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Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

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Integrated geoarchaeological methods for the determination of site activity areas:

a study of a Viking Age house in Reykjavik, Iceland
Karen B. Milek a, *, Howell M. Roberts b
Department of Archaeology, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, St. Marys, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, United Kingdom
Institute of Archaeology, Iceland, Brugata 3, 101 Reykjavk, Iceland

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: For over a decade, geoarchaeological methods such as multi-element analysis and soil micromorphology
Received 13 August 2012 have been used to identify and interpret activity areas on archaeological sites. However, these tech-
Received in revised form niques, along with others such as magnetic susceptibility, loss on ignition, and microrefuse, artefact and
9 October 2012
bone distribution analyses are rarely integrated in the study of a single site, even though they provide
Accepted 26 October 2012
very different and potentially complementary data. This paper presents a comparative study of a wide
range of geoarchaeological methods that were applied to the oors sediments of a Viking Age house at
the site of Aalstrti 16, in central Reykjavk, Iceland, along with more traditional artefact and bone
Activity areas
Soil micromorphology
distribution analyses, and a spatial study of oor layer boundaries and features in the building. In this
Loss on ignition study, the spatial distributions of artefacts and bones could only be understood in the light of the pH
Electrical conductivity distributions, and on their own they provided limited insight into the use of space in the building. Each of
Magnetic susceptibility the sediment analyses provided unique and valuable information about possible activity areas, with soil
ICPeAES micromorphology proving to have the greatest interpretive power on its own. However, the interpre-
Viking Age houses tation potential of the geochemical methods was dramatically enhanced if they were integrated into
a multi-method dataset.
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Smith et al., 2001; Sullivan and Kealhofer, 2004; Terry et al., 2004;
Vizcano and Caabate, 1999; Vyncke et al., 2011). Samples for these
The understanding of the spatial organisation of activity areas is micro-residue studies are normally in the form of loose bulk
of prime importance to the archaeological interpretation of samples in which the occupation deposits are homogenised, even
settlement sites. It provides information about how individuals, though it has long been recognised that occupation surfaces are
households and communities organised the wide range of social usually palimpsests, comprising the residues of multiple, super-
and economic practices that constituted daily life, how they imposed events (Malinsky-Buller et al., 2011).
perceived and managed different types of waste products, and The interpretation of artefact, microrefuse, and geochemical
what living conditions were like in and around their dwellings and distributions on archaeological sites is dependent on a clear
work places. To identify activity areas archaeologists not only use understanding of the complex depositional and post-depositional
features such as hearths, cooking pits, storage pits and middens, processes that created and subsequently impacted the occupation
and the spatial distributions of artefacts and bones, but increasingly deposits under study (Carr, 1984; LaMotta and Schiffer, 1999;
they are making use of the most minute residues of human and Wandsnider, 1996). Human actions frequently result in the depo-
animal activities: microrefuse (bones and artefacts under 1e2 mm sition and/or removal of particular artefacts and residues, especially
in size), plant phytoliths, organic residues and associated elements objects over 1e2 cm in size, which are commonly kicked aside,
and isotopes that accumulated on presumed occupation surfaces removed during cleaning, or dumped or cached during site aban-
(e.g. Sampietro and Vattuone, 2005; Shahack-Gross et al., 2008; donment (Lange and Rydberg, 1972; Stevenson, 1982; Tani, 1995;
Wilk and Schiffer, 1979). There is also a wide range of natural
processes that alter the composition of occupation deposits over
time as they become subject to the same physical, chemical, and
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 44 1224 273693 (ofce), 44 7951 612151
(mobile); fax: 44 1224 272331.
biological processes affecting local landforms and soils (e.g.
E-mail addresses: (K.B. Milek), Johnson and Hansen, 1974; Rolfsen, 1980; Schiffer, 1996; Stein,
(H.M. Roberts). 1983). It is therefore essential to develop a framework for

0305-4403/$ e see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1846 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

interpreting activity areas that incorporates an assessment of identied in the eld (Figs. 2 and 3; Roberts et al., 2003; Snsdttir,
cultural and natural processes that may have affected the formation 2004). The distributions of artefacts and bone fragments, organic
of occupation surfaces. The ability of soil micromorphology to matter and carbonates (loss on ignition), pH, soluble salt content
resolve minute lenses representing super-imposed events and to (electrical conductivity), magnetic susceptibility, and multiple
identify post-depositional processes has been well attested (e.g. elements (ICPeAES), were compared to each other and to the
Macphail and Crowther, 2007; Matthews et al., 1997; Milek, 2012; results of soil micromorphology, in order to evaluate the relative
Milek and French, 2007; Shahack-Gross et al., 2005; Shillito et al., contribution that each technique made individually, and as part of
2011), but the method continues to be underused in comparison an integrated dataset, to the interpretation of the use of space in the
to geochemical methods. Viking Age house.
In order to assess the relative contributions that artefact and
bone distributions and different geoarchaeological analyses can 2. Study area
make to the interpretation of site activity areas, an interdisciplinary
study was conducted on a house dated to the late 9th and 10th Aalstrti 16 is situated 1.95e2.15 m above sea level, at the base
century AD, which was excavated in central Reykjavik at Aalstrti of a moderately steep slope that rises to the west. The climate in
16 (formerly 14e18) (Fig. 1). The house was well preserved, and its Reykjavik is cool and wet, with an annual mean temperature of 5  C
turf walls, internal features (hearth, post holes), and 25 distinct (0.4  C in January, 11.2  C in July) and an average of 805 mm of
oor layers located in different parts of the house were readily rainfall per year (rarinsson, 1987, 8). The site was well drained,

Fig. 1. The location of the Viking Age house (a) in Iceland, (b) in Reykjavk, and (c) on Aalstrti (drawing by skar G. Sveinbjarnarson).
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1847

Fig. 2. The Viking Age house at Aalstrti 16 (formerly 14e18) under excavation, showing (a) the oor layers exposed in 2001 (facing north) and (b) the porch structure discovered
when the excavation area was extended in 2003 (facing southeast). The photo scales are 2 m long, with white and red increments of 0.5 m. (For colour images, the reader is referred
to the web version of this article.)

however, because it was located on an ancient pebble beach on 3. Methods and materials
which a thin andosol (2e4 cm) had developed, derived from
aeolian silt and ne sand of volcanic origin. Both the in situ andosol 3.1. Excavation and sampling
below the house and its turf walls contained the so-called landnm
tephra layer, which had erupted from the Veiivotn system in Each of the 25 occupation deposits found below the post-
either AD 871  2 (GRIP ice core; Grnvold et al., 1995) or AD abandonment turf roof/wall collapse and above the underlying
877  4 (GISP2 ice core; Zielinski et al., 1997), providing a terminus in situ soils was recorded separately and sampled on a 1 m grid
post quem for the site. AMS dates on seven charred barely grains (Table 1; see Fig. 3 for the locations of the different occupation
(Hordeum Sativum) from the hearth lls and adjacent oor deposits deposits). Soil samples were also taken from the andosol that had
indicate that the site could have been rst occupied no later than accumulated outside the building, but since the sampled oor
AD 890 (Sveinbjrnsdttir et al., 2004), and the datable artefacts layers were anthropogenic sediments, with clear, sharp lower
from the oor of the house, including a polychrome glass bead boundaries with the underlying soils, the natural andosol that
(Callmer Type B6100) and a glass vessel fragment with grape had accumulated around the house could not be used to provide
decoration, support a late 9the10th century date (Hreiarsdttir, background levels of chemical or magnetic properties, and the
2005; Mehler, 2002). The house used in this study had suffered oors were sampled in a way that would permit detailed inter-
only minor damage of its walls from the foundation trenches of comparisons. Small bulk samples (c. 200 ml) for geochemical
19th-century factory buildings, but an annexe that abutted the and magnetic analyses were taken from each grid square, while
southern end of the building was severely truncated by later the remainder of the sediment in each square was taken for
building activity and only fragments of its walls and its central oatation and wet sieving with 1 mm mesh. All bone material
hearth had survived (Nordahl, 1988). over 1 mm in size was counted and identied if possible (Tinsley
1848 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Fig. 3. Plan of the house at Aalstrti, showing the internal features of the house, the occupation deposits used for geochemical analysis (each numbered and represented in
a different colour) and the locations of micromorphology samples (drawing by Howell M. Roberts, Karen B. Milek and skar G. Sveinbjarnarson). (For interpretation of the
references to colour in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

and McGovern, 2002; see Supplementary data Table 1). Artefacts 3.2. Sediment analyses
found during excavation were 3D recorded, and those found
during wet sieving were given the coordinate of the centre of the Bulk samples were air dried, gently powdered with a mortar and
grid square. The house was excavated in a checkerboard pattern pestle, and sieved to remove inclusions larger than 2 mm. Loss on
using sextants, and eight undisturbed block samples for micro- ignition was conducted at 550  C and 950  C following Nelson and
morphological analysis were taken from the exposed sections Sommers (1996). Magnetic susceptibility was tested in 10 ml plastic
using 12  6  5 cm aluminium tins (ff. Courty et al., 1989) pots using a Bartington MS2 magnetic susceptibility meter with
(Fig. 3). a low frequency sensor. Electrical conductivity and pH were tested
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1849

