Monthly Archives: August 2018

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Jesse Byock

Archaeology, Sagas, the Mosfell Excavations, and the Early Maritime History of the Reykjavík Area

Thursday, August 30, 2018, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Jesse Byock

This talk presents an overview of the Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP) and focuses on recent findings. It reviews excavations in Leiruvogur Bay at the coastal mouth of Mosfellsdalur and at Hrísbrú, the farmstead of the Mosfell chieftains. These two Viking Age sites formed a 10th-century Icelandic harbor and inland administrative unit. MAP is a interdisciplinary archaeological project, employing the tools of history, anthropology, environmental sciences, forensics, botanics, and saga studies. We are researching human adaptions, social development, and environmental change in the Mosfellsdalur region. Our sites extend into the surrounding highlands and on the lowland coastal areas. We define this geographic and social community as a “valley system” that took shape immediately following Iceland’s 9th-century landnám or settlement. MAP is developing through excavation and associated research a concept of ‘Valley System Archaeology,’ that is especially suited to Icelandic and North Atlantic sites.
I will discuss the Viking Age harbor at Leiruvogur, a finding that may adjust the early historical understanding of the Reykjavík area. The Leiruvogur harbor complex and the Hrísbrú site have been generally overlooked by archaeologists and historians. Based on our recent archaeology, I propose that the inner Leiruvogur lagoon was the major regional harbor in this part of Faxaflói Bay. Control of the Leiruvogur harbor gave the Mosfell chieftains regional influence over the inner nesses. The harbor also connected Mosfellsdalur and the surrounding community to the wider Viking world, and MAP’s artifact findings show connections with regions as far away as Turkmenestan in Central Asia.

At Hrísbrú, we have unearthed the farmstead of the Mosfell chieftains, the home of the lawspeaker Grímur Svertingsson, the warrior-poet Egill Skallagrímsson, and the chieftain Önundur and his son Hrafn. The archaeologicall finds include a large, exceptionally well-preserved longhouse from Iceland’s settlement period, a pagan cremation site, a conversion-era stave church, an early Christian graveyard, and stone ship-like monuments. The mortuary practices discovered in Mosfellsdalur show a mixed pagan and Christian community. In many ways, the excavations are providing new evidence of early Icelandic life.

Jesse Byock is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and UCLA’s Scandinavian Section. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is the Director of the Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP). For the past several years, he has been at Háskóli Íslands affiliated with the Sagnfræðideild and the program in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies. Prof. Byock is author or translator of Viking Age Iceland (Penguin), Grettir’s Saga (Oxford), The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin), The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology (Penguin), Feud in the Icelandic Saga (University of California Press), The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (Penguin), Islande des Vikings (Aubier Flammarion) and The Viking Language Series (Jules William Press). With Davide Zori he edited, Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaeological Project (Brepols). The later presents the research of the Mosfell team.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.