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The animal bones found in Vatnsvik, lake Þingvallavatn, Iceland

A collection of 15 animal bones from horse and cattle, including two bone artefacts found underwater close to the remains of a boat dated to 1482-1646 CE

Project Abstract


This small collection of 15 animal bones, including two animal bone artefacts were recovered in Vatnsviki, Þingvallavatn close to the remains of a small wooden boat which has been radiocarbon dated to the 17th century. The bones were mostly rather badly preserved, hollowed out and their surfaces were eroded, pitted and had some algae growth. Eleven of the 15 bones found were horse (Equus caballus). Bone fusion and aging based on tooth wear indicate that the horses were fully grown and that the bones came from at least two separate horses and possibly three. A single, unworked, cattle (Bos taurus) bone was in the collection a proximal radius and ulna. The two bone artefacts were both made from tibias, one from horse and the other cattle. They had sawn ends and are likely associated with net fishing in the lake. It is not clear if the artefacts are associated with the rest of the bones in the collection. Some similar artefacts are registered in the Icelandic museum database Sarpur.

The nature of the animal bone collection from Vatnsviki is hard to discern but it is certainly unusual both in the species recovered and where it was found. Possibly it is a horse burial site or site for disposing of large animal carcasses. It seems unlikely that the site is a conventional midden.

Methodological Notes:

The archaeofaunal collection was analysed with traditional zooarchaeological methods. The animal bone reference collection used during analysis was the Icelandic Zooarch reference collection ( (Pálsdóttir and Skúladóttir, 2016, 2018). Zooarchaeolgocial data was recorded following the NABONE system (North Atlantic Biocultural Organization Zooarchaeology Working Group, 2010) with some modifications. Measurements followed von Den Driesch (1976) and were done with digital callipers to the mm. Texture recorded following the York system (Harland, Barrett, Carrott, Dobney, and Jaques, 2003). Bone elements zones were recorded following Dobney and Rielly (1988). Aging of bones based on fusion (Noddle, 1984; Silver, 1969) states and teeth based on wear (Levine, 1982; Müller and Leesch, 2013). The sexing of the horse pelvis followed Getty (1975, pp. 296–304). All bones and teeth were photographed with scale.

Potential Applications of the Data:

General zooarchaeology of Iceland and the North-Atlantic. Measurements of horse bones. Underwater zooarchaeology. Fishing implements.


Analysis funded by The Icelandic Museum of Natural History. Reference collection used, Icelandic Zooarch, housed at the Agricultural University of Iceland.

Related Publication:

Zooarchaeology report (in Icelandic): Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir. (2018). Dýrabein úr Vatnsvikinu í Þingvallavatni. Rit LbhÍ nr. 108. Reykjavík: Landbúnaðarháskóli Íslands.

Suggested Citation

Albína H Pálsdóttir. (2019) "The animal bones found in Vatnsvik, lake Þingvallavatn, Iceland". In Open Context. Released: 2019-10-16. Open Context. <>

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