What Imported Viking Age and Medieval Artifacts Can Tell Us about Trade and Exchange in Mývatn, Iceland

What Imported Viking Age and Medieval Artifacts Can Tell Us about Trade and Exchange in Mývatn, Iceland

By Alan Laycock

Scandinavian-Canadian Studies, Vol.22 (2015)

Abstract: The Mývatn region in northern Iceland has been receiving archaeological attention since at least the nineteenth century, with more intensive work having been carried out by Fornleifastofnun Íslands (FSÍ) in the late twentieth century, continuing to the present. The archaeological evidence suggests that Mývatn has been a region onto itself since the Settlement Period of Iceland through to the end of the Viking age. Imported goods such as whetstones and steatite demonstrate tell-tale characteristics of objects traded for in low quantities and over infrequent time periods. This article examines how Mývatn Icelanders were able to partially connect to the continental trade in beads, the Baltic trade in flint, and to other European trade networks operating between the 9th and 15th centuries, and to what extent these networks were able to influence the early Mývatn economy.

Introduction: It could be argued that Iceland is the only place on Earth with no pre-history. The Book of Settlements, known in Icelandic as Landnámabók, tells us that a few early settlers preceded the Vikings but that their historic impact was negligible. These men were believed to have been Irish monks but very little archaeological evidence has survived to support this theory, even if certain place names in Iceland are tantalizingly suggestive of their presence. However, if such Irish monks did exist in Iceland then they were soon to be driven out by an overbearing presence that we refer to today as the Vikings. The Vikings’ arrival in Iceland has been well-documented and their discovery of the island and eventual mass migration marks the beginning of Iceland’s history, in every sense.

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Top Image: Myvatn, Iceland – photo by Michael Clarke / Wikimedia Commons