Integrated geoarchaeological methods for the determination of site activity areas: A study of a Viking Age house in Reykjavik, Iceland

Karen B. Milek, Howell M. Roberts

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For over a decade, geoarchaeological methods such as multi-element analysis and soil micromorphology have been used to identify and interpret activity areas on archaeological sites. However, these techniques, and others such as loss on ignition, magnetic susceptibility, microrefuse analysis and artefact distributions, are rarely integrated into the same study, even though they provide very different and potentially complementary data. This paper presents a comparative study of a wide range of geoarchaeological methods that were applied to the floors sediments of a 10th-century house at the site of Aðalstræti 14-18, in central Reykjavík, Iceland, along with more traditional artefact and bone distribution analyses, and a spatial study of floor layer boundaries and features in the building. In this study, the spatial distributions of artefacts and bones could only be understood in the light of the pH distributions, and on their own they provided only limited insight into the use of space in the building. Each of the sediment analyses provided unique and valuable information about possible activity areas, with soil micromorphology proving to have the greatest interpretive power on its own. However, the interpretation potential of the geochemical methods was dramatically enhanced if they were integrated into a multi-method dataset.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1845-1865
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
Early online date28 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

The excavation was funded by the City of Reykjavík, and the geoarchaeological research was funded by a SSHRCC Doctoral Fellowship from the government of Canada, an Overseas Research Studentship, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, Pelham Roberts and Muriel Onslow Research Studentships from Newnham College, Cambridge, and Canadian Centennial Scholarships from the Canadian High Commission in London. Garðar Guðmundsson took the micromorphology samples, and supervised sampling on site. The bones were counted by Clayton Tinsley, the thin sections were made by Julie Boreham, and Steve Boreham and his team in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, provided technical support for all of the bulk geochemical analyses that were conducted by K. Milek, except for ICP–AES, which was conducted by ALS Chemex. Our gratitude is extended to Charles French, Catherine Hills, Peter Jordan and two anonymous reviewers for their support and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, and to Óskar Gísli Sveinbjarnarson for his assistance with the figures.


  • activity areas
  • soil micromorphology
  • loss on ignition
  • electrical conductivity
  • magnetic susceptibility
  • Viking Age houses


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