13 May, 2013
“Æschere my ‘run-knower’ is dead!” bewails King Hrothgar in Beowulf. His lament springs to mind this week when On the Reading Rest I have a re-reading of the inscription, in the old futhark, on the 5th c. rune stone from Tune in Østfold, south-southeast of Oslo. Known to scholars since the 1620s it has been re-read before (00).
Eythórsson, Thórhallur. 2013. Three daughters and a funeral: Rereading the Tune inscription. Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 3 (2012). Pp 7-43.
Knowing what he is up against when re-reading the inscription, Thórhallur Eythórsson (ThórEy) quotes the First Law of Runo-Dynamics attributed to the archaeologist David M Wilson: for every inscription there shall be as many interpretations as there are scholars working on it. Since archaeologists are used to handling a large, growing, badly preserved and varying source material, they are forced to agree on interpretations that are practical rather than formal. Thus having themselves given up on irrefutable knowledge, archaeologists can easily supply the Second Law: for every scholarly repetition of the true meaning of an inscription it shall be less likely that it is found out.
Runo-Dynamics therefore contradict Oscar Wilde’s unbent positivism when he reminds us that even the obvious may be proved and that telling the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.
Taking Oscar Wilde at face value runologists embark on a pursuit, a quest for the true meaning of a text, despite the fact that meaning will always deceive the huntsman. In pursuit of meaning, the laws of Runo-Dynamics will always govern the conditions for reading and re-reading texts.
In pursuit of meaning ThórEy comes close to breaking these laws because he agrees with a number of earlier interpretations, which stand out as simply true and in no need of a renewed scientific discussion – nota bene ‘stand out’. We mustn’t not be surprised when it becomes obvious that since the late 1800s as shown by ThóEy, there has been little simple progress in the understanding of the inscription. On the contrary, clever linguistic and philological detours have been many and confusing. They are the ones that have to be weeded out.
From an archaeological point of view, ThórEy’s re-reading has the advantage of defending the probable against the improbable, thus bringing the text into the realm of Archaeo-Dynamism declaring all interpretations equal and some more equal than others.
This means that in ThórEy’s re-reading there are three statements on the stone. Owing to its preservation, some parts, represented by italics, are less obvious than others. To begin with, I present the three statements in no specific order and translate them in two ways: clumsily word by word and well, i.e. quoting ThórEy:
Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide
Wiwaz for Woduridaz : the stone : set up
NN (Wiwaz?) erected the stone for Woduridaz (ThórEy’s translation)
ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz
I Wiwaz after (and for) Woduridaz, the keeper of bread, wrought the runes
I Wiwaz wrought the runes in memory of Woduridaz, the breadward (ThóEy’s translation)
thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano
three daughters divided (between them) the inheritance (they were) the ownest of heirs (i.e. the heirs closest to the deceased himself)
Three daughters shared the inheritance, the closest family heirs (ThóEy’s translation).
On the Tune stone archaeologists see three related phenomena: a statement concerning the runes we read, a statement on inheritance and a statement about the creation of the monument. We understand that Woduridaz, a pillar of society, has died and that his three daughters were his closest heirs. A man called Wiwaz wrought the runes commemorating Woduridaz and set up the monument. Since Wiwaz stands out as a capable man, we may expect that he was remembered for what he did. Similarly, the daughters were probably remembered for being their father’s daughters. It may be said that Wiwaz pushed for himself and for the daughters too, but rather than being controversial, the statements impress us as factual and straightforward.
Since agency, personal qualifications and social position matter, it is fair to point out that the name Woduridaz means ‘mind rider’ adding a nimble intellectual quality to the responsible man who keeps the bread, with an eye to sharing it. Witada-halaiban is a proto Norse composite for the Anglo-Saxon ’hláford’, hláf+weard = bread+warder, i.e. Modern English ‘lord’. This was argued in a model almost law-braking discussion by Otto v. Friesen in Arkiv för nordisk filologi vol 16 1900:191-200.
There is only one Iron Age Woduridaz, but Wiwaz belongs to a small series of names (Wiwaz, Wiwlian and Wiwio) designating those whose common denominator is ‘rushing forward’. Being Wiwaz befits a doer and both names may thus be cognomens inasmuch as they may be flattering nicknames – not least the composite Wodu+ridaz. They may also indicate the distribution of roles among kinsmen favouring names, even nicknames, on W. In that case Wiwaz wasn’t Woduridaz’ son, but he might have been a brother.
Because ThórEy has been able to read the text favouring a straightforward and indeed uncomplicated meaning, the archaeologist, having seen the names as meaningful in the way a beholder may find them meaningful without knowing for sure, may also continue and look at the stone as a combination of (1) epigraphy and (2) literary form. Epigraphy falls into two parts. One (1:1) concerns the way the texts should be read from the beginning to the end, the other (1:2) concerns its composition. I will deal with 1:1-2 before I turn to (2), the question of literary form.
Reading the obverse, i.e. the front signified by the large runes in two centrally placed lines, one would stand a little to the left looking at the text from an oblique angle reading it from the onset downwards and up again to the very top of the stone, which has become so narrow that there is room for one line only: ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz. One need not read more than the obverse, but if, because the text ends at the very top of the stone, one thinks that here may be more to the read on the back side, one must take a step backwards and to the left in order to see the reverse. Here there is once again an obvious onset from which one reads downwards and then upwards again to the end of the second statement: thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano. Apparently there is a third line on the back side, but in order to read that, one shall have to take a step forward and turn around thus standing next to the left side of the stone reading the line in the right side from the bottom and upwards: Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide. The epigraphic order is practical, relatively clear and meaningful. The function of the last statement is to bring the inscription to an end, making it clear that there is nothing more to say when the first two statements have been said. They in their turn are presented in a practical order: first we understand that Woduridaz is dead, then (as a secondary fact and thus on the back side) we learn that his death produced heirs. We have been told something about Woduridaz’ character, and have been pointed to the slightly odd fact that his heirs were three daughters.
The statement on inheritance is in agreement with Tacitus description of a man’s closest heirs: Heredes tamen successoresque sui cuique liberi, et nullum testamentum. Si liberi non sunt, proximus gradus in possessione fratres, patrui, avunculi.–Heirs, nevertheless, and successors (are) his own children and no will (is made). If there are no children, the next in rank to possess (the inheritance) are brothers, father’s brother, mother’s brother (Tacitus Germania 20.3.). This means that if Wiwaz was Woduridaz’ brother, or one of the close relatives mentioned by Tacitus, there would be an important point in mentioning the daughters, thus stating and accepting their rights by acknowledging their status rather than his own. Originally, the Tune stone probably stood close to the place and road where it was eventually found, and it is thus not unlikely that it was once an example of the kind of memorial stones referred to in Hávamál strophe 72: sjaldan bautarsteinar standa brautu nǣr, nema reisi niþr at niþ—Seldom do memorial stones stand next to the road, if they were not raised by a kinsman commemorating his kin.
Tacitus, who may be right or wrong, wrote 300 years before Wiwaz, but rules of inheritance often have a strong tradition. In view of ThóEy’s thorough discussion, Tacitus description speaks in favour of sijostez arbijano (the closest of heirs) being a traditional way among people in Northern Europa of defining legal heirs as descendants who are entitled to inherit simply by birth right. Choosing these specific three statements and arranging them in a composition might thus have been intentional (01).
Often, when it comes to literary form in early runic inscriptions the text interacts with the medium, i.e. with the stone. This is the case in Tune. There is a message in the way the reader approaches the stone and orders the statements in a series beginning with an opening, continuing in a consequence of what has been related in the opening, and ending in a conclusion, which tells us that the commemorative monument is completed in a most suitable way. The opening on the front of the stone – written in large runes – is composed as a period consisting of two alliterating and syllable-counting well-stressed long lines with a suitable sentence intonation – a firm and short first long line and a second more rich in syllables developing and emphasizing primarily the essence of the deceased, witadahalaiban, and secondly the honorable behavior of the verse-writing Wiwaz:
ek Wiwaz after Woduride, (5+4 =09)
witadahalaiban worahto runoz (6+5=11)
Prosody is a choice, not a must: ek Wiwaz worahto runoz after Woduridu witadahalaiban, a sensible and informative prose expression, would have done the job.
The two statements on the back side take us to this kind of simple prose by way of a solemn economic and elegant expression: thrijoz dohtriz dailidun arbija, sijostez arbijano—three daughters shared the inheritance, (they were) the closest of (his) heirs.
The last statement, the most simple prose, piles the words on top of each other as a matter of fact in an almost artless way: Wiwaz Woduride staina satide. One might also have said Woduride staina Wiwaz satide or Woduride Wiwaz satide staina or Wiwaz staina Woduride satide or any other of the possible 24 word orders. Since Wiwaz is nom sing, staina acc sing, Woduride dat sing and satide 3. pers sing the meaning of the words and the sentence cannot be obscured by the word order. Actually the reason why runologists have had no problem supplying the word satide is because it is the necessary and obvious verb to the three nouns one of which must be in the nominative. Not surprisingly, all four words have heavily stressed first syllables creating a stubborn cablese beat, impossible to get rid of. The only words that could possibly be missing are: ‘Stop! Send cash!’
There is a perfect balance between the tall stone, the design, the message, the formulation, the movement of the reader and the thirty-second three-stage experience walking around the monument reading it. The composition is low-key, but significant. It stresses the deep-rooted traditional fairness, integrity and care of the mind-riding Early Iron Age bread ward, i.e. a gifted lordly member of the upper classes.
But deád is Æschere! In Beowulf King Hrothgar laments the loss of his runwita, his ‘run-knower’, brother in arms, and counsellor, killed by Grendel’s mother (cf. v 1325). In the epic this is a symbolic loss of literacy including its esoteric qualities of knowing hidden meaning, such as the non-verbal meaning of prosody. This loss is emblematic of late 5th century Scandinavia when the likes of Æschere, such as Wiwaz, stopped writing. They were the last of their kind and hard to come by for centuries.
King Hrothgar is acutely aware of having lost an old significant component of society. In bygone days, as his name and the King tell us (02), Æschere was the spear warrior standing shoulder to shoulder with the king. Like most, they were both men in the line, when the warriors clashed, spear in hand, and wisely they sought to protect their heads behind their shields. Unmediated we are told that Æschere was the older brother of Yrmenláf (eormen+láf) – an odd name meaning the ‘great’ or ‘all-comprising legacy’. ´This indicates that living up to his obligations as an older brother, he helped bringing forward Hrothgar’s glorious world, i.e. the great legacy now threatened by Grendel and his mother. Not only was Æschere instrumental in bringing about this society, he employed the intellectual skills of a counsellor and runwita in order to manage it. And now he is dead. Grendel’s mother is proud of having killed him because she knows that what Grendel meant to her, Æschere meant to Hrothgar.
(00) There is a short overview in Norwegian of the Tune area with relevant references in:
Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2007 Kulturmilø Tune. In: Bårdseth (ed.) Hus, gard og graver langs E6 i Sarpsborg kommune. E6-prosjektet Østfold, Band 2. Varia 66. Pp 1-6.
Although one cannot point to any large and domiant Roman Iron Age och Migration Period farm in the Tune area, the farms Missingen in Råde, just north of Tune, shows the economic possibilities of the coastland/inland border in Østfold. On Missingen, in Norwegian, see:
or in English:
Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2009. The Roman Age Hall and the Warrior-Aristocracy: Reflections upon the Hall at Missingen, South-East Norway. Norwegian Archaeological Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2009. Pp 146-58.
(01) In Latin it is possible, at least for Plautus humorously, and using the archaic ipsus instead of ipse, to construct a word parallel to sijostez. In Trinummus: The Three Pieces of Money, Act iv scene 2, when Charmides is asked by Sycophanta for the fourth time Ergo ipsusne es?—Are you then himself? Charmides answers as affirmatively as possible with a superlative to ipsus, ‘own’, in the genitive: Ipsissimus—‘his ownest’, ispis+simus, i.e. his own very self. In Lewis & and Short by mistake ipsissimus is spelled ispissumus, cf. ThórEy p. 22f.
(02) Beowulf vv 1323-27: Deád is Æschere, // Yrmenláfes yldra broþor, // 1325 min rúnwita ond min rædbora, // eaxlgestealla, ðonne we on orlege // hafelan weredon, þonne hniton feþan—Dead is Æschere Yrmenláf’s older brother, my runwita and my counsellor, he stood next to my shoulder when in battle we protected our heads when the men clashed.
29 April, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a very short text, a piece of composed indignation a response by a reformed Smithsonian curator and three descendants (archaeologists/anthropologists) working in Kodiak, Kodiak Island, Alaska. It’s a ten year old case, but I hope that time and the opening session of the 2013 SAA meeting in Honolulu, the Presidents Forum: The Future of Archaeology, will help shedding some light upon this indignation.
Crowell, Aron L., Pullar, Gordon L., Steffian, Amy F. and Haakanson Jr, Sven. 2004. Response to Lee and Graburn’s Review of “Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People”. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 106, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 431-32 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3567015 .
Alutiiq archaeology has become a textbook example of a successful native Alaskan archaeology (00). Because of the dedicated work not least of descendant archaeologists and anthropologists it has been possible to make archaeology contribute considerably to an Alutiiq identity as well as to remodelling this identity. To begin with in the 1930s there was a clash between on the one hand the ‘pure Smithsonian research’ – rounding up the past and taking it into custody – and on the other baffled local interests forcefully overrun by the ‘pure’ archaeologists. Today fundamentalist Smithsonian curators are rare – the reformed all the more common.
By the 1980s the importance of what was labelled ‘the right of indigenous nations or peoples to their history’ – rather than political autonomy – had already been growing for a while. In this eventually happy case, since there were very only a few advocates of the traditional society left, collaboration about the past was easily establish, and the role of the education of descendants and their endeavour bridging a gap between the traditional or suppressed and the modern must not be underestimated (01). Some traditional knowledge was still living culture, but the educated descendants– an intelligence reserve made visible – understood that one could also learn a lot from archaeology laying bare the material details of a lost world.
But lo and behold, when found, it turned out that this world was not lost – instead it was looked upon as primordial and living Alutiiq identity resurrected. Saving language, traditions and material culture from extinction applying among other techniques archaeology, gave back the Alutiiq their history by confirming it rather than making it more complex. At the same time, none the less, archaeology was instrumental in making this identity an integrated part of decidedly modern society.
The Kodiak textbook example is naïve and clarifying. To begin with, the textbook authors, Kelly and Thomas (Ke&Tho), build their didactic Alutiiq case on Aleš Hrdlička (1869-1943).
Between 1898 and 1903, during his scientific travels across America – later on he travelled east Asia too – Hrdlička sought to prove his hypothesis that the Americas were colonized (by Indians) from east Asia across the Bering Strait, probably some 3,000 years ago. Right and wrong, he obviously worked with questions related to a vast geographical area much larger than the Kodiak or the Aleutian Islands, despite their importance. With hindsight, especially since he didn’t believe in hominid evolution (sic!), we understand that he might as well have constructed his research as a series of case studies in a series of areas with more easily understood geographical borders, such as Kodiak Island. That would have been the correct thing to do – effortless combining regional and over-regional scales, but there were neither political nor scientific reasons forcing him to do so. On the contrary, travelling and collecting were mainstream research methods and very appropriate ones, if diffusion is what you are looking for. Collecting by travelling, moreover, was the only approach that got funding. Travelling for DNA backed up by a television team is still a wet dream to many.
Ke&Tho excel in double standards when they insist on putting Hrdlička into the Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) context. They start by humorously insinuating that there was perhaps some truth about the man in the fact that some anecdotal Alutiit (pl. of Alutiiq, thus: Sugpiat) spotted ‘hard liquor’, in their pronunciation of his surname name. Given the traumatic effects of alcoholism – amongst a series of culturally induced devastating lethal diseases – on Alutiiq society, this mock-humorous anecdote is inappropriate – indirectly suggesting that alcoholism was the foreigners’ problem.
Ke&Tho go on to indicate that Hrdlička’s excavations were no more than robbing people of their heritage and they end suggesting that his ‘strictly scientific’ Smithsonian views were of limited value. Heralding ‘scientific’ values is otherwise emblematic of their text, but tacitly in pursuit of a greater glory they are obviously prepared to make an exception when it comes to giving the ‘Alutiiqs’ (they do not use the correct plural Alutiit) an identity.
Somewhat surprised, moreover, Ke&Tho state that when archaeologists with a local background consulted the Alutiiq suggesting that excavations would contribute to the understanding of Alutiiq identity, an agreement to excavate (based on common grounds) was soon reached. To Ke&Tho this was a ‘curious situation’. While the Alutiiq were still fighting for the repatriation of the material that Hrdlička stored in the Smithsonian Institute, they were not against modern archaeological excavations, if namely they felt sure it would help their cause (in a way most similar to the way public heritage management and museums helped the small Scandinavian countries in the 19th century when this dyad was invented (02)).
The Alutiiq deal was struck by an Alutiiq ‘descendant’ – a graduate student from the University of Michigan. Since the descendents continued to build up the heritage management and the archaeological museum in Kodiak and became Archaeologists, the Kodiak example fits Ke&Tho perfectly. To these textbook authors it is a model example under their heading ‘Seeking [and indeed finding] Common Grounds’.
Ke&Tho pretend they do not know that despite being beneficial bringing archaeology to Kodiak Island enhanced the modern remodelling of the traditional Alutiiq society – barely surviving when the United States in its capacity as a colonial power bought Alaska in 1867 and continued to destroy whatever local culture it could. Their choice of words, the ‘curious situation’ shows that somewhere in the back of their patronizing mind they know this is the case. True to their double standards they refrain from doing the obvious, i.e. a political rather than archaeological analysis of the situation arguing that strengthening the identity of the local society, even at the cost of destroying a number of traditional graves instead of preserving them, is recommendable. Using archaeology to confirm the present by referring to the past is politically wise, but scientifically, i.e. morally, dubious.
When it comes to history or archaeology ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ is a contradiction in terms. When something is resurrected it cannot be integrated and vice versa. It is resurrected as the true past, and thus parallel to the modern. It is recovered as the remains of a past forever lost and thus integrated with the modern, in as much as we recognize its agency. In everyday politics, nevertheless, ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ works just fine thanks to grave social injustice and the readiness of archaeologists always to side with the political and its current correctness. After all, the discipline and its funding were invented in the 19th c. owing to political will. Nationalism and racism were always an archaeological option, and today siding with the political rights of disappearing minorities has become a worthy option now that the heydays of nation state nationalism and colonialism are (hopefully) over.
This is where descendants as a category enters the scene as go-betweens, since integrating stubborn small minorities as well as defending their political rights and their traditional, in our sense of the word ‘non-modern’, ways of life is no doubt a politically popular/honourable thing to do – supported by any central government. Today, meeting the US census category ‘some ancestry’ rather than ‘exclusive ancestry’, the descendants are c. 50% of the Native Americans and a typical people with a go-between mission:
And so, the Kodiak example found its way into textbooks. Some might have thought that blunt political correctness would be commented upon in a less friendly way since textbooks are meant to educate future archaeologists in a historical discipline and not in political behaviour. If archaeology is politicised such expectations are obviously naïve.
Before the Alutiiq experience entered the textbook, part of the success of this endeavour to revitalize Alutiiq identity was an exhibition called Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People. As this exhibition travelled the country it was paralleled by an exhibition of decontextualized Alutiiq masks in Paris at Musée du Quai Branly: Les Masques de la Collection Alphonse Pinart du Chaiteau-Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer. Both exhibitions were accompanied by catalogues. In a review article Molly Lee & Nelson Graburn (LeGra) wrote about both the exhibitions and their publications. The LeGra criticism was gentle, but they pointed out the political agenda and correctness of both exhibitions. They suggested that Looking Both Ways was marked by a political will to stress Alutiiq, essentially ‘Our Alutiiq’, rather than say Unangan or indeed Sigpiaq (coastal dweller) identity. Looking Both Ways simply could not fall short to governmental interests, not least while it is in the interest of a central government to exchange broad categorizations, i.e. large heterogenic groups, for small homogenous groups. Small groups are easier to handle and balance against each other not least while anthropologists and linguists have taken it upon them to do their best categorizing Native Alaskans minutely.
Supporting an urban centre of Alutiiq culture, i.e. a Kodiak centre, is always right from a governmental point of view. At the same time the whole exhibition project found its platform in consultation with a broad committee of Alutiiq advisers. Having defined the vested interests of two parties the stronger succeeds in defining the common grounds, in this case the exhibition, on which the parties act.
Such structures will have consequences: LeGra pointed out that the exhibition fitted its original setting, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, better than the Anchorage Museum of History and Art’s (AMHA) Gallery 7. They noticed this as a sign of the long-standing drawbacks of a travelling exhibition. But that is hardly the case. Instead it is in the structure of ‘looking both ways’ that the exhibition was designed for the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and when it travelled out of its original setting it naturally lost a little, because nowadays Alutiiq identity has an urban centre – a national museum.
LeGra suggested that less politically correct common grounds would have resulted in a more important exhibition. They hinted that the myriad of problems besetting rural Alaska, should have played a more prominent part in the exhibition. They thought that the picture of the Alutiiq was too superficial, uncritically painting a primordial, i.e. a fundamentally Alutiiq past into the present. The direct and indirect messages of the exhibition were obvious: now that we have a centre for Alutiiq culture, Alutiiq identity and its centre have become idealized.
LeGra didn’t sum up their critique as a blunt message, but nevertheless their views caused indignation and a response arguing that:
Alcoholism and other social problems in Alutliiq communities – presumably what Lee and Graburn refer to in their review – were discussed at an Elders’ planning conference for the exhibition in 1997 [… … ]. However, Elders spoke of these social ills as symptoms of the loss of identity, not characteristics that define it. [ … … ]. One said, “To sit and listen and think about the social ills that we’re all faced with – and they’re common – that is for another time.”(Response pp. 431f.)
Nobody can turn a blind eye to the problems of the Alutiit, LeGra just wanted to point out that finding common grounds in a politicised landscape comes with a price to disciplines such as Archaeology and Anthropology. The response is ample proof of their point telling us about the role and power of the ‘Elders’ – an institution with a capital E no less. The Elders’ dubious analysis of the concept of identity, and their dictum: social ills – that is for another time, are significant.
There is no doubt that the rights of every Alaskan must be respected and that modern society has an obligation and a duty to compensate rural Alaskan population, but that doesn’t mean that LeGra got it wrong. On the contrary they were right in their analysis ten years ago. Nevertheless, it has turned out that being right is of little importance in the political archaeology surrounding Native Americans.
It so happened that the Alutiiq became a textbook paragon of descendant/indigenous archaeology, and at 2013 Honolulu meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) this political archaeology was introduced at the opening session, the presidents forum — isn’t that a contradiction in terms? On this forum seven descendant archaeologists making up a panel consisting of a moderator and six discussants introduced themselves as representatives and discussed the problems they experience e.g. with archaeologists who do not respect the rights and obligations of those living in an area to protect and control its heritage. To the panellists the problem was the violation of the rights of the indigenous and the descendants. It was obvious that they equated this with the rights of indigenous peoples to their history.
After the presentations the audience could write down questions on cards, which were then collected and (perhaps) handed down to the panel. In this way, at the very end of the session, the panel was asked about the future of archaeology and how that could be brought about given the sadly familiar problems we had just heard about. The answer was simple, almost ‘Elderly’: If we learn by experience and do the right thing then everything will be fine. There was a general humming of consent on the podium, but out on the forum the audience didn’t seem totally convinced, because it is not often we hear scientific ideals ignored and reformulated as demagogic buzzwords at the very beginning of a scientific conference. Only if political archaeology is the centrepiece ‘doing the right thing’ is what matters, but then again doing the right thing borders on fabrication.
Archaeology and history cannot be defined as belonging to any modern group of people. In fact the remains of the past preserved in an area to which people or the individual relate are the remains of actions that aimed to form a near or distant future. These actions are not primarily intended to define the history of a specific modern group of people – not primarily intended objectively, specifically or fairly to prove the identity of those who live today. They were meant to create the future by whatever means necessary. Today one cannot reclaim one’s history, only an understanding of the past as ways of influencing the future.
(00) The textbook is Kelly, Robert L. & Thomas, David Hurst s. 2012 Archaeology. Wadsworth Publishing; 6 edition .403-4
(01) There is a well referenced paper on the role of and lack of education by Gordon L Pullar at http://www.uqat.ca/isc-cei-2010/publications/Pullar_CEI-ISC-2010.pdf Pullar’s own experience of being a descendant is described and analyse in an article from 1992 in Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 2, Maritime Cultures of Southern Alaska: Papers in Honor of Richard H. Jordan (1992), pp. 182-191. See: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40316321?uid=3738984&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102028024901
(02) Indigenous Danish archaeology, i.e. Political Archaeology, began in the summer of 1807 when Rasmus Nyerup (*1759 †1829), who had become a professor of history of literatur at the university of Copenhagen, visited Fyn the land of his childhood and ancestors. When he wandered around in this landscape he understood that its heritage—his heritage and that of the Danes – was threatened. He wrote an article in a Copenhagen newspaper and the King saw the political potential of national heritage management and 10 years later the potential of the national museum. The birth of Danish archaeology is paralleled by the birth, c. 175 years later, of Alutiiq archaeology – in fact Alutiiq archaeology and heritage management is modelled, consciously or unconsciously, on its Danish and Scandinavian predecessors (cf. On the Reading Rest, 12 November, 2012, The New Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom)
15 April, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have no less than four books on West European history mostly concerned with the later part of the first millennium CE. I read the introductions because historiography is my focus. Historiography is important when researchers of European decent think about the 5-6th c. and onwards as the beginning of a passage more or less in its own right from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Two of the books are anthologies and two are monographs.
Gillett, Andrew. 2003 (ed.). On Barbarian Identity. Critical approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. Brepols publishers, Turnhout.
Noble, Thomas F. X. 2006 (ed.). From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Routledge. London
Smith, Julia M. H. (2005). Europe after Rome: a New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Olson, Lynette. (2007). The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe Palgrave Macmillan. New York.
O mi germane – ubi es? is a pun, and a very old one too (Quintilian c. 95 CE referring to Cicero (01)), because germanus means ‘(full) brother’ as well as ‘German’, thus the mock sentimental: Oh ‘my brother’ ’my German’ where art thou? Today, we may ironically ask this remembering the rambling ways of German brothers now that they are not as dangerous as they were. To begin with this pun wasn’t always funny and Strabo in earnest suggested the following:
Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae, for in the language of the Romans “germani” means “genuine.” Strabo Geography Book 7:1:2.
Later on his etymology lost its significance, but in Tacitus there remains a measure of Barbarian virtue in Germani. From the 2nd c. CE and onwards into the 5th Germani and Germania were more often depicted in traditional poses on coins as defeated. In the same period Gaul is depicted as restored.
In part the two anthologies discuss the same problems. One concerns the barbarians as a political phenomenon: did migrating barbarians organized in nations put an end to Rome? The other question concerns the ethnic unity of Germanic tribes and kingdoms: was there a common core identity among people called Franks, Alemanni, Visigoths etc.? Gillett (ed.) doesn’t think so being especially critical of the construction of ethnicity. In his anthology Derek Fewster, who doesn’t write about the middle of the first millennium ce., come closest to understanding ethnicity as the outcome of bad historical analyses. Noble (ed.) qualifies these questions, since revision is the model for all the books in the series to which this particular volume belongs. Instead of relying on the fall of Rome and the origin of the Germanic Early Medieval kingdoms it has been common, since the 1990s, to talk of the ‘transformation’ of the Roman world. I textbooks suitable for first year students the first sentence would point out that although Rome in the West disappeared as a political system – Roman civilization had already profoundly changed societies in northern Europe among those the people the Romans called Germans. The ongoing transformation of what was formally Rome is the complement of, and thus complemented by, the ongoing transformation of what was formally not-Rome in North and West Europe.
