Iceland

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An island country founded during the Viking age of exploration (late 9th century) and one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. The country was rich in fertile land and natural resources and independent farmers, mainly coming from Norway, flourished. There was much trade with the Viking world. The details of Iceland's history and way of life have come down through their poetry and chronicles but mostly through the unique medieval prose form known as the saga. The sagas first emerged in the 12th century and increased in craftsmanship and output through the 13th century. They tell of family feuds, murderous intrigues, and voyages. The sagas are regarded as among the finest literary achievements of the Middle Ages.

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The 9th-century Irish geographer Dicuil suggests that Celtic monks had reached the Faroes and possibly even Iceland by his time, but Iceland was not systematically settled until the Norwegians came to the island in the late 9th century, in the last great wave of Viking emigration and expansion. The country was rich in fertile land and natural resources, and accordingly the independent farmers flourished. The sagas recount that they grew wheat, raised cattle and sheep and maintained strong trading connections with the rest of the Viking world, to which they exported iron, linen and woollen cloth. From the beginning the settlers established their own unique parliamentary commonwealth based on the law and the power of the individual. It had a central assembly (the althing) and regional divisions administered by the local chiefs or Go oar. The archaeology of medieval Iceland is fairly rich because many of the Viking-period farms have been located. Excavations in 1939 revealed several farm complexes in the lava-filled Pjorsadaelur Valley showing the typical farmstead to be a fairly elaborate construction of several rooms with turf and stone walls with wainscotted facing, paved areas, and benches and other turf and wood furniture. A typical house would be a long hall with division into several internal rooms, a kitchen, hearths and outbuildings including dairy and possible lavatory. The form of these buildings is unique apart from a few parallels in the Orkneys. The Icelanders also developed a strong literary 225 tradition; details of their history and way of life have come down to us through their poetry and chronicles but most of all through the unique medieval vernacular prose form commonly known as the Saga. The Sagas first emerged in the 12th century and increased in craftsmanship and output through the 13th century. They tell mostly of family feuds, murderous intrigues and voyages; Njal’s and Egil’s sagas are perhaps the best known of all these great stories.

The Macmillan dictionary of archaeology, Ruth D. Whitehouse, 1983Copied

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