Sunken Ships Reveal Iceland’s Trading History Skip to content

Sunken Ships Reveal Iceland’s Trading History

An abundance of shipwrecks off the coast of Eyrarbakki, South Iceland, suggest it was likely Iceland’s largest trading post until the 20th century, RÚV reports. Archaeologist Ragnar Edvardsson is working to map shipwrecks in the shallow waters around Iceland’s coast. Ragnar has mapped 400 large shipwrecks that occurred between 1200-1920, but believes there could be as many as 1,000 since the island’s settlement.

“I am of course first and foremost trying to get an idea of the number of large ships which I do through working with written sources. Icelanders were of course so good at writing so they often describe the damage to the ships, how many died, and also gave a geographic location,” Ragnar describes.

With the help of these written clues, the archaeologist sets out to sea with a diver to find the shipwrecks and investigate how well they have been preserved.

“It’s really interesting that many things point to the capital of Iceland or the main trading town having been Eyrarbakki, there is a big ship cemetery of trading ships there, but outside of Reykjavík there isn’t the same number,” Ragnar observes.

Ragnar’s research is carried out through the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in the Westfjords. While most of the ships he has mapped are Icelandic, he has also located English, Dutch, Danish, and Basque ships, among others.

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