By Anna Katrin Matras, Hákun Andreasen and Steffen Stummann Hansen
Fróðskaparrit Vol. 51 (2003)
Abstract: Almost fifty years ago ancient shieling sites of Viking Age date were identified in the Faroe Islands by Christian Matras, the linguist, and Sverri Dahl, the state antiquary. The sites normally contained archaeological structures and typically had place-names featuring the Old Irish element áirge attached to them. The whole concept of shielings as part of the early Faroese farming economy was reassessed by Ditlev L. D. Mahler during the 1980s, and he produced a distribution map of these sites. No shielings were noted in the outer Norðuroyar on this map. In 2001, however, such a site was recorded on Fugloy.
Introduction: In 1956 Christian Matras (1900-1988), the Faroese linguist, drew attention to a number of Faroese place-names containing the Old Norse element ´œrgi (argi, ergi, eyrgi). He proposed that this term derived from Old Irish áirge, meaning seter or shieling. Furthermore, he pointed out that the long æ of ´œrgi is represented by e in place-names of this type on the island of Suðuroy, and by a in all of the more northerly parts of the Faroe Islands where it is shortened in front of the consonant combination rg. The fact that this linguistic element was of Old Irish origin indicated to him that the shieling system introduced to the Faroe Islands in the Viking Age had its roots in Gaelic-speaking areas to the south – i.e. Ireland, Scotland or the Western Isles.
The archaeological verification that these place-names were indicators of the locations of shieling-sites of the Viking Age came some years later when Sverri Dahl (1910-1987), then the State Antiquary, identified and excavated a house structure in Ergidalur on Suðuroy.