Deep North Episode 59: Turf and Rescue

turf house farm iceland

Hannes Lárusson grew up in a cluster of turf houses on the farmstead Austur-Meðalholt in Southwest Iceland.

His ancestors moved there around 1850. The houses they constructed were made with the remnants of the land’s pre-existing houses, which slouched near the marshes when they arrived. The history of the farmstead stretches nearly as far back as the settlement.

In 1965, when he was ten years old, Hannes moved to Reykjavík. He studied visual art and philosophy in Iceland and abroad prior to redirecting his attention to his childhood home in the mid-80s.

By that time, the turf houses of Austur-Meðalholt were abandoned and on the verge of ruin. Although he had observed those houses being mended as a boy, he lacked the know-how to rebuild them himself; and so Hannes and his family enlisted the aid of Jóhannes Arason, a turf master who grew up in the Westfjords’ Gufudalssveit area, and who stayed with them for parts of the summer between 1987 and 1993.

Read the story here.

Turf and Rescue

farmhouse iceland

Austur-Meðalholt Hannes Lárusson grew up in a cluster of turf houses on the farmstead Austur-Meðalholt in Southwest Iceland.His ancestors moved there around 1850. The houses they constructed were made with the remnants of the land’s pre-existing houses, which slouched near the marshes when they arrived. The history of the farmstead stretches nearly as far back […]

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A Second House at Stöng Found in Archaeological Dig

icelandic farmhouse stöng

A second house has been unearthed at the Stöng archaeological site, Morgunblaðið reports.

Stöng, located in Þjórsárdalur valley in South Iceland, is one of the best-known farms from the time of settlement. Today, it is home to a heritage museum which features both a recreation of a settlement-era farmstead and church.

Oddgeir Isaksen, archaeologist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, stated to Morgunblaðið: “There were plans in place to repair the shelter over the ruins at Stöng and to set up an observation platform at the eastern end of the excavation site, so an archaeological investigation was necessary.”

During these exploratory excavations, a building was found at the eastern end of the excavation site. The building is dated as being contemporary with the eruption of Hekla, one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, in 1104. The 1104 Hekla eruption is believed to have caused significant damage to the area.

Oddgeir continued: “This confirms what has long been believed, that there was a settlement here from around 950 until 1104. There have been significant volcanic eruptions here; it has been a heavily affected area, and not very habitable afterward.”

The excavation is expected to be completed soon, at which point experts will need to decide how to best preserve the ruins. Plans are currently to incorporate the ruins into the current exhibit at Stöng.

 

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Intact Walls from an 11th Century Turf House Found in Seyðisfjörður

Archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður

The undamaged walls of a manmade structure dating back to the 11th century have been found in an archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland. RÚV reports that the walls are in such good condition because they were buried by a landslide that occurred around 1150.

“We’ve uncovered a number of structures or houses that seem to be under the landslide from 1150,” explained archaeologist Ragnheiður Traustadóttir. “So it’s just really exciting, what we’re starting to see here.” Uncovering the ruins is an ongoing process, Ragnheiður said, “but we’ve got some exciting weeks ahead.”

There are plans in the works to build landslide barriers in Seyðisfjörður to protect the town, which has been subjected to a number of devastating mud- and landslides in recent years. So this summer, as during the previous two, archaeologists have been working to uncover and preserve whatever artefacts they may find in advance of this construction. A number of smaller artefacts were found last summer, some of which dated back to the earliest settlement of Iceland. The landslide from 1150 was discovered last autumn, and beneath it, four pagan graves. Ragnheiður says this discovery changed the course of the dig, prompting the archaeologists to investigate the area under the landslide more closely.

Pearls found at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður
Knut Paasche. Pearls found in a woman’s pagan grave at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður.
A chess piece found at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður
Knut Paasche. A chess piece found in a man’s pagan grave at the archaeological dig in Seyðisfjörður.

“What is perhaps the most interesting is that the landslide doesn’t appear to have damaged these houses,” she said. “Maybe it had lost all momentum by the time it had made it down here, to the settlement, and so just piled up along the turf walls and hills and so now we’re digging out unusually intact turf walls.”

Ragnheiður told Iceland Review that researchers are just beginning to uncover the structures at this time, but expect to eventually find even older artefacts, dating back to the time of settlement (9th century). The dig will continue until mid-August.