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One of the largest Viking longhouses in Iceland has been found in downtown Reykjavík

By Staff

  • The seat of a chieftain The excavation in Lækjargata in down-town Reykjavík has uncovered the remains of a longhouse which was at least 20 meters long. Photo from the Settlement Exhibition's Facebook page.

Archaeologists working in a former parking lot in Lækjargata street in downtown Reykjavík have uncovered what they believe is the ruins of the residence of a Viking era chieftain. The discovery has altered dramatically the view we have of Viking age Reykjavík.

The find came as a complete surprise
When archaeologists began digging at the site they did not expect to find a Viking era longhouse. Lisbet Guðmundsdóttir, a archeologist at the Institute of Archaeology, who is working at the site, tells the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that the team did not expect to find anything older than a 18th century farm. The oldest know settlement in this spot was the cottage Lækjarkot, which was built in 1799.

When the team found a stone wall it therefore believed they had uncovered Lækjarkot, or perhaps a younger building which was constructed in 1887, Lisbet tells Morgunblaðið:

"We certainly didn‘t expect to find anything older, but then this unexpected find emerged."

The seat of a chieftain
The excavation has so far uncovered the ruins of a longhouse which is at least 20 meters long. The total length of the building will probably never be established as the nearby houses were built on top of it, and the remains were most likely destroyed when they were constructed. However, what was preserved under the parking lot and backyards of nearby houses has allowed the archaeologists to establish that it is one of the largest Viking era longhouses found in Iceland.

The long-fire, the hearth which stretched along the middle corridor of all Viking longhouses, is certainly the longest found in Iceland, measuring 5.2 meters.

Þorsteinn Birgisson, the manager of Minjavernd, a public corporation which oversees the archaeological dig, tells Morgunblaðið that judging by the size of the longhouse it was the residence of someone of considerable wealth and status:

"This building was the home of a chieftain, because what we have revealed are clearly signs of a great farm."

Larger than the longhouse on display at the settlement museum
The ruins which have been uncovered so far are far larger than those previously located in Austurstræti street, to the west of the current dig. That building, which is on display in the Settlement Museum, was 17 meters long and 5.5-6 meter wide, with a 4 meter long long-fire. Compare that to the current longhouse, which was at least 20 meters long, 5.5 meters wide and with a 5.2 meter long-fire.

Read more: Revisiting the Viking era: Four particularly interesting excavated sites around Iceland

It is not only the size of the longhouse which has surprised archaeologists, it is also its location. All Viking era finds in downtown Reykjavík have been in around Suðurgata- and Aðalstræti-streets, where the Settlement Exhibition is currently located. The current find shows that the Viking-era settlement was larger than previously believed.

In addition to the houses the excavation has produced weaving implements, a silver ring and a single pearl. There are still at least two or three weeks left of the dig. The following weeks will be exciting as archaeologists are now beginning to search the floor of the longhouse, which will hopefully uncover additional items which can help paint a richer picture of what life looked like in Viking age Reykjavík.

The dig, which is one of three currently underway in downtown Reykjavík, can be viewed from the sidewalk by pedestrians.

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