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The Leiruvogur Harbour Research Project

Prof. J. Byock, Prof. C. von Carnap-Bornheim, Dr. S. Kalmring und Dr. D. Zori

Mosfell Congress

Interdisciplinary Archaeological Examination of a Viking Harbour and its Hinterland in Iceland

Leiruvogur 1Since 2010 there has been a close cooperation between the “Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP)” from Iceland, the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology. In collaboration with Dr Davide Zori and Sigrid Hansen M.A. (both MAP), the basis of an application to localise and investigate the harbour of Mosfell has been created which completes the investigation of the settlement cluster in the valley. It was worked out  by Prof. Jesse Byock (UCLA/MAP) and Prof. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim under the title of “The Leiruvogur Harbour Research Project: Interdisciplinary Archaeological Examination of a Viking Harbour and its Hinterland in Iceland” in the context of Priority Program 1630 “Harbours from the Roman Iron Age to the Middle Ages: Archaeology and History of regional and supraregional traffic systems”, handed in to the German Research Foundation (DFG) on November 1st 2011.
Leiruvogur Map

The aim of the research project about the harbour of Leiruvogur is to give archaeological evidence for one of the harbours which is mentioned most often in the Icelandic Family Sagas. The harbour of Leiruvogur was controlled by the chieftains of Mosfell Valley. Archaeological field research within the valley as direct hinterland of this important harbour provided evidence for residence and power structure of the chieftains of Mosfell. Against this background, the investigation at Leiruvogur will shed light particularly on the socio-economic aspects of the harbour and in a wider context also unique information for understanding infrastructure and organisation of harbours which served as supraregional nodal points of the North Atlantic.
The project is to be carried out for three years at first and its focus is on survey, targeted investigative excavation, material analyses, studies of historical source, as well as reconstruction of the coastal landscape around the harbour of Leiruvogur. These investigations shall form the basis of a second phase of the project which will focus on excavations. The project will contribute to an understanding of the expansion of European trading networks into the North Atlantic.

Leiruvogur 3

The harbour of Leiruvogur with its farmsteads in the hinterland provides a unique possibility to critically analyse the concepts of centre and periphery which are applied to 9th- and 10th-century Europe. From this starting point the relation between the peripheral North Atlantic colonies, the Scandinavian emporia and the European trading centres can be studied from a new perspective.

 

The Leiruvogur 2014 field campaign and the Ship Mound


Dr. Sven Kalmring and Assoc. Prof. Davide Zori


The analysis of the results of the 2013 fieldwork showed consistently that the Inner Leiruvogur bay indeed once formed a sheltered lagoon-harbour well-protected by the “Outer Skiphóll” peninsular. With a reconstructed water depth of approximately two to three meters it was not only suited for beaching minor vessels of the local water traffic, but also for large high-sea going cargo-vessels to anchor in the roadstead. However at the same time it became obvious that an actual archaeological verification by means of material evidence would be severely hindered. Since no large artificially erected harbour facilities can be expected a confirmation would rely on a beach occupation in terms of booths. Yet it turned out that the modern embankment for a stud and its racecourses at the margins of the bay in fact already were covering most parts of the former Viking-age shoreline with landfill of three to six meters thickness. 
Since the Viking-age beach proved to be inaccessible the current field campaign focused on two secondary objectives in the immediate vicinity of the bay which were archaeologically promising. While the suspicious double stone circle some 250 meters east of “Inner Skiphóll” (cf. Jahresbericht 2013) fell victim to recent road building the whole focus was given to the “Inner Skiphóll” knoll itself. While last year’s geophysical surveys could demonstrate that the mound once was situated on the tip of second peninsular not totally unlike the one of “Outer Skiphóll” drillings on the knoll itself could dispel any doubts on allegedly modern origins by proving Katla-1500 tephra right underneath its modern surface. This year’s surveys started with a 12 x 1.5 meters long trial trench slightly offset from the centre of the mound. Already in the profiles a series of ditches cutting into the natural ground became observable. The trail trench was then enlarged another 3 x 6.5 meters towards the centre of the present knoll in effect revealing a grave monument of extraordinary complexity hitherto unknown in Icelandic archaeology. Within the margins of the trench a c. 4.5 meters in diameter measuring burial mound was partially uncovered. It was erected right upon the landnám tephra that is to say shortly after AD 871±2. The mound was surround by each a circular and a pointed-oval, almost shipshaped ditch merging at the foot of it. In a distance of c. 8 meters from its centre an additional circular ditch was drawn around the monument.
Given the singularity of the Leiruvogur “ship hill” the burial itself was not opened, but the trench was backfilled in order to find an optimal way for a concerted action. An application for the second funding period within the Priority Programme is not intended.

 

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