Table 1
Descriptions of the occupation deposits used in this study with associated bulk samples for geochemical analyses and block samples for micromorphological analysis.

Context Location Field description Artefacts Bulk samples Block samples

747 Above oors Light red-brown turf containing patches and lenses of e e 67, 79, 80
landnm tephra (turf collapse)
763 SW entrance Medium brown clayey silt mottled with LNL tephra with e e 94
occasional charcoal and small stones
792 Central hearth Soft medium to dark brown silt (ash) containing frequent Iron nail 54 74, 75
small lenses of black ash and charcoal
793 Central hearth Soft black ash containing frequent lenses of orangeebrown Spindle whorl fragment 60.1-4, 82.1-3 74, 75
silt and re-cracked stones
795 Central hearth Friable black, brown, and brownish-white ash containing e 62.1-8, 84.1-8 74, 75
charcoal, small fragments of burnt bone and occasional
802 Central hearth Soft mixed brown, white and grey ash containing pieces of e 66-3-7 86.1-8 74, 75
charcoal, occasional pebbles and stones
824 SW entrance Friable brown silt containing patches of purple and red, e 78, 83 94
ecks of wood ash and charcoal
831 Central hearth Dark greyebrown and black ash with small lenses of e 87 74
pinkish-white ash
844 NW sextant Firm, friable dark greyish-black clayey silt with greasy 2 clench nails with wood 88.1-12 80
organic content, containing frequent small rounded stones attached; 2 loomweights,
and charcoal one with drilled perforation
849 SW sextant Soft black silt with charcoal ecks Clear glass vessel frag with 90.1-6 e
grape dec; three loomweights
851 SW sextant Soft black silt e 91 79
852 SW sextant Soft medium brown silt containing pebbles e 95.1-6 79
858 NW sextant Friable orange and black silt Iron nail 102.1-6 71
859 SW sextant Compact medium brown clayey silt containing occasional e 101.1-3 e
charcoal ecks, frequent small stones, and patches of ash
861 SW sextant Firm mottled medium brown and black clayey silt with e 131.1-5 e
occasional charcoal ecks and small pebbles
862 NW sextant Friable mixed light brown and grey silt containing some e 132.1-3 e
charcoal fragments
864 ME and MW Friable black and orangeebrown silt and ash around the Blue glass bead with wavy 110.1-17 71
sextants central hearth, containing charcoal, sand, small stones, purple lines (Callmer B6100);
shells, and burnt bones slag with burnt bone; 3 nails
866 SE and SW Soft light redebrown silt in and around beach pebbles e 109.1-2 e
868 ME sextant Friable brown, black and grey mixed silt and ash Iron knife fragment; green 116.1-16 68
containing rare charcoal and burnt bone rhyolite spindle whorl
871 SE sextant Loose black and dark brown clayey silt with powdery e 113.1-7 e
charcoal ecks and frequent charcoal
873 MW sextant Friable black silt deposit around the central hearth e 115.1-3 e
containing small charcoal pieces, burnt bones, and small
890 NE sextant Compact light brown silt containing charcoal, ash, and Schist whetstone fragment 118 e
turf fragments
894 NE sextant Medium dark brown silt containing frequent small stones e 122 e
and rare charcoal ecks
901 ME sextant Friable black silt containing charcoal, burnt bones and e 124.1-4 e
small stones
904 NE sextant Friable brown, grey and black silt and gravel containing e 127.1-3 e
30e40% charcoal
907 NE sextant Friable light brown silt with 40e50% charcoal Small fragment of copper 128.1-3 e
910 Under oors In situ landnm tephra layer below house e e 71, 79, 92, 94
and walls
913 Under 910 Light brown soil underlying landnm tephra e e 71, 92, 94

in triplicate on three separate subsamples using DiST WP3 and Spearmans rank correlation coefcient (rs) for non-parametric data
pHep 3 meters immersed in 10:25 ml soil:water suspensions and was chosen as the most reliable correlation statistic because only
the mean values were accepted as representative of that grid some of the probability distributions approximated the normal
square. Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy curve while others were positively skewed. Interpretations of
(ICPeAES) was conducted on the <180 mm fraction digested with geochemical data were aided by a survey of the physico-chemical
nitric acideaqua regia. This near-total digestion regime was chosen properties and possible sources of elements, as well as a survey
because Icelandic andosols have very strong P xation, necessi- of the elements that had previously been identied in modern
tating the analysis of total P (Arnalds et al., 1995). The geochemical reference materials (Supplementary data Tables 3 and 4).
data are summarised in Table 2, and the complete dataset, Micromorphology samples were dried using acetone replace-
including grid coordinates, is provided in Supplementary data ment of water, impregnated with crystic polyester resin and thin
Table 1. sectioned following the method of Murphy (1986). Thin sections
Statistical analyses using SPSS were employed to examine the were rst scanned on a atbed scanner and then analysed with
probability distributions of the geochemical data, correlations petrographic microscopes at magnications ranging from x4-250
between different element concentrations, and correlations with plane-polarized light (PPL), cross-polarized light (XPL) and
between element and soluble salt (EC) concentrations (Table 3). oblique-incident light (OIL) following Bullock et al. (1985) and
1850 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Table 2
Geochemical, loss-on-ignition, and magnetic susceptibility data.

