The Settlement Exhibition – Landnámssýningin in Icelandic – makes a nice companion experience to the Saga Museum, as it shows the living environment of the first settlers. The Saga Museum shows the people, the Settlement Exhibition shows the place.
The focal point is the archeological finds of the oldest relics of settlement of Reykjavík, from before AD 871±2. The 2001 diggings also uncovered a tenth century longhouse, which has been preserved in place.
The structure is below street current street level, there are a couple of skylights where you can look down onto the longhouse, and which let some light in to the museum. However, the overall lighting level inside is minimal, and the ceilings are low, which, now that I’m writing this, is probably similar to being in a Viking longhouse.
The museum has a variety of interactive stations showing what life might have been like, discussing the construction of the longhouse and giving more historical information. They were nicely done, and the museum would be enjoyable and informative even if you didn’t go through all of every one of the stations.
The 871±2 was determined by tephrochronology (ooo! new word!) – that is, dating from a layer of volcanic ash or tephra deposited by a particular eruption, in this case from the Torfajökull area.
I really enjoyed the objects – even when I can’t touch them, seeing the tools and dishes and whatnots gives me a physical sense of the people and their life which is now looked at as history. <Insert digression about if there are people on earth in another 1150 years what will they find of ours and what will they make of it?> There was also a (bonus!) exhibit of original manuscripts of some of the Settlement Sagas. That was super awesome and beautiful – amazing as objects, the Sagas are also very important as Iceland’s literary and cultural heritage.