[Vision2020] Jared Diamond and Sod Houses

nickgier at adelphia.net nickgier at adelphia.net
Wed May 30 10:55:28 PDT 2007


As I posted this column on the Vision, I thought I should announce a correction.  Even the best can make mistakes, unless Jared Diamond can come up with an explanation.

Dear Prof. Diamond,

I used information from your book "Collapse" to write a column entitled "Ed the Viking, Greenland, and Global Warming."  (www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/VikingEd.htm.) 

One of my readers questioned your claim that a typical sod house consumed 10 acres of grazing land.  

He contacted some Viking enthusiasts (see appended calculations below) and they came up with at most one quarter acre for a 16' by 52' sod house.  According to the Hurstwic website on Viking culture, the largest sod houses in Iceland were 23' by 250', but still such a house would consume only about 1.75 acres of sod.

Was this a misprint, or were you relying on other sources?  Or were you thinking of a very, very, large sod house?


Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho

>From Bill Short at www.hurstwic.org

>I used the sod house at Eiríksstaðir, the house of Eiríkr rauða before he
>left for Greenland.  There is an excellent archaeological report on the
>site (Guðmundur Ólafsson, _Eiríksstaðir í Haukadal_, 1998).  There are also
>a bunch of photos on the Hurstwic site here:
>The typical size of turf bricks is 1.5m x .5m x .2m.
>The outer walls at Eiriksstaðir are approx 16m x 5m.  There is both an
>inner and outer wall of turf.  So each course of turf bricks for the four
>outside and four inside walls requires 56 bricks.  The exterior walls rise
>about 2m above the foundation, so 10 courses are needed.  (Looking at the
>photos, I'm going to guess that estimate is a bit low - it appears their
>sod is not as thick as what I assumed.)
>Regardless, I need 560 bricks for the walls.  420 sq m.  0.1 acres.  I need
>sod for the roof, and interior walls, and to tie together the inner and
>outer walls, too, but it doesn't bring me anywhere near the 10 acres you
>Best regards,
>Bill Short 

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