viking foodways at hrísbrú. 2014

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead Davide Zori, omas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson L arge scale excavations at Hrísbrú allow for a detailed examination of faunal remains leſt by the Norse settlers in the Mosfell Valley. is archae- ofaunal assemblage provides a view of the pastoral and hunting-gathering practices of a chiefly household. e zooarchaeological picture of medieval subsistence at Hrísbrú reveals a farmstead that depended primarily on domesticated animals, especially sheep and cattle, with smaller quantities of pigs kept for meat (Table 12.1 and Graphs 12.1 and 12.2). e diet was supplemented by wild birds, fish, marine mammals, and shellfish. Residents of the farmstead at Hrísbrú had access to the full range of animal foods and products of the Norse subsistence package. In most respects, the Hrísbrú fauna is characteristic of the zooarchaeological remains from other previously studied large farms in Iceland. Compared to other farmsteads, however, the faunal assemblage from Hrísbrú displays a relatively high per- centage of fish bone, which may speak of preferential access to coastal resources. Isotopic data from analysed human skeletal remains confirm that marine resources made up a comparatively high percentage of the diet at Hrísbrú. 1 1 See Grimes and others, Chapter 8 in this volume, on the results of isotopic research on the Hrísbrú skeletal population. See also Walker and others, ‘e Axed Man of Mosfell’. The Hrísbrú assemblage from the Viking Age also shows a high cattle to caprine bone ratio, which speaks to the success of the inhabitants of Hrísbrú at replicating the ideal Norse economic package. e Norse settlers preferred cattle over sheep or goats despite the ecology of Iceland being more suitable for caprines. is prefer- ence has been documented through zooarchaeological investigations of excavated farmsteads across the Norse North Atlantic and has been interpreted as the settlers’ attempt to achieve the ideal economic package from their mainland Scandinavian homelands. 2 While the cattle to caprine ratios in the archaeofauna of excavated Icelandic farms must to a certain extent reflect local ecol- ogy and the tendency for early farms to have more cattle, this ratio also clearly tracks farmstead status. 3 e desire and ability of the Norse settlers to focus their pastoral economy on cattle-raising was driven in large part by social status competition and was sustained in the long run only at high status farms. 2 McGovern, ‘e Demise of Norse Greenland’, pp. 331–32; McGovern, Perdikaris, and Tinsley, ‘Economy of Landnám’, pp. 155–56. 3 Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’, pp. 98–136. Davide Zori <[email protected]> is Assistant Professor at Baylor University in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. He is Field Director of the Mosfell Archaeological Project and has been Staff Researcher at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. omas Wake <[email protected]> is Director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles. Jon Erlandson <[email protected]> is Professor of Anthropology and Executive Director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, at the University of Oregon. Rúnar Leifsson <[email protected]> is Instructor in the Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland. Chapter 12 Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaeological Project, ed. by Davide Zori and Jesse Byock, CURSOR 20 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014) pp. 163–179 10.1484/M.CURSOR-EB.1.102219 BREPOLS PUBLISHERS © BREPOLS PUBLISHERS THIS DOCUMENT MAY BE PRINTED FOR PRIVATE USE ONLY. IT MAY NOT BE DISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE PUBLISHER.

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead

Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

Large scale excavations at Hrísbrú allow for a detailed examination of faunal remains left by the Norse settlers in the Mosfell Valley. This archae­

ofaunal assemblage provides a view of the pastoral and hunting­gathering practices of a chiefly household. The zooarchaeological picture of medieval subsistence at Hrísbrú reveals a farmstead that depended primarily on domesticated animals, especially sheep and cattle, with smaller quantities of pigs kept for meat (Table 12.1 and Graphs 12.1 and 12.2). The diet was supplemented by wild birds, fish, marine mammals, and shellfish.

Residents of the farmstead at Hrísbrú had access to the full range of animal foods and products of the Norse subsistence package. In most respects, the Hrísbrú fauna is characteristic of the zooarchaeological remains from other previously studied large farms in Iceland. Compared to other farmsteads, however, the faunal assemblage from Hrísbrú displays a relatively high per­centage of fish bone, which may speak of preferential access to coastal resources. Isotopic data from analysed human skeletal remains confirm that marine resources made up a comparatively high percentage of the diet at Hrísbrú.1

1 See Grimes and others, Chapter 8 in this volume, on the results of isotopic research on the Hrísbrú skeletal population. See also Walker and others, ‘The Axed Man of Mosfell’.

The Hrísbrú assemblage from the Viking Age also shows a high cattle to caprine bone ratio, which speaks to the success of the inhabitants of Hrísbrú at replicating the ideal Norse economic package. The Norse settlers preferred cattle over sheep or goats despite the ecology of Iceland being more suitable for caprines. This prefer­ence has been documented through zooarchaeological investigations of excavated farmsteads across the Norse North Atlantic and has been interpreted as the settlers’ attempt to achieve the ideal economic package from their mainland Scandinavian homelands.2 While the cattle to caprine ratios in the archaeofauna of excavated Icelandic farms must to a certain extent reflect local ecol­ogy and the tendency for early farms to have more cattle, this ratio also clearly tracks farmstead status.3 The desire and ability of the Norse settlers to focus their pastoral economy on cattle­raising was driven in large part by social status competition and was sustained in the long run only at high status farms.

2 McGovern, ‘The Demise of Norse Greenland’, pp. 331–32; McGovern, Perdikaris, and Tinsley, ‘Economy of Landnám’, pp. 155–56.

3 Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’, pp. 98–136.

Davide Zori <[email protected]> is Assistant Professor at Baylor University in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. He is Field Director of the Mosfell Archaeological Project and has been Staff Researcher at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.

Thomas Wake <[email protected]> is Director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Jon Erlandson <[email protected]> is Professor of Anthropology and Executive Director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, at the University of Oregon.

Rúnar Leifsson <[email protected]> is Instructor in the Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland.

Chapter 12

Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaeological Project, ed. by Davide Zori and Jesse Byock, CURSOR 20 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014) pp. 163–179 10.1484/M.CURSOR­EB.1.102219 BREPOLS PUBLISHERS

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164 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

Data and Methods

Bone Preservation

Nearly the entire archaeological faunal collection from Hrísbrú consists of calcined bone. Frequent rainfall and the rapid percolation of water through the permeable soils at Hrísbrú create conditions unfavourable to bone preservation. Although preservation conditions varied locally within and between excavation areas, very lit­tle non­burned bone remained. Most of the preserved unburned bones were teeth and occasionally the maxil­lae and mandibles in which the dentition was retained. In a few isolated areas rich in charcoal, such as midden pit Feature 10 on Kirkjuhóll, more unburned bone remained. The effect of these preservation issues on the faunal assemblage from Hrísbrú is that the collection is very fragmentary and consists almost entirely of calcined bone fragments from hearth cleanings.