Even to Romans there was something about Germanic ways that transformed the land where Germani lived, i.e. Germania. When the poet Venantius Fortunatus wrote a wedding poem to King Sigebert and his Visigoth Queen Brunhild, who came to Metz in what we would term Gaul from Toledo in Spain. Venantius expressed his astonishment that there was a marriage bed for her in Germania – not in Gallia. Rhetorically he asks:
Quis crederet autem / Hispanam tibimet dominam, Germania nasci? –
Who would have believed / that with you there was born I Spain a mistress for Germania? (Venantius Fortunatus, Book 6, Poem 1, ll. 117-18).
Since he presented the poem to the couple at their wedding, and became a popular court poet, his analysis of the Merovingian court was commonly accepted, emblematic of Germania and consequently of the Germanic ways. Spain, on the other hand did not qualify as Germania, despite its Visigoth court in La Mancha. The Visigoths were lords in Spain while the Franks had moved Germania into Gaul, at least into its northern parts, when they settled there. The examples suffice to show that the questions discussed in the two anthologies have been ‘with us’ and difficult to handle for the last 2000 years at least.
Nevertheless: The fall of Rome? and Germanic ethnogenesis? are questions typical of a post-war discussion presently dismissed by most. For theoretical reasons such discussions should have been abandoned already in the 1980s, but obviously that was not the case and pointless dichotomies such as: did Rome fall or did it not fall? Was there a core ethnicity or not? – continued to dominate the discussion whether researchers agreed or disagreed with one another or agreed to disagree. Especially Ethnicity and Identity continued to preoccupy researchers and only in recent years has the relation between ethnicity – heralded by ancient or modern voices – and bad historical analysis (a very common phenomenon then and now) been emphasized.
It should not be forgotten that the Romans themselves introduced the idea of ‘the political fall’ such as the Republic and bad ‘ethno-historical analysis’ such as Tacitus’ ‘Germania’. Caesar writing about the Civil War and Tacitus writing about Germans both wrote of something else too, and so do Gillett (ed.) and Noble (ed.). They write in the flickering torches of the EU and the comfortable straight jacket of Eurocentric post-war history departments, i.e. – paragons of the 6th c. royal and petty-royal halls; the nodes of a political network and prestige economy; a gender-controlled environment engaged in introspect historical narrative.
Using the concept of Ethnicity as a discursive node tying it to whatever source material available, is a way of ordering the discourse of a discipline in times when its male dominance is questioned. This shows already in Laura Bohannan’s essay ‘Shakespeare in the Bush’ (1966) (02) in which the patronizing ethnicity-driven claim to the correct interpretation of Hamlet rests equally well with Bohannan’s male friend in Oxford, England and elders in Tivland, Nigeria, despite the fundamental discrepancies between their correct interpretations, Both her friend and the elders are convinced that Laura Bohannan being a foreigner, but in reality a woman and thus not quite up to male standards, is not able fully to grasp ‘correct interpretation’. As the obvious representatives of each their ethnic group, they are both capable of contextualizing Hamlet as their story using ‘Hamlet’ as a discursive node. The capacity to see ethnicity in relation to border lines between the individual and a group, thus defining the individual as either inside or outside its social territory, makes it easy not least for conventional males to look at discipline as (my) territory and defend the discipline by discussing ethnicity taking its status as a discursive node for granted and disagreeing with others about ‘ethnicity and correct interpretation’. Arguing about the correct interpretation of ethnicity strengthens the structure of the discipline inasmuch as it creates schools combating each other without questioning the discursive node even if relabeling or subdividing it – ethnicity/identity – may be part of the struggle.
Scholars who think that ethnicity is unimportant or indeed the outcome of inferior historical analysis, are thus automatically excluded from the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be women. Scholars who comprise traditional discursive nodes are included in the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be men. Some prominent historians therefore figure in Noble ed. as well as Gillett ed. And some have two chapters in Noble (ed.). Most of the authors in Gillett (ed.) are obviously the young and sometimes angry generation. Nevertheless they all belong to a group we may call the Anthology Group.
Reading an introduction as a text in its own right means reading it as an epilogue as well as an introduction and in the case of the anthologies we are probably right in suggesting that the introductions were not written until all the contributions were available to the editor, who then sat down to analyse and explain what the anthology was all about in some ways knowing it already. Therefore, reading the introduction to an anthology as an epilogue is a method rather than simply unfair.
Writing a monograph one could do more or less the same, i.e. write the introduction when the rest of the book was already finished. But even so, the introduction would often have brewed in the author as the result of an interaction between the book as imagined and what has so far been written. The introduction develops and colours the book in the process of writing it.
Significantly there are some concepts that are consciously avoided in both Smith and Olson such as ethnicity and its correlate identity. Moreover, the European core area Germany, southern England and northern France is not anymore a must in a book pointing out the diversity of the Early Middle Ages. Cognitive history holds a prominent place and the break with the revisionist view is central:
The awareness that archaeology doesn’t simply confirm or question the written sources, but make up ‘brand new evidence for the Early Middle Ages’ is another important component of both Olson’s and Smith’s books.
In the end of her introduction in a most typical way, Olson refers to a picture of the front of the Franks Casket commenting upon it in the following distinctly non-ethnic way:
Representing a radical break with the tradition of the anthologies, one is not surprised to find that one of the younger anthology authors has written a review, fault-finding and territory-defining, demonstrating a formidable inability to grasp Lynette Olson’s general approach and a sniper’s attitude, if not craftsmanship, to scientific discourse.
The anthology group, including the reviewer, is a good illustration to Fredrik Barth’s views upon ethnicity. Quoting Barth on almost anything, why not on his third approach – on boundaries: If a group maintains its identity when members interact with others, this entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signalling membership and exclusion (03) – and remembering the way the reviewer takes ethnogenesis and thus also ethnicity to be a discursive node in the sense of Discourse Theory, it becomes obvious that the anthology group interacts and struggle within itself to dominate the this node. Both the Noble (ed.) and the Gillett (ed.) group acknowledge the ethnicity node and the reviewer, who doesn’t forget to mention ethnogenesis as self-evident (although in his opinion misunderstood by Olson beyond comments), takes every opportunity to exclude Lynette Olson, as he would probably have tried to exclude Julie Smith, from the group. That is a safe thing to do because they would not contemplate membership. Thus he shows his group membership, his individuality and his loyalty as s boundary defender. Nevertheless, ethnicity, whether performed by groups of the past or a male anthology tribe, is just a reflection of bad historical analysis of the past or the present.
There is an interesting socio-biological component of the male defense of what seems primarily to be a scholarly territory perhaps not understood as social boundaries. Fredrik Barth, none the less, would have advised that the Anthology Group understood itself in terms of social boundaries.
(01) According to Quintilian, Cicero used the pun thus: Cimber hic fuit, a quo fratrem necatum; hoc Ciceronis dicto notatum est: Germanum Cimber occidit—There was this Cimber who murdered his brother; a fact recorded by Cicero in the words: “Cimber killed his ‘full brother’/’German’.” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 8, 3, 29.
(02) The essay can be found at: http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/editors_pick/1966_08-09_pick.html
This week On the Reading Rest I have the past in the form of a printout of an article from the latest volume, 78:1, of American Antiquity.
Because I have a grandchild in Japan I was happy to accept an invitation to give a paper at the April SAA congress in Honolulu. Nagoya is my base between Hawaii and home. Going to SAA meant that like many others of the more than 3,000 participants, I had to become a member of SAA. Being a member, whether I like it or not, whether I can pick it out from JSTOR or not, whether I read it in the library or not, whether I get a paper copy or not, I got a message, among frequent communications, telling me that I may download American Antiquity 78:1, 2013. Because I haven’t read an article in American Antiquity since perhaps 1973 when I wrote a master thesis on concept formation in archaeology – classical genus proximum et differentia specifica versus family resemblance concepts – and needed some examples of pointless New Archeology, I couldn’t resist a look.
The cover has changed, but between front and back nothing but authors’ names and reference years are new. I probably suspected just that, but who can resist a deja vue knowing that the whole antiquarian installation is staged in April – The Past, Live in Honolulu. Today, when the material remains and contexts of iterative long-lasting cultural performances are in vogue, who wouldn’t do a participant observation of the ritual gatherings of the New American Archeologists? NAAs are not endangered, not yet indigenzed and I am not doing an ethically questionable anthropology in my own society. I may be post-colonializing them, but that is still PC.
As a preparation I read:
Arakawa, Fumiyasu; Nicholson, Christopher and Rasic, Jeff. 2013. The consequences of social processes: Aggregate populations, projectile point accumulation, and subsistence patterns in the American Southwest. American Antiquity 78:1:147-165.
Arakawa, Nicholson and Rasic (AraNiRa) have observed that as of 2005 (referring to Diamond: Guns Germs and Steel) scholars have investigated the potential causes and consequences of – the Neolithic no less (p.147, first column). What a splendid idea. This Neolithic thing it seems could have had potential consequences! Thus astonished and worried – could global warming be among the consequences? – we may proceed to contemplate the following:
[Neolithic human] groups began manufacturing and using pottery vessels, used the bow and the arrow, shifted subsistence patterns from strictly hunting and gathering to horticulture and agriculture, began domesticating animals and established sedentary villages.
