Four settlement period graves found in Iceland

Four graves dating to the settlement period (late 9th, early 10th century) have been discovered in Seyðisfjörður, eastern Iceland. The burials were richly furnished with grave goods indicating the deceased were of high social status.

Excavations this summer and fall unexpectedly revealed that the site, believed to contain nothing earlier than 18th century remains, in fact had archaeological materials dating to the early days of the Viking settlement of Iceland, hidden and preserved by a landslide that blanketed the area in 1150.

The first of the tombs found is a boat burial, the first boat grave found in the East Fjords and one of only 12 boat graves ever found in Iceland. Grave goods include a spear, a silver brooch, a silver ring, beads, a hnefatafl  game piece and a Borre-style belt buckle.

Two of the four graves contained the remains of horses buried with the human, and one of the two held the skeletal remains of a dog too. The practice of burying someone with their horse was much more widespread in Iceland than in Norway. The fourth grave belonged to a woman. She was buried with a pair of oval buckles and a necklace of 11 glass beads. Also found in her grave was a leather purse containing a Norwegian whetstone and flint.

The graves were found 110 yards or so from the Fjörður farm mound. According to the Landnámabók (Book of Settlements) saga, the chronicle of the Norse settlement of Iceland written in the 12th century, the first settler in Seyðisfjörður was one Bjólfur from Voss in Norway who established the Fjörður farm. While the Landnámabók was written three centuries after the events it describes, it also documents accurate and detailed historical data, including the names and descriptions of more than 3,000 people and 1,400 settlements. It is possible that the individuals buried in the four graves are listed in the Book of Settlements. They may even be related to Bjólfur. One of them could even conceivably be Bjólfur himself.

The silver brooch has been sent to the National Museum of Iceland for further analysis. The skeletal remains, human and animal, will also be studied in laboratory conditions. The graves and some of their contents have been scanned and 3D models created. 

Here’s one of the burials with horse as well as human remains:

Here’s the one with both a horse and a dog:

This is one of the beads found in the woman’s tomb: