First 15th Century Fishermen’s Hut Excavated in Iceland Skip to content

First 15th Century Fishermen’s Hut Excavated in Iceland

By Iceland Review

A fishermen’s hut (verbúð in Icelandic) from the first part of the 15th century was discovered during archaeological research at Gufuskálavör on Snæfellsnes peninsula this summer. It is likely the first verbúð from that period to be excavated in its entirety.


The guide outside the verbúð Ósvör in Bolungarvík, a living museum. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

“We have obtained a pretty good picture of what fishermen’s huts looked like in the 15th century,” archaeologist Lilja Björk Pálsdóttir, who leads the excavation at Gufuskálavör, told Morgunblaðið.

Rowboats were operated by fishermen at Gufuskálavör for centuries, at least from the 13th century and until the 20th century.

The remains of the huts are located on the seashore and are threatened by erosion and so Lilja Björk and her associates are racing against the forces of nature.

The remains resembled sand-covered hillocks in the landscape and have not been studied to any large extent before.

“We never suspected that these sand dunes were anything else than sand dunes that had occurred through relocation of the soil. I at least was surprised to see these remains appear,” commented former parliamentarian Skúli Alexandersson, who chairs the district council in Hellissandur.

He is interested in the area’s history and has monitored the progress of the archaeologists closely. “It is very valuable to excavate these human settlements and to try to determine who built them and how they were used.”

Verbúð is typically a temporary dwelling for fishermen, who worked as farmers or farmhands or tended to other duties outside of the fishing season. However, in the hut excavated at Gufuskálavör, there are indications that people lived there longer.

Most of the objects discovered are related to fishing, such as hooks, but also other objects, like knitting needles. A dice made from walrus tooth surprised archaeologists, because the material is expensive and fishermen weren’t wealthy.

The Icelandic Institute of Archaeology is working on the excavation in collaboration with City University of New York, Stirling University in the UK, the Archaeological Heritage Agency of Iceland and Snæfellsjökull National Park.

In Bolungarvík in the West Fjords, visitors can familiarize themselves with the Icelandic verbúð in a living museum.

Click here to read about other archaeological projects in Iceland.


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