cut and dry

Halló from Iceland,

the origins of one’s people are usually not going to occupy much of our thoughts, especially if we think the argument is solved. Here in Iceland, the beginnings of their civilisation seemed to be cut and dry. The orthodoxy was that Norwegian Vikings settled here in 874 AD. The Vikings were forefathers whose bravery, fighting prowess and navigational skill were sources of enduring national pride. But what about those man-made caves on the south coast?

Between the Arborg River and the Ytri-Ranga River (a distance of about 20 kilometres) at least 100 man-made caves exist. They have been cut into the sandstone and within many of the caves there is irrefutable evidence of human and animal occupation. Dating them to pre-874 AD would upset the orthodox narrative so instead they’ve been explained away or ignored. It’s only in recent years that their archaeological evidence is being opened to elaborate and scientific inspection.

DNA tests of the current Icelandic population suggest that Celts were subsumed into the population at some time in the past. Legend had it that the warrior Vikings plundered Ireland and kidnapped women in an effort to improve the gender ratio in their settled homeland, Iceland. But the caves appear to have been occupied by someone a long time before that.

The plot thickens somewhat when records of land claims in Iceland are examined. Land claims appear to have occurred everywhere else – apart from the inaccessible highlands to the east of here – but this area between the two rivers was not claimed. Perhaps that area was already occupied?

Recent archaeological excavations suggest collapsed caves date to times prior to 874 AD.

The caves themselves have been used in recent centuries as winter barns, sheep shelters and cellars. There is even evidence that some were used at churches. The Vikings were not Christian so there must be some other explanation.

Perhaps the Celts were here earlier. Such a thought debunks much of the Viking mythology, at least for modern Icelanders. Needless to say, it’s a cause of some debate and the excavations are likely to fuel the debate a lot more yet.

Vertu blessaður from Iceland


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