Context Sample pH EC LOI at LOI at Magnetic Ba Ca Cu K Mg Na P Sr Zn

(mS/cm) 550  C 950  C susceptibility (ppm) (%) (ppm) (%) (%) (%) (%) (ppm) (ppm)
(%) (%) (108 m3 kg1)
795 62.2 7.1 142 13.2 2.9 1374.2 e e e e e e e e e
795 62.3 7.9 120 15.6 3.9 1416.9 e e e e e e e e e
795 62.4 7.8 130 14.1 4.3 1605.6 e e e e e e e e e
795 62.5 7.8 157 10.6 3.1 81.5 1450 7.02 266 0.73 3.59 0.50 2.63 1075 8250
795 84.1 6.7 137 21.0 1.6 602.9 e e e e e e e e e
795 84.4 8.1 110 16.4 3.7 1337.0 750 6.39 193 0.31 2.53 0.38 2.25 854 5530
795 84.6 7.1 174 13.7 4.1 1617.1 e e e e e e e e e
795 84.7 6.4 174 24.7 1.7 1063.5 e e e e e e e e e
844 88.1 7.6 160 13.7 0.9 153.4 150 2.26 79 0.09 1.05 0.50 0.28 117 308
844 88.2 7.8 183 17.8 1.4 150.0 510 2.09 81 0.10 0.74 0.36 1.05 321 252
844 88.3 7.5 167 16.5 1.6 138.2 160 1.62 75 0.08 0.77 0.35 0.28 84 176
844 88.4 7.5 191 19.5 2.4 107.3 230 1.37 81 0.08 0.59 0.38 0.37 93 238
844 88.5 7.3 169 17.2 1.5 134.7 350 1.77 79 0.09 0.72 0.36 0.60 140 184
844 88.6 6.0 195 17.2 2.2 161.6 90 1.19 72 0.05 0.60 0.26 0.12 47 118
844 88.7 6.7 209 19.8 2.2 107.4 150 0.88 75 0.06 0.29 0.19 0.33 62 92
844 88.8 7.0 160 18.2 2.0 173.1 80 1.09 58 0.04 0.40 0.17 0.13 58 142
844 88.9 7.3 170 16.5 1.3 166.1 150 1.61 65 0.07 0.68 0.26 0.26 90 190
844 88.10 6.6 203 17.0 1.3 154.7 90 1.66 73 0.08 0.67 0.30 0.20 77 166
844 88.11 7.3 165 13.6 0.6 147.2 160 2.35 81 0.12 1.02 0.45 0.25 123 154
844 88.12 5.2 191 15.4 1.3 180.3 80 1.50 84 0.07 0.79 0.34 0.24 51 130
849 90.1 5.3 432 17.1 1.4 168.3 80 1.62 101 0.07 0.77 0.33 0.26 59 198
849 90.2 4.5 514 16.7 1.3 201.5 100 1.83 106 0.09 1.00 0.40 0.35 59 196
849 90.3 4.9 595 15.8 1.5 322.5 140 2.10 133 0.10 1.09 0.40 0.64 105 548
849 90.4 6.5 494 17.9 0.9 229.2 110 2.32 113 0.11 0.93 0.41 0.31 112 244
849 90.5 5.8 312 15.1 1.4 259.7 90 1.69 95 0.08 0.91 0.37 0.30 60 198
849 90.6 5.3 488 17.0 2.1 256.2 100 1.79 103 0.09 0.94 0.40 0.54 64 232
852 95.1 4.6 259 12.3 0.9 142.5 180 2.93 93 0.12 1.50 0.69 0.31 86 128
852 95.2 4.8 470 12.1 1.1 250.7 100 1.56 115 0.09 1.21 0.35 0.52 54 174
852 95.3 5.3 663 13.9 1.0 240.9 90 1.60 115 0.08 1.00 0.36 0.49 54 172
859 101.1 6.8 366 14.2 1.7 199.3 330 2.41 88 0.14 0.86 0.36 0.68 202 422
859 101.2 6.3 395 12.7 1.3 163.8 110 2.34 76 0.10 1.05 0.45 0.30 109 166
859 101.3 6.5 131 15.3 2.3 219.3 150 1.85 84 0.09 0.75 0.32 0.44 126 298
861 131.1 6.7 415 11.5 1.3 222.7 380 3.66 103 0.20 0.97 0.50 0.83 308 478
861 131.2 6.8 344 10.0 0.7 200.0 210 3.05 83 0.13 1.11 0.58 0.46 143 234
861 131.3 6.7 430 18.1 1.9 185.1 320 2.53 88 0.11 0.83 0.41 0.64 167 324
861 131.5 6.7 137 18.4 2.8 167.1 110 1.47 83 0.05 0.53 0.22 0.23 79 206
862 132.1 6.9 142 17.9 2.4 324.1 270 2.92 121 0.10 0.78 0.38 0.63 195 490
862 132.3 6.3 222 18.2 2.3 205.1 210 1.60 92 0.06 0.64 0.28 0.52 87 206
862 132.4 7.5 127 16.9 1.5 103.6 480 2.24 85 0.10 0.72 0.44 0.75 187 182
864 110.1 7.0 244 21.5 1.4 310.1 490 3.71 110 0.13 0.81 0.33 1.18 353 614
864 110.2 7.4 169 16.8 1.1 336.2 500 3.81 115 0.14 1.06 0.44 1.08 311 612
864 110.3 8.0 224 19.2 2.3 431.3 330 3.39 119 0.11 0.83 0.31 0.85 312 658
864 110.4 6.1 215 20.3 1.0 481.1 340 2.55 131 0.10 0.94 0.38 0.94 201 708
864 110.5 7.9 185 20.0 1.4 566.3 390 3.44 154 0.15 0.88 0.35 1.11 310 1115
864 110.6 7.8 154 18.5 1.8 533.7 240 3.23 134 0.14 0.91 0.35 0.79 290 1005
864 110.7 5.5 386 21.2 1.5 1079.6 540 2.95 180 0.16 0.99 0.29 1.60 304 1460
864 110.8 4.8 361 21.8 1.4 742.0 450 2.69 158 0.15 1.06 0.36 1.19 229 992
864 110.9 5.4 122 24.6 1.6 649.0 490 2.34 154 0.15 0.89 0.31 1.39 182 1070
864 110.10 6.7 118 17.5 0.5 564.5 360 2.64 161 0.14 1.03 0.43 1.16 158 690
864 110.11 6.1 177 21.0 0.8 462.3 280 2.19 116 0.09 0.72 0.29 1.00 181 700
864 110.12 7.9 202 18.6 1.7 417.2 280 3.15 115 0.12 0.82 0.29 0.85 296 824
864 110.13 6.5 132 21.0 1.4 380.3 450 2.79 119 0.10 0.74 0.33 1.45 269 664
864 110.14 7.7 141 19.8 2.0 384.2 360 3.43 117 0.10 0.78 0.32 0.85 295 570
864 110.15 7.7 140 16.4 1.5 221.8 140 2.33 117 0.08 0.79 0.35 0.36 135 312
864 110.16 6.3 435 16.8 0.3 311.0 340 2.32 116 0.09 0.82 0.34 0.81 177 434
864 110.17 5.8 302 15.8 1.2 232.0 170 1.78 102 0.07 0.76 0.33 0.52 100 220
866 109.1 6.9 273 13.0 1.5 150.4 170 2.32 79 0.10 0.93 0.41 0.49 130 154
866 109.2 6.2 480 12.5 1.2 178.2 120 2.37 76 0.11 1.07 0.46 0.39 112 166
868 116.1 6.2 95 16.0 1.4 750.0 430 2.09 153 0.20 0.86 0.37 0.89 138 624
868 116.2 5.7 234 19.7 2.2 222.7 370 1.54 121 0.07 0.64 0.33 0.72 83 522
868 116.3 6.7 253 22.2 0.2 280.4 440 2.07 147 0.10 0.73 0.46 0.95 124 614
868 116.4 7.7 143 24.6 2.4 241.7 430 4.10 137 0.13 0.77 0.41 1.01 317 570
868 116.5 7.5 152 17.3 1.3 191.7 320 2.92 110 0.11 0.94 0.39 0.60 177 414
868 116.6 7.2 303 17.0 0.6 165.7 320 2.86 117 0.09 0.84 0.43 0.64 177 454
868 116.7 6.9 162 17.3 1.1 306.9 360 2.72 152 0.12 0.96 0.45 0.73 153 530
868 116.8 7.1 116 16.7 0.7 361.6 440 2.96 183 0.14 1.09 0.48 0.91 168 1740
868 116.9 7.6 173 20.9 1.5 550.2 380 3.21 176 0.14 1.05 0.41 1.20 202 914
868 116.10 7.9 167 18.4 0.5 296.3 440 3.79 117 0.13 0.87 0.40 0.86 285 688
868 116.11 7.9 184 21.3 1.1 338.5 360 3.62 148 0.11 0.86 0.41 0.82 256 640
868 116.12 7.6 161 14.6 0.3 257.1 230 3.63 114 0.10 1.20 0.62 0.49 194 378
868 116.14 5.0 137 22.4 2.9 561.2 610 1.73 246 0.17 0.73 0.27 1.42 137 1150
868 116.15 6.9 191 17.2 1.8 155.9 120 2.14 104 0.06 0.77 0.41 0.25 77 184
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1851

Table 2 (continued )