Sampling and Recovery Strategy at Hrísbrú

This chapter analyses the archaeofauna from eight sea­sons (2001–08) of excavations in two areas of the Hrísbrú site: Kirkjuhóll (Church Knoll, abbreviated CK) and the tún (the area of the traditional hayfield, abbreviated TUN). Sampling techniques utilized several different screen mesh sizes depending on the context or layer being excavated. At Church Knoll, the layers were mostly screened using quarter­inch mesh (6.35 mm). The soil surrounding the human burials was water­screened through one­eighth­inch mesh (3.18  mm). All frag­ments of faunal material were collected during the 2001 and 2002 seasons that focused on Church Knoll. During the 2003–05 seasons at Church Knoll, non­inhumation layers were still screened with quarter­inch mesh, but the small faunal fragments that were only identifiable to the ‘land mammal’ category were no longer collected from the thick, disturbed Stratum I layer that made up the upper layer of most of the Church Knoll excavation area. In the TUN excavation area, quarter­inch mesh was used during all years and for all layers above the longhouse. All faunal material that remained in the screen was col­lected. Soil samples of 4 litres were taken in 2006 and 2007 from each of the midden layers above the aban­doned longhouse.4 All occupation layers associated with the longhouse were excavated in 2008 and a minimum

4 See Byock and Zori, Chapter 1, Byock, Chapter 3, Zori, Chapter 5, and Milek and others, Chapter 11 in this volume for more information on the longhouse.

Table 12.1. Vertebrate remains from Hrísbrú, based on numbers of identified specimens (NISP) for identified taxa and the three excavation areas.

Common Name Scientific Name CK TUN Total

Atlantic cod Gadus morhua   2 2

cf. Cod cf. Gadidae   122 122

Herring Clupea sp. 12   12

Flat fish Pleuronectiformes   3 3

Bony fish Teleostei 9 250 259

Fish Total   21 377 398

Black guillemot Cepphus grylle   2 2

Puffin Fratercula arctica   9 9

Auk Alcidae (medium to small)  4 4

Auk (cf. Auklet) Alcidae (small)   14 14

Pink footed goose Anser brachyrhynchus   9 9

Ptarmigan Lagopus muta   2 2

Gull Larus sp. 1   1

Bird     8 8

Bird Total   1 48 49

Sheep/Goat Ovis/Capra 45 117 162

Sheep/Goat/Cattle Ovis/Capra/Bos 3 15 18

Cattle Bos taurus 11 202 213

Horse Equus caballus   3 3

Horse/Cattle Equus/Bos   3 3

Pig Sus scrofa 1 2 3

Small mammal   5   5

Land mammal   518 2804 3322

Land Mammal Total   583 3146 3729

Whale Cetacea 1 1 2

cf. Seal cf. Pinnipedia   10 10

cf. Marine mammal     3 3

Marine Mammal Total   1 14 15

Total   606 3585 4191

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 165

of ten litres of each layer from each 1 × 1 m grid square was floated over two­millimetre mesh screen for heavy fraction recovery.

Complete excavation of the inside of the longhouse in 2008 provided detailed information regarding the layout and organization of the internal space. The house offered well­preserved floor deposits, allowing for strati­graphic excavation of thirty­eight individual floor layers or contexts, revealing spatial differences in household activities. Each of these floor layers was excavated on a 1 metre sample grid and the soil was floated and screened through a flotation machine for maximum artefact and ecofact recovery. The one­by­one­metre sample squares allow us to understand the distribution of the smallest finds across the floors, thus providing high­resolution data on activity areas within the house.5

Laboratory Methods

The vertebrate faunal remains from Hrísbrú were sorted by vertebrate class at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology’s Zooarchaeology Laboratory (CIOA­ZL). More detailed taxonomic assignment (to species or genus) was usually limited to specimens with distin­guishing features sufficient to allow rapid identification to the given level. A total of 35 specimens, mostly bird

5 See Milek and others, Chapter 11 in this volume for analysis of the micromorpholoical samples of the floors, the geochemistry of the floor layers, and the microrefuse distribution across the long­house floor as reflections of activity patterns.

(Alcidae sp. and Lagopus muta), that fell outside the range of the CIOA­ZL reference collection were further analysed with the aid of the zoological collections at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. The general iden­tification and data recording methods are as follows.

Bones lacking discrete identifiable features were sorted into broad mammal size categories by class. For each discretely identifiable bone, a series of data were recorded, including catalogue number, complete prove­nience and screen size information, skeletal element, part of element, side, age, and modification.6 Data recorded regarding modification of bone specimens include evi­dence of burning, cut marks, gnaw marks, and indica­tions of tool or other artefact manufacture.

Use of the NISP (Number of Identified Specimens) measure is the most effective way to quantify a smaller sample of relatively poorly preserved faunal remains, such as was found at the Hrísbrú site.7 By this method, each fragment that can be identified to a taxonomic level is counted individually. This quantification method is also the most widely used in previously analysed collec­tions from the North Atlantic, and is therefore employed in this chapter. In only a few contexts could an MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) be established as exceeding one individual.

6 Grayson, Quantitative Zooarchaeology; Lyman, Quantitative Paleozoology; Reitz and Wing, Zooarchaeology.

7 Amorosi and McGovern, ‘A Preliminary Report of an Archaeofauna from Granastaðir’, p. 184.

Graph 12.1. The percentage of all specimen counts from the Hrísbrú Church Knoll and tún (TUN) excavations divided into four major categories and showing the Hrísbrú inhabitants

primary reliance on domesticated land mammals.

Graph 12.2. Percentages of the faunal collection represented by major specimen types, excluding finds that were identified as general

‘land mammal’. Compare this chart with the chart in Graph 12.1, which includes bones recognizable only as ‘land mammal’.

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166 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

The Fauna from the Longhouse and Midden Layers in the TUN Excavation Area

The faunal material from the TUN excavation area, including the longhouse and several midden layers dumped on top of it, had the greatest taxonomical vari­ety and the most precisely datable assemblage from the Hrísbrú site. Much of the material in this area, particu­larly the finds collected from the surface layers of the longhouse, can be associated directly with the occupa­tion of the Viking Age longhouse. The deposits in this area were clearly stratified and, below the top few lay­ers, had not been disturbed by natural post­depositional processes or human activity.

