Back to Profiles Page
Ayodele Oti does archaeology research in Iceland.
Junior, International Environmental Public Health & Sustainable Development
My Summer Experience:
From July 5-24th I went to Iceland for an Archaeology Field School sponsored by a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant from the National Science Foundation procured by Brooklyn College Professor Sophia Perdikaris. Nine other students and I spent our first week in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. In that first week we became familiar with the history and culture of Iceland by visiting the Botanical Garden & Zoo, the Settlement Museum, Arbejarsfn Housing Museum, the Egils Saga Exhibition, the museum and farm site of Snorri Sturlson--Iceland's first historiographer, and the National Museum of Iceland.
While in Reykjavik we also went bird watching where we saw lots of puffins and other birds native to Iceland; we got to enjoy the mountain scenery and lava fields and even took a roadside picnic one day; and we also had our first geothermal water experience spending an evening at the Blue Lagoon pool.
After Reykjavik we headed north to the site we would be at for 2 weeks called Myvatn. In Myvatn we worked on a medieval farm and church site called Skuttastadir. The graduate students who were working there (from CUNY & Iceland) were excavating a midden deposit. What I found most interesting about the excavation of this site was the use of tephra chronology to not only guide the excavation so that site connections could be made, but also to date the artifacts that were found. Due to the numerous volcanic eruptions that Iceland has had throughout its history, ash deposited from each eruption has led to the development of tephra layers. Each layer can then be tied to a date. So far the dates they are aware of are 1717, 1477, 1310, 1300, 1262, 1158, and 871 ± 2 (settlement /Landnam period).
For the next 2 weeks I worked at this site helping to dig and sieve (sift through the dirt in search of artifacts). We pulled out many animal bones (fish, baby cow, sheep), iron, copper, and some other artifacts. Working at site was fun, and I was able to learn a lot from the graduate students there.
On the weekends we went on excursions to: past archaeology sites, a medieval festival in Gasir, whale watching in Husavik, the volcano Krafla, Godafoss waterfall, Namafjall Hverir--a geothermal area with mud pots and fumaroles, the Husavik Whale Museum, The Culture House Museum, and Dimmuborgir Lava Field.
When it was finally time to leave Iceland I was sad. We had our last hurrah by putting on a medieval dinner with the Kids Archaeology Program that Professor Perdikaris had been running for some time. It was a meal complete with pit roasted salmon, trout, bird and lamb, bread, and skyr (like a yogurt).
Although I was sad to go, I am certain I will be back. Iceland is a really unique place, and despite doing a lot, I know there is more to see and do!
Why I went:
Last Fall I applied to take part in the Islands of Change REU program with Brooklyn College Professor Sophia Perdikaris. The program takes students interested in historical ecology to Barbuda (where I went in January) and Iceland (in July) to not only participate in archaeology field school, but also to put together our own research project at the end of the REU cycle (the program is a year and a half).
As a student who is interested in the environment, particularly with regard to sustainable development and public health, I wanted to explore past human-environment interactions to see what lessons I could possibly learn to help with the future. Though I am not an anthropology/archaeology student (you don't have to be to participate) I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to try something new while learning a lot.
The project I hope to complete will look at the idea of transported landscape; the notion that settlers from various origins bring ideas/technology from their old landscape to the place they colonize. In Barbuda you have the English settling on the island and introducing new animal species to the landscape, and manipulating the landscape to suit their intended purposes. In Iceland, the Vikings who settled Iceland in 871 ±2 who also introduced animal grazing to the island and had to do some deforesting in the process for pasture land. In both locations, unintended consequences of these actions are very evident today and have played a role in the economies, cultures, and environments of these two islands.
What I Learned:
Overall, I learned a lot about Icelandic history and culture from my time there; but, perhaps what I took away most of all was the beauty of nature and how important it is to preserve it. Iceland's landscape has been through a lot since settlement, namely the deforestation that has practically lead to the extinction of the birch wood tree and extreme erosion. I appreciate very much Iceland's ecotourism efforts, and I was left nothing short of breathless every time I had my eyes on the picturesque landscape. I am even more certain now that sustainable development with special attention to the environment is what I want to be involved in. Humans have been interacting with the environment for thousands of years now; but, in this day and age we need to start taking better care of it.
The most memorable experience I had in Iceland was dog sledding on a glacier, for two reasons. The first was our trip up to the glacier and it was clear that the glacier was going through a process of erosion/melting. Where there wasn't ice there was dark sand and gravel covering the landscape. The change this area was in the process of is certainly a testament to changing climatic conditions. Our dog sledding guide (who lived on the glacier) told us that the glacier had shrunk 30 meters since last year. The second reason this experience was memorable was because I went dog sledding...on a glacier! It was a first for me in many ways, and I had fun with the people I was with.
Advice For Others:
Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new when abroad, especially when it comes to food. I tried carpaccio whale and fermented shark when I initially wasn't going to. Though I regret the latter experience, I'm glad I'm able to say how disgusting it was. Try to learn as much about the history and culture of the place you visit; brownie points if you do research before hand. Study abroad is not just a vacation - although it may feel like it sometimes - it's about immersing yourself and coming back more knowledgeable about the world you live in and how we are all connected.
REU: Islands of Change Grant:
Professor Sophia Perdikaris:
(Click to enlarge)