So, last night I went to hear a lecture at UCLA from Jesse Byock about the Mosfell Archeological Project in southwestern Iceland, where they are digging up the bones of some of the characters from Egil's Saga.
The site, which includes a conversion era (1000 A.D.) church structure, alongside an earlier pagan mortuary mound, shaped like a ship and pointed out to sea, called Huldahóll, or "Elvin Hill," is specifically mentioned in the Saga as well:
"When Christianity was adopted by law in Iceland (ca. 1000 A.D.), Grím of Mosfell was baptized and built a church there. People say that Thordis had Egil's bones moved to the church, and this is the evidence. When a church was built at Mosfell, the one that Grím had built at Hrísbrú was demolished and a new graveyard was laid out. Under the altar some human bones were found, much bigger than ordinary human bones, and people are confident that these were Egil's because of stories told by old men."
They showed us slides of the bones of one man who who had been axed in the head, and they are able to triangulate the speculative probability that he was Medieval Icelandic Law-speaker Grimr's son, Björn, who was killed in a bloodfeud in the Saga. Additionally, Byock speculates that Egil's bones are described as being "much bigger than human bones" because the descriptions of him, and his experiences in the Saga are consistent with the symptoms of Paget's Disease. In the Saga, Egil is described as hulking and ugly, and his skull is "ridged all over on the outside like a scallop shell." It's also said that his skull could withstand an ax blow, and this is one of incidents in the saga that is pointed to as evidence of their historical unreliability. The salient point being that all this challenges the notion that the Sagas are purely fictive, and not also historical, while giving us a clearer sense of what life must have been like for the early Viking settlers in the Mosfell Valley, who first arrived in 870 A.D. by boat from Scandinavia, and went on to explore Greenland and the coast of North America in those little wooden Viking rowboats.
Jesse Byock was fantastic, because I could tell that the whole time he was being soberly academic, he was really saying "Dudes, HOW COOL IS THIS?!" The whole thing made me so nostalgic for my school days. What a delightful life it must be to dig up Viking churches in Iceland.
Sometimes I think it's time for me to go straight back to school.