A distinct Katla tephra layer from ad 1500 capped most of the deposits, firmly dating the vast majority of the material to the Medieval Period preceding the erup­

tion. Layers of turf collapse from the walls and roof of the longhouse separate the strata associated with the longhouse from those dumped into the abandoned house, allowing for clear separation of the sampled material and a comparison of the food remains from the longhouse and post­longhouse occupation at the Hrísbrú site. The faunal finds are presented according to their broad temporal and super­contextual association or phase in Table 12.2 and by the rooms of the long­house in Table 12.3, while Tables 12.4 and 12.5 show the archaeofauna divided into individual contexts associated with the longhouse and with the overlying midden lay­ers respectively (see also Graphs 12.3 and 12.4). Phase I comprises the layers related to the occupation of the longhouse. Phase ii contains the archaeological depos­its of the collapsing house, such as the toppled walls and the collapsed roof. Phase iii is made up of midden lay­

Table 12.2. Number of identified specimens (NISP) for vertebrate remains found at the TUN site separated into larger super­context divisions. ‘Longhouse’ finds are from surface layers and internal features in the Viking Age longhouse. The ‘House Collapse’ group consists of finds from contexts of the collapsed turf and stone walls and roof of the longhouse. The ‘Pre­1500 Midden’ finds are from midden layers dumped into the cavity of the abandoned longhouse from a nearby (but unidentified) later medieval house. The ‘Pre­1500 Midden’ layers pre­date the ad 1500 Katla tephra layer, while the layers included in the ‘Post­1500’ group were found above the Katla tephra.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Phase I Longhouse

Phase II House Collapse

Phase III Pre-1500 Midden

Phase V Post-1500

Total

Atlantic cod Gadus morhua 1   1   2

cf. Cod cf. Gadidae 122       122

Flat fish Pleuronectiformes 3       3

Bony fish Teleostei 241   9   250

Black guillemot Cepphus grylle 1   1   2

Puffin Fratercula arctica 9       9

Auk Alcidae (medium to small) 4       4

Auk (cf. Auklet) Alcidae (small) 14       14

Pink footed goose Anser brachyrhynchus       9 9

Ptarmigan Lagopus muta 2       2

Bird   7   1   8

Sheep/Goat Ovis/Capra 64 2 38 4 108

Cattle Bos taurus 10 50 140 1 201

Sheep/Goat/Cattle Ovis/Capra/Bos 13   2   15

Horse/Cattle Equus/Bos 1   1 1 3

Horse Equus caballus     3   3

Pig Sus scrofa 1   1   2

Land mammal   2492 52 221 36 2801

Whale Cetacea 1       1

cf. Seal cf. Pinnipedia 8   2   10

cf. Marine mammal       3   3

Total   2994 104 423 51 3572

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 167

Table 12.3. Numbers of identified specimens (NISP) for vertebrate remains from the Hrísbrú longhouse, by identified taxa and five spatial units within the house.

Common Name Central Hall East Room Intermediary Area West Doorway West Room Total

Atlantic cod         1 1

cf. Cod 121     1   122

Flat fish 3         3

Bony fish 173 9 3 16 40 241

Fish Total 297 9 3 17 41 367

Black guillemot         1 1

Puffin   8     1 9

Auk (medium to small)   4       4

Auk (cf. Auklet)   10     4 14

Ptarmigan 2         2

Bird 5 1   1   7

Bird Total 7 23   1 6 37

Sheep/Goat 21 5 13 5 20 64

Sheep/Goat/Cattle 6 1 1   5 13

Cattle 6   1 2 1 10

Horse/Cattle   1       1

Pig   1       1

Land mammal 1240 206 242 258 546 2492

Land Mammal Total 1273 214 257 265 572 2581

Whale 1         1

cf. Seal 8         8

Marine Mammal Total 9         9

Total 1586 246 260 283 619 2994

Graph 12.3. Comparison of the percentage of the assemblage from four broad periods of the TUN excavation area made up of marine mammal, bird, fish, and land mammal.

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168 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

ers dumped on top of the ruins of the collapsed house. Phase iv was created by a long­term process of aeolian sediment deposition that post­dates the midden deposits and predates the ad 1500 Katla tephra. Phase v consists of layers post­dating the ad 1500 tephra.

A total NISP of 3586 pieces of faunal material was recovered from the TUN area. 2994 pieces are associated with the longhouse occupation, 104 were found within the turf and stone layers from the collapsed longhouse, 424 derive from the midden layers pre­dating ad 1500, and 51 specimens have come from the top layers that post­date ad 1500. In the following discussion, the fau­nal material from the TUN site is treated and compared according to these four temporal periods.

Faunal Material from the Longhouse Occupation Layers

The large number and excellent preservation of the floor layers within the Hrísbrú longhouse, as well as the rigor­ous sampling methods of the excavation, make the recov­ered faunal collection an exceptional opportunity to study food refuse in its primary context. At other archae­ological sites in Iceland and the Norse North Atlantic,

the vast majority of the faunal remains derive from mid­den layers dumped outside of houses. The Hrísbrú col­lection, on the other hand, consists of food waste depos­ited in the same building where the food was cooked and consumed. Although some of the material in these floor layers was deposited unintentionally as bones fell and ash settled on the floor, it is likely that portions of these floor layers were purposefully created with hearth waste. Ethnographically in Iceland, hearth material was used to ‘clean’ floors, take away odours, and flatten walking surfaces.8 Such actions appear likely in the Hrísbrú long­house, considering the presence of calcined bone in floor layers in rooms of the house that did not have hearths. Only the central room or hall contained a hearth.

The sample of 2994 faunal bones from the occupation layers inside the longhouse demonstrates the consider­able variability in the diet of the inhabitants of the long­house (see Tables 12.2 and 12.3). Domesticated animals dominate the assemblage, but fragments of wild animal bones show that the inhabitants of the longhouse supple­

8 Milek, ‘Houses and Households in Early Icelandic Society’. See also, Chapter 11 in this volume.

Graph 12.4. NISP of marine mammal, land mammal, bird, and fish in separate spatial units of the Hrísbrú longhouse.

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 169

mented their diet through fowling, fish­ing and hunting. The burned bone found in occupation surfaces indicates that the inhabitants ate the common Norse sta­ples of sheep/goat, cattle, fish (flat fish and cod), pig, and seal. A single whale bone specimen found in the central hall might be remains of an artefact, such as a chopping board, or of raw material for tool manufacture. Several bones exhibit visible modifications, including indica­tions of butchering practices, rodent gnawing, and bone ornament manufac­ture. Three pieces of worked bone recov­ered in floor layers inside the longhouse show the use of bone as tools and apparel. Two of these are the heads of small bone pins, while the third may be either the head of a pin or a hand­hold for the produc­tion of a larger bone artefact (Figure 12.1).9

The analysis of the faunal material from the longhouse presented here considers the separate rooms and divided spaces of the house (see Table 12.3 and Graphs 12.5 and 12.6). The distribution and breaks in floor layers indicate divisions of the house into five separate rooms: the cen­

9 See also Hansen and others, Chapter 9 in this volume.

tral hall, the eastern gable room, the western gable room, the elongated western entranceway, and an antechamber or ‘intermediary area’ between the western gable room and the central hall (see Figure 1.3). Other smaller divi­sions in space existed, such as the bench layers that were raised above the floor layers in the central hall, individ­ual pit features, and a particularly clear alcove in the east­ern gable room. The layers or contexts (abbreviated as ‘C­’ followed by an identifying number) from the long­house occupation that produced faunal material include bench layers (C­11, 12, and 137), post hole fill (C­21, 62, 87, and 191), hearth contents (C­18), fill of pit fea­

Figure 12.1. Worked bone found in the Hrísbrú longhouse. A) Bone pin head (F­2008­266) found in the western entrance.

B) Worked bone (F­2007­208) found in the central hall. This piece served either as the head of a pin or a hand­hold meant to be broken off after completion of a larger worked

bone object (Mosfell Archaeological Project).