Context Sample pH EC LOI at LOI at Magnetic Ba Ca Cu K Mg Na P Sr Zn

(mS/cm) 550  C 950  C susceptibility (ppm) (%) (ppm) (%) (%) (%) (%) (ppm) (ppm)
(%) (%) (108 m3 kg1)
868 116.16 6.8 170 16.5 1.4 175.7 150 2.44 113 0.08 0.88 0.45 0.35 109 278
871 113.1 6.0 370 19.9 1.1 378.1 210 2.23 147 0.15 0.92 0.37 0.75 151 570
871 113.2 6.3 760 16.6 1.7 605.9 240 3.00 115 0.17 1.03 0.41 0.75 304 582
871 113.3 6.0 530 20.4 2.4 367.0 370 2.37 151 0.15 0.82 0.30 1.04 247 782
871 113.4 6.6 1088 13.8 1.3 257.9 240 3.26 100 0.13 1.06 0.48 0.73 256 626
871 113.5 6.8 954 15.1 1.0 147.4 190 2.91 95 0.12 1.05 0.51 0.41 176 238
871 113.6 6.8 1159 15.9 0.5 184.1 170 2.79 100 0.12 1.02 0.49 0.42 172 252
871 113.7 6.7 1068 15.0 1.0 164.9 160 2.57 89 0.11 0.96 0.46 0.38 148 216
890 118 5.1 239 16.1 1.1 323.5 570 1.87 123 0.08 0.87 0.35 0.95 126 456
894 122 7.3 148 18.6 2.4 163.8 140 1.85 80 0.06 0.64 0.37 0.26 72 176
904 127.1 7.6 179 17.7 1.7 146.4 110 1.99 86 0.06 0.70 0.37 0.24 78 144
904 127.2 6.9 156 18.3 1.7 142.6 130 1.81 96 0.06 0.71 0.36 0.30 73 144
904 127.3 6.7 86 16.9 1.5 147.4 130 1.89 100 0.08 0.80 0.45 0.33 65 166

Stoops (2003). Key micromorphology descriptions are summar- 4. Results

ised in Table 4, and full descriptions of all micromorphology
samples are provided in Supplementary data Table 2. The identi- 4.1. Field evidence for activity areas
cation of anthropogenic materials such as bone, dung, and ash
was aided by modern reference collections (Supplementary data The house at Aalstrti 14e18 was 16.70 m long and 3.74e
Table 5). 5.81 m wide, with 1.27e1.72 m thick turf walls faced with stones
(Figs. 2 and 3). There was one entrance towards the northern end of
3.3. Data presentation the eastern long wall and a narrower one in the southwest corner of
the house. The northeast entrance was stone-paved, and an ante-
Geochemical data and artefact locations were plotted using chamber was later added to it that extended the length of the
ArcGIS. Fourteen of the 36 elements determined by ICPeAES had entrance passage to 4.8 m. Within the entrances were alignments
clustered, non-random patterning (Al, Ba, Ca, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, of post holes, and the fact that context boundaries respected these
Ni, P, S, Sr, Zn), of which Ba, Ca, Cu, Mg, P, K, Na, Sr and Zn were alignments suggests that the posts supported partition walls
selected for presentation here due to their potential contribution to separating small entrance rooms e possibly acting as wind breaks.
the interpretation of activity areas. A few oor layers overlapped, Context boundaries also respected an area in the northwest corner
and in these cases, for ease of presentation, the uppermost sample where there were three rows of stake and post holes oriented
from the affected grid square was chosen for display. Although perpendicular to the western long wall, and an area in the south-
geochemical data are often graphically represented by surface east corner where there was a row of post holes perpendicular to
contours based on data interpolations, this study presents point the southern end wall; both corners therefore appear to be discrete
data because numerous oor contexts are displayed at the same spaces surrounded by partition walls. The large central hearth was
time, and data from different contexts cannot be interpolated. After lined with curb stones and contained a at stone slab that had been
experimenting with different ways of binning geochemical values blackened, reddened, and cracked by heat. There was a rectangular
in the GIS, it was noted that the standard deviations from the mean, setting of four stake holes towards the northern end of the hearth,
rather than the raw values, showed more pronounced patterning which may represent a wooden superstructure that had been
(greater differences in symbol sizes), and this was therefore the suspended over the re, perhaps for a grill or spit. The post hole
preferred method for graphical presentation of the ICPeAES data in cluster south of the central hearth probably represents a series of
Figs. 6e8. The raw data are presented in Table 2 and the complete post replacements, while most posts were in rows parallel to the
original dataset is available in Supplementary data Table 5. long walls of the house, dividing the space into three aisles (Fig. 3).

Table 3
Correspondence analysis based on Spearmans rho (rs) for electrical conductivity (EC) and multi-element values.

Al Ba Ca Co Cu EC K Mg Na P S Sr Zn
Al 1 0.320** 0.183 0.253* 0.064 0.181 0.107 0.408** 0.022 0.130 0.090 0.299** 0.040
Ba 0.320** 1 0.583** 0.206 0.637** 0.277* 0.670** 0.144 0.064 0.900** 0.175 0.808** 0.778**
Ca 0.183 0.583** 1 0.209 0.501** 0.054 0.751** 0.578** 0.475** 0.583** 0.621** 0.852** 0.635**
Co 0.253* 0.206 0.209 1 0.451** 0.039 0.253* 0.147 0.035 0.292** 0.154 0.218 0.463**
Cu 0.064 0.637** 0.501** 0.451** 1 0.155 0.597** 0.341** 0.035 0.787** 0.157 0.532** 0.848**
EC 0.181 0.277* 0.054 0.039 0.155 1 0.025 0.295** 0.143 0.131 0.176 0.120 0.170
K 0.107 0.670** 0.751** 0.253* 0.597** 0.025 1 0.620** 0.344** 0.718** 0.432** 0.761** 0.716**
Mg 0.408** 0.144 0.578** 0.147 0.341** 0.295** 0.620** 1 0.655** 0.265* 0.457** 0.307** 0.294**
Na 0.022 0.064 0.475** 0.035 0.035 0.143 0.344** 0.655** 1 0.013 0.541** 0.157 0.007
P 0.130 0.900** 0.583** 0.292** 0.787** 0.131 0.718** 0.265* 0.013 1 0.133 0.797** 0.875**
S 0.090 0.175 0.621** 0.154 0.157 0.176 0.432** 0.457** 0.541** 0.133 1 0.413** 0.281*
Sr 0.299** 0.808** 0.852** 0.218 0.532** 0.120 0.761** 0.307** 0.157 0.797** 0.413** 1 0.780**
Zn 0.040 0.778** 0.635** 0.463** 0.848** 0.170 0.716** 0.294** 0.007 0.875** 0.281* 0.780** 1

N 79.
*Correlation is signicant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
**Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
1852 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Table 4
Summary micromorphology descriptions of the occupation deposits, with representative descriptions of the overlying turf collapse layers (units 747, 792, 858) and underlying
soil and tephra layers (units 824, 910, 913) shaded grey.

Sample Context number and Structure Porosity Groundmass

Number microstratigraphic unit
Microstructure Orientation of Planar Simple Compound Vesicles Channels Texture
basic components voids packing packing voids and classication
voids vughs
68 747 UfGr, Ch R - --- ---- Zl
74 792 UfGr, Ch R -- ---- zCl
71 858.1 UfGr, Ch R --- ---- Zl
67 n/a Cr Min: R; Org: H ----- --- sZl
68 868 M H - -- Zl
71 864 Cr, Ch, local UfGr R ---- ---- Zl
74 793/795 Sp H -- ----- sZl
74 802 Ch H - ---- Zl
74 831 UfGr, Ch H -- - -- ---- sZl
75 795.1 Sp H ----- sZl
75 795.2 Ch H - - ---- sZl
75 795.3 Ch H - ---- sZl
75 795.4 Ch H - --- Zl
75 802 Ch H -- - ---- Zl
79 851 Cr; Sp in top 10 mm Min: R; Org: H, local R ----- --- sZl
80 844.1 Cr, local Sp R; Org: local H --- ----- Zl
80 844.2 UfGr, with Ch Min: R; Org: H -- --- Zl
80 844.3 Cr R; Org: local H --- ---- zCl
80 844.4 Pl, local Cr Org: H; local R -- -- ---- zCl
94 763.1 sBl,Ch H -- --- Zl
94 763.2 sBl Ch R - -- Zl
94 763.3 sBl;local Sp, Pl H -- ---- Zl
94 763.4 sBl, Ch; local Sp, Pl H -- ---- Zl
94 824 sBl, Ch H --- - ---- S
94 910 sBl, Ch, local Sgr Min: R; Org: H -- -- ---- sZl; localfS
94 913 sBl, UfGr, Ch Min: R; Org: H -- --- ---- Zl