First year students usually don’t get away with suggesting to their teachers that pottery, the bow and the arrow and domestication, e.g. of the dog, were emblematic of anything as belated as the Neolithic. And by the way, initially among agriculturalists the sedentary villages and the distinction between manufacturing and using pottery were of little importance. In the current American antiquity, nevertheless, this new-age-dawning perspective is creed. Having introduced us to their unique cultural context the authors turn to their archaeological mission and
argue that artifact deposits from a range of settlement sizes can inform meaningful interpretations about the consequences of social processes, such as aggregation and increases in group population density.
Rather than dubious, this proposition – artifact deposits can inform a range of meaningful interpretations – is so obvious that it can be proved, i.e., probably be proved since we mustn’t jump to conclusions, must we? Where would Archeology be if we just thought it could be meaningful?
I am thrilled: reading the article, planning to go to Honolulu, believing that two of the authors will be there, I feel surfing on the forefront of that wave of research, which roles on under my surfboard without moving forward. I shall add American Antiquity to the list of consequences brought about by the Neolithic.
True to New Archeology hoping to create a meaningful pattern composed on a few hopefully controlled variables, AraNiRa start to track down (1) large and (2) small settlements, (3) high and (4) low population density in (5) a central and (6) a peripheral area, with (7) lithic projectile points and (8) earthen utility wares as well as faunal data in which we may distinguish between (9) large and (10) small game. This is not ideal because there is a dependency between lithic projectile points and large game as well as warfare, albeit perhaps a secondary one, but very little dependency between utility ware and small game or indeed warfare. New Archeology scholastics would not have taken lightly that kind of variable dependency. Variables 7 to 10 must thus be transformed to general markers, i.e. a point:sherd ration and an artiodactyle index, which are either high or low.(Google actually returns 29.900 hits for ‘artiodactyle’ e.g. beating ‘hemiepes’ with 9.000 hits).
The construction of index and ratio is always tricky. In this case it is a specimens-of-species index (based on the Number of Identified specimens in archaeological reports – NISP). That is less informative than a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) index, but it cannot be helped since the archaeological records give us NISP and ours not to reason why. Actually, in order not to get completely trapped in source critical problems, already troublesome, simplification is a must. The authors therefore total all the artiodactyles (even-toed), i.e. bison, deer, sheep etc, who are large, and then they sum the lagomorphs, i.e. hares, rabbits and pikas, who are small. Indeed there are no perissodactyles – odd-toed (12.700 hits). Based on these sums they construct the Artiodactyle index (AI): AI= artiodactyle/(artiodactyle+lagomorphs).
The construction of the point:sherd ratio is more difficult because it aims at reconstruction a factual prehistoric balance. This reconstruction is complicated by the fact that ‘10 out of 72 sites’ have not yielded any projectile points, just pottery. Since there is a balance between the two artefact categories, the authors manage with a bit of Bayesian statistics to produce a Posterior Mean Value, PMV, reflecting the once existing balances between points and shards. Technically speaking there is nothing wrong with the construction of this value, but the construction doesn’t differentiate between small and large sites. There is just one mean for The Core Area sites and another for The Periphery. Primarily, Core and Periphery is a matter of population density.
This means that ‘small’ and ‘large’ sites are the only straightforward, i.e. non-aggregated, variables. ‘Small’ and ‘large’ are taken for granted. In the end of the article, when it comes to comparing the meaningful patterns related to a prehistoric reality, the comparison of the PMV is primarily between small and large sites and secondarily between the somewhat aggregated periphery and core concepts, i.e. areas defined in general geographical, topographical and demographic terms. Belonging to an area makes a site ‘peripheral’ or ‘central’. In the article, methodologically motivated simplification is driven by fuzzy dichotomization keeping the reader relatively unaware of the basic distributions of the variables on the intra-site level – projectile density distribution and utility ware density distribution being cases in point.
Although this is not promising, the authors proceed to produce diagrams mapping the PMV on one axis and the AI on the other with dots representing all sites as either small or large – differentiating between core and periphery by means of symbols. In theory the expected pattern should like this:
When we start reading ‘Results’, it soon becomes obvious that there is a discrepancy between the diagrams Figures 4 to 7 and the Tables 1 & 2. There are more sites in the tables (75) than in the diagrams and the text discussing them (72). Moreover, the points plotted in the diagrams are not always the ones defined by the numbers in the tables. There are 39 tabled sites in the Core Area not the 36 plotted in the diagrams. The distribution in Fig. 7 cannot be checked because there are too few decimals in the PMV values in tables 1 & 2. There are astonishing errors too: in Fig.4 the median PMV for the small sites in The Periphery is given as 0.03, but judging from table 1 it is 0.01 and less in line with the authors’ hypotheses. This is of little importance for the obvious conclusions, but it makes patterns that are not in line with the hypotheses more significant. Only the diagram Fig. 6 (the small sites in Periphery and Core) can be reproduced and compared with the published. Based on tables 1 & 2 this revised diagram looks like this:
Superimposed upon Fig. 6 in the article we get a discrepancy:
Most of the differences are ‘decimal differences’ (the authors use four places in the diagrams and only three in the tables), but the values for McElmo-Yellow Jacket are distorted. This means that when it comes to this densely populated area the authors cannot rely on their hypotheses to explain the deviance among their large or small sites.
If we add the theoretical categories to Fig. 6, the greatest problem with the interpretation is the many small sites dominated by large-game bones, but none the less characterized by few projectile points with which to kill the game. It so happens that the upper left corner of the diagram refutes the theory on its own assumptions. This patter becomes even more obvious when we re-scale Fig. 7 and add the large sites to the small ones to get a total picture.
When we look at all sites, there is thus an even more obvious split between those with relatively speaking many and those with few large mammals, since between AI 0.4 and 0.6 there are very few sites.
There are fewer large mammals in large sites, dots, but that doesn’t mean that the animals killed in small peripheral sites, open diamonds, or indeed any small site, any diamond, were not brought as meat or cut of meat to large sites in The Core, green,blue and red dots. ‘Numerous’ and’ few’ obviously mean different things on different sites in different environments. Parallel to the split dense group, the two left corners of the diagram, there is a spread-out peripheral western group wedged between the two main corners. In this group as in the dense groups, a growing PMV means either a minimum or maximum AI. Sites in the McElmo-Yellow Jacket (McElyja) core area, moreover, are distinctly different from Mesa Verde sites suggesting that The Core Area Concept implicated by AraNiRa is flawed. If we were able to check the topographical distribution of MaElyja sites, there is a fair chance we could find a division between core sites and peripheral sites within the region.
The hypotheses suggest a theoretical distribution and meaning that doesn’t match the observed patterns. The article obscures the methodological reasons for this discrepancy, but common sense suggests that the different ways projectile points and utility ware are produced, used, dispersed, rejected, recycled, reused, deposited etc, help to obscure the meaning of the ratio point:sherd and the diagrams Figs 4-7. Probably, measuring the density of game and domesticated species as well as pottery density – leaving out the strongly dependent projectile variable, which moreover is split between killing large game and humans — as weapons still tend to be in everyday American usage – would have been more meaningful.
All this ends up in a classical example of the shortcomings of the New-Archeology approach: (1) simplification based on fuzzy dichotomies and oppositions blurs the meaning of the variables and makes correlations and discrepancies between the hypothetic suggestions and the observed patterns difficult to comprehend – for authors as well as readers. For some reason beyond our reach, (2) the formal consistency of the New-Archeology presentation often breaks down adding to the reader’s confusion. But in the end (3) this takes away nothing from the conclusions because they are but tentative and commonplace:
The analyses provide support for the idea that increasing population density and aggregation of settlement patterns led to changes in sociopolitical organization and subsistence patterns (p. 161).
It takes a backup of c. 100 references pushing at this open door. Ten seemingly innocent persons and institutions share the doubtful honour of being thanked in the acknowledgement at the very end – And of course, we [AraNiRa] take responsibility for any and all mistakes or omissions. It didn’t go without saying.
18 March, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a report on the excavation of six Iron Age settlements. Chronologically they cover the great Roman Iron Age (RIA) settlement expansion and the harsh Pre Carolinian Iron Age (PCIA) conditions partly caused by the dust from the Ilopango eruption 535-536 CE. This eruption created the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) tephra and veiled even the northern hemisphere in years ‘without summer’ (1). In the present, Mälar-Valley, case the settlement area under discussion is slightly peripheral in relation to central local settlements, i.e. the villages still existing today or known from historical records.
Hennius, Andreas et al. 2012. Andreas Hennius (Main author and editor) Äldre Järnålder i Danmarks socken – Sex boplatser vid Säby (Early Iron Age in the Denmark Parish – Six settlements at Säby). Med bidrag av—with contributions from—Anneli Blom, Torbjörn Brorsson, Ylva Bäckström, Erik Danielsson, Dan Fagerlund, Per Frölund, Stefan Gustafsson, Malin Lucas & Örjan Matsson. Upplandsmuseets rapport 2012:15. http://www.upplandsmuseet.se/Sidor/VERKSAMHET/PUBLIKATIONER/Rapportserien/2012/
There is a summary in English (2) and the report discusses seven settlements inasmuch as one was excavated already six years ago (3).
Sä-by means ‘the village by the water’ and the water in question, the sä (i.e. ‘sea’), has generated several place names. The report will probably be known as the Säby Report for quite a while because it addresses a significant settlement period and a model case – a well-defined settlement area – in a clear-sighted way. In a comparison of three major settlement areas around Uppsala Andreas Hennius, moreover, discusses some of the prominent differences and similarities between the long-term settlement development and the socially and environmentally generated characteristics of the Roman Iron Age (RIA) settlement expansion, its stagnation and eventual demise.