Graph 12.5. Comparison of the NISP of domesticated animal bones recovered from the separate spatial units of the Hrísbrú longhouse.

Graph 12.6. Comparative graph showing the NISP of wild animal bones recovered from the separate

spatial units of the Hrísbrú longhouse.

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170 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

Table 12.4. Number of identified specimens (NISP) in contexts associated with the habitation of the longhouse at Hrísbrú.

Taxon/ Context 11 12 14 18 19 21 40 62 87 88 94 95 115 137 141 145 146 147 156 157 158

Atlantic cod             1                            

cf. Cod                         1                

Flat fish   3                                      

Bony fish   156 8 6 2   33         2 16     1 4        

Black guillemot             1                            

Puffin             1                            

Auk (medium to small)                                          

Auk (small, cf. Auklet)             4                            

Ptarmigan       1                                  

Bird 1   1 1                 1                

Sheep/Goat   2 8 2 1   13       2 9 5     2 3 1      

Sheep/Goat/Cattle 1   3 2     4     1   1                  

Cattle 1 3 2       1         1 2                

Horse/Cattle                                          

Pig               1                          

Land mammal 34 143 579 75 141 1 263 18 9   80 214 258 1 16 93 59 38 6 2 24

cf. Seal         8                                

Whale         1                                

Total 37 307 601 87 153 1 321 19 9 1 82 227 283 1 16 96 66 39 6 2 24

Table 12.4. (cont.)

Taxon/ Context 161 162 163 168 182 183 184 190 191 192 202 203 209 214 235 TOTAL

Atlantic cod                               1

cf. Cod                             121 122

Flat fish                               3

Bony fish       1 3   1       5     3   241

Black guillemot                               1

Puffin                     8         9

Auk (medium to small)                     4         4

Auk (small, cf. Auklet)       3             7         14

Ptarmigan                             1 2

Bird       1                     2 7

Sheep/Goat   1   1 3   4 5       2       64

Sheep/Goat/Cattle   1                           13

Cattle                               10

Horse/Cattle                       1       1

Pig                               1

Land mammal 4 176 19 9 25 16 28 15 7 28 9 57 3 33 9 2492

cf. Seal                               8

Whale                               1

Total 4 178 19 15 31 16 33 20 7 28 33 60 3 36 133 2994

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 171

tures (C­40, 1421, 146, 161, 162, 182, 184, 235) and floor layers (C­14, 19, 88, 94, 95, 115, 145, 147, 156, 157, 158, 163, 168, 183, 190, 192, 202, 203, 209, 214) (see Table 12.4).10

For analytical clarity and to maintain significant sample sizes, analysis based on room division is most suitable. The fragmented and relatively small size of the specimens in the collection from the longhouse means that the sexing of specimens was not possible and the age of the animals was most often unclear. Nevertheless, five specimens of sheep/goat bone from the longhouse came from juvenile animals, while two juvenile cattle could be discerned. The lack of age and sex distribution makes inferences on the economy at the site, above the level of species present, unfeasible. The MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) in the longhouse is no more than 1 for each species.

The assemblage from the longhouse contained 367 fish bone fragments from fifteen different contexts rang­ing across all spatial units of the longhouse. The large majority of these fish bones – eighty­one per cent of the total count – were recovered from the surface layers in the central hall, suggesting they were consumed in this area. While most of the fish bones could only be iden­tified as Teleostei (bony fish), a large sample of Gadidae (cod family) bones was identified in contexts C­40, 115, and 235, and three examples of Pleuronectiformes (flat fish) were identified from bench surface C­12 (Table 12.4). Two of the contexts with cod bone concentrations – C­40 in the western gable room and C­235 in the cen­tral hall – consisted of secondarily deposited pit fill.

The three specimens of flat fish were recovered from the southern bench surface of the central hall, C­12, which contained the most fish bones of any context in the house.

One substantial whale bone piece and eight frag­ments of marine mammal (cf. seal) bone were found in the top floor layer in the central hall of the longhouse (C­19). Marine mammal was differentiated from terres­trial mammals by their closed marrow cavity and diag­nostic cancellous tissue patterns. No other layers asso­ciated with the occupation of the longhouse contained examples of marine mammal bone. The seal was prob­ably hunted for food, while the whale bone might have been scavenged for tool use.

Bird bones appeared in all the rooms of the house: contexts 11, 14, 18, and 235 in the central hall, con­

10 See Table 11.1 in Chapter 11 for summary field descriptions of the floor layers in the house at Hrísbrú.

texts 168, 202 in the eastern gable room, context 115 in the western doorway, and context 40 in the western gable room. Bird bone appeared in the greatest variety of contexts in the central hall, including a bench surface, a floor layer, the central hearth, and a refuse pit. Eight puffin (Fratercula arctica) bones came from a small and thin floor layer in the eastern gable room of the long­house (C­202; see Table 12.4). This floor layer, almost certainly a single event dump, is the lowest floor layer in this part of the house. It is likely that all of the puffin bone derives from a single animal that served as a meal early in the occupation history of the longhouse. The ashes from this meal were then used to level the surface adjacent to a post hole.

Land mammal bones (N=2581 specimens) make up the majority (86%) of the faunal assemblage from the deposits associated with the longhouse. Most of the bones are very small fragments, only identifiable as land mammal, although sheep, cattle, and pig bones were recorded. Almost half (N=1273) of bone fragments were found in the central hall of the longhouse. Sheep bones were found in all the rooms of the house and cat­tle bones were unearthed in every room except the east­ern gable room. A single bone fragment from floor layer C­14 in the central hall shows rodent gnawing marks, suggesting the presence of mice in the house. Mice inad­vertently followed the Viking Age settlers of Iceland and are regularly identified at the excavated domestic sites of this period.11

A single pig canine found in the bottom of a post hole (F­2007­83 in C­62) in the eastern gable room is particularly interesting because of the find context. No other pig bones were recorded in the floor layers of the longhouse and the single canine is not likely to represent food refuse. The fact that the pig tusk was found in a post hole context raises the possibility that it was a founda­tion deposit, deliberately placed there during the initial construction of the house. Suspected foundation depos­its in buildings, often bone or teeth, are well known in Northern Europe and Iceland, since before the Iron Age and into the modern period. The deposition of cranial and mandibular elements generally increased after the migration period and into the Viking Age.12 Foundation deposits, including a cattle mandible and gaming pieces, were recorded in post holes at the contemporary Phase i (c. 940–980) long house at Hofstaðir in NE Iceland.13

11 Jones and others, ‘Fellow Travelers’.12 Carlie, ‘Ancient Building Cults’, pp. 206–11.13 Lucas, ‘Hofstaðir in the Settlement Period’, pp. 394–95.

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172 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

Pig teeth have also been recorded in other, more defini­tive ritual contexts in Iceland, namely in two Viking Age burials.14

Evidence of butchery practices in the Hrísbrú long­house was found on five land mammal bones. The butch­ery practices included both chops and slices with iron tools. ‘Chops’, heavier blows with an axe or cleaver caus­ing shearing and crushing on impact, are usually associ­ated with initial butchery or early stages of cooking.15 In contrast, ‘slices’, are more controlled cuts with a knife that would probably be more common at the table.16 Three of the five bone fragments with butchery marks were parts of ribs. Three of the bones came from floor layer C­95 in the intermediary area. One cattle rib from C­95 exhib­its several cut marks. An Artiodactyla rib fragment from C­95 and a land mammal bone fragment from floor layer C­14 in the central hall both show clear chop marks, dis­tinguished by bone being pushed aside on either side of the mark from the force of the blow. Another bone frag­ment from C­95 has several chop marks that could be either for marrow extraction or an attempt at tool manu­facture. Several cut marks on a second distal phalanx of a cow recovered in bench surface C­12 may be from the removal of the hide rather than food processing. These cut marks were made at the top of the hoof at the edge of the fur­bearing part of the skin by the toes. Finally, one rib fragment from C­203 in the eastern gable room has a visible slice mark. It is suggestive that three of five bones with cut marks appear in the intermediary area, where food storage and perhaps butchery took place. This is especially true since micromorphological analysis of floor layer C­95 in the intermediary area identified very small fragments of unburned chopped bone, consistent with the interpretation that meat butchering took place in this room.17 However, the redeposition of ash from the central hearth, makes it difficult to establish with any certainty that the distribution of these burned bones with butchery marks reflects the location of butchery activities.

14 A pig molar in burial iii at Hafurbjarnarstaðir (Personal communication, 15 April 2012 with Rúnar Leifsson who has conducted unpublished analysis of the Hafurbjarnarstaðir animal bone assemblage) and a pig mandible in a burial at the Viking Age harbour of Kolkuós (Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, personal communication, 15 April 2012).

15 McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna’, p. 182.16 McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna’, p. 182.17 See the discussion of this micromorphology evidence in

Milek and others, Chapter 11 in this volume.

A comparison of the faunal bone material recovered in each of the rooms of the house shows that the central hall, where eating and cooking took place, included the largest number of finds as well as the greatest variation in species (Table 12.3 and Graphs 12.5 and 12.6). The central hall contained the greatest abundance of mam­mal specimens, about 81% of all fish remains and the only remains of sea mammals (Table 12.3).18 The num­bers and variety of bones from the central halls supports the interpretation of this room as the primary communal space in the house. It also lends supporting evidence to the logical idea that people regularly ate and worked in the central hall, where they could sit or rest on benches close to the hearth.19

Of the 2994 bone specimens found in the occupation layers of the house, 1586 specimens come from the cen­tral hall, which is more than from the rest of the house combined. The western gable room yielded the second­most with 619 specimens, followed by the west doorway with 283, the intermediary area with 260, and the east­ern gable room with 246. The difference in raw specimen counts between rooms is, to a varying degree, caused by two factors: human activity and taphonomy. For instance, the high bone count in the central hall partially reflects an activity concentration of food preparation and consumption. This is a natural result of people eat­ing in the central hall around the hearth and depositing bone refuse into the fire after meals. On the other hand, the high count of specimens in the central hall must also be affected by taphonomical factors, such as trampling and floor thickness. The number of individual specimens is increased not only by thicker floor layers in the central hall, but also by fragmentation of individual bone pieces subjected to the heavy foot­traffic in the central aisle and around the hearth. The raw specimen count could there­fore mask actual activities by the pronounced and spa­tially confined processes of hearth cycling and trampling.

Food was not necessarily consumed on a regular basis elsewhere in the house, even though large numbers of faunal remains were found in the other rooms. Most of the specimens in the other rooms appear to be intention­ally redeposited from the hearth in the central hall. For

18 The seal bone discovered in the central hall is probably food refuse, while the whale bone is more likely the remains of craftworking.

19 This interpretation is suggested by the organization of structure and historical sources. For further archaeological data supporting this for the Hrísbrú house, see Milek and others, Chapter 11 in this volume.

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 173

instance, the east room has the highest number of bird bone due to the presence of nineteen burnt specimens of puffin and auk. The specimens of both species all derive from a single layer, C­202, and they each have a MNI of one, which strengthens the argument that remains from the hearth were purposefully collected and applied to floors in the house. If the puffin was discarded in the eastern room immediately after being eaten, its bones would not be burnt, and if its remains had spread unin­tentionally from the hearth, it is unlikely that so many parts of a single individual would be discovered in such close proximity to one another and so far from the cen­tral hearth.

The pattern seen in the bone assemblage from the floors of the longhouse is surely caused by a mixture of factors. Virtually the entire assemblage, from all rooms, is calcined and has most likely been redeposited after being burnt in the hearth in the central hall. This is sup­ported by the consistent ratio of identified land mammal to unidentified land mammal specimens (Table 12.5), which is not significantly different between rooms. The greatest variation is between the intermediary area, where 6.2% of land mammal specimens can be identified to species, and the central hall and west doorway where species could be determined for only 2.7% of cases. The low percentage of identifiable species from the narrow entranceway and the central hall should be attributed to localized fragmentation by trampling. A greater differ­ence in the ratio of identified/unidentified land mam­mals between rooms would have been a stronger indica­tion of difference in activities. The reasons for the greatly varying number of specimens between areas within the house, however, cannot be entirely explained by tapho­nomical conditions and must be sought in the different activities taking place within the house.

Table 12.5. Ratio of identified land mammal specimens to unidentified land mammal specimens by room.

Central Hall

East Room

Intermediary Area

West Doorway

West Room

2.7% 3.9% 6.2% 2.7% 4.8%

The ratio of identified mammal specimens between the rooms (Table 12.6) reveals that 37.1% of all mammal specimens identified to species level were found in the central hall. The western gable room also yielded a high ratio of 29.2%, although this room had a much lower total count of mammal specimens than the central hall. The high ratio of mammal bone identified to the species level in the western gable room is due to a localized deposit

of relatively unfragmented bones in the fill of a shallow pit (C­40), which included 13 identifiable sheep bones. However, the high ratio of identified mammal specimens from the central hall is a direct product of the large num­ber of total bone specimens recovered in this room.

Table 12.6. Ratio of identified land mammal specimens between rooms.

Central Hall

East Room

Intermediary Area

West Doorway

West Room

Total

37,1% 8,9% 16,9% 7,9% 29,2% 100%

The high number of bone specimens in the central hall is partially due to the large volume of floor deposits in this room, the presence of the hearth, and to taphonomical issues such as trampling. But even these issues are reflec­tions of the use of this room as the centre of activity in the house. The majority of the bone found in the floor layers of all areas of the longhouse derives from activi­ties in the central hall. After consumption or craft pro­duction taking place in the central hall, refuse bone was burnt in the hearth. Some of the bone spilled out onto the floor of the hall, while other portions were inten­tionally deposited in the different rooms of the house to level floors and neutralize odours.