Present in trace amounts, - <2%, -- 2e5%, --- 5e0%, ---- 10e20%, ----- 20e30%, ------ 30e40%, ------- 40e50%, --------
50e60%, --------- 60e70%.
Microstructure: local: localised; Ch: channel, Cr: crumb, Gr: granular, M: massive, Pl: platey, Sgr: single grain, Sp: spongy, sBl: subangular blocky, UfGr: ultrane granular.
Dominant orientation/distribution of basic components: Min: Mineral material, Org: Organic matter; H: horizontal, sH: subhorizontal, R: random.
Texture classication: C: Clay, zCl: silty clay loam, S: sand, fS: ne sand, vfS: very ne sand, Z: silt, Zl: Silt loam, sZl: sandy silt loam.
Coarse/ne related distribution: En: enaulic, Mon: monic, Por: porphyric.
Nature of ne mineral material (PPL): Br: brown, pBr: pale brown, Gr: grey, Or: orange, OrBr: orangey brown, RBr: reddish brown, D: dotted, Sp: speckled. Listed in
descending order of frequency.
Birefringence fabric (XPL): Cr: crystallitic, mCr: microcrystallitic, Un: undifferentiated.

The occupation deposits varied considerably in colour, texture the western side aisle suggest the location of an upright loom. The
and inclusions, enabling 25 to be distinguished (Table 1). The layers cluster of quartz stones in a post hole in the northeast corner can be
in the central aisle were very compacted and rich in charcoal and interpreted as a foundation or closing deposit rather than an every-
ash, suggesting the spreading and trampling of hearth waste in this day activity area.
space. Context 844, in the northwest corner of the building, was In the eastern side aisle northeast of the hearth there was
noted to be particularly organic. In the middle of the western side a cluster of unburnt bones, which could have been the location of
aisle the occupation deposit was so thin and patchy that no context a butchery area, but they could also have been placed there for
was recorded, and the excavators suggested that this area might storage or disposal after the meat had been consumed. Every part
have been covered by a wooden platform. of the house except for the western side aisle appears to have
received the deposition of hearth waste and burnt bones. The
largest cluster of burnt bones outside the hearth was at the
4.2. Artefact and bone evidence for activity areas
southwest entrance, indicating that hearth waste was deliber-
ately dumped or swept there. A pile of reddened, blackened and
The distribution of artefacts and bones in these occupation
heat cracked cobbles excavated just beyond the southwest
layers provided additional information about the locations of
entrance reinforces the interpretation of this as a route for waste
activity areas (Fig. 4). There was a concentration of artefacts such as
beads, nails, a spindle whorl and a fragment of vessel glass (rare in
the Viking Age) around the central hearth, suggesting this was
a focus for daily activities. The quartz stones east of the hearth 4.3. Geochemical evidence for activity areas
might have been used as gaming pieces for the Viking Age board
game hnefata, which is known from medieval written sources (e.g. 4.3.1. pH
Frijlfs Saga, Hervrs Saga, Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue). Conditions in the central hearth and the deposits around it were
Clusters of jasper akes and strike-a-lights around the northern alkaline (pH 7e8), and most of the oor deposits were neutral to
half of the hearth provide a good indication of where the re was lit. alkaline (Fig. 5a). Since pure water in equilibrium with atmospheric
The piece of pumice, the knife and the spindle whorl in the eastern CO2 has pH 5.6, the hearth and oor deposits with pH >5.6 acted as
side aisle suggest that this may have been a sitting and working a base, contributing alkali salts such as Ca2, Na, Mg2, or K to the
area, while the four loomweights clustered in the southern part of soil solution. A common source of alkali salts in domestic contexts
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1853

Biomin. Organic Matter

Coarse: Coarse/ Nature of Birefringence Phytoliths Diatoms Amorphous Amorphous Fungal Fungal
ne ratio ne related ne mineral fabric (XPL) (dark brown (light brown to sclerotia spores
(10 mm) distribution material (PPL) to black) light reddish brown)
30:70 Por OrBr, rBr, Sp Un -- - --
20:80 Por OrBr, rBr, Sp Un -- - -- -- - -
30:70 Por OrBr, rBr, Sp Un -- - --
30:70 Por Br, OrBr, D Un -- --- --- -
30:70 Por Br, rBr, D Un ----- -- ------ -
30:70 Por Br, OrBr, D Un ------- --- ---- - ---
50:50 Por pBr, rBr, D Un -- --- ----
5:95 Por pBr, Gr, rBr, Sp Un; local mCr - -
20:80 Por, En Br, pale pBr, Sp; Un; local mCr - -
25:75 Por Br, OrBr, D Un - --- -- -
25:75 Por pBr, Gr, rBr, Sp Un; local mCr -
25:75 Por Br, OrBr, D Un - ---- -
5:95 Por pBr, Gr, rBr, Sp Un; local mCr -
5:95 Por pBr, rBr, Gr, Sp Un; local mCr - -
90:10 Por Br, OrBr, D Un -- ---- ---
30:70 Por Br, RBr, D Un --- ----- --- -
25:75 Por OrBr, RBr, Sp Un -- - ---
20:80 Por pBr, OrBr, D Un ----- -- ---- - --
20:80 Por Br, RBr, D Un ----- ----- ---- - -
25:75 Por pBr, OrBr, Sp Un --- -- ----
30:70 Por pBr Un - - -- -
25:75 Por pBr, OrBr, Sp Un --- -- ---- - -
25:75 Por pBr Br, RBr, D Un --- --- --- - -
5:95 Por OrBr, Sp Un - - -
90:10 Por; local Mon, En Br, D Un - --
40:60 Por OrBr, RBr, Sp Un - - --

is wood ash (Evans and Tylecote, 1967; Pierce et al., 1998), and furnishings (e.g. bedding material) that resulted in accumulations
inclusions of wood charcoal were also found in most of the oor of organic matter. Since ignition at 550  C combusts both charred
deposits in variable quantities, suggesting that wood ash was and uncharred organic remains, and both plant- and animal-
spread from the hearth throughout the building. The distribution of derived materials, interpretations about specic activities or
alkaline pH values, like the distribution of burnt bones, which furnishings required additional data from micromorphological
travelled with the hearth waste, is therefore not indicative of analysis (Section 4.4).
specic activity areas in the building but of a oor maintenance Carbonate content measured by loss on ignition at 950  C was
practice that involved the intentional spreading of ash e a practice highest in the hearth (c. 4%), where it was probably derived from
used until the early 20th century in Iceland to keep oors dry and CaCO3 in wood, peat, and turf ash (Canti, 2003). Individual grid
smooth (Milek, 2012). squares in the eastern and southern edges of the building where
While most grid squares contained sediment that was neutral or carbonates were also in the region of 3e4% (Fig. 5d) are probably also
alkaline, there were several grid squares with extremely low pH places where wood ash and calcined bones were concentrated, an
values (4.5e5.0), notably a 1 m wide strip south of the hearth. This interpretation supported by the distribution of burnt bones (Fig. 4d).
strip was located below a 19th-century foundation trench that had
contained wet, organic sediment, and its pH can be attributed to the 4.3.4. Magnetic susceptibility
accumulation of organic acids. Any bone originally deposited in this High magnetic susceptibility values were limited to sediments
area had little chance of surviving (Fig. 4c). in and adjacent to the hearth, with slightly elevated values also
present in the eastern side aisle next to the hearth (Fig. 6a). Since
4.3.2. Electrical conductivity wood ash, charcoal and bone are not magnetic, the magnetic
The electrical conductivity of the oor sediments was generally enhancement of the hearth ash indicates the presence of soil
very low, but context 871, in the southeast corner, had electrical particles, pebbles and/or iron nodules that were magnetically
conductivity values ten times higher than most other contexts, enhanced by heating. This suggests that peat and/or turf was used
indicating very high nutrient or soluble salt levels (Fig. 5b). Since as fuel in addition to wood or that heated soil material from the
soluble salts are susceptible to leaching, the original concentrations base of the hearth was mixed with the ash residues sampled in and
must have been even higher. Identication of the salts present near the hearth.
required elemental analysis (Section 4.3.5).
4.3.5. Multi-element analysis
4.3.3. Loss on ignition Levels of P, Ca, K, Mg, Zn, Ba, and Sr were highest in the central
Organic matter content estimated by loss on ignition at 550  C hearth deposits at three or more standard deviations above the
was signicant throughout the occupation deposits (Fig. 5c). mean (Figs. 6 and 7). However, all of these elements also had
Concentrations were notably high in the central aisle around and elevated concentrations in the central isle around and north of the
north of the hearth (12e25%), in the northwest corner of the hearth, and in the eastern side aisle east of the hearth, in areas that
building (19e22%) and especially in the eastern side aisle (22e25%), also have signicant organic matter content. These elements are
indicating the locations of activities, ooring materials or organic either plant macronutrients or are trace elements commonly
1854 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Table 4 (continued)

