Excursion to Svartárkot

Map of Lake Mývatn region showing locations of Skutustaðir and Svartárkot

On Sunday evening I left for an excursion into the interior of Iceland with three others to explore Svartárkot, another archaeological site.  Svartárkot is located 30 km south southwest from our current location at Skutustaðir, and approximately 75 km from the coast.  The location provides spectacular views in every direction, the volcanic craters around Lake Mývatn to the north and west, and Askja crater to the south with Vatnajökull looming behind it.  The modern farm that sits on the south side of a small lake is the furthest inland farm in this region of Iceland.  The Viking/Medieval farm mound is situated across the lake from the modern farm.

Modern farm

An interesting question for Icelandic archaeologists has concerned the rate of settlement beginning in the late 9th c. and how quickly people were forced to settle in the more inland regions of the island.  One would assume that the coastal areas would have been occupied first, and then only out of necessity would later settlers move inland.

Svartárkot farm mound

The site consists of a large farm mound that is being eroded away by the lake, which has been recently dammed by the current farmer.  The goal of our excursion was to locate the midden produced by the early farm.  Our hope was that we would find the midden exposed in the eroded face of the farm mound.  This would allow a quick assessment of bone preservation, provide material for radiocarbon dating, and allow for relative dating of the occupation using tephrachronology.  A couple of days collecting this information would give us a good idea of the archaeological relevance and potential of the farm.  Unfortunately, the archaeology had other things in mind.  We found no midden deposits in the eroded faces nor in any of the cores we took around the area…ugh!  Most likely, the lake had already eaten away the midden.  So, after a day spent coring the area and cleaning back a number of erosion faces on all sides of the farm mound, we packed up and headed for home.

In spite of our disappointment at not locating the midden, the site stratigraphy did show an impressive number of clear tephra layers and suggests a very interesting settlement history, which should make our resident geomorphologist and tephrachonologist happy.  Up until the V940 tephra, ie the ash layer that was deposited by the Veiðivötn volcanic eruption in AD 940, the sediment accumulation appears to be very slow.  Immediately after 940 things change dramatically with accumulation occurring at a much faster rate, possibly suggesting a human occupation around that time.  It is difficult to say too much until further work is done at the site, which will hopefully happen in the years to come.

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