In this case, the name Säby points to a settlement situation in the beginning of the Common Era on a narrow peninsula less than 300m from the water. To establish a permanent settlement at this site in a period that eventually changed the area from archipelago to inland, must have stood out as significant in the beginning of the Common Era, but rather pointless c. 500 CE. Present-day Säby with its cemeteries just north of the village, was in all probability the center and beginning of the permanent prehistoric settlement. The cemetery is a typical Early Iron Age (EIA) border cemetery fencing off Säby towards Gnista and other settlements such as Slavsta the odd kilometre north of present-day Säby. As an economic area the central Säby settlement benefits from the land rise, which created new meadows and eventually fields to the west of the village.
Clarity is one of the great qualities of this report because it allows the reader to use the sites in new discussions – testing hypotheses and bringing the report into more general archaeological discussions. I have chosen three topics to illustrate this. (1) Formal rules in the IA building tradition. (2) The layout of the homesteads. (3) The character of the settlements, given that they were not the most central ones in the greater Säby area.
(1) Formal rules in building tradition. If we superimpose the plans of the post holes at D180 upon the older neighbouring houses at D168, the over lapping and systematic dislocation is easy to see. This indicates that the four houses were built with same measuring rod. A similar conclusion can be drawn from the parallelism between the post pairs when they intersect the length axis of the house at oblique angles.
We may thus figure out the length of the principal unit, and a simple analysis shows that this unit was a foot of c. 31.25cm or an ell, i.e. a double foot. Similarly to houses, e.g. from Jutland, the long measures are also the more precise ones (4). This trait can be explained if we suggest that long measures and relatively large units are the more important ones because indirectly they define the general character, size and costs of the house as a construction. Room size and partition walls, on the other hand, are a matter of convenience rather than system. There are indications of the foot being divided into thirds and fourths, which probably means that a foot consisted of 12 inches. The length of some houses can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4 as well as 6, 9 or 12 feet, i.e. total lengths amounting to 72, 84, 96 or 108 feet. When builders aiming at having 62 feet between the outer post pairs, preferred the series 14.25 – 17.5 – 17— 13.25 = 62f over the technically equivalent: 15.5 – 15.5 – 15.5 – 15.5 = 62f, it stands to reason that 14.25 – 17.5 – 17— 13.25 = 62f, demonstrates room proportion and variation as a value in itself. Perhaps measuring a distance down to ¼ of a foot (c. 7.8 cm) is aethestical overkill and difficult to prove, but the general attitude to constructing architecture with large simple and short complex measures — creating a standardized exterior and differentiated interior – is nevertheless a widespread Roman Iron Age (RIA) Scandinavian phenomenon.
(2) The layout of the homesteads. If we want to look at the settlements and their distribution during the 400 year boom from the 2nd to the 6th century CE, we must start by excluding D170 and D190 because they are too old. And if we want to catch the beginning of the boom rather than its aftermath, we must also for the moment exclude D168 and D180, i.e. two phases of a mid-millennium solitary farms. This leaves us, on the one hand, with D162 and on the other with D169 and D193. The two latter are rather scattered settlements with a mixture of main houses and smaller or lager outhouses. D162 is the eastern part of a much more dense settlement with main houses as well as large and small outhouses. At D162 the settlement area is restricted and the buildings are orientated either E-W or N-S. D 162 is the western part of a small village.
At D169 none of the 9 houses overlap and among the 11 houses at D193 there is only one small overlap between the SE and NW corner respectively of two houses. At D162, on the other hand, 8 of the 15 houses from the 2nd to 6th c. overlap. This means that there is a 10% overlap at D169 &193 and a c. 50% overlap on D162, which in its turn indicates significant differences between the two kinds of settlement.
On D162 there are 7 main houses, 4 large outhouses and 4 small ones. The main houses are more or less parallel to each other, the E-W orientated houses are quite far apart and the N-S houses make up an E-W row of main buildings. The small outhouses are situated among the main houses, but of the four large ones, one is orientated N-S and three E-W. The latter from an E-W row of buildings.
The clue to understanding the village D162 is the way it changes over time. Wisely, the excavators devoted two 14C tests to every house foundation and because of the generally speaking wet conditions on the Säby sites it was possible often to date fragments of the posts found in the post holes. In principle these dates tend to be older than the houses even though they may have been introduced in connection with repair during the lifetime of the house. Moreover, old timber could have been used: side ridges may thus have been redressed to fulfill a secondhand function as posts, and interior posts may have been shortened to become corner posts. Since a post gives the house a terminus post quem (tpq) date, other pieces of charcoal in the holes may be viewed in relation to this date telling us whether the charcoal fell into the hole as a contamination from earlier activities or not. Typically in a settlement such as D162, age difference between the oldest post and the youngest date – be it a post or a piece of charcoal – grows when we compare the latest end dates to the earliest.
The table shows that the settlement comes to an end c. 1550 bp – allowing the outhouses to stand c. 25 years after the last construction phase – sometimes in the first half of the 6th c. CE. The dates, moreover, help us divide the activities of the builders into stages. The first is bp 1775-1740, H 11, 10 & 07. The second is short, bp 1695-80, H15 &14 (in effect two phases of the same house). The third is an even shorter period bp 1655-50, H09 & 08. Lastly there is the phase bp 1600-1575, H19 & 13. Taking the houses with just one date into consideration makes the last construction phase begin in 1605 bp and adds houses to the other phases.
When mapped, these construction periods structure the settlement in a reasonable way. In the phase bp 1775-1740 there are two parallel main houses with each their small outhouse or barn. They are two small farms typical of the ERIA. The pair H11+18 may well have been the very first farm on the site later accompanied by the farm consisting of H10+7.
The short phase, bp 1695-1680, introduces a new orientation of the settlement and larger houses. Instead of a N-S line between two farms, the axis is shifted c. 24° to the East. This suggests that the undated House 12 is partly contemporary with the introduction of this new axis. The new houses, constructed in this and the next phase, are orientated E-W, e.g. House 14, at right angles to the new divide, i.e. 90+24=117° to the East. This indicates a regulation of the plots and makes them the two westernmost estates in a village stretching towards the East. There seems to be no small outhouses belonging to this construction period, but compared with the first phase, the main houses are longer. Measured in roofed square metres the farms have in other words become bigger. In the fourth phase, bp 1655-50, a new farm with a small barn is built on the western plot.
In these two latter phases, i.e. the settlement period combining the two construction phases and covering the period bp 1695-1650, there are probably two farms on the western plot and one on the eastern suggesting that there was now two households on the western plot. This partitioning into South Plot and North Plot indicates that the lands of the original estate were parceled out to two beneficiaries. In the last building phase, bp 1605-1565, after a hiatus or the ebbing out of the main house period, bp 1775-1650 and onwards, four outhouses were constructed on the site. They are obviously plot-related — although perhaps not conpemtorary – and should be seen as someone’s claim to a specific plot and a part in the village. This means that although the plots were without a proper homestead, the estates nevertheless existed.
The development demonstrates that in the first part of the 6th c. at least three small farms disappears from the village D162, without radically affecting the ownership of the land. It is easy to imagine a connection between this abandonment of farms and the dust veil tpq 536 CE.
The way the building phases mirror the boom in the LRIA and its decline during the 5th century CE is typical, but the outhouse period, the very beginning of the PCIA, is equally important because it speaks of the will to claim the land.
That D162 is a village is also indicated by the fact that it has its own small cemetery D69, 200m to the West. The small cemetery and the fact that village was no more than twice as big as the excavated area, indicate that D162 is part of the RIA expansion – a new village situated 750 m East of present-day Säby, 750 m North of present-day Villinge, and 750 m South of present-day Kumla – that is, a new village fitted into an existing older structure of settlements with each their cemeteries.
Let us turn to the contemporary settlements: D193 and D169.
On D193 there is one small main house, House 33, two large outhouses, H23 (phase 1) & 29, and no less than six small barns or sheds, H24-26, H28 and H30-32. House 27 is a pit house and a dwelling. Houses 33 & 29 are contemporary and may well have been a small 4th century farm and so may the rebuilt House 23 (phase 2) & the outhouse 28. These two farms represent the boom at a site originally characterized by outhouses. The small barn H32 is the last on the site, which it claims in a way similar to the first ones and the last barns at D162. House 32 represents decline and abandonment after the boom. In the late 6th century someone lived in the pit house H27. By that time, there were no other houses on the site.
It is characteristic of this settlement that it doesn’t contain more than perhaps one farm with agriculture, husbandry and cows in the byre. Nevertheless activities are more abundant in the 3rd and 4th century, mirroring the boom character in a modest way. If there had been no aftermath in the form of a pit house the site would have been abandoned already in the beginning of the 5th century.
The site D169 is a sparsely settled area with a series of mostly small main houses, outhouses and sheds. If we follow the 14C dates the site was settled from the 2nd to the 4th century CE and around 300 CE there were probably two households on the site rather than one. Although there were no doubt farms with a multi-functional main house and a barn or shed, there must also have been times when households didn’t have cow sheds. The settlement seems to have been abandoned in the beginning of the 5th century.
D169 and D193 are unregulated peripheral settlements without cemeteries – settlements in which the ruins of earlier houses, rather than plots, guided those who were about to build themselves a new house. Since their farms and abodes were temporary, those who lived at these sites were not the landowning farmers of an autonomous village.
