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Viking Settlement

How the Norse Lived


Reconstructed Viking Longhouse, Stöng, Iceland

Reconstructed Viking Longhouse, Stöng, Iceland

Thomas Ormston
Farmland in Iceland

Farmland in Iceland

Moyan Brenn

Viking settlers lived not so much in villages, but rather on isolated, regularly spaced farmsteads surrounded by grain fields, and led by chieftainships with multiple farmsteads. In some areas, saeters, upland stations where livestock could be moved during summer seasons, were constructed, including dwellings, byres, barns, stables and other buildings associated with a year-round farmstead. This grazing method, called shieling, was part of the overall process of Norse agriculture called landnám.

A model Viking settlement had access to the sea with a reasonable boat access; a flat, reasonably well-drained area of a farmstead; and extensive grazing areas. The farming economy included barley, and domesticated sheep, goat, cattle, pig, and horse. Marine resources included seaweed, fish, shellfish and whale. Seabirds were exploited for their eggs and meat, and driftwood and peat was used to build fires and buildings.

Churches were small square buildings in the center of a circular churchyard. Dwellings, storage facilities and barns might be built of stone or stone-foundations; peat or turfs, or wood, or all three. Fuels used by the Norse included peat, peaty turf and wood; in addition for heating and building construction, much wood was used for iron smelting.

Viking Settlements


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Ancient Vikings and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

See the Viking bibliography for more research areas.

Adderley, W. P., Ian A. Simpson, and Orri Vésteinsson 2008 Local-Scale Adaptations: A Modeled Assessment of Soil, Landscape, Microclimatic, and Management Factors in Norse Home-Field Productivities. Geoarchaeology 23(4):500-527.

Barrett, James H., Roelf P. Beukens, and Rebecca A. Nicholson 2001 Diet and ethnicity during the Viking colonization of northern Scotland: Evidence from fish bones and stable carbon isotopes. Antiquity 75:145-154.

Buckland, Paul C., Kevin J. Edwards, Eva Panagiotakopulu, and J. E. Schofield 2009 Palaeoecological and historical evidence for manuring and irrigation at Garðar (Igaliku), Norse Eastern Settlement, Greenland. The Holocene 19:105-116.

Goodacre, S., et al. 2005 Genetic evidence for a family-based Scandinavian settlement of Shetland and Orkney during the Viking periods. Heredity 95:129-135.

Milner, Nicky, James Barrett, and Jon Welsh 2007 Marine resource intensification in Viking Age Europe: the molluscan evidence from Quoygrew, Orkney. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:1461-1472.

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