Inclusions Pedofeatures

Charcoal Bone Burnt bone Rubied ne Microcrystalltic Aggregates/ Fe nodules Fe plant Silty clay Excrements
mineral granules lenses of pseudomorphs intercalations
material tephra
------ ----- --
-- --- ------ -
--- ----- ----
--- - - ---- ---
- --
-- -- -- ----
-- --- - --
----- -- -- - - - -
- --- ------ --- - - -
- -- ---- -- - --
--- - ------- -- - -- -
------ --- - - - - -
--- -- ----- --- - - -
- --- ------ -- - -
----- - -- - - - ---
--- --
------- ----- -
-- -- -- ---
- -- --
- - - -- -
----- - - ------ --- - -
- - - - - -- -
-- - - - - --- --
- --- --
-------- --
----- -- -

present in ground water (Sr), which are taken up by plants and pass lowermost lenses of the occupation deposit, 844.1 and 844.4,
through the food chain to animals (Supplementary data Table 3). were stained dark brown by organic acid pigmentation and con-
They are incorporated into hard and soft organic tissues and are tained 20e30% dark brown, partially decomposed plant matter
present in elevated levels on archaeological sites wherever plant or and 10e30% phytoliths (Table 4). The phytoliths included short,
animal tissues or their ashes are deposited (Wilson et al., 2008; broken strands of articulated silica skeletons that are distinctive of
Misarti et al., 2011). The metals Cu and Ni, which had the same grasses that have been chewed by animals, suggesting the pres-
distribution as organic matter and its associated elements, had ence of herbivore dung. It is also possible that elongated strands of
clearly followed the same depositional pathways (Fig. 8bec). vegetal matter have been broken up by bioturbation, and that this
The multi-element data were interrogated by the visual area was used for hay storage or was a grass-bedded sitting/
comparison of distribution maps and statistical correlations in sleeping area for the human occupants of the house (Fig. 9a, b).
order to determine which soluble salts might be responsible for the Any faecal spherulites, if produced, did not survive. Faecal
high electrical conductivity values in the southeast corner of the spherulites have not been found in any reference dung samples or
house (context 871). None of the element distribution plots were stabling deposits in Iceland, and they are either not produced in
identical to the EC distribution, but Ca and Na both showed slight Iceland or were post-depositionally dissolved by rainwater (Canti,
elevations in this area, and Mg was higher overall in the southern 1999).
end of the house than in the northern (Figs. 6bed and 8a). Spear- Lens 844.3 was composed primarily of phytoliths and very
mans rank correlation coefcient (rs) showed a strong positive pale brown amorphous organic matter, and also contained 2e5%
correlation between EC and Mg, which was statistically signicant charcoal, 2e5% small bone fragments and an unusually high
at the 0.01 level (Table 3), and which points towards the presence of concentration of fungal spores (2e5%) (Fig. 9a). The bone frag-
Mg2 salts. However, some common salts, such as chloride (Cl), ments were smaller than 5 mm and highly weathered, with
bicarbonate (HCO3), ammonium (NH 
4 ), nitrate (NO3 ), and nitrite abundant pits and cracks and class 0e1 weathering rims (cf.
(NO 2 ), cannot be detected by ICPeAES. Bullock et al., 1985). The presence of minute, chemically weath-
ered bone fragments, the yellowish/pale brown colour of the ne
4.4. Micromorphological evidence for activity areas organo-mineral matrix in which they were embedded, and the
abundance of fungal spores and phytoliths (some in discrete
4.4.1. North end aggregates) suggest that this layer contained a mixture of
Analysis of thin section AST01-80 conrmed the high organic omnivore and herbivore dung, possibly mixed with vegetal
content noted in context 844 in the eld and in the loss on ignition matter such as hay, while the charcoal indicates that wood ash
data, and provided more information about its origin. Four sepa- was occasionally sprinkled here. Lens 844.2 was a thin lens of
rate lenses were identied in thin section (Supplementary data turf containing the landnm tephra layer. This lens had not been
Table 2.14), and although these had been heavily reworked by identied in the eld, and may have been a localised inclusion. If
soil fauna, it was possible to see the original horizontal bedding of the turf was intentionally deposited, it may have served as
the organic matter in localised areas (Fig. 9a). The uppermost and bedding material.
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1855

a b

c d

Fig. 4. Distributions of (a) artefacts, (b) stone manuports and jasper akes, (c) bones, and (d) burnt bones on the oor of the Viking Age house. Note that bone distribution data is
excluded from context 844, in the northwest corner of the house, because the bones from this context were accidentally lumped together in a single bag. (For interpretation of the
references to colour in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
1856 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

a b

c d

Fig. 5. Distributions of (a) pH, (b) electrical conductivity, (c) percent loss on ignition at 550  C, and (d) percent loss on ignition at 950  C.
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1857

a b

c d

Fig. 6. Distribution of (a) magnetic susceptibility, (b) barium, (c) calcium, and (d) copper.
1858 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

a b

c d

Fig. 7. Distributions of (a) magnesium, (b) phosphorus, (c) potassium, and (d) sodium.
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1859

a b

Fig. 8. Distributions of (a) strontium, and (b) zinc.

