A reinterpretation of the Great Pit at Hofstaðir, Iceland, using sediment thin section micromorphology

I.A. Simpson, Karen Beatrice Milek, G. Guðmundsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The site at HofstaDir in northeast Iceland has been central to the debate on pre-Christian Norse temples and temple-farm complexes throughout the Scandinavian world. Critical to an understanding of the site have been the various and conflicting interpretations of the great pit feature, which have included the hypotheses that it was intentionally made for the disposal of rubbish after temple feasts, that it was a cooking pit for large-scale food preparation within a temple–farm complex, and that it was the location of a rubbish tip for ordinary farmstead waste materials. In this article we test these competing hypotheses using the technique of thin section micromorphology. These analyses represent the first application of micromorphology to questions of archaeological site formation processes in Iceland, a volcanic island with commonly occurring Andisols. Although this soil type poses new challenges to archaeological soil micromorphology, it was found that pedofeatures, microstructures, and anthropogenic inclusions provide a basis for interpreting site formation processes on Andisols as on other soil types. We conclude that the pit feature had its origins as a sunken-featured building and that the hollow created by the building’s abandonment and collapse was later filled with domestic farmstead waste.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-530
Number of pages19
JournalGeoarchaeology-An International Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • Geoarchaeology
  • Micromorphology
  • Viking Age
  • Iceland
  • Settlement Archaeology


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