PEATS Iceland –

Klaustur á Íslandi – Monasticism in Iceland


Excavation at Þingeyrar (Thingyrar),

Our host is still waiting on news of the project in Iceland, please keep checking the web page and our facebook page for updates. We hope to have had good news by end of February/March time.

Dates: 27th May – 28th June 2019 (Fieldwork permissions to be confirmed. Expected late Feb/early March 2019)
Number of UK Participants: FULL (1- week staff places for tutors / researchers / specialists still available.)
Duration: 32 days

Accommodation: Room sharing in a house, sleeping bag needed  (TBC for 2019)

Meals: mix of catered and self catering

Communication: wifi is available in accommodation

Transport: transport arranged to get around between accommodations and to site if needed

Weather: cooler than UK in the northern part, similar to UK in and around Reykjavik.

We are sending a group to our long term partner, Dr. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Professor of Archaeology at the National Museum & University of Iceland.

The group will be assisting on 2 projects:

Excavations at Þingeyrar (Thingyrar):

We anticipate the main focus of the 2019 placement to be on the excavation of the monastery at Þingeyrar. More details soon…

Cairns of the Condemned: Executions in Iceland 1551 – 1830

The church in Iceland officially lost its authority over criminal judgements to secular rulers in 1554, following the adoption of Lutheranism there in 1551. Ten years later, in 1564, a set of new laws – the Grand Judgment – was passed through the Icelandic parliament. With them, much harsher punishments for the various moral crimes were introduced to Icelanders but these new laws were especially meant to decrease misconducts regarding incest and childbirth out of wedlock. Both the performing of the punishments and the collecting fines were at the same time moved from the church to the hands of the representatives of the Danish King who ruled the country by then. Before the Lutheran Reformation people could buy indulgence for their sins from the Catholic Church or serve their sentences, which usually were based on excommunication, by working for the society. From 1551, almost one death sentence was fulfilled per year in Iceland until the last execution took place there in 1830.

With the introduction of the Grand Judgment, the secular rulers in the country could apply executions by drowning, hanging or beheading, often after a mutilation of some sort. During the same period, 1551–1830, people were also burned to death. Death sentences were used in cases of murder, theft, incest, birth of a child out of wedlock, disposal of them or magic. Women were usually drowned in bags but men were hanged or beheaded and their heads placed on a stick – as a warning for other people. People were, however, exceptionally burned for magic. Furthermore, those who got a death penalty and were executed lost their right to be buried in a Christian cemetery. Their bodies were usually cairned immediately after the execution in a shallow pit on the execution place itself. Human bones have been found eroding on some of these places and some have been excavated but most of them are lost today.

The project aims to record these places that were used for executions in Iceland after the Reformation and to search for the cairns on them. Most of the executions are listed in judgment books from the period in question. In them the names of the executed are recorded, also the crime committed, year of the sentence, and finally the execution place. These records will be used for to locate the sites but the surveying on them will be done with help of geophysics, drones and aerial photos. The aim is to dig up some of the cairns – as circumstances allow after surveying. The goal is also to analyse the remaining data that has already been found or excavated in these places, e.g. human bones and clothing, but even examine the history and background of those executed. The cairns that have already been excavated indicate at least that the women were buried in their bags and the men with the head still placed on the stick. The preserved bones can shed light on the living conditions of the condemned but even the methods of executions.

However, from preserved documents, it seems mostly to have been the lower classes in the society – young, unmarried housemaids and workers – that were doomed to death for the various crimes, rather that people belonging to the upper classes. The youngest person who got a death penalty in Iceland was a 14-year-old boy from Eastern Iceland, convicted for incest with his 16 years old sister who obviously got pregnant by the local priest. The case was thus changed to be an incest crime. Of this reason, the research will logically be based on theories of subalterns but also post-Marxism and feminism. The ideological formation of class divisions, gender-based inequalities and possibilities of minorities (or subalterns) to influence the prevailing norms will in this manner be in the foreground. It is hoped that the results will provide a clearer picture of criminals during post-Reformation times and that at the same time new shed a light on this hollow but significant part of the history of Iceland.

The project will last for three years at least, from 2018 to 2021. In 2018, sites in the Western part of Iceland will be visited and recorded. At least two cairns are aimed to be excavated. Single-context method will be used in the excavations but all data recorded in GIS.

 an execution site – death by drowning



The Erasmus + grant will cover return flights, accommodation, food (3 meals a day, extra food and drink will be funded for by participants), airport transfers and supervision. Participants will have to make sure they have their EHI card and take money for personal purchases and excursions.

If you are interested in this placement, then the application form is available to download on the PEATS Archaeology main page.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission

This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.