 the Fornleifastofnun lslands (Archaeological Institute Iceland, FSl) excavations at the site of Hofstaūir in the Mżvatn district recovered nine domestic cattle skulls and one sheep skull sheep in contexts suggesting that they had been displayed outside the great hall structure for some time before being removed during the dismantling of the hall ca. AD 1000.

icon Hard Times at Hofstaūir? An Archaeofauna circa 1300 AD from Hofstaūir in Mżvatnssveit, N Iceland
In 2011 a midden deposit was excavated just outside the churchyard wall at the medieval Christian cemetery at Hofstaūir in the Mżvatn Lake Basin area of northern Iceland. This deposit rests on a volcanic tephra H 1300 and has produced two AMS C14 dates from terrestrial diet cattle bone that suggest the archaeofauna was formed at the very end of the 13th century or early 14th century. A small but quantifiable archaeofauna was recovered from these deposits, and represents the only current high medieval animal bone evidence from Hofstaūir. This ca. 1300 CE archaeofauna shows both some continuity and contrasts with the much larger Viking Age archaeofauna excavated 1996-2002 from the area of the great hall to the northeast. The proportions of cattle to caprines (sheep and goat) remain relatively stable, but goats and pigs have both disappeared from the domestic animal assemblage. Seal bones make up a substantial proportion of the wild species and the identified seals are nearly all harp seals associated with drift ice in Iceland. The presence of harp seal bones at this inland site suggests the sort of community-wide participation in sealing later documented for the drift ice years of the 17th-19th centuries. A surprising number of dog bones and a single cat are also present. The pattern of extreme fragmentation and extraction of bone grease (collagen) shows strong contrast to earlier Viking Age collections from Mżvatn, and resemble Greenlandic bone processing patterns. The archaeofauna is associated with impact of the abruptly lowered temperatures following the major 1258 eruption and sea ice onset now dated to AD 1275-1300, and may reflect the famine conditions in North Iceland reported in contemporary documents. This late 13th to early 14th century inland archaeofauna thus provides both a “hard times” signature and an indication of an ultimately successful adaptive response to sudden climate change.

Project Location

Latitude: 65.608625°N
Longitude: 17.162186°W