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Project Details

Abstract:The farm of GufuskŠlar lies on the westernmost tip of the Snśfellsnes peninsula under the glacier known as SnśfellsjŲkull. While the farm likely dates to the Viking Age the site was home to a mysterious and intensive commercial fishing venture during the 15th century. A mid-15th century legal document mentioned fourteen fishing booths (seasonally occupied structures intended to house fishers) at the site, although we have not identified this many as they may have succumbed to coastal erosion or other destructive processes. The dried fish product they produced was likely transported back to continental Europe in connection with continental European merchants and/or fishers. The site is significant for its proto-industrial level of dried fish production. It is constructed just after Iceland’s first brush with Bubonic Plague and may be a response to the effects of extreme depopulation. As chiefly/magnate/aristocratic power temporarily waned post-plague it may be that enterprising Icelandic fishers engaged in some sort of proto-capitalism in connection with the English merchants who wielded great influence in Iceland at the time.

The fishing station was excavated between 2008 and 2015 by Fornleifastofnun Õslands in partnership with the City University of New York and represents an important resource for understanding Icelandic fisheries history and for broader issues of North Atlantic Maritime Historical Ecology and trade connections.

Keywords:medieval, commercial fishing, fishing, fishing station, cod
Sponsors/Funders: Fornleifastofnun Õslands
The City University of New York
Project Start Year:2008

Account Owner

Contact: Fornleifastofnun Õslands
Postal Address: BŠrugata 3, 101 ReykjavŪk, ICELAND
Post Code: 101
Telephone: 00354-5511033

Project Content

PDF File
Preliminary Assessment of the faunal remains from the 2008 excavations at GufuskŠlar, Snśfellsnes [0.31 MB]
This report is regarding the zooarchaeological remains excavated from GufuskŠlar, on the north coast of Snśfellsnes in the west of Iceland, during the summer of 2008.

PDF File
Mammal Consumption at the Medieval Fishing Station at GufuskŠlar [0.34 MB]
This report details the analysis of mammal bones recovered from one of the four trenches excavated at the medieval fishing station of GufuskŠlar during the summer of 2011. During excavation it was noted that there seemed to be a high proportion of mammal bones recovered which correspond with high quality cuts of meat. This was counter to assumptions regarding the economic status of fishermen during the medieval era as these cuts of meat would be rather expensive. The preliminary zooarchaeological analysis from Trench 8 suggests that the people fishing at GufuskŠlar were eating rather well.

PDF File
The Final Report on the Archaeofauna from Context 147 at the Medieval Fishing Station at GufuskŠlar, Western Iceland. [0.73 MB]
The 15th century commercial fishing station at GufuskŠlar is anomalous among fishing stations in Iceland - at least those have been excavated thus far. Rich in imported artifacts and well-provisioned with expensive foods the fishers at GufuskŠlar were clearly not only impoverished tenant farmer/fishers as was often the case in better documented early modern times. This report details the zooarchaeological analysis of one of the contexts excavated during the 2013 field season from a dense midden deposit dated to the early to mid-15th century CE. The large number of bones analyzed gives us a clear picture of the commercial processing of cod (Gadus morhua) as well as the provisioning of the fishers. GufuskŠlar primarily produced the more desirable stockfish (large cod dried “in the round” or without being slit open and dried flat) and that the fishers were provisioned with choice cuts of sheep and probably dried haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). GufuskŠlar represents an important resource for understanding Icelandic fisheries history and for broader issues of North Atlantic Maritime Historical Ecology.

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FornleifakŲnnun Š verbķūarleifum Š GufuskŠlum, Snśfellsnesi - BrŠūabirgūaskżrsla [3.43 MB]
In 2008 the focus of investigations at GufuskŠlar, a well known fishing station, were three badly eroded mounds close to the shore line. The aim was to clean the profiles and cast light on the nature of the remains, preservation etc. Four profiles were cleaned and recorded. It is clear from the results that all three mounds contain substantial cultural remains. Many finds were retrieved although none were useful in the dating process - except a chess pice, retrieved from the bottom of one section, dated roughly to the 14th-15th centuries. Tephras were not of any help as can be expected for this part of the country. Faunal remains are in excellent condition.

PDF File
2011 Archaeological investigations on the fishing station at GufuskŠlar, Snśfellsnes [11.12 MB]
Following assessment in 2008, when four erosion scars were cleaned back and sections drawn, an archaeological excavation took place in 2011. The focus within the site was on the two main mounds by the sea which are under threat by active marine and wind erosion. Based on work done in 2008, four trenches (Tr. Nr. 5,6,7 and 8) were placed in the most eroded areas of the two mounds. A new topographic survey was done on the two mounds but also on other visible structures such as the farm mounds and alleged Ģurrabķūs. In total, an area of about 7.2 hectares was covered and around 47 structures mapped in.

Project Location

Latitude: 64.904°N
Longitude: 23.936°W