The Mosfell Archeological Project 2008, Jesse Byock's excavations of a Viking Age valley system in Mosfell Valley, Iceland.

Mosfell Valley

Archaeologists continues excavating in Mosfell in Iceland in order to get a full picture of life amongst Icelandic Vikings 9th – 11th century.

The Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP) has been working since 1995 to uncover the prehistory and early settlement history of the region East of Reykjavik during the Viking Age (9th to 11th century). In a new article, the directors of the program, Jesse Byock and field director Davide Zori tells the story of how the archaeological research into the farm at Hrísbrú, which was the home of the Mossfellsdælingar – a powerfull Viking family of leaders, warrioirs, farmers and legal specialists, can be  illuminated through the stories found in the later Sagas and other historical writings of the Icelanders.

The archaeological excavation at Hrísbrú has revealed a large hall, a timber or stave church from the conversion age (app 1000 AD), an early graveyard with mixed Pagan and Christian inhumations and a pagan cremation burial site. Currently the team is excavating more than 14 other sites throughout the valley, including a unique location with ship-settings and at the end of the valley, a Viking Age port.

MAP is highly interdisciplinary in its approach, using not only the tools of archaeology, anthropology, forensics and environmental sciences, but also the problematic literary source-material stemHrisbru in Iceland Mosfell excavationsming from the 12th and 13th century. However, it has really proved valuable to explore the stories in the wealth of historical writings, which touches upon the people, who lived in the valley: Egil’s Saga, Gunnlaug’s Saga and Hallfred’s Saga and well as the information held in the Book of the Icelanders (Islendingabók).

As an example may be mentioned the stories about the first church built at Hrísbrú on Grím’s farmstead and how it was later pulled down in order to be moved. The archaeologists have succeeded in not only excavating the first church, but also the rebuilt church, located 500 m to the east.

Another source of information is the oral history and oral memory preserved by the present settlers reaching many generations back. For instance stories an interdiction or taboo was in living memory attached to a location called Hulduhóll, which turned out to be connected to ancient mortuary rites.

Topics explored in the interdisciplinary research program are – amongst others – local power-structures, subsistence strategies, the origin of the people, the role of the harbour, the integration of texts and archaeology, the settlement patters, paleo-botany, architectural techniques, the production and use of iron, the use of landscapes, roads and paths as well as the inner structure of the halls and the festivities held there.

The work of MAP began in the 90s, and continue to yield new information about life in Viking Age Iceland.


Viking Archaeology, Sagas, and interdisciålinary Research in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley.
By Jesse Byock and Davide Zori.
In Backdirt: The Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, 2013, pp. 141 – 2013


The website of the project:
The Mossfell Archaeological Project

For further information, see the forthcoming book:
Viking Archaeology in Iceland: The Mosfell Archaeological Project.
Ed. by Davide Zori and Jesse Byock
Brepols 2014 (in print)

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