Lækjargata in Reykjavik archaeological dig. Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir

Large Viking Hall found in Reykjavik in Iceland

Archaeologists digging on Lækjargata in central Reykjavik were looking for traces of a farm cottage built in 1799 – and found a Viking longhouse 900 years older

The longhouse is at least 20 m long at 5.5m wide at it widest point. The ‘long fire’ in the centre of the hut is one of the largest ever found in Iceland, which visible traces suggesting it was over 5.2 m long.

“This find came as a great surprise for everybody,” says Þor­steinn Bergs­son, Managing Director of Minja­vernd, an independent association working for the preservation of old buildings in Iceland.

“This rewrites the history of Reykjavik”, said Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir, archaeologist at the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology to the Iceland Monitor. She says there is no way of knowing who could have lived in the longhouse. “We have no records of any building on this spot other than the cottage built in 1799,” she explains.

The building is from the first years of the settlement of Iceland – a period usually dated 870-930 AD; but more exact dating will need to wait until after the excavation has been completed.

The long Fire

longfire in Iceland Viking Hall. Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir
The Longfire in Lækjargata in Reykjavik. Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir

The exact size of the hall cannot me measured as part of it is hidden beneath neighbouring houses. However, the size of the long-fire is on par with that found during the excavations at Hrísbrú; perhaps the new hall or longhouse measured the same: 30 m.

Such fires were both a source of heat and light. However, as there was no chimney, longhouses were very smoky and uncomfortable to stay in. An experimental archaeology project in two Danish reconstructed Viking Age Houses have shown that the exposure to woodsmoke must have been a contributing factor to health problems [1]. However, in another study the archaeologists teamed up with scientists and found that “even a high inhalation exposure to wood smoke was associated with limited systemic effects on markers of oxidative stress, DNA damage, inflammation, and monocyte activation” [2]. In a series of simulated experiments another Danish archaeologist has shown that the heating of such a large building poised enormous challenges [3]

The Settlement Exhibition

An computer generated image of the layout of the viking hall made by the multimedia company Gagarin of the Longhouse exhibited in Reykjavik
An computer generated image of the layout of the viking hall exhibited in Reykjavik. © Gargarin

The last time a longhouse was discovered in Reykjavik was in 2001, at Aðalstræti. The relics found at this site represented the oldest evidence of human habitation in Reykjavik, dating back to before 871 AD. This longhouse has been preserved as the centre for an exhibition about the Viking settlement in Reykjavik.

The construction of Viking Age buildings is explained using multimedia technology. Computer technology is used to give an impression of what life was like in the hall.

The exhibition aims to provide insights into the environment of the Reykjavík farm at the time of the first settlers. Exhibits include artefacts from archaeological excavations in central Reykjavík.

The remains of the two longhouses were located approximately 250 meters from each other

VISIT:

The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871 +/- 2
Reykjavík center, Aðalstræti 16, Iceland

SOURCES:

[1] Household air pollution from wood burning in two reconstructed houses from the Danish Viking Age.
By J. M. Christensen and M. Ryhl-Svendsen
In: Indoor Air. 2015, Vol 25, issue 3, pp. 329 – 340.

[2] Biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation after wood smoke exposure in a reconstructed Viking Age house
By: Annie Jensen, Dorina Gabriela Karottki, Jannie Marie Christensen, Jakob Hjort Bønløkke, Torben Sigsgaard, Marianne Glasius, Steffen Loft and Peter Møller
In: Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, 2014, Vol. 55, Issue 8, pp. 652–661,

[3] Røg- og varmeforhold I vikingetidens huse. Varmetabsberegning og røgsimulering op tre vikingehuse I digital rekonstruktion.
By Elizabeth Rüssel Palm
Unpublished Thesis (MA) 2013

READ MORE:

Halls in Iceland: Viking Archaeology, sagas, and Interdisciplinary Research in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley.
By: Jesse Byock and Davide Zori.
In: Celebrating 40 Years of Discovery. In: Backdirt 2013. Annual review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA

Viking Archaeology in Iceland. Mossfell Archaeological Project.
By D. Zori and J. Byock (eds).
Brepols 2014