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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Mike Church

Sveinbjarnardóttir, G, Mairs, K-A, Church, M J & Dugmore, A J (2006). Settlement history, land holdings and landscape change, Eyjafjallahreppur, Iceland. In Dynamics of northern societies proceedings of the SILA/NABO Conference on Arctic and North Atlantic Archaeology, Copenhagen, May 10th-14th, 2004. Arneborg, J & Grønnow, B Copenhagen: Aarhus University Press. 323-333.

Author(s) from Durham


In this paper we focus on a region in south Iceland and assess the confidence with which it is possible to determine the changing patterns of settlement history for a region and relate it to contemporaneous land boundaries. For a geographically coherent group of up to 38 possible farm sites in the northern and western part of Eyjafjallahreppur, south Iceland, the timing of occupation and abandonment is assessed. In addition, boundaries of landholdings, probable status and inter-site relationships are identified. Currently only 10 sites are occupied. There is some uncertainty over the location of the earliest settlements, but after the 11th century, successful principle farm sites such as Dalur, Seljaland and Mörk remain in the same locations. As a result, recent data on landholdings combined with a knowledge of the form of landholding sub-division, offers insights into pre-modern times, with some data relevant to medieval times. An ‘abandoned frontier’ exists in the inland area of Þórsmörk, but abandonment is not restricted to the uplands; it has occurred throughout the region. Most desertion occurred before the cold phases of the Little Ice Age in the 18th century. Overall, much farm desertion can be attributed to landscape destruction as a result of river migration, but it is also biased towards small dependent farms often established for social reasons (such as the property requirement for marriage) and evidently insufficiently resourced for long term success in a changing physical environment.