4.4.2. Central aisle cooking, but most of the bone was probably intentionally thrown
The layer captured in sample AST01-71, just north of the into the re once the meal was consumed as a convenient and
hearth, contained only 2e5% charcoal and it did not contain any sanitary method of waste disposal (Tinsley and McGovern, 2002).
of the ash or burnt bone that had characterised the central aisle
contexts in the eld, microrefuse and chemical analyses (Table 4). 4.4.4. Western side aisle
Where it was thin sectioned, oor context 864 contained 40e50% Sample AST01-67 was taken from the western side aisle,
amorphous, decomposed organic matter, an unusually high where there had been no oor layers to record or sample in the
concentration of fungal spores (5e10%), and a high proportion of eld, and, on the basis of this negative evidence, where the
phytoliths (40e50%). About 20% of the layer consisted of small excavators had interpreted the location of a oor covering or
(<5 mm) grey aggregates of phytoliths, which were tightly wooden platform. In the location where thin section 67 was
packed together in randomly oriented, short, articulated taken, however, it was possible to identify a very thin occupation
segments identical to reference samples of sheep or goat dung deposit below the turf collapse: an organic silt loam about 8 mm
(Fig. 9c). The deposit did not show any evidence of compaction thick, containing 5e10% charcoal and <2% bone and burnt bone
by trampling and is therefore interpreted as including the (Fig. 9d, Table 4, Supplementary data Tables 2.1 and 2.2). The
remains of dung that had been stored next to the hearth for use deposit had been heavily reworked by soil fauna, but even where
as fuel. the original fabric had survived bioturbation, neither the orga-
nisation nor the microstructure of the sediment showed any
4.4.3. Central hearth evidence of compaction by trampling. This provided independent
The two thin sections taken from the hearth deposits, samples support for the interpretation derived initially from the eld
AST01-74 and AST01-75, contained lenses with either high evidence, that this part of the oor had not been walked on and
concentrations of charcoal or the microcrystallitic CaCO3 granules there was probably a raised wooden platform in this area.
and rubied iron nodules characteristic of peat and turf ash, as well Sample AST01-79 captured a small context, 851, which was very
as lenses that contained a mixture of both wood and peat ashes heterogeneous, containing an abundance of charcoal (20e30%) and
(Table 4; detailed descriptions and interpretations in amorphous organic matter (30e40%), as well as ash (2e5%), burnt
Supplementary data Tables 2.7e2.10). In the alkaline environment bone (2e5%), and bone (<2%) (Fig. 9e). The sediment was porous
of the hearth, the CaCO3 aggregates normally associated with and uncompacted, and contained relatively large, randomly
charcoal should have survived, and the low frequency of these oriented charcoal fragments (up to 7 mm), suggesting that the layer
aggregates in thin section may be indicative of low-temperature had not been trampled. It could not have been the product of a one-
burning (<400  C) (Simpson et al., 2003). In sample AST01-71, off dumping event, since there was a lens of very coarse sand and
there was a lens of burnt sh bone that lay at the boundary ne gravel running through the middle of this layer, but it could
between contexts 802 and 831. It is possible that some of the burnt have accumulated away from the main pathway of foot trafc,
bones in these ash layers were a product of accidental loss during either underneath or up against a piece of furniture. The horizontal
1860 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Fig. 9. Photomicrographs (PPL) of (a) micromorphology sample 80, context 844.3, showing a localised area with horizontally bedded bone, plant mater, and phytoliths surrounded
by sediment disturbed by soil fauna, (b) micromorphology sample 80, context 844.4, showing truncated, articulated phytoliths typical of herbivore dung, (c) micromorphology
sample 71, context 864, showing the tightly packed, randomly oriented segments of articulated phytoliths typical of herbivore dung, (d) micromorphology sample 67, showing
charcoal, bone and decomposing plant matter in an area where there no oor context was identied in the eld, (e) micromorphology sample 79, context 851, showing
uncompacted and relatively large fragments of charcoal, bone and burnt bone, and (f) micromorphology sample 68, context 868, showing very compacted, horizontally bedded
lenses of phytoliths and decomposing plant matter. b: bone, bb: burnt bone, ch: charcoal, o: amorphous organic matter, ph: phytoliths, v: void. (For colour images, the reader is
referred to the web version of this article.)

displacement of artefacts by kicking and scufng, their accumula- ash containing rare charcoal and burnt bone fragments. In thin
tion on the edges of oors and pathways, and their tendency to section AST01-68, however, this layer was composed of a very
accumulate against physical barriers, have been observed in eth- highly compacted organic silt loam, with horizontally bedded
noarchaeological and experimental studies (e.g. Nielsen, 1991; lenses of organic matter, articulated phytoliths, and dark greyish
Stockton, 1973; Wilk and Schiffer, 1979). brown organic silts (Fig. 9f). Although it contained the odd charcoal
fragment (<2%), the occupation deposit captured in this particular
4.4.5. Eastern side aisle sample did not contain any ash. Instead, it consisted almost entirely
The oor deposit in the eastern side aisle, context 868, was of very long, intact strands of herbaceous plant matter (e.g. grass)
described in the eld as a mixture of brown, black, and grey silt and that had been heavily compacted and had decomposed,
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1861

undisturbed, in situ. Although there is a remote possibility that this hearth suggest that dung was also used as a fuel. Bones were
vegetal matter was derived from cow dung, and was compacted by frequently tossed into the re after the meat or sh was consumed,
animals rather than humans, the layer does not appear to have been which would have had the dual effect of feeding the re and
disturbed by hooves and the stabling of cows in this particular area disposing of bone waste hygienically.
seems unlikely due to the layers proximity to the central re and On both sides of the hearth the side aisles probably contained
the concentration of bones and artefacts, including a spindle whorl sitting and sleeping spaces. In the western side aisle this was
(Fig. 4). The deposit can best be interpreted as compacted vegetal likely to have been in the form of a raised wooden platform,
bedding material that had been used for a sitting and sleeping area against which hearth and food residues accumulated but were
by the human occupants of the house. left untrampled, and under which almost no occupation material
accumulated. The cluster of abandoned loomweights on the
4.4.6. Southwest entrance south end of this platform suggests that an upright loom had
Sample AST01-94 was taken from deposits that lled the been located on top of or beside it. In the east side aisle, there
southwest entrance. The uppermost layer in the sequence in the was a bed of compacted hay, which, judging from the straight,
door consisted of medium brown clayey silt with inclusions of the well-dened context boundaries, had probably been contained
landnm tephra layer and occasional charcoal ecks (context 763; by a wooden sill. The artefacts found in the eastern side aisle,
Table 4). In the eld, this layer was interpreted as turf collapse, but such as the pumice, spindle whorl and knife, suggest that
in thin section the lowermost part of it was made up of numerous everyday craftwork took place on this grassy seat. The cluster of
compact lenses of waterlain silty clay, plant matter, organic soils, quartz pebbles found in the eastern side aisle also remind us that
wood ash, and peat ash (Supplementary data Tables 2.17 and 2.18). social activities such as gaming probably took place in this
Below this occupation deposit the reddish brown soil (context 824) central living room.
had also been reworked by water, consisting of multiple, ne lenses In the northwest corner of the house, the fragmented vegetal
of well-sorted silt in ning-up sequences such as those typically remains identied in thin section suggest that the rows of posts
found in puddles. observed in the eld dened stalls for housing a few small cows,
sheep and/or goats e at least occasionally e and/or that the area
5. Discussion was used for storing hay or was the location of a sitting/sleeping
area on vegetal bedding material. The presence of omnivore
5.1. Interpretation of the use of space in the Viking Age house based excrement containing small, weathered/digested bone fragments
on integrated data suggests that people might sometimes have used this corner as
a lavatory, making the animal stall interpretation the more likely,
In this 10th-century house, activity areas and associated occu- but it is entirely possible that this corner of the house had
pation deposits were divided between three aisles dened by rows a combination of these uses, or that the use changed over time. The
of roof-supporting posts, as well as three main functional areas, charcoal inclusions in this deposit indicate that ash was occasion-
which were interpreted on the basis of integrated eld evidence, ally sprinkled here to absorb moisture or odours. The turf fragment
artefact and bone distributions, and geoarchaeological evidence: found in this deposit hints at the possible use of turf for bedding, as
a multi-functional central living room that was centred on the was common in other parts of the North Atlantic region until the
hearth, and two areas that appear to have more specialised func- early modern period (Fenton, 1978).
tions in the narrow ends of the building (Fig. 10). Linking these In the southeast corner of the house there was a small alcove
three main functional areas was the central aisle, which contained where the oor deposit contained an exceptionally high concen-
very compacted sediments and had clearly been the main corridor tration of salts. Besides the phosphates and nitrates that could have
for foot trafc down the length of the building. This central aisle been associated with ash residues and decomposing organic matter
had received inputs of organic matter and ash, abundant charcoal e which were actually found in much higher concentrations else-
and burnt bone inclusions, and chemically it was characterised by where in the house e the salts in this area could have been derived
elevations in a suite of elements associated with organic matter and from sea water, seaweed (and its ash), or urine. While urine is
its ash. especially rich in N2 it also contains c. 2% Cl, K, SO2 3
4 , PO4 , and