Faunal Material from Medieval Midden Layers

The midden layers (Phase iii) that were dumped into the cavity of the abandoned longhouse by later medi­eval inhabitants of the Hrísbrú site yielded a stratified and temporally controllable sample of faunal bones that sheds light on the economy of the post­longhouse medi­eval farm. Together these midden layers yielded 424 specimens. Just over half of these (N=221) were not dis­tinguishable beyond the category of land mammal, but the other half of the collection showed significant varia­bility in the diet of the medieval inhabitants of Hrísbrú. Cattle bones outnumbered all other species, but fish, sheep, pig, horse, marine mammal, and wild fowl are also represented (Table 12.7). Carbon dating of barley seed samples from several of the midden layers dumped into the cavity of the longhouse indicates that these midden layers date to a period very soon after the abandonment of the longhouse, probably in the late tenth or more likely the early eleventh century (see Graph 1.1 in chap­ter one of this volume for carbon dates).

A comparison of the contents of each of the indi­vidual midden layers shows that C­34 contained almost half (44%, N=187 specimens) of the total counts of the recovered animal bone. C­34 was the last midden layer

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174 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

to be dumped in the collapsed ruins of the longhouse and covers the entire eastern end of the longhouse cav­ity, sloping up the sides of the structure’s collapsed walls. The midden contained a concentration of fire­cracked stones that were secondarily deposited in the longhouse cavity, probably from hearth cleaning activities at the nearby but as yet unidentified house. Midden layer C­34 contained burned and degraded unburned bone, includ­ing cattle teeth and mandibles and mussel periostra­cum.20 One unidentifiable land mammal bone had clear cut marks. Context 34 also contained the most variation of the any of the midden layers, including cattle, horse, sheep, cod, and black guillemot. This was the only mid­den layer containing any bird bone and also the only midden layer with fish bone identifiable as cod. C­34 was the only midden layer to supply a MNI (minimum number of individuals) higher than 1, as it included bones from at least two cattle (two right lower M1) and two sheep (two lower left M1).

The oldest midden layers (C­8, 9, and 44), taken together, appear to have a faunal profile distinct from the rest of the overlying midden layers. Interestingly, there are few diagnostic cattle and sheep bone from these lay­ers (Table 12.7). These older midden layers contain five of the six examples of marine mammal bone and the only pig bone post­dating the longhouse. There has been some

20 The periostracum is the thin organic skin that makes up the outer layer of mussel shells.

discussion in Iceland about the presence of pigs after the initial settlement period, as they were less adaptable to the Icelandic environment after the forests had been cleared.21 Pigs are common in Icelandic sites from the ninth to the eleventh centuries, but then grow increas­ingly rare in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.22 The single pig bone here illustrates that pigs were still present after the abandonment of the longhouse sometime in the late tenth or early eleventh century. Due to sample size, however, the absence of pig bone from any of the later midden layers is by itself not a reliable indicator as to when pig husbandry ceased at Hrísbrú.

Although the midden layers are not contemporary, a comparison of them as a unit (i.e. Phase iii of the long­house excavation area) with the faunal material from the longhouse occupation layers (Phase i) provides broad­based suggestions about the similarities and differences between the Viking Age economy centred on the long­house and the economy that persisted at the Hrísbrú farm after the abandonment of the longhouse (see Table 12.2 and Graph 12.3). Among the clearest patterns from the comparison of these two periods is the greater num­ber and higher percentage of fish bone found in the long­house occupation layers. This dramatic difference has to

21 Amorosi and McGovern, ‘A Preliminary Report of an Archaeo­fauna from Granastaðir’.

22 Ragnar Edvardsson and McGovern, ‘Archaeological Exca va­tions at Vatnsfjörður 2003–04’, p. 26.

Table 12.7. Number of identified specimens (NISP) for vertebrate remains recovered from midden layers dumped inside the cavity of the abandoned longhouse in the TUN excavation area.

Taxon / Context 8 9 15 34 36 38 39 44 47 65 142 Midden Total

Atlantic cod       1               1

Bony fish 3     1     5         9

Black guillemot       1               1

Bird 1                     1

Sheep/Goat     3 30     4 1       38

Sheep/Goat/Cattle   1 1                 2

Cattle   5   44 71 20           140

Horse/Cattle       1               1

Horse       1     1 1       3

Pig               1       1

Land mammal 31 37 7 108   6 24   2 1 5 221

cf. Seal 2                     2

cf. Marine mammal 3                     3

Total 40 43 11 187 71 26 34 3 2 1 5 423

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 175

be viewed in light of the recovery methods. The floor lay­ers were floated over two millimetre mesh. Only ten litres of each of the Phase iii midden layers were treated in this way while the rest was screened over quarter­inch mesh. Therefore these data should not be interpreted as an indi­cation of a greater reliance on fish in the diet of the earlier settlers at Hrísbrú. It does, on the other hand, reflect con­tinued use of marine resources by the later inhabitants.

The midden layers contained 140 cattle bones, whereas the layers related to the longhouse (Phase i and ii), which yielded a much larger number of specimens in total, only yielded sixty identifiable cattle bones. Depositional pro­cesses for the inside of a structure as opposed to a midden dumping can in large part account for this discrepancy. The midden layers contained many more cattle teeth, sometimes attached to fragmented jaw bones. Cattle teeth are diagnostically more recognizable than small fragmented limb bones, for example. The jaw bones and teeth were probably among the bones that were collected and discarded outside of the house, thus ending up more frequently in middens than trampled into floor deposits. The examples of fish bone and cattle bone counts illus­trate some of the difficulties and methodological hurdles in direct comparisons of species ratios.

Despite these challenges, what does stand out is that there seems to be a broad continuation in subsistence practices at Hrísbrú from the earliest phase at least into the eleventh century, with a heavy reliance on cattle and sheep, supplemented with pigs for meat, hunting of seal, fishing and fowling. Interestingly, evidence of the con­sumption of horse meat is found both in the earliest and latest layers of the phase iii midden. Eating horse meat was supposedly frowned upon after Christianization,23 although scant horse remains are sometimes found in later middens at other Norse sites.24 Since the Christian church and longhouse at Hrísbrú were contemporane­ous for a period of time before the abandonment of the house, this is probably an example of the continued con­sumption of horse meat in spite of any new theological limitation on long­established culinary practices.

Faunal Material from Post-1500 Layers (Phase v)

Very little faunal material was recovered from the layers post­dating ad 1500 (Table 12.2). In most areas, the in situ Katla ad 1500 tephra appeared only a few centime­

23 Jennbert, Animals and Humans: Recurrent Symbiosis, p. 149.24 For overview of Icelandic zooarchaeological data, see, for

example, Amorosi, ‘Icelandic Zooarchaeology’.

tres below the topsoil and occasionally included in the sod roots. The most interesting archaeofaunal find from these top layers were several calcined elements of an adult pink footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) recov­ered within the Katla 1500 tephra. Since the pink footed goose is a highland bird species,25 this bird was probably brought to Hrísbrú from outside of the valley.

