Micromorphological and chemical investigation of late-Viking age grave fills at Hofstaðir, Iceland

Annika Lynn Burns, Matt Pickering, Kimberley Ann Green, Adam Phillip Pinder, Hildur Gestsdóttir, Maria-Raimonda Usai, Don Reginald Brothwell, Brendan John Keely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Grave fills from seven human burials from a late-Viking age - early medieval cemetery at Hofstaðir, Mývatnssveit (Iceland) were examined by soil micromorphology and organic chemical analysis. Detailed analysis of the weathering of the mineral constituents of the grave fills demonstrates a relationship between the extent of weathering of volcanic silicates within the fills and the presence of buried human remains. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC–MS) of extracts from the fills and controls of two graves revealed organic signatures dominated by plant-derived organic matter, with no evidence of degradation products of the body tissues. Transformation of n-alkanes into n-alkan-2-ones provides evidence for microbial activity within the fills. GC–MS analysis of the organic extract from under one of the skulls and pyrolysis gas chromatography of wood fragments found in that grave provide compelling evidence for the former presence of a conifer wood coffin. The use of this non-native wood in the burial provides evidence for either the import of foreign lumber or the utilisation of driftwood, most likely originating from Russia/Siberia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-194
Number of pages12
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details


  • Abietane and pimarane diterpenoids
  • Coffin wood
  • Grave fills
  • Human burials
  • Micromorphology
  • Organic residues
  • Post-depositional processes
  • Tephra
  • Weathering

Cite this