The sites D168 and D180, lastly, represent each their short period of farm life in an unregulated settlement. D168 is an old site with sporadic EIA presence, but no farm until the late 5th and early 6th century — i.e. a farm with no part in the RIA expansion. D180 is a younger site and the farm belongs to the central and later part of the 6th century. The youngest, at D168, is dated bp 1540, at D180 the date is bp 1490. Since a house lifetime, given maintenance, of c. 60 years is not unlikely D180 in all probability replaces D168 c. 100 meter to the north. Judging from the 14C dates, the buildings and their layout, the two farms replace each other, one being the first the other the second phase of one and the same estate. The farm is moved during or after the dust veil. D168/D180 is in other words situated before and after this event. The layout of the phases is very similar; it tells us that a farm could consist of a main house, 80 foot or more, and a 40 foot outhouse, which may also have housed a secondary household. The outhouse was sometimes rebuilt and extended. Because the farm consists of a main house and a rather large outhouse it is among the largest ones in the area. Its layout is standard and its farmyard situated between the two parallel farm houses in a relatively orderly way. When all other settlement sites have already been closed down or abandoned in the first part of the 6th century or indeed settled by the odd pit house dweller, D168/180 stands out as an investment in a new farm on a site that has not hitherto been used as a farmstead. D168/180 is going against the stream during at least three or four generations before it disappears.
(3) The character of the settlements. D162 is the only village in the area. It developed a formal structure with plots. It was reduced and perhaps abandoned in the first part of the 6th century. It didn’t survive into historical times and may well be part of the RIA expansion that came to an end in the Pre Carolingian Iron Age (PCIA). A169 and A193 are marginal settlements abandoned in the 4th-5th century except for the solitary 6-7th c. pit house on D193. During the boom there are one or two small farms on D169 and D193 respectively. It would seem reasonable to suggest a connection between the village D162 and the peripheral settlement at D193. D169 may have linked in with a settlement further North, such as present-day Kumla.
The farm D168/D180 is probably not linked to the village D162 and although technically speaking peripheral, e.g. to present-day Säby, the farm was a full farm with a large outhouse and a multi-functional main house, but similar to homesteads and farms at D169 and D193, D168/180 occupied one of the temporary places in the larger Säby area, albeit for several generation. It seems not to be associated with any graves.
In a chapter on the osteological material Ylva Bäckström discusses the species and not least the balance between bones related to butchering and bones related to cooking – in percent this butchering/cooking relation is expected to be 60:40. In a settlement with more bones than expected related to butchering not all food was prepared at the settlement. Similarly, if bones related to cooking dominate, part of the food was imported to the settlement. In a sufficiently large economic area the balance between the two bone materials will nevertheless be 60:40. Turning to the village D162 there is a small surplus of offal, which means that some meat (mutton and pork) leaves the settlement. This surplus is matched by a small deficit at D193. Adding D162 and D193 to eachother the expected balance 60:40 meets the eye and we may suggest that the production at D162 matches that of D193. The bone material, as well as the layout of the settlements therefore suggest that D193 is a dependent, somewhat specialized, settlement engaged in husbandry linking in with the more central village D162 and its more complete subsistence system. Animals from D193 may thus have been brought to D162 to be butchered or indeed driven off to other parts of the economic system. In return the village D162 would to a certain degree have supported the peripheral settlement D193 – the point being that those living at D193 invested part of their work time in the economy of D162.
Initially, the well-planned farm D168/D180 suggests a subsistence economy or an economy similar to that of the village D162. None the less, the balance between offal and cut of meat is grossly distorted – 80:20 rather than 60:40. The farm D168/180 is in other words involved in exploiting the natural resource of its environment, allowing it to export half of its production of pork, beef and mutton from its immediate surroundings. Since we cannot expect a free market to have existed in the 7th c. CE, we must conclude that D168/180 was strongly tied to a not too distant settlement that needed a surplus, either because this settlement itself had a central position or because it was involved in a network around a more central place with a wish or duty to support people. Since manorial or central farms are characteristic of the PCIA (there are several candidates in the area) it is only reasonable to suppose that cattle farms such as D168/180 existed. Its economic raison d’être can be seen as a consequence of the fact that the other settlements between Säby, Villinge and Kumla were phased out and abandoned.
To sum up: When the isostatic uplift (the rise of land masses once depressed by the weight of the ice sheet) allowed people to settle permanently and farm the greater Säby area, the older part of the landscape with a few temporary Late Bronze Age (LBA) and EIA settlements, could be permanently settled. This happened in the 2nd c. CE when the area was settled with at new village and some marginal settlements. This expansion continued until the 5th century when the marginal settlements disappeared and the village was certainly reduced and probably abandoned. It stands to reason that this reduction could have been caused by overgrazing. Although the marginal settlements were abandoned the plots in the village D162, and the secondary site D193, continued for a while to be built on with an outhouse thus indicating that the estates and the D193 site were laid claim to, although there were no longer any farmsteads. In the first part of the 6th century even the outhouses disappeared and it is difficult not to see a connection between this abandonment and the general shortage of food and fodder created by the dust veil. The dust veil came in the end of a century in which a large number of farmsteads were abandoned. In the Säby area no LRIA estate disappeared, but the outhouses at D162 and D193 came to an end suggesting that nobody rebuilt them when necessary. It seems unlikely that everyone once living on the farms that were abandoned went on to live in the farms that were not abandoned. In the Säby area at least five households disappeared, none continued and only one new farm was created, probably after a hiatus.
The settlement situation at Säby is not unique, but in this particular area the settlement expansion is late and so is its decline. Compared to other well-dates cases e.g. in the Oslo fjord area where most farms are solitary, it become apparent that if the permanent farms of the expansion start early – often after centuries of sporadic presence – they will also come to an early end. If they begin with Common Era the end will come in the 4th century. Similarly, a late beginning results in a late end in the 5th c. CE. This is the prime, albeit indirect reason why abandonment should be seen in connection with the malfunction of the RIA subsistence system – its ecological weakness being its dependency on husbandry in combination with a temptation to graze too many heads and allow too many households to be established.
Since modern exploitation isn’t likely to target present-day farms we seldom excavate the settlements that survived 536 CE and continued to be settled, but it does happen – Old Uppsala being case in point.
In Säby a new farm was established in the 5th century as indeed the only one in the abandoned area. This farm survives the dust veil for a couple of generations and judging from the osteological material its economy was based on livestock that would have survived grazing the area, which 200 years earlier was occupied by five or perhaps ten farms. This can of course be done as long as the population pressure is low and as long as ownership is not disputed. Since the 6-7th c. settlement at D193 was a pit house and not a farm such as D180, it stands to reason that land could not be occupied by anyone in need of a farm. Despite the demographic problems, the landless continued to be landless, some even began to live in pit houses. The marginal areas were not resettled in order to create self-subsiding households, but rather households that fitted into a larger and more hierarchic economic structure and settlement pattern. The pit house at D193 and the farm D168/180 are the typical outcome of the agrarian crisis of the 4th and 5th century and its aftermath the lost summers and the decrease in population during the late 530s and early 540s.
There is a fair chance that Säby is typical of the settlement change from the mid-second to the early seventh century CE. In that case the crisis, enhanced by crop failure and famine in the sixth century, didn’t result in an agricultural reform, it just meant that for a few more generations a reduced population could continue overgrazing and exploitation. The nadir of the agricultural crisis therefore seems to be the seventh century CE.
The economic crisis in mid-millennium Scandinavia shares some structural similarities with the crisis in the centuries around 1400 CE (cf. OtRR 4 March, 2113). It was an agrarian crisis topped by a demographic catastrophe accentuating social stratification and followed by a period of political warfare. Society was marked by its inability to change its mode of subsistence in order to accommodate a larger population and also by its inability to balance the size of its population against its system of subsistence. The decrease in population enhanced social stratification and brought about political power struggle rather than a new social order. The Scandinavian society even resisted urbanization except in its southwestern corner where Ribe was the exception to prove the rule. When migrating Scandinavians become visible in the annals of the 8th century they are the result of a population surplus in the unreformed society. Leaving the old society, they favoured a new one with an economy built on interacting rural, urban and mercantile sectors – they are the aggressive modernists of their day and age.
(1) Information on this is found at http://www.earthmagazine.org/article/aag-eruption-el-salvador%E2%80%99s-ilopango-explains-ad-536-cooling
(2) See http://www.upplandsmuseet.se/Sidor/VERKSAMHET/PUBLIKATIONER/Rapportserien/2012/
and goto page 273
(3) This seventh settlement was reported by Göthberg 2007: Arkeologisk undersökning. Kumla- bosättning och djurhållning under äldre järnålder. Fornlämning 169, Danmarks socken, Uppland. Hans Göthberg. Rapport 2007:15 (3347 kb). Cf. http://www.upplandsmuseet.se/Sidor/VERKSAMHET/PUBLIKATIONER/Rapportserien/Rapport-2007/
(4) See The Early Iroin Age in South Scandinavia pages 245ff. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?searchId=1&pid=diva2:287406
4 March, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a translation of an essay in historical anthropology first published in French 2010.
Le Geoff, Jacques. Money and the Middle Ages: An Essay in historical anthropology. Cambridge. Polity Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-5299-3
Because money is embedded and entangled in social relations, not least in the Middle Ages, money eludes definition. In the end of his essay Jaques Le Goff (JaLGo) points to these two characteristics – the first insight is a legacy of Karl Polanyi’s http://sv.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Karl_Polanyi , the second, which he brings in from the historian Albert Rigaudière http://www.aibl.fr/ membres/academiciens-depuis-1663/article/rigaudiere-albert-jean-marie , is made significant not least by himself.
