Jesse Byock

Professor, Scandinavian Section

Germanic Languages Home Page

Scandinavian Section Home Page

212 Royce Hall

Phone: (310) 825-0671
Fax: (310) 206-4723

Personal Website
Class Websites

Areas of Interest

Viking Age Scandinavia; Icelandic and Scandinavian archaeology, history, and political economy; feud and control of violence; sagas; the North Atlantic world


The Mosfell Archaeological Project is an interdisciplinary research project employing the tools of history, archaeology, anthropology, forensics, environmental sciences, and saga studies. The work will construct a picture of human habitation and environmental change in the region of Mosfell in southwestern Iceland. The Mosfell Valley (Mosfellsdalur), the surrounding highlands, and the lowland coastal areas are a Avalley system, that is, as an interlocking series of natural and man-made pieces, that beginning in the ninth-century settlement or landnám period developed into a functioning Viking Age, Icelandic community. Focusing on this valley system, our task is to unearth the prehistory and early history of the Mosfell region. We seek the data to provide an in-depth understanding of how this countryside or sveit evolved from its earliest origins. 

The Mosfell Archaeological Project has implications for the larger study of Viking Age and later medieval Iceland, as well as perhaps for the north Atlantic world. Mosfellssveit encapsulates the major ecologies of Iceland: coastal, riverine, and highland. Culturally, the region is equally representative. In some ways it was a self-contained social and economic unit. In other ways, it was connected to the rest of Iceland, not least, through a network of roads, including an east-west route to the nearby meeting of the yearly Althing. With its coastal port at Leiruvogur, the region was in commercial and cultural contact with the larger Scandinavian and European worlds, possibly as far east as Constantinople. The research, in reconstructing the early social history of the Mosfell Valley region, will integrate information on the changing periods of occupation. We will excavate individual sites, both secular and religious, and consider their placement in relationship to one another. We will examine the apportionment of open spaces and the utilization of common lands in the highlands and on the coast. Written, archaeological, and other scientific information will be integrated into this study as we construct a picture of early life. The different specialists on our team will explore among other subjects the development of roads and paths, the importance of the ships landings at Leiruvogur, the changes over time in subsistence strategies, the state of health and disease in the Viking Age and later population, developments in building technics, and the usage of smaller activity areas, such as the sel, or summer dairy stations. Crucial questions will be the production of iron in the early period, and finding the locations of burials, and early farm sites. In some instances our task is to find the remains of turf buildings, roads, burials, agricultural enclosures, and port facilities before they are destroyed by modern construction or lost to human memory. 


A Viking Landscape 

Iceland Review 

The Mosfell Archaeological Project 

The Viking Site 

The Mosfell Archaeological project poster in PDF format 

Magazine Article, Iceland, Summer 2002