Beyond the farmstead: the role of dispersed dwellings in the settlement of Iceland
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Original versionIn: Mooney, D. E., Guðmundsdóttir, L., Dahl, B., Roberts, H. & Ramstad, M. (eds.), Expanding Horizons : Settlement Patterns and Outfield Land Use in the Norse North Atlantic, 45-64.
Norse farms of the Viking Age were organised in diverse ways, and adaptable to the variety of geographic, social, and ecological circumstances throughout Scandinavia and the Norse diaspora. Scandinavian farms show a range of dispersed infrastructure, including outfields, shielings, and specialised sites. Early settlers in Iceland also exploited the hinterland; however, settlement archaeology in Iceland has focused primarily on farmhouses, and few targeted investigations have taken place beyond the farmstead. Recent archaeological work has revealed numerous small, continuously occupied dwellings beyond core farmstead areas. These sites were part of the earliest settlement and included a wide range of productive activity but do not appear to be specialised, seasonal camps or standalone farms. These sites do not fit into existing categories of habitation, seasonality, or land use derived from analogies to later history. The settlement of Iceland was therefore characterised by different patterns of land use and farm organisation than later periods, including a distributed network of farm and non-farm dwellings. These sites appear to have played a transient but critical role in the settlement process.