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The Viking Age longhouse in downtown Reykjavík burned to the ground

The excavation of the recently discovered Viking Age longhouse by Lækjargata street in downtown Reykjavík continues to add new details to the history of settlement age Reykjavík. The most recent discovery, however might be a tragedy, as the archaeologists excavating the longhouse have discovered evidence it burned to the ground.

The Viking Age longhouse in downtown Reykjavík burned to the ground
The dig by Lækjargata can be viewed from the sidewalk, and is definitely one of the must-sees
 in downtown Reykjavík this summer [Credit: Andri Maríno]
Evidence of a fire

Archaeologist Lisabet Guðmundsdóttir, who oversees the excavation at the site, tells the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RÚV, that the team has found clear indication the longhouse burned. Among the evidence is a discolouring of the turf in the walls, as well as charred pieces of wood which might either have been part of benches or the ceiling of the longhouse. A burnt down support beam has also been found.

Lisabet and her team have been unable to determine whether the structure burned down while it was occupied or after it had been abandoned.

A tragedy might explain why the site was abandoned

"Either the structure burned down after it was abandoned or it burned down while people still lived here, which might be the reason why the longhouse was not rebuilt after it burned down," Lisabet tells RÚV. Homesteads were usually rebuilt time and again in the same location, leading to the formation of mounds. Excavation in downtown Reykjavík has revealed the remains of Viking Age longhouses which were rebuilt several times over at the same site. The longhouse by Lækjargata, however, appears not to have been rebuilt in such a manner.

The excavation has also uncovered drainage ditches which ran from the longhouse to the river which connects the downtown lake and the ocean (the river now runs in a sewer beneath Lækjargata street), as well as a fire-pit used for cooking. The pit was located between the longhouse and the river, in the north-eastern corner of the excavation site, and is clearly visible from the sidewalk.

Source: Iceland Magazine [July 23, 2017]

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