This is my homework

3 12 2012

For my Cultural Heritage class, our assignment was to write a blog. Now my work is actually used!

A Modern Day at Gufuskálar

Figure 1: A plaque noting the ruins at Gufuskálar in The National Park of Snæfellsjökull.

Figure 1: A plaque noting the ruins at Gufuskálar in The National Park of Snæfellsjökull.

Beginning in 2008, a team of archaeologists have been attempting to excavate the rapidly eroding medieval fishing station along the coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula called Gufuskálar. Both rough winter seas and wind have cut away many meters of the coastline and it’s essential that the remainder of this valuable source of information about early Icelandic commercial fishing is excavated before it’s all gone. The investigation was directed by Lilja Björk Pálsdóttir (FSÍ) with assistance of a large international team (Figure 2). From Fornleifastofnun Íslands (FSÍ), City University of New York (CUNY), The Archaeological Heritage Agency of Iceland (FVR) and the The National Park of Snæfellsjökull.

Figure 2:The 2011 team included more than 16 members who conducted work for three weeks.

Figure 2:The 2011 team included more than 16 members who conducted work for three weeks.

The site of the fishing station is located on the northwestern tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the West of Iceland. Hundreds of years ago it was a major commercial fishing station on the Atlantic Ocean. The archaeology is abundant at Gufuskálar with two main mounds, a farm, and an area for fish processing. There are stone structures and a midden adjacent to the seafront along with a cleared landing spot for boats. A little further inland are two farm mounds and at least 47 other structures which most likely are fishing booths, þurrabúðs and other structures related to the fishing station. In a lava field East of Gufuskálar are 154 small, oval shaped structures made of lava stone. They are commonly believed to be for drying and storing fish.

Aims and Methods from the report, Under The Glacier (Pálsdóttir & Sveinbjarnarson 2011):

“This investigation is primarily a rescue investigation and therefore the most vulnerable areas were targeted in order to obtain information otherwise threatened by erosion. The targets of the excavation included material for radiocarbon dating (C14), bones and material culture from the midden deposits seen in sections. All trenches were dug by hand. Contexts formed the main unit of recording and were excavated stratigrafically, in sequence, within excavation areas. All cultural deposits were sieved 100 % using a 4 mm size mesh. Each find, environmental sample and record is related to the unit that it was found within or taken from.”

In June of 2011 a large scale excavation produced a literal truckload of bones and artifacts and there is so much archaeological material, research will continue at the site for years to come. This is an example of a day in the life of an archaeologist at Gufuskálar.

Figure 3: The wind was so strong and cold, the team routinely wore wool and winter gear and goggles to protect their eyes.

Figure 3: The wind was so strong and cold, the team routinely wore wool and winter gear and goggles to protect their eyes.

A typical outfit for the 2011 archaeological season. The wind was intense and the cold was biting. The focus this year was on the most eroded areas and therefore all the trenches were put on the seaside of the mounds. Structures are around the mounds are beginning to appear as the soil that seals them gets relocated due to constant and very strong wind.

The days are long, endlessly long. Since the excavation took place in June, there is almost perpetual daylight because of the proximity to the Arctic Circle. Archaeologists are performing what’s called an “open area excavation” where they remove the turf from a very large area over the structure rather than just putting in smaller holes all over.

The various digs at the site are referred to as trenches due to their large size. The group below is working on Trench 5. After the site was deturfed, the first archaeological deposit appeared at the depth of 0.93 m from the top. This was a 5 cm midden deposit made up of a mixture of burnt bone and sand. Some of the deeper (and older) midden deposits are up to 70cm thick.

Figure 4: A team in the foreground is removing material from trench 5, while sieving is occurring in the background.

Figure 4: A team in the foreground is removing material from trench 5, while sieving is occurring in the background.

The work of excavating is done by hand and very tedious as the layers of sediment are removed one at a time to preserve the geographic timeline. Once the material is removed, it is sieved so that smaller items can be sorted out from the soil. On this particular day, a fragment of clay pipe was unearthed! At first glance, a datable find like this clay pipe (Figure 5) seems to suggest that midden deposits covering the structure were dumped there in the 17th century. This is preliminary and finds will be analyzed and dated after field work.

Figure 5: Neck of a clay pipe found in Trench 5 is indicative of the 17th century.

Figure 5: Neck of a clay pipe found in Trench 5 is indicative of the 17th century.

Sources:

Lilja Björk Pálsdóttir and Óskar Gísli Sveinbjarnarson. Under The Glacier:2011 Archaeological investigations on the fishing stationat Gufuskálar, Snæfellsnes. http://www.nabohome.org/uploads/fsi/Gufuskalar_2011_Report.pdf

 

http://vimeo.com/42949258
http://northatlanticherc.gc.cuny.edu/?cat=6
https://www.facebook.com/GufuskalarArchaeology

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