Viking Unst Project
In the summer of 2005 topographical survey of several Viking/Norse house sites was carried out (Bond et al. 2006). These sites included those currently under investigation at Hamar and Underhoull, as well as Stove and Lund. Excavation associated to the Viking Unst Project commenced at Hamar in the summer of 2006.
The excavation of Viking/Norse settlements on the most northerly of the British Isles will form the centre of a much larger multi-faceted programme on 'Viking Unst' which includes historical research, place name interpretation, landscape survey, environmental history, heritage interpretation and community involvement and regeneration.
We know virtually nothing about rural Scandinavian settlement in Britain. Much of what we do know is from sites in Orkney (e.g. Pool, Skaill, Birsay, Buckquoy, Westness) and some in Shetland (Jarlshof, Underhoull, Sandwick); all of these are multi-period sites, unlike many of the apparently Viking sites in Unst.
Island of Unst
The island of Unst has a large number of longhouse sites of apparently Viking or Norse date, but these sites are rather enigmatic, seeming to consist of single phase dwellings with only a short occupation sequence.
In other parts of the Northern Isles, such single-period sites are largely absent and Viking settlement is usually identified within multi-period sites on good land with origins before Scandinavian settlement and often a long subsequent settlement history. This begs the question of why the Unst sites appear to be different. Are they perhaps the first move away from the primary settlements? If so, why were they subsequently abandoned?
Norse farms in these locations may have been environmentally vulnerable; soliflucation stripes and mountain-tundra soils can be seen on the Keen of Hamar, just 20m above a longhouse site. Or did the rise in the importance of fishing in the late Norse economy, as proposed by James Barratt and others, lead to the abandonment of more marginal agricultural settlements, making these late norse, rather than early Viking, farms?
Alternatively, some of these upland sites may represent not abandoned farms, but sheilings contemporary with settlements on better land which have disappeared under later farms.
The main aim of the project, therefore, is to understand this unusual settlement pattern by investigating its chronology, form, economic basis and landscape context, and to understand how this affected later settlement. The project will also attempt to understand the date and nature of the initial Viking settlement of Unst, and how this fits into the models of Viking expansion across the Atlantic.
View details about the Viking Unst excavation from the link below: