Viking caves are older and larger than previously thought

(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have discovered that a man-made cave system in the south of Iceland was created in the middle of the 10th century.

In 2018, near the small Icelandic village of Oddi, workers were clearing a ditch when they discovered a strange depression in the ground. Further, archaeologists worked on the site, and they unearthed a cave, obviously of artificial origin.

Scientists analyzed the layers of tephra (the so-called deposits of any materials thrown into the air by a volcanic eruption) and on this basis dated the cave to the beginning of the 12th century.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by archaeologist Kristborg Þórsdóttir from the University of Iceland continued to study the cave over the following years. And more recently it turned out that in front of them was only a small part of a large cave system.

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General view of the excavations

It turned out that a small cave led to another, much larger one. The second cave is badly destroyed, besides, the instability of the soil complicates excavations. But it is clear that it is also man-made.

At the same time, an analysis of tephra from a large cave showed that it was dug a century and a half earlier than a small one, in the middle of the 10th century.

Recall that the beginning of the XII century (the dating of the small cave) is already the sunset of the Viking Age, the peak of the Christianization of Iceland.

This process, among other things, could be accompanied by a forced redistribution of material values ​​and other unpleasant things. All the Icelandic sagas tell about the violent temper of the locals. The cave could serve as a hiding place.

But in the X century, no one seems to need to hide: the Vikings at the peak of their power, safely rob Europe, Britain, colonize Greenland.

The question arises who and why needed this huge cave – by the way, the largest one found today in Iceland. To try to answer it, it is worth looking at the place of the find. Oddi was once one of Iceland’s most important cultural and political centers and home to a powerful clan known as the Oddverjar.

One of the representatives of the clan, Samundur Fruri (in the Russian tradition he is called Samund the Wise), who lived in 1056-1133, was a priest and, in fact, one of those who Christianized Iceland.

He studied in France, traveled extensively throughout Europe, and at the same time saw that its Christianization often smoothed out national history, led to a common structure united by religion.

Perhaps that is why, in his old age, Samund took up writing the history of the Norwegian kings – from Harald the Fair-haired to Magnus the Noble. But for unknown reasons, this work did not reach us, although its references are found in later literary works.

Samund is sometimes credited with compiling the Elder Edda, but there is no scientifically recognized evidence for this hypothesis.

But Samund’s grandson, Jon Loftsson, raised Snorri Sturluson, the famous poet, historian and lawmaker, author of the Younger Edda (here the authorship is undeniable) and the Circle of the Earth (a set of Scandinavian sagas, the largest monument of Scandinavian literature, although not as popular as both Eddas).

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Soil instability greatly complicates the work of archaeologists

Let’s go back to the caves. According to archaeologists, the purpose of the large cave can be found in the literature.

So there was an assumption that they discovered the famous Nautahellir – the cave of the Bulls, which is mentioned in the literary monument “Legends of the Saints of Bishop Torlak”, dating from 1210-1250. It says that the Nautahellira kept bulls, but one day the ceiling of the cave collapsed.

The livestock owners counted the losses and despaired, but the bishop’s prayer helped – and one bull was found alive.

If indeed Nautahellir was found, does this mean that the cave was originally built for keeping livestock? Not at all. The fact is that even before the rise of the Oddverjar clan, extremely interesting events took place on the lands around Oddi.

This area is repeatedly mentioned in the Nyala Saga , the longest of the so-called Icelandic sagas, a history of political alliances and betrayals, full of deceit, meanness and stabs in the back.

From time to time, the heroes of the story are looking for where to hide from the relatives of another opponent stabbed in a dream. It is possible that someone decided that the caves are perfect for this.


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