Updated: Mar 13
Fifteen kilometers inland from the village of Buðadalur, past Haukadalsvatn (Haukaldals Lake), one arrives at Eiríksstaðir, the former homestead of Eirikur Þorvaldsson. He is better known to us as Eirik the Red (Eirikur Rauði in Icelandic). Eiríksstaðir is also famous as the birthplace of his son, Leifur Eiríksson, circa 974.
Photos by Kent Lárus Björnsson
Eiriksstaðir is a combination museum, archeological dig and interpretive center. In contrast to the contemporary multimedia, self-guided Leifur Eiriksson Center, also known as Vinlandssetur, Eiríksstaðir is an open-air museum that transports visitors back to the era described in the Icelandic Book of Settlement (Landmánabók) and the Saga of Eirik the Red. According to these texts, Eirikur was born in Norway, but his family was forced to leave when his father, Þorvald, was accused of manslaughter.
The family originally settled in Iceland on Hornstrandir, part of the Westfjörds and now a national park. Once his father died, Eirik married Þjóðhildur Jǫrundardóttir and settled at what became known as Eirikstaðir, in Dalasýsla building his farmstead sometime in the second half of the 10th century AD.
The area at Eiriksstadir has been of archeological interest since the 1800s and the current day interpretive buildings are based on excavations done in the late 1990s. The longhouse was rebuilt in 2000 using drawings created during the excavations of the site of Eiríkur´s farmstead.
Excavations show the house had been modified over the early years, including adapting to a landslide that hit the structure. The replica “was built through a local initiative with assistance from an advisory committee of archeologists from the National Museum [of Iceland]. The current building is based on research about the oldest known structures from Iceland and neighboring countries of the same period. All the timber used in the building is driftwood.
The house was built using recreated Settlement Age tools which were reconstructed based on archeological finds or ancient descriptions. The carvings and decorations are based on models from the same period. Paneling is used for the interior, and the ceiling rafters have a brushwood lining with a triple layer of turf to form the roof. The turf walls were built using turf clumps with twine connecting them, which was probably the original building technique as revealed during excavation.”
Upon arrival at Eiríksstaðir, visitors are immersed in the glory days of the Viking era of exploration of the high seas on their way to Greenland and further to North America.
Visitors to the property are greeted by guides costumed in authentic dress. Tours that leave every half-hour during the day share the archeological site along with the recreated longhouse and learn about the lifestyle, tools, food, lodging and tales of that by-gone time. Once inside the longhouse, visitors see and hear what life was like living at Eiriksstaðir. They are introduced to such things as the master of the manor area, the pantry, a locked room for which only women could be trusted with the keys, and the “virgins’ loft” where unmarried women slept for safekeeping, to name just a few things.
Visitors are invited to try on clothing, handle weapons and practice becoming Vikings - sorry, no horned helmets as real Vikings did not wear them! It is thought that about 20 people lived in the longhouse at any one time though that number may have swelled at times, particularly during winters.
Interestingly enough, Eirik and his family were forced to leave the area circa 982 for the very same reason his father was forced to leave Norway - Eirik killed two neighbors. After a stop on Snæfellnes where Eirík killed a couple more folks, the family set sail to the west, founding settlements in Greenland and setting the stage for his son, Leif, the Lucky, to further explorations of North America.
There is a food truck on the site serving both the Viking era and modern-day traditional Icelandic foods and beverages. You can learn more at the website: http://eiriksstadir.is/en/