Archaeologists Search for First Settlement in Seyðisfjörður

An archaeological dig is currently underway in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, where researchers hope to find dwellings built by the the fjord’s first settlers. RÚV reports that the excavation is centred in an area where the first settlers were often beset by mudslides and avalanches, as current residents are indeed still today.

One of the deadliest avalanches in Icelandic history occurred at Mt. Bjólfur in Seyðisfjörður in 1885. Twenty-four people lost their lives in the event. Avalanche guards are currently being erected on the mountain, but first, researchers are examining the area for archaeological remains that could well date back to the settlement era. A previous investigation in 1998 gave archaeologists reason to believe that there might be artefacts or ruins buried there.

Screenshot RÚV

Mudslide before 1477

More than 20 exploratory trenches have been dug in Seyðisfjörður this summer in search of these ancient settlements. These trenches show clear traces of a great mudslide that fell atop human habitations. By analysing the tephra layers, archaeologists have been able to determine that the mudslide occurred sometime after 1362 but before 1477. Employees of the Icelandic Met Office had discovered evidence of this historical landslide in 2018, but it’s only now clear how big it actually was.

“It seems to have been at least 250 metres [820 ft] and in the thickest spots, it’s at least a metre [3 ft] and there are big boulders in it,” explained Rannveig Þórhallsdóttir, the archaeologist who is overseeing the dig. “It’s remarkable, you can really picture the natural disaster that occurred here. And it seems to be on top of a human habitation, so that’s really interesting. We’ve also found three buildings that we’ll excavate next summer. We’re curious to see whether we’ll find evidence of the first settlement in Seyðisfjörður, but all signs point to us doing so.”

Two of the buildings are near Fjörður, a settlement era farm, while the third is in the northern part of the area. Preliminary results from tephra analyses done on-site indicate that the buildings could have been built either between 940 and 1160, or at least before 1477. Human habitations that might date back to the 12th century have also been found at a depth of 110 cm [3 ft] under a mudslide in nearby hayfields.

Modern lessons

Evidence of a large avalanche has also been found. “A lot of people died in that avalanche and houses collapsed,” continued Rannveig. “One of the houses we’ll examine next summer [collapsed], but the stone walls remain. The woodwork [collapsed], but people in that house survived. So to some extent, we’re also examining traces of the avalanche of 1885 and the effect it had on the settlement.”

Rannveig sees a lesson for the modern era in the archaeological dig. “It’s great that three large avalanche guards are being erected above Seyðisfjörður precisely because we’re can see in black and white how important it is that we protect the places we live.”


Fewer Sexual Assaults Reported Since Gathering Restrictions Went Into Effect

Fewer sexual assaults have been reported to police this year than were during the same time period in 2019, RÚV reports. Head of the capital area police department’s sexual assault unit Ævar Pálmi Pálmason believes it’s likely that this drop is related to current gathering restrictions and their impact on the local bar and club scene.

So far this year, there have been 80 reported cases of sexual assault in and around Reykjavík, as compared to an average of 170 reported for the same time period in the previous three years.

Reports of sexual assaults started going down in March, when gathering restrictions first went into effect in Iceland. “One has to consider that there is a connection there,” said Ævar Pálmi. “Reported offences went down in February, March, and April, such that we have to consider whether these measures and the consequences of this pandemic have caused this.” (Ævar Pálmi has not inconsiderable knowledge of the workings of transmission prevention efforts and their consequences; before heading up the sexual assault unit, he lead the police department’s contact tracing division.)

Since the gathering restrictions went into effect, ten to twenty sexual offences have been reported per month. There were ten reports made this July, as compared to 26 in July 2019.

Although it’s difficult to state with certainty that the limited opening hours of bars and clubs is directly related to this drop in reported assaults, Ævar Pálmi thinks it’s likely that there is a correlation.

It’s worth noting, however, that while reported sexual assaults have gone down during the time of COVID-19, reports of domestic violence have gone up 15%, or 70 more reported offences than there were during the same time period last year.

All But Two Ministers in Quarantine After Possible COVID Exposure

All but two government ministers have been directed to undergo two COVID-19 tests and a five-day quarantine after a group dinner at a hotel where two people were diagnosed with the virus, Kjarninn reports. It’s thought unlikely that the cabinet was exposed to the virus during their dinner, but ministers and civil protection authorities are proceeding with the screening and quarantine measures out of an abundance of caution.

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason did not attend the dinner and do not, therefore, have to quarantine or be tested.

On August 18, ministers held a governmental meeting in the village of Hella in Southwest Iceland and then went to dinner together at Hótel Rangá. Following the dinner, contact tracers traced two active COVID-19 infections to the hotel, and are now focusing their containment efforts to three groups of guests.

The first group is thought to have been most likely to be exposed to the virus during their visit and is now in a two-week quarantine. The second group is thought less likely to have been exposed, has been tested once for the virus, and will remain in quarantine until the results of their tests are obtained.

The government ministers are part of the third group and are also unlikely to have been exposed to the virus during their dinner. The measures being taken in their case—two screenings with a quarantine period in between—are the same as those in place for healthcare workers, police officers, frontline power company workers, and key workers in the media and government.

Icelanders Opt for Audiobooks During Pandemic

iceland books

The Icelandic book market has suffered as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, RÚV reports. Nevertheless, audiobooks sales are flourishing and industry observers are optimistic about the country’s annual jólabókaflóð, or Christmas book flood.

Per data published by Statistics Iceland this week, print book sales got off to an unusually strong start during the first two months of the year: 20% higher in January and February 2020 than they were during the same time period last year. Not unexpectedly, sales went down significantly during March and April. This has been especially evident with the drop in paperback sales at the Eymundsson bookstore at Keflavík airport.

Although printed book sales have dropped, however, local demand for audiobooks has gone up a great deal. Head of the Association of Icelandic Booksellers Heiðar Ingi Svansson believes that demand for audiobooks will continue to be high in the future.

“We’ve also seen this in all the surrounding markets—audiobook sales and publishing are increasing. But what effect this will have on print publishing is a different question. Audiobook sales are also reaching a new market, new readers, and a new consumer group and, in some ways, are in competition with other online entertainment—podcasts and such.”

Even so, Heiðar Ingi says that the outlook for that quintessentially Icelandic phenomenon, the Christmas Book Flood, is not only good, but even better than it has been in recent years. And print books still dominate this annual tradition.

“What’s also unique about the Icelandic market is that ebooks haven’t gotten the same foothold here as they have elsewhere. They’re hardly measurable here in terms of the overall turnover, while they’re considerable in the Nordics and other countries in Europe that we compare ourselves with.”