While some of the ash in the oor sediments could be from Na . Sea water and its associated products and plants are especially
accidental spillage from the hearth and the movement of material rich in Na and Cl and also contain Mg2, SO2 2
4 , Ca , K , and

by sweeping and trampling, the ubiquity of burnt bones and HCO3 . The fact that there is a strong positive correlation between
charcoal throughout the building, including the entrances and the high electrical conductivity values and magnesium in this
areas that had been separated from the central living room area by deposit suggests that it is sea salt, seaweed, or seaweed ash that
partition walls, suggests that ash was carried around the house were stored and/or used in this corner.
and deposited deliberately. Although modern analogues must be Salt had various practical uses in Viking Age Iceland. Sea salt
used critically, it is worth noting that in 19th- and early 20th- obtained by evaporating sea water or burning seaweed may have
century Iceland ash was commonly deposited on the oors of turf been used as a preservative for butter, meat, or sh (Shetelig and
houses and animal buildings in order to keep them dry and to ll Falk, 1937, 311). However, from the Viking Age to the present, sh
in holes (Milek, 2012). The ne particle size of ash residue enables in Iceland has usually been preserved by drying or smoking, and
it to serve as an insecticide, and because it is absorbent it can meat has been preserved by smoking or pickling in sour whey
protect wooden posts and furnishings from fungal decay (Hakbijl, (Amundsen, 2004; Krivogorskaya et al., 2005). Ethnographic sour-
2002). ces suggest that seaweed ash mixed with water, which produces
The central hearth was the main source of light and heat in the alkaline lye, was commonly used in the North Atlantic region for
building and must have been the focus for all winter/evening cleaning and dyeing wool and fulling cloth until the early 20th
cooking, eating, handcrafts, and social activities. The nd spots of century (Buckland and Perry, 1989; Jochens, 1995, 135e140;
the jasper strike-a-lights and akes indicate that the re was lit Shetelig and Falk, 1937, 332e336; Stead, 1981, 1982). One possible
from its northern end. Several different fuels were used, the most explanation for the high concentration of salts in the southeast
important being birch wood and peat, but crumbs of sheep/goat corner of the house is that seaweed ashes and water were used in
dung found in the thin section taken from the oor just north of the this area to wash or dye wool.
1862 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

Fig. 10. Interpretive plan of the Viking Age house on Aalstrti, based on integrated eld, geoarchaeological, and artefactual evidence. (For interpretation of the references to colour
in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865 1863

5.2. Evaluation of individual geoarchaeological techniques and the building, in this case linking them to sea salts. In addition, the
integrated approach overlapping distributions of the plant macronutrients P, Ca, K, Mg,
Zn, Ba, the trace element Sr, and the micronutrients Ni, Cu, all of
This study of the occupation deposits in the Viking Age house in which are taken up by plants and transferred through the food
Reykjavk illustrates the potential of a multi-method, integrated chain to animals, lent further support to the understanding of
approach to the study of activity areas on archaeological sites. The where there were concentrated inputs of organic matter and ash,
distributions of artefacts, bones, and ashes, long recognised as which had initially been based on eld descriptions and loss on
being affected by cleaning and abandonment behaviours and ignition at 550  C. However, because almost all types of decom-
scavenging by dogs, are of course also very dependent on soil posed, charred, and ashed organic matter will result in the elevated
preservation conditions, which in turn depend on the pH of the soil concentrations of these elements, and different activities do not
solution (in the case of ashes, bones and bone artefacts), and its salt have precise chemical ngerprints, multi-element analysis alone
content (in the case of metals). It is standard practice to take pH does not enable a precise identication of the inputs or the types of
spot tests on a site, but this study has demonstrated how variable activities that occurred in the identied activity areas (see also
pH and salt content (EC) can be across a site due to the variable Wilson et al., 2008). Moreover, because the preservation potential
composition of the anthropogenic sediments (e.g. plant matter will of different types of elements is highly dependent on the pH of the
increase acidity, while wood ash will increase alkalinity), as well as soil solution and the presence/absence of xing agents that can
post-depositional conditions (e.g. the quantity and pH of perco- prevent the leaching of some elements (e.g. P xed to clay, Fe or Ca),
lating rainwater). These results suggest that on any site where and because of preferential loading and possible trapping of
artefact or bone distributions are used to identify and interpret elements such as Ca, P, Sr and Zn in charcoal or bone (Wilson et al.,
activity areas, pH and EC must be tested systematically (e.g. by 2008), the interpretation of multi-element concentrations must
sampling on a grid) in order to ne-tune interpretations to micro- always include a critical assessment of the overlapping data on pH
scale preservation conditions. levels, clay content, and the concentrations of other elements,
In this case study, artefact and bone distributions used on their charcoal and bone.
own provided only limited insight into the use of space in the In this study, multi-element analysis on its own gave no hint of
building. Burnt bone and charcoal distributions may be used as the presence of herbivore or carnivore excrement in the north-
proxies for ash dumps on the oors of the house, and provide west corner of the house, which were identied in thin section.
information about oor maintenance activities rather than the use Phosphorus levels in this area were either at the mean or were
of space. There is no question that with a critical evaluation of the elevated above it by only one standard deviation, and the nutrient
reliability of artefact nd spots, certain types of artefacts, such as levels (EC) here were low. Because this deposit was dominated by
those associated with craft production (e.g. loomweights, spindle decomposed organic matter and contained little soil, there was
whorls or pumice in this Viking Age context), re-starting (e.g. a lack of clay or iron to which phosphorus could x, and since pH
jasper or int akes), or gaming can provide a rich source of levels were 6e7, phosphorus in this area could have remained in
information about the likely locations of these activities. However, mobile ionic form and leached fairly rapidly. In this case study, the
the oors of buildings are not always rich in artefacts, many types interpretation of the animal stalls, hay storage, and/or vegetal
of artefacts cannot provide information about activities (e.g. bedding material in the northwest corner of the building was
beads, nails) and nd spots may frequently be judged to be achieved only through soil micromorphological analysis, with no
unrelated to locations of use. In this study, geoarchaeological contribution from multi-element analysis or any of the other
techniques played an essential role in the identication and geochemical techniques.
interpretation of activity areas, sometimes conrming the eld Of the geoarchaeological methods employed to detect activity
evidence, and sometimes providing new information that had not areas in this case study, micromorphological analysis had the
been detected in the eld. greatest interpretive power. Most importantly for this study, in
In this study, magnetic susceptibility provided little new infor- thin section it was often possible to identify and quantify different
mation about activity areas, merely conrming that in situ burning types of organic matter (e.g. phytoliths of grass/hay, charred and
only took place in the central hearth. Likewise, loss on ignition at uncharred wood and plant remains, sheep/goat dung excrements,
950  C conrmed that the hearth contained a concentration of etc.), thus enabling the identication of the area north of the
calcium carbonate-rich ash, and showed how ash had been hearth where sheep/goat dung was stored for fuel, the probable
distributed around the building e a distribution that overlapped sitting/sleeping area with grass/hay bedding in the eastern side
with that of burnt bones. Loss on ignition at 550  C quantied the aisle, and the probable stabling/hay storage/vegetal bedding area
organic matter and charcoal that had been observed in the eld, in the northwest corner of the house. The identication of
and pinpointed the parts of the house that had received the greatest uncompacted microstructures in the thin section from the
inputs of this organic material (the central aisle, the eastern side western side aisle also supported the interpretation initially
aisle, and the northwest corner). However, the nature and origin of proposed by the excavators on the basis of the absence of oor
the organic matter, and the specic activities that took place in layers that this was an untrampled area protected by a raised
these areas, could not be determined by this technique. Likewise, wooden platform. In thin section it was also possible to identify
electrical conductivity identied an activity area in the southeast the specic types of ashes (e.g. wood ash, peat ash) contained in
corner that had resulted in a concentration of soluble salts, which in the central hearth, and to identify waterlain deposits in the
this case had not been identied in the eld, but the types of salts southwest entrance area, which had not been identied in the
cannot be determined by this technique. While these rapid and eld. The application of soil micromorphological analysis to the
inexpensive methods provide a spatial overview of the locations of study of activity areas is limited by the fact that block samples
activity areas and spatial variations in preservation conditions, cannot feasibly be taken systematically across house oors, and by
additional, spatially overlapping data are required to interpret the the fact that sometimes different activities can result in similar
original inputs and thereby the activities that created them. materials and microstructures being visible in thin section.
Multi-element analysis and the determination of statistically However, this case study demonstrates that targeted micromor-
signicant correlations were instrumental for the interpretation of phology sampling could be of utmost importance to the inter-
the types of salts found concentrated in the southeast corner of the pretation of site activity areas.
1864 K.B. Milek, H.M. Roberts / Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013) 1845e1865

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