The Fauna from Kirkjuhóll (Church Knoll)

The bone collection from the Church Knoll (CK) area was mostly recovered from a large stratum of mixed soils (Stratum i) disturbed by the grave shafts for the human inhumations surrounding the medieval church, as well as a later structure constructed atop this area. This small post­medieval building was itself very poorly preserved and it was only possible to identify disjointed wall frag­ments. Land mammal bones made up the vast majority of the faunal bone collection from CK, with 551 identified pieces. Twenty­one fish bone pieces and one bird bone fragment were also identified from CK. No clear occu­pation layers could be associated with the post­medieval building. The result is a mostly mixed and non­stratified collection of faunal material that can only be treated as a whole with no temporal control. The two notable excep­tions are a whale bone amulet found in grave Feature 4 and a shallow midden pit (Feature 10).

Burial Feature 4 contained the bones of a young man reburied beside the church chancel. Intermixed with his bones was a carved whale bone (c. 10 × 13 cm) with several lines incised on the surface. This object may be a talisman relating to pagan cultic belief. Radiocarbon dating of a bone sample from this individual resulted in a calibrated 14C date range of ad 780–980, indicating that the individual died and was initially interred well before the official conversion to Christianity in ad  1000.26 The theory of a curative talisman is strengthened by the fact that the young man in this reburial died of an ear infection that evolved into a gruesome brain abscess. The early date of this burial, the inclusion of the whale bone amulet, as well as the very early date of the church, strongly suggest that this reburial could only have come from a pagan site.

25 McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna’, p. 225.26 See 14C dates (sample number Beta­244587 from Beta

Analytic) reported in Table 7.11 in Zori, ‘From Viking Chiefdoms to Medieval State in Iceland’, pp. 413–15. See the original description of Feature 4 in Byock and others, Pagan and Christian Burial Sites at Hrísbrú.

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176 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

Identified in 2001 to the southeast of the church, Feature 10 was a closed context pit with dense trash mid­den fill containing the richest faunal assemblage found in the Kirkjuhóll excavations. Feature 10 was strati­graphically beneath one of the burials (Burial Feature 6). A small carbonized twig was carbon dated to a calibrated age of ad 900–90, making it almost certain that this pit was connected with the contemporary occupation of the longhouse located about twenty metres to the north.27 Feature 10 contained ninety small fragments of uniden­tifiable land mammal bone and one pig element. Also within this feature were the ulnar carpal of a Larus sp. (gull, probably a herring gull) and twelve herring verte­brae, including one first vertebra. Only one of these fish bone vertebrae was calcined. The relatively good preser­vation of this feature must be explained by the alkalinity of the soil matrix, which consisted almost exclusively of charcoal and ash. One worked and polished bone needle made from terrestrial mammal bone was also recovered from Feature 10. This small feature made up most of the variation in the faunal remains from CK, contributing the only bird bone and twelve of the twenty­one fish bone pieces. Feature 10 also accounted for the only iden­tifiable pig specimen at Church Knoll.

Outside of Feature 10, the rest of the faunal assem­blage from CK consisted almost exclusively of non­iden­tifiable land mammal and a few cattle, sheep, and fish bone fragments that were not identifiable to species. No clear patterns of the distribution of this material were distinguishable.

Discussion: The Hrísbrú Archaeofauna in Wider Context

The faunal assemblage from Hrísbrú is in many ways typical of archaeofauna collections from other Viking Age and medieval Icelandic settlement sites. The domes­tic and wild fauna species across most Icelandic sites are quite similar in their limited variation, but the percent­ages of identified taxa vary considerably between the sites. Sites often show localized stress on one or the other wild or domestic species, which in some cases can be attributed to regional and environmental differences.28

27 See the radiocarbon dates (sample number Beta­165332 from Beta Analytic) in Byock, Walker, Erlandson, and Holck, Viking Age Graves in the Mosfell Valley.

28 Amorosi, ‘Contributions to the Zooarchaeology of Iceland’; Amorosi and McGovern, ‘A Preliminary Report of an Archaeofauna from Granastaðir’.

This, in conjunction with distributions of sex and age­at­death of domestic species, can illustrate differences in local subsistence strategies. Comparison of Hrísbrú with other Viking Age sites must take into consideration the find contexts of the Hrísbrú bone assemblage. A major­ity of the collection originates in floor layers, not in mid­dens. Due to this, age and sex can in very few instances be discerned, prohibiting a detailed reconstruction of farming and animal husbandry practices. Nonetheless, what can be determined with certainty and discussed in light of other contemporary sites is the range of the species present. Even with the contextual skews, the spe­cies distribution presents interesting patterns when com­pared to other Icelandic sites.

The archaeofauna from Hrísbrú illustrates a diversi­fied subsistence economy that, through the longhouse and post­longhouse periods, utilized terrestrial domes­ticates and fish, as well as marine mammals and birds. The catchment area extended from the sea, where fish, bird and seal were obtained, to highland areas where the ptarmigan resides. The inhabitants of Hrísbrú, as with most other Norse settlers of the North Atlantic, relied primarily on the terrestrial domesticates that they brought from Scandinavia. Sheep/goats and cattle were the most important domesticated food sources, but at least initially, pigs also supplied some meat. In the ear­liest period at Hrísbrú, represented best by the assem­blage from the longhouse occupation layers but also by a pit midden on CK, domesticated fauna was substan­tially supplemented by fish and, to a lesser degree, by hunting of marine mammals. The ratio of fish is much lower in the phase iii middens on top of the abandoned long house. As discussed above, however, this alone cannot be taken as a sign of a decline in the contribu­tion of fish to the diet of later generations at Hrísbrú. The differences in refuse deposition practices between floors and middens is bound to have had an effect on the assemblage, and finer sampling methods, which would favour retrieval of small fish specimens, were applied to the floor layers than the midden layers. The overall ratio of cattle to caprine bones identified in the faunal assemblage suggests a preference for cattle­raising and supports the potential of the Hrísbrú fauna to sustain a chiefly political economy. The fact that this trend is more pronounced in the phase iii middens than in the floor layers is the result of depositional and taphonomic factors, such as the deposition of jaws in middens and the fact that identification of large mammal bone at spe­cies level is easier in midden deposits than in burnt and highly fragmented floor deposits.

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 177

The material from the long house at Hrísbrú exhibits a species ratio distinct from the faunal assemblag es recovered from other Viking Age house s ites excavate d with comparable mod­ern methods, such as Granastaðir, Vatnsfjörður, and Hofstaðir. Differences in percentages of identi­fied specimens between the sites indicate a more intensive utilization of pig and horse meat at Granastaðir, a greater re­liance on marine mam­mals at Vatnsfjörður, and a preference for fish at Hrísbrú.29 The greater re­liance on fish at Hrísbrú c a nn o t b e e xp l a in e d solely by proximity to the coast, since Vatnsfjörður lies even closer to the sea. Furthermore, it is a common feature of Norse sites in Iceland and Greenland that even inland sites such as Hofstaðir, as well as far­interior sites such as Aðalból in Hrafnkelsdalur, still have significant quantities of fish bones.30 The relative abundance of fish bones at Hrísbrú suggests that the farm had excellent access to the prod­ucts of fishing in the region. This access may have been based on trade, but could also reflect the control the chieftains at Hrísbrú may have had over the area and the other early farms, particularly Leirvogstunga, which lies immediately out to the sea (see Map 1.1).31 The far reach of the farm is also exemplified, in other directions, by the presence of highland birds.

