Volcanic eruptions have helped Icelandic archaeologists pin down to within one or two years the earliest settlement of the island. The 2001 excavations at the site of the Reykjavik Centrum hotel led to the discovery of the remains of a longhouse that have now been dated by means of the ash that seals part of the structure. Deriving from a large eruption in the Torfajökull region, this puts the construction of the longhouse within one or two years either side of AD 871.
For once, history and archaeology coincide. Written in the 12th century by Icelandic priest Ari Þorgilsson (‘the Wise’), the Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders) says that the first people to settle permanently in what is now Reykjavík, the island’s capital, were led by Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife Hallgerdur Fródadóttir, and that they arrived in AD 874. Ari the Wise admits in his prologue that he is reliant on oral tradition for his account of events that took place nearly 300 years ago, but the latest dates are consistent with other finds from around the island showing an increasing number of visitors there during the latter part of the 9th century.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 41. Click here to subscribe