The Saga Of A Viking Longhouse In Iceland (Documentary)

Mosfellsbær is a small town situated in southwestern Iceland, very close to the country’s capital city, Reykjavík. In the proximity of Mosfellsbær there is a well preserved Norse longhouse that dates back to the Viking Age. This architectural structure proved worthy of research that ultimately determined several aspects of the Norse settlement in early medieval Iceland.

This longhouse was mentioned in several Icelandic sagas and from 1995 to 2012 an international archaeology project was conducted by Jesse L. Byock, professor of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California in Los Angeles.

The initial purpose of the project was to determine whether or not the places from the Icelandic sagas existed in reality. The team of experts working on the Hrísbrú longhouse employed the tools of archaeology, history (mainly the Icelandic sagas written in Old Norse during the 12th and 13th centuries in Iceland), as well as genetics, in order to discover how valid where the sagas after all.

Detailed map of the Hrisbru Viking longhouse in Mosfell Valley from the Mosfell Archaeological Project. Image source: www.valsgarde.tumblr.com

Detailed map of the Hrísbrú Viking longhouse in Mosfell (Icelandic: Mosfellsdalur) valley from the Mosfell Archaeological Project. This structure approximately dates back to the round of the 11th century. Image source: www.valsgarde.tumblr.com

The Mosfell Archaeological Project also made extensive usage of anthropology, forensics and environmental sciences so as to highlight the development stages of the Norse settlements in Mosfell, southwestern Iceland. According to Landnámabók (‘The Book of the Settlements’ in Icelandic), human activity in the Mosfell Valley is recorded as early as the 9th century.

While it is mostly believed that the Norsemen were the first permanent settlers in Iceland (the island being as such unknown to most Europeans during the early Middle Ages), it should be mentioned that recent archaeological studies cast light on a short-lived pre-Norse settlement era when Irish monks sparsely inhabited the coastal parts of the country.

This research is also strengthened by an important Icelandic manuscript, namely Íslendingabók (‘The Book of the Icelanders’ in translation), where these hermit Catholic monks were referred to as ‘Papar’ and were most likely part of a Hiberno-Scottish mission.

Throughout all the years of the archaeological research in Iceland, the team of archaeologists were provided with assistance and support on behalf of the Icelandic authorities, from the mayor Mosfellsbær to the president of Iceland.

The short documentary film below was made in the process of several excavations from the Mosfell Valley and tries to illustrate the historicity of the Icelandic sagas through archaeological discoveries.

Trailer for documentary:

Full documentary below:

Documentation sources and external links:


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