29 For Vatnsfjörður, see Ragnar Edvardsson and McGovern, ‘Archaeological Excavations at Vatnsfjörður 2003–04’; for Granastaðir, see Amorosi and McGovern, ‘A Preliminary Report of an Archaeofauna from Granastaðir’.

30 For Hofstaðir, see McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna’. For further comment on fish bones found at inland sites, see Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’. For Aðalból, see Amorosi, ‘Contributions to the Zooarchaeology of Iceland’.

31 For more on Leiruvogstunga, see Zori, Chapter 5 in this volume, as well as Lilja Björk Pálsdóttir and Oddgeir Hansson, Fornleifarannsóknir á Deiliskipulagssvæði í Leirvogstungu, Mosfellbæ.

Graph 12.7. Comparison of the cattle to caprine (sheep/goat) ratios in faunal assemblages from Hrísbrú, the eighth­ to ninth­

century Norwegian chiefly farm of Aaker, and Icelandic Viking Age farmsteads (late ninth to eleventh century). Hofstaðir, Granastaðir,

Sveigakot, Hrísheimar, and Skuggi are in northern Iceland, while Aðalstræti, Tjarnargata and Herjólfsdalur are in southern Iceland.

Vatnsfjörður is in the Westfjords (Northwest Iceland).32

The faunal assemblage from Hrísbrú has a cattle to caprine bone ratio that falls at the high end of the vari­ation documented at other ninth­ to eleventh­century Icelandic farms (Graph 12.7).33 The high status eighth­ to ninth­century farm at Aaker in southern Norway has been used as the ideal or model high status Norse farm that aspiring chieftains in Iceland would have attempted to emulate. The faunal assemblage of identifiable bones at Aaker shows an approximate ratio of two cattle bones

32 This graph incorporates data from Amorosi and McGovern, ‘A Preliminary Report of an Archaeofauna from Granastaðir’; McGovern, ‘The Demise of Norse Greenland’; McGovern, ‘Herding Strategies at Sveigakot, N Iceland’; McGovern, ‘The Midden’; McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna’; Albína H. Pálsdottir, Gorseline, and McGovern, ‘The Archaeofauna from Vatnsfjörður’; Tinsley and McGovern, Zooarchaeology of Aðalstræti 14–15, 2001; Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’.

33 Zori and others, ‘Feasting in Viking Age Iceland, pp. 150–65.

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178 Davide Zori, Thomas Wake, Jon Erlandson, and Rúnar Leifsson

to one sheep/goat bone.34 Preference for cattle has also been documented in Norse Greenland, where the higher status sites retain the economic focus on cattle through time. This was documented at W51 Sandnes in the Western Settlement in Greenland, which produced a one­to­one ratio in the eleventh and twelfth century and retained a 0.87 to 1 ratio into the fourteenth century. By contrast, at the low status W 48 farm also in the Western Settlement in Greenland, ratios from the early period show a relatively high 0.43 cattle to one caprine bone ratio, but this ratio declines to 0.13 cattle to one caprine in the fourteenth century.35

In Iceland, sheep could find food free range for most of the year, whereas cattle had to be kept indoors dur­ing winter months and provisioned with hay. The hay was collected during the summer from wetland meadows and homefields and stored for the winter.36 Raising cattle rather than sheep would have been more costly, requiring more labour, access to productive hayfields, and infra­structure for hay storage. Subsequent to the settlement of Iceland, households seeking to optimize their subsist­ence production would have preferred sheep­herding. Since pure subsistence pressures favoured caprine pasto­ralism, other cultural preferences and/or political needs for cattle must have outweighed subsistence considera­tions at high status farms.

Hrísbrú has a ratio of 1.92 cattle bones to one sheep bone, which is the highest ratio of any examined Viking Age faunal assemblage in Iceland. By contrast, the high­status feasting hall at Hofstaðir displayed a much lower cattle to caprine ratio of 0.33 to one. The assemblage from Tjarnargata in modern Reykjavík, had the ratio closest to the Hrísbrú assemblage with a cattle to caprine ratio of 1.85 to one. No clear regional patterns emerge as the other south­western Icelandic assemblage from Aðalstræti falls on the extreme low end of the variation and Herjólfsdalur, on the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland exhibited an intermediate cattle to caprine ratio of 0.9 to one. Potentially, one identifiable regional trend is the relatively low cattle to caprine ratios

34 McGovern, ‘ The Archaeofauna’, pp.  331–32; Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’, pp. 108–09.

35 Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’, pp. 108–09; McGovern, ‘Contributions to the Paleoeconomy of Norse Greenland’, pp. 73–122; McGovern, ‘Cows, Harp Seals, and Churchbells’, pp. 245–75.

36 Byock, Viking Age Iceland, pp. 53–54.

of the sites from north central Iceland (Granastaðir, Hofstaðir, Hrísheimar, and Skuggi).

Three potential factors have been identified as signifi­cant determinants in the ratio of cattle to caprine bones in Iceland: date, local environment, and status. The early sites from the ninth and tenth century tend to have a higher proportion of cattle bones, as the early Norse immigrants attempted to maintain their settlement sub­sistence package and their preference for cattle. The local environment in southern Iceland may have been more favourable to cattle­raising than in the north,37 although this hypothesis is not accepted by all. Finally, farmsteads of high status, whether in northern Iceland, southern Iceland, or Greenland, retained a higher ratio of cattle to caprine bones. All three factors favouring high cattle to caprine ratios are present at Hrísbrú. The farmstead is located in a favourable environment in southern Iceland and at the mouth of a valley that would have allowed extensive wetland meadow grazing of cattle. The wet­lands were a valuable resource for the Viking Age set­tlers of Iceland, particularly because of the availability of sedge that could be collected and stored for winter fod­der. The Hrísbrú assemblage is also early, dating mostly from the tenth to the eleventh century. Nevertheless the cattle to caprine ratio from the Hrísbrú assemblage still stands out at the high end of the variation found in other contemporary assemblages from the ninth to the eleventh century (all of the sites shown in Graph 12.7) as well as among the assemblages from sites in southern Iceland (i.e. Aðalstræti, Herjólfsdalur, and Tjarnargata). The high cattle ratio at Hrísbrú is therefore a clear reflec­tion of conscious and costly choices made by the inhabit­ants in order to retain and emphasize their social stand­ing.38 They maintained, at least into the eleventh cen­tury, a subsistence strategy based largely on the raising of cattle, consistent with contemporary high status ideals.

37 Orri Vésteinsson, McGovern, and Keller, ‘Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement’.

38 For the argument that the high cattle to caprine ratios is a reflection of the political economics of feasting driving the subsistence practices at Hrísbrú, see Zori and others, ‘Feasting in Viking Age Iceland, pp. 150–65.

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Viking Age Foodways at the Hrísbrú Farmstead 179

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