Animal Bones from Vígishellir Cave, W Iceland

Author(s): Thomas McGovern

Year: 2003


In 2001 excavations by the Icelandic National Museum in the lava cave Vígishellir (also called Beinahellir, Surtshellir) documented the presence of defensive walls, a rock outline of a dwelling, and a bone rich midden deposit exposed on the cave floor. Traditional stories associated these features with a band of outlaws reputed to have raided the surrounding countryside during the 10th century from their fortified refuge within the cave (until they were eventually betrayed and killed). The excavated animal bones collected during the 2001 investigations were kindly sent to the Hunter NORSEC laboratory for analysis by Guðmundur Olafsson (National Museum of Iceland) and Kevin Smith (Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology) in spring 2003. The bones are very fragmented, both by very complete butchery and probably also by freeze thaw cycling but 372 domestic mammal fragments could be identified taxonomically from a total collection of 7,424 bone fragments. All identified fragments derived from domestic mammals regularly found in 9th-10th century Icelandic archaeofauna: cattle, pig, horse, and both sheep and goat. While shellfish, fish, bird, and sea mammal bones are regularly recovered from 10th century sites in Iceland, these remains were not present in either the identified or unidentified fragments. The domestic mammal bones appear to come from multiple individuals of each species and represent bones from the whole skeleton. While both adults and older juveniles are represented, neonatal cattle bones normally common in Icelandic farm collections are not present in the collection. If these remains are in fact associated with outlaws, they suggest that the band’s impact on local farms must have been substantial.

Cite this Record

Animal Bones from Vígishellir Cave, W Iceland. Thomas McGovern. 2003 ( tDAR id: 396179) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8M61MC0

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -21.116; min lat: 64.722 ; max long: -20.325; max lat: 64.974 ;

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
Vigishellir-final-report-03.pdf 109.61kb Apr 9, 2015 11:02:33 AM Public