The Early Settlement of Iceland: Archaeology and the Written Record

Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir, University College London

Currently President of the Viking Society for Northern Research

6.00-7.00pm, Main Hall, University College Isle of Man (free admission, no booking required)

As far as we know Iceland was first settled permanently in the 9th century, as a result of the second expansion of the Vikings into the North Atlantic. Until the mid 20th century the main sources for this were the sagas and other written sources, none of which are contemporary with the events. Although archaeology has played its part for a long time, the last 30 years or so have seen a tremendous increase in archaeological activity in the country the results of which are gradually filling in the picture. Contemporary written sources begin to appear in the 12th and 13th centuries. One of the sites investigated in recent years where these sources are relevant is Reykholt in Borgarfjörður, occupied in the first half of the 13th century by the magnate and historian Snorri Sturluson, author of the Edda and Heimskringla among other works. Some unusual and sophisticated structures were unearthed which throw a special light on this high status site.

In this lecture I give an introduction to the state of research on the earliest settlement of Iceland, and then go over the main findings of the investigations at Reykholt and what they have added to our knowledge of the development of settlement in Iceland.

Viking Age longhouse in Reykjavík
Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir
Statue of Snorri Sturluson, killed at Reykholt in Borgarfjörður in 1241.
Photo: Bergur Þorgeirsson