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The outside inside: – problems in interpreting Viking age and Medieval houses in Hólar from macrofossil remains
Dalarna University, School of Technology and Business Studies, Physical Geography.
2008 (English)In: Status of research in Skagafjordur 2008, Hólar, 2008Conference paper, Published paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Hólar offers the opportunity to develop several questions around the settlements and buildings from Viking age and medieval time in Iceland. In Iceland, samples for macrofossil analysis are primarily taken from inside the former house, from the floor, along walls, in different rooms etc. since there are usually few other constructions and/or deposits in the settlement area. This is in opposite to the situation in excavated settlements in other parts of the Nordic countries where other constructions such as wells, outhouses or other peripheral buildings and features can be used for macrofossil analysis and as a complement. But, on the other hand, there is often an opportunity to sample constructions and special rooms “inside” the former Icelandic house in a way that is much more unusual in corresponding situations in other Nordic countries from the same time periods, especially Viking age (800-1050 AD). Sampling indoor in former buildings creates different and much more complicated taphonomical problems, especially if the macrofossil remains do not reflect any special indoor activity or is easily connected to human activities. How did the biological remains end up in the building? Which part of the buildings history do they reflect? If the remains seem to primarily reflect the construction time of the house, is there a straight forward relation between these activities and the macrofossil remains? There may also be a complicated history during the actual use of the building, in connection to the difficulty to understand what period and/or phase in use of the building that the macrofossil remains reflect. Of course there is also always the risk of redeposition and human interference on the cultural layer caused by human activities inside the house. In a more diverse settlement situation there would be a lot of different constructions and features outside the buildings to complement the picture of the settlement activity. The impression is also that the Icelandic Viking age and medieval house to a higher extent reflects the outside environment, partly since a lot of the building material is directly from the surrounding environment (e.g. turf). Also, the geographical position of Iceland reduces the number of insect species that may come in contact with human settlements and environments and substrates around it. To complicate this picture even more, the Icelandic houses have been rebuilt periodically, repaired and reused during a long time period and it is therefore important to understand what part of the history the samples represent. The aims of the investigation in question here is to analyze the fossil insect remains, primarily beetles, for possible interpretation of the environmental conditions, the relation between the Hólar settlement and the surrounding nature, the indoor activity and environment of the buildings. In Hólar this idea is developed and sampling have been expanded to spatial sampling from house floors, testing different sizes of sample volume as well as different parts of the cultural layer and working with different sampling spots in different rooms in the houses. The general picture of samples from house floors from Hólar, as well as other sites in Iceland, is that they are most often poor in fossil insect remains. But in the results, there is a domination of beetles living on plants and in the vegetation surrounding environment The big majority of the insect remains found in samples in Hólar reflect what is interpreted as the early phase of the building, repairing during some part of the house use history or changed activity and/or use of the house for other purposes (e.g. from human activity to stable for domestic animals). The majority of the species found is normally living in the natural environment, like open areas with low shrubs and/or peat, most of the species are common also today and is by no mean adapted to human interfered environments or activity (i.e. synantropic). One conclusion would be to connect them to the turf that are part of the walls in the house, another interpretation is that the species are transported in to the settlement with shrubs as roof material or, more likely, with shrubs as floor cover material. A typical change in the use of houses at Hólar, as in other parts of Iceland, is reflected in floor samples from the 18th and 19th centuries when houses was secondary used as stables for horses and sheep before being abandoned. This is reflected by remnants of hay and manure found together with beetles connected to this and similar kinds of environments. Since the situation is special in Iceland, it is important to learn more about the houses of different periods, the floor sediments and how to use them. One of the main difficulties with house floor samples in for example Sweden is the low degree of preservation and number of subfossil remains. Deposition of macrofossil remains is totally dependent on the house history, e.g. its location in the landscape and the material used during its construction, the function of the house or activities in different rooms and finally the abandonment history of the house. When looking into indoor environments in for example Sweden the former floor deposit are usually very difficult and/or impossible to use and compensated with sampling in other features (e.g. former post holes). But in Hólar the floor deposit usually provides a high preservation degree and high organic content in the sediment and therefore provides satisfactory opportunities for sampling. A more common problem in the Icelandic situation is that building remnants is covered by a very thin top soil layer, which means increased risk for bad preservation and bioturbation. From 2007 started some tests to collect samples from the surrounding mires in the Hólar area, in order to analyze samples in the natural surroundings to better understand the relation between the Hólar settlement and the surrounding nature. The method, a normal and often used way to work in palaeoecological investigations, is to core into the mires and subsample in stratigraphical units and different levels of the mire. The method has similarities with sampling during archaeological excavations, but with some important considerations around the building up of sediment (mainly organic sediment) and dating. The dating is essential since the growth of the mire normally is ruled by natural process, controlled by the climatic history and also since time and sedimentation on soil surface will compact layers in the stratigraphy. One of the aims for this increased investigation is to get a better picture of the origin of the macrofossil remains in samples from the excavated former houses in Hólar and to see the relation between the settlement and land use of natural resources.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Hólar, 2008.
Keywords [en]
Hólar, Viking age, medieval time, house, settlement, macrofossil
Research subject
Övrigt, Miljö- och kulturhistoriska studier av den Vikingatida och medeltida utvecklingen på biskopssätet Hólar, norra Island
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-3210OAI: oai:dalea.du.se:3210DiVA, id: diva2:521817
Conference
Status of research in Skagafjordur 2008 , Hólar, 03/09/2006, 2008
Available from: 2008-03-03 Created: 2008-03-03 Last updated: 2012-08-08Bibliographically approved

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