I apologize as it has been awhile since my last update. As is usually the case, the last week or so on site is very hectic, this season being no different. Also contributing to the delay has been the fact I’ve been on the road continuously since returning to the states two weeks ago. I have a lot to say about how things finished up at Skutustaðir, and intend to make a few posts over the next couple weeks to bring you all up to date. So here goes…
The final weeks of excavating were a huge success, as was this field season in general. For the last two weeks we were joined on site by a group of undergraduates from CUNY, part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). They were with us to learn about archaeology and Iceland, and of course help us finish the project. The REU program is funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by Dr. Sophia Perdikaris from Brooklyn College. The students participate in the program over the course of 18 months and are involved in classroom studies, lab work, and field projects in Barbuda and Iceland. The ten students that are currently participating in the program played a significant role in allowing us to complete the excavation on schedule.
One of the primary goals of the season was to finish Area E, next to the house. By “finish” I mean to excavate down through all cultural layers until we get down to the natural substrate. This goal was accomplished, in spite of an unusual discovery that
slowed the process considerably. Where we had hoped to simply dig down through layers of midden, in the north end of the trench we came down to what appeared to be a wall constructed of turf and stone. This was problematic because our permit would not allow us to excavate any structures, only middens. Fortunately the wall ran right along the north edge of our trench and we were able to simply remove all the midden material to its south without disturbing it. Once the area was complete it became apparent that the “wall” was in fact a very crude structure, built upon a natural lava stone feature. The ancient constructors of the wall had simply taken lava stones that had tumbled into a crevice and stacked them back up on top of the natural feature, using turf blocks to hold things in place. You might ask why they would do such a thing. Well, this is actually a fairly common practice and a necessary one when you are concerned with controlling the spread of your midden; remember midden equals garbage. These early medieval occupants of the farm were just helping nature make a deeper crevice that would more effectively contain the trash they were periodically dumping.
Across most of Area E the cultural deposits extended back to some time before AD 1262, as this was the last tephra layer that was immediately visible in the profile after the trench was complete. Most of the material that filled the crevice mentioned above was deposited before 1262. One exception to this is in the southeast corner of the trench where we discovered material going all the way back to the Viking Age, ie 9th-10th c. Only a small pit was excavated from this period, an extension of a trench excavated in 2008 which produced a very nice bead with gold inlay, likely of Byzantine origin. However, our extension of this small pit did not prove particularly useful this time around. The overall chronology of the trench will be further verified during the post-excavation process, using the records we kept throughout the field season.
More updates concerning the final days at Skutustaðir are yet to come, including where we ended in Area H, the Kid’s Archaeology Project Initiative, what will happen next, and many more pics. Peace.