Iron production in Iceland - metallurgic analyses of iron and slag from four sites in Iceland

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Keyword: Iceland, Viking age, Medieval time, Iron production, Miljö- och kulturhistoriska studier av den Vikingatida och medeltida utvecklingen på biskopssätet Hólar, norra Island
Publication year: 2006
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SDG 3 Good health and wellbeing
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During excavations at sites in Iceland, samples of slag and iron was selected for advanced metallurgic analyses. The aim of the project is to increase the understanding and knowledge of iron production and metal work in Iceland during Viking Age and medieval time. Samples from four sites have been investigated so far: the Viking age and early medieval house Hofstaðir in Garðabæ, the medival turf house at Keldur in Ragnarvöllum and early medieval harbour Kolkuós and churchyard in Keldudalur in Skagafjördur. All samples was analysed at Geoarchaeological Laboratory (GAL) in Uppsala, Sweden. The samples from Hofstaðir í Garðabæ is connected to a smithy process from which there are traces in the form of microscopic hammer scale. Similar processes was concluded through hammer scale remains in the medival turf house Keldur in Ragnarvöllum and together with results from insect analyses at Keldur it could be concluded that a living room during a period had been used as smithy or for iron work. The material from the medieval harbour Kolkuós in Skagafjördur was complex and it could not be concluded if there had been any smithy, iron work activity or similar at the place, even though boat building and repairmen was interpreted. An interesting result, from both, Hofstaðir, Keldur and the early medieval churchyard Keldudalur in Skagafjördur, was the presence of bone or calcium and phosphor in the samples. In the example Keldur bone was probably added in the production to make the iron harder for the progress in the iron making process. But in the bone material found in samples from the other sites, Hofstaðir and Keldudalur, it is clear that bone most probably was used as fuel in the process of iron production. In that time wood got rare in Iceland because of the expansion of the colonisation. In the northern part of the country there are resources in drift wood coming with sea currents, but this is not the case on southern Iceland to the same extent Therefore, there is a lack of wood for charcoal production. Tests have shown that equal parts of wood and bone as fuel makes almost the same effect in fire.


Magnus Hellqvist

Högskolan Dalarna; Naturgeografi
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Ragnheiður Traustaðottir

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