The first eruption of Mt. Hekla in historical times is thought to have occurred in 1104. Because of the eruption, a settlement of about 20 farms In the Thorsardalur Valley was devastated and permanently abandoned. In 1939, Nordic archaeologists excavated the sites of some of these farms, among them the farm Stong, which proved to be exceptionally well preserved under thick layers of white, volcanic ash (pumice). In 1974, on the 1100th anniversary of the inhabitancy of the country, it was decided to reconstruct an Icelandic farm in to show to the best of our knowledge how they looked in the early middle ages (i.e. 1000-1200). It seemed obvious that such a reconstruction should be based primarily on the excavated ruins of the farm Stong, he size, proportions, and grouping of the various houses of the reconstruction are identical with those of the Stong farm.
As to the interior of the houses, all details, such as the size and position of sleeping benches and sitting benches, the storeroom, the door and the large milk vessels partly sunk into the floor of the dairy, are likewise based on the ruins as far as possible. The foundation stones for the posts, the paving stones on the floors, the fireplaces, the stone box in the entrance hall and the stone base for a quern, are also copied from the Stong model. The same applies to the turf walls, although with slight modifications. The turf walls of the Stong farm seem to have been made entirely with the so-called “strengur-technique” (i.e. with long and thin horizontal pieces of turf), and most of the walls of the reconstruction are of that kind. The architect has allowed himself, to a certain extent, to use the so-called “klombruhnaus-technique” (zigzag patterns), which is thought to have been used in mediaeval Iceland as well as in later times.
The Stong ruins yielded considerable information about the wooden parts of the farm buildings, such as wall panels, partition walls, and the front boards of benches. In some cases, the dimensions of timbers were indicated. In one of the impressions in the dairy-floor, the construction of the bottom of the vessel was clearly shown. In addition to the Stong ruins, the reconstruction is based on the following sources:
1. Remnants of old Icelandic woodwork still to be found in various parts of the country.
2. Excavated farm ruins in the mediaeval Icelandic settlements of Greenland.
3. Description of houses in the Saga-literature and mediaeval registers.
4. Nordic stave construction in houses still preserved and in excavated ruins. For instance, the wood framework of the hall is modelled on the construction seen in some old outbuildings still standing in the Southeast of Iceland. It is well documented that ancient building customs are preserved in the houses. Even the technical terms still used for various details correspond precisely to those used in a well-known passage in Njal’s-Saga. The roof construction of the living room is based on a description in the so-called Dedication Homily in an Icelandic manuscript fragment from around 1150. The wainscoting in the hall and the living room is copied from some mediaeval wall panels from the farm Storu-Akrar in the district of Skagafiord in the North, and the ruins of a living room excavated in the Western Settlement of Greenland, which was devastated not later than 1350. The doors of the dairy and the lavatory are copies of doors found fairly intact in Greenland farm ruins.
The well-known church door from Valthjofsstadur served as a model for the door of the hall. Tables and table supports are copies of authentic Norwegian pieces from about 125. The building thoughts of the architect responsible for the reconstruction were firstly to use the evidence from the Stong farm to the utmost, and secondly to try to make the reconstruction a kind of museum, showing samples of the carpentry and craftsmanship of the early Middle Ages, as authentic as they can be made at the present stage of our knowledge. It is understood, that a good many gaps had to be filled with the help of creative imagination, much as in documentary novel. It should be born in mind that in the reconstructed farm, many things are still lacking, which would normally have been present in a mediaeval farm house, such as beds, wall hangings, chests, lamps, many kinds of tools and implements and household articles. About some of these items, our knowledge is still somewhat defective. Others have not yet been made, because of lack of funds. It is to be hoped, that all these shortcomings will be made up in the near future.
The latest reconstructed addition near the mediaeval farm is the stave church, built of Norwegian quality wood as a present to the Icelandic people in the summer of the year 2000 to commemorate the millennium of Christianity and the discovery of North America.