Archaeological heritage

According to Act no. 80/2012 on Heritage, archaeological heritage includes on the one hand archaeological artefacts and on the other hand archaeological sites.     

Archaeological artefacts are items more than 100 years old that have been used by men or which bear evidence of human intervention and that have been found in or on the earth or glacier or sea. Ships and boats dating to before 1950 are considered to be archaeological artefacts. Archaeological artefacts can also be human remains or animal remains found in archaeological sites such as in ancient mounds, cairns and graves.     

Archaeological sites are any kind of remains of human settlement on land, underground, in a glacier, in sea or water that are man-made and that are older than 100 years such as:

  1. cultural landscape, ornamental gardens and cemeteries, remains of buildings, farm locations and remains of farms with associated buildings and rubbish heaps, any kind of remains of buildings such as remains of churches, places of worship, cloisters, meeting places and temporary residence, remains of working stations, boathouses, commercial stations and remains of residence in caves and overhangs;
  2. working stations used for gathering supplies, such as remains of mountain dairies, fishing stations, night shelters, peat bogs and bog iron smelters;
  3. arable and pastoral fields, remains of sheepfolds, irrigation structures and other agricultural relics, relics from fishing at sea and in freshwater;
  4. roads and paths, remains of dams, remains of bridges and other communications structures, fords, landing places, remains of harbour structures and moorings; slipways, aerial lift crossings, cairns and other navigational signs with their landmarks,
  5. forts and watchtowers and remains of other defence structures;
  6. legendary holy places, temples and sanctuaries, wells, springs, enchanted places and other places and landmarks related to habits, customs, legend or folklore;
  7. inscriptions, images or other evidence of human activity in caves and overhangs, on cliffs, rocks or landfast stones and gravestones in churchyards;
  8. mounds, cairns and other burial places from pagan and Christian times;
  9. shipwrecks or parts of such wrecks.

Preservation of archaeological heritage

All archaeological artefacts found underground are the property of the state and the discovery of such items must be notified to The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland. Artefacts from archaeological excavations must be surrendered to the National Museum of Iceland on completion of the excavation.

Ships and boats older than 50 years are considered archaeological artefacts and all boats older than 1950 have de facto protection status. An assessment from The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland must be sought with respect to all alterations to such boats, including their destruction or their being sold to another country.Where it has been decided that archaeological artefacts be preserved at the National Museum of Iceland, they are considered to be national relics.

There are two levels of protection for archaeological sites:

Protection constitutes automatic protection of all archaeological sites older than 100 years. 

The Minister can decide listing of archaeological sites with cultural heritage, scientific or artistic value, having received the opinion of The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland. Listing can also cover the immediate environment of the listed site. A continuous area of land can be listed where there is more than one archaeological location considered to have cultural heritage value. Listed archaeological sites are considered to be national relics.

Emergency listing

The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland can designate emergency listing status for sites that have special cultural heritage, scientific or artistic value, but that have not been designated as listed or enjoy statutory protection, if there is a risk that buildings will be spoiled, demolished or their value diminished in any manner. While emergency listing is in force the rules of listing apply.

Emergency listing comes into force when The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland has informed all stakeholders of its decision in a verifiable manner. The decision is binding after notification has been received by the parties and applies for up to six weeks.

The Minister shall decide whether the cultural heritage shall be listed before expiry of the emergency listing, having received a proposal from The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland.