Turf farmhouses at Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
© Jarcosa/Getty Image
Roofs of sod have sheltered mainland Scandinavians through countless winters and summers. But those who migrated from Norway's grass-roof log cabins to this Icelandic tundra in the 9th century found none of the rich timberland of their homeland—just wispy birch forests and grassy fields. To survive the cold, they took the old turf roof concept and built on it, encasing not only the roofs but the walls of their birch-framed homes in layers of living, insulating soil.
The turf buildings shown here are located at Skaftafell, a manor farm founded by early settlers and now part of Vatnajökull National Park. These huts are much younger than the original Icelandic turf houses from a millennium ago. When the plains in the distance began flooding in the late 19th century, the farmers who'd made homes there were forced uphill, and one farmer, Þorsteinn Guðmundsson, built these in 1912.