DOI: 10.1515/opar-2022-0345 ISSN: 2300-6560

Turf Building in Iceland – Past, Present, and Future

Guðný Zoëga, Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, Bryndís Zoëga
  • Education
  • Archeology
  • Conservation


For a millennium, turf was the primary building material in Iceland. It was used for dwellings, outhouses, boundary walls, raised roads, and other man-made structures. Turf is known as an earthen building material in many countries, especially in northern latitudes, but the knowledge of how to build using it has mostly disappeared. As turf was used well into the twentieth century in Iceland, the skilled craft of locating, harvesting, and building with this material has been retained. This is also facilitated by still standing historical buildings and the need for continual maintenance. Archaeologists also benefit from learning about turf as they frequently interpret the remains of turf walls in the archaeological record. This means that Iceland is in a unique position to disseminate knowledge on this important intangible heritage. However, because of a lack of adequate funding and strategies for maintaining the craft, these skills are in danger of disappearing in Iceland as well. In this article, we discuss the state of knowledge on turf, what turf is, the preservation of the intangible building heritage, the revival of interest in turf, and how the various strands of evidence serve as background for the interpretation of turf as heritage and as an archaeological material.

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