|The investigations of the Viking settlement at Hofstair began as part of a wider project surveying all temple or hof sites in Iceland in 1991, initiated by Adolf Fririksson. Hofstair lies in the Laxßr valley in the district of Mřvatn, northern Iceland and has been occupied since the 10th century; the Viking period settlement lies about 100m north from the Medieval and Modern farm, and both the size of the ruins and its name suggested to antiquarians and early archaeologists that it was a pagan temple. It was first investigated by an Icelandic philologist Finnur Jˇnsson and Danish archaeologist Daniel Bruun in 1908, who excavated the entire insides of the ruin, concluding that it was a temple and subsequently it entered the literature as the 'type'-site. The theory of pagan temples however waned so that by the mid-20th century, few believed such structures existed - though Hofstair remained the sole, unshakeable example. Even the arch-critic of the temple theory, Olaf Olsen, could not completely dismiss the site, when he partially re-investigated it in 1965.|
The progress of excavation has accelerated over the years, from the first small trenches in 1995 to the complete exposure of the Viking ruins in 2002. The results of these excavations have not only uncovered the major ruin first opened in 1908, but four additional structures previously unknown. The site as it currently stands consists of a long hall or skßli, 38m in length with turf walls surviving to a height of nearly a metre and numerous postholes and post pads marking out the timber load-bearing frame for the building. There are numerous subdivisions within the hall which had a central hearth and two cross-passageways at either end leading outside and/or to other structures. The floor, though truncated in parts by the earlier excavations, survived to a substantial thickness along the centre of the hall and which was 100% sampled on a 1m grid. Around the long hall are seven associated strutures: one deep sunken featured building, two shallower, semi-sunken featured buildings and four turf structures. Sheet midden deposits encircle all the buildings with more discreet dumps in certain areas, but the most substantial midden was infilling the deep sunken featured building from which the majority of faunal remains came. Numerous artefacts were retrieved, some from the midden, but many from inside the structures and include whetstones, spindle whorls, beads, pendants and pins to name a few. Dating through radiocarbon and tephrachronology has firmly placed the occupation of the whole settlement to within a maximum period of two centuries c. 950-1150 AD, and within this time, the site shows multiple phases of construction, repair and abandonment.
Each year an interim report has been produced summarising the findings, which include descriptions of the stratigraphy and summaries of the finds and samples taken. The full analysis of the stratigraphic, artefactual and environmental data is only now being started with an intended publication date of 2004. The nature of the site is such that each structure can be tackled semi-independently and full matrices for most of these have been done. Major work is still needed on integrating these into a master matrix and phasing for the site. Similarly, most of the key information on the stratigraphic units have been migrated into the main excavation database which in turn links other databases of environmental and artefactual data. Much of the key features have also been digitised and this will provide the basis of analysis as well as publication images. The artefactual data has been variously assessed by different people in the annual reports but the final work is being done by Colleen Batey (FS═) who will liase with other specialists as required. Most of the finds have also been drawn. The environmental data is in various stages of analysis; the faunal remains are being studied by a team from Hunter College, New York under the supervision of Tom McGovern (CUNY/NABO), while the plant remains are being examined by Garar Gumundsson of the Institute (FS═). Other environmental data is being undertaken by partners in the UK, including Karen Milek (micromorphology - University of Cambridge), Ian Simpson (landscape utilization - University of Stirling). Geophysics survey was also carried out by Timothy Horsley, University of Bradford as part of his PhD; the survey areas include the chapel and cemetery (Area Z) as well as areas around the main excavation area of the Viking skßli. Hildur Gestsdˇttir continues to direct the excavations of the chapel and cemetery, Area Z, as well as conduct the preliminary analysis and assessment of pathology of the human remains found in the cemetery.
Select Project Bibliography
Adolf Fririksson and Orri VÚsteinsson (eds) 1995. Hofstair 1995 Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS010-91024. ReykjavÝk.
Adolf Fririksson and Orri VÚsteinsson (eds) 1996. Hofstair 1996 Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS026-91014. ReykjavÝk.
Adolf Fririksson and Orri VÚsteinsson (eds) 1997. Hofstair 1997 Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS042-91015. ReykjavÝk.
Adolf Fririksson and Orri VÚsteinsson 1997. Hofstair revisited, in Norwegian Archaeological Review 30(2): 103-112
Adolf Fririksson and Orri VÚsteinsson (eds) 1998. Hofstair 1998 Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS062-91016. ReykjavÝk.
Lucas, G (ed.) 1998. Archaeologia Islandica 1 (Occasional papers of the FS═).
Lucas, G (ed.) 1999. Hofstair 1999. Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS102-91017. ReykjavÝk.
Lucas, G (ed.) 2000. Hofstair 2000. Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS130-91018. ReykjavÝk.
Lucas, G (ed.) 2001. Hofstair 2001. Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS167-91019. ReykjavÝk.
Lucas, G (ed.) 2002. Hofstair 2002. Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS193-910110. ReykjavÝk.
Hildur Gestsdˇttir (ed) 2004. Hofstair 2003. Framvinduskřrslur/Preliminary Reports. Fornleifastofnun ═slands FS230-910111. ReykjavÝk.
Simpson, I.A., Milek, K.B. and Garar Gumundsson 1999. A Reinterpretation of the Great Pit at Hofstair, Iceland Using Sediment Thin Section Micromorphology, in Geoarchaeology: An International Journal 14(6): 511-530.