JaLGo points to these characteristics because they guided him all the way through his analyses. To prove his point in a not too formal way, he quotes Le Petit Robert on the word ‘money’ demonstrating the elusiveness of any definition. The quotation breaks off after some of the colloquial terms before it becomes tedious, but also before the tangled embeddedness becomes reflected in the sheer mass of words and varieties. However, if we surf to http://thesaurus.com/browse/money?s=t there is a list of almost 300 words, nouns most, but also verbs and adjectives, making up a muddle of synonyms. There are useful phrases too: a quote, in Latin, from Ovid, about bearable barbarians, one more in Latin (anonymous, slightly distorted, but nevertheless Cicero about the sinews of war), a German saying, which also explains war, and a gentle line by Tennyson, i.e. not the one about ‘lust of gold … … war of old’, which is too long and pompous for a dinner conversation. Moreover, to complete the entry there is a warning not to confuse ‘Capitol’ and ‘Capital’ because ‘the similarity between the words is purely coincidental’ – well not ‘purely’. Who would have thought that Latin was so important when making economic conversation and not a fool of oneself.
In Money and the Middle Ages (MoMa) JaLGo devotes 19 pages, an introduction and three short chapters, to arrive at the glorious and long 13th c. — 1160 to 1330 CE. It takes the following 62 pages and five chapters to bring us to the second half of the 14th c. and 66 pages and 7 chapters to analyze the last 100 years and the end of the Middle Ages in the 15th c. always taking the glorious (long) 13th c. into account eventually defending his thesis that there was no capitalism in the Middle Ages. This thesis, rather than stated as a point of departure stands out as an outcome, and capitalism thus ‘turns out’ to refer to the kind we associate with liberalism and the free market. A student paper structured that way, defending that thesis, would alert the serious wisdom and advice of any academic teacher – even kindly professors – unless of course the student could write as interestingly as JaLGo about MoMa.
The reason why I read the book is twofold. (1) I think it is essential to discuss history analyzing concepts which, similar to money, evade traditional definition. (2) I think that next e.g. to money one of these concepts is ‘modernity’, which in my opinion is not an era commencing sometime after the Middle Ages, but a confident relation with the future as defined and predicted by the past. The modern writes the structure and dynamics of the present into the future, preferably by presenting the future as solution. Consequently, the future when seen as a predicament triggers the less-modern, i.e. revision and an interest in the historic as a means to understanding the future. No era or century is either modern or non-modern and modernity may well exist as a subculture within a society structured by canonical obedience or historical revision.
In this perspective the history of the modern becomes interesting, and so does wealth and money, because they make up a sometimes open and sometimes
restricted field for modernity. On the road to modernity the long 13th c. is eventually checked by crises highlighting the non-modern. The late 14th to early 15th century, on the other hand, lay the foundation for a much more assured modernity, based on a new historical understanding.
Chapter Six, ‘Money and the Nascant States’, discusses the way the booming coin- and currency-related activities included merchants, King and Church among their actors. The Merchants were obviously the ones who knew how to make profit by means of trade and world systems, the Kings were obviously the ones most interested in the administration of the values of the state, thus partly creating the state, and the Church took pains to keep the moral issues alive arguing against usurers — cautiously transferring money (sometimes with a questionable profit) between private and limited public spheres.
Because of the boom, the North European exploitation of natural resources with roots at least in the Roman Iron Age, became visible in the Hanseatic trade echoing the pre-Medieval North European ingot and weight based economy, now hampered by the lack of a heavy silver coins belonging to a common currency – probably because it was impossible to convince trappers to use money with no guaranties against inflation. Failing to do so is the sure sign of a not-working non-liberal market. The Hanseatic system, like the Royal European systems, modeled or revived Roman and Iron Age systems. The great difference and the main problem for those trying to develop the administration of wealth and the practice of trade into a modern economic system was no doubt the Church, because it wasn’t able to create a discussion on morals in relation to a concept of modernity nor to create a discussion of the need to revise history in view of future or imminent problems.
JaLGo’s discussion of lending, debt and usury (p. 63 ff.) highlights the confrontation between scholastics and the ‘new intellectuals of the 13th c’. To the scholastics the past as guideline was described in the Bible in such a way that the present and thus the outcome of the future was given, while at the same time the present and future road to this outcome was in practice traumatic. To the ‘new intellectuals’ a study of mankind and the past, e.g. through Aristotle and later Graeco-Roman philosophy, was necessary in order to manage the present and the imminent future. The mixture of scholastic and non-scholastic views is typical of the in-between fundamentalism and modernity of the long 13th century. In the eyes of the scholastics teachers, those who received payment for their teaching (as if they were ancient sophists) were like ‘merchants of knowledge’ selling ‘words’, which rightfully belonged to God – i.e. they sold the value of His words in a way similar to the usurer, who acquired a profit without working and thus without the sweat of his face – earning money even as he slept. JaLGo points out this conflicting way of reasoning – drawing on the value of work and eventually on value and risk – and he defines it as something new to the long 13th century. This means that he probably doesn’t appreciate the significance of the following passage from a dialogue by Aelfric written c. 1000 CE:
Merchant: I embark on board ship with my wares and I sail over remote seas, sell my wares and buy precious objects that are unknown in this country. I bring these things to you over the sea enduring great danger and shipwreck with the whole of my goods hurled overboard and with me hardly escaping with my life.
Teacher: What sort of wares do you bring us?
Merchant: I bring purple cloth and silk, precious stones and gold, various sorts of clothes and dyes, wine and oil, ebony and brass, tin and brimstone, glass and like products.
Teacher; Do you want to sell your goods here when you have bought them elsewhere?
Merchant: I don’t want to, but where else can I make a profit from my work? I want the selling price to be dearer than the purchase price so that I can make some money to feed my wife and sons. (Translation from Latin: Ann E Watkins)
To scholastics, nevertheless, value and profit make up a dangerous path to follow because we may wonder how long, without getting sweaty, should the value or profit of one’s work last? Can risk and danger not teach a man to sweat? Is inheritance not a way of acquiring wealth without labour, even if your father is not an usurer? And if a merchant makes a profit that covers more than his needs when selling his goods is that not usury? But then again what are his needs and those of ‘wife and sons’?
The criticism of usury comes from everyday life in dynamic and flowering times when people think that the costs for surviving are too high – not primarily from the Bible. As JaLGo shows usury as a moral complex is not a great problem in the countryside, where subsistence is under the control of household economy. This economy produces a surplus of people, who for want of something better supply the towns with people because living in a town stands out as better than vagabonding in the countryside. If you belong to the rural community the value of you time is relatively constant given the modes of production, but in the towns, i.e. in the urban practice the value of time fluctuates, not so much in the productions of the crafts as in the time it takes to subsist. In the towns the remedy is money as long as there is food to buy.
In the chapter that concludes those concerning the glorious 13th c. ‘A New Wealth and a New Poverty’ – a convincing paradox – JaLGo introduces a couple relation that guides the distribution of money while at the same time it is unable to distribute it more evenly. In MoMa the subject is money, but the theoretical problem seems to be the way urbanized people think about their universe trapped between wealth and poverty, secular and Heavenly justice, merchant companies and mendicant orders or between vice and virtue — unable not to embrace both.
In this connection JaLGo draws attention to Nicolas Oresme’s ‘De Moneta’ since his analysis is the beginning of the modern or the proto modern analysis inasmuch as it is a new historical analysis, i.e. an analysis of Classical, Roman and Byzantine authors as a means to explain the principles that should guide our future. This kind of analysis will remedy future predicaments, such as those already experienced. In theory Nicholas Oresme represents emancipation from the unfruitful couple relation of the long 13th century.
An early paragon of the ‘new intellectual’, John of Salisbury, brought the ethical discussion of political science back from antiquity in order to inform Kings of the needs of their subjects, i.e., their responsibilities as secular monarchs towards their subjects. He is critical of the urban life of his day and age and sets out to reform the couple relation between the ruler as a ‘moral person’ and the ‘divine law’ by introducing the needs of the subjects – a very modern or non-canonical view on subjects. Characteristically, John is not as radical as the anonymous author of the 6th c. Dialogue on Political Science discussed OtRR 30 April 2012. Nevertheless, John, who writes between 1150 and 1180, introduces a new a kind of analysis emphasizing the citizen. Nicholas who writes in the mid-14th c. writes in the middle of a demographic crisis that led to war in the 14th and 15th century and his message to those in power is thus urgent.
We may see the depth of the demographic crisis in the 14th-15th century as consisting of an economic crisis in the beginning of the century resulting in famine later turned into a demographic catastrophe by the Plague. But why was a state of continuous warfare the outcome of famine and plague? Why did a population reduced by 30-50% start to fight each other? Why didn’t ‘the long 16th’ century commence immediately after the long 13th century?
In MoMa JaLGo argues that money is embedded in social relations, but also that progress in the form of capitalism and a real market economy (an embryonic Liberal capitalism) could not develop till after the Middle Ages, i.e. only after the Middle Age when we have done away with the Biblical understanding of money, usury, caritas etc. are we able to step into modernity. The reason for this, on the one hand, rests with the fact that the use of money is embedded in social relations, on the other (seemingly) it rests with the fact that history proceeds in cultural steps forever putting eras such as the Middle Ages behind us.
When capitalism enters the scene following in the footsteps of risk, credit and justifiable profit its steps are irreversible. Nevertheless, this view doesn’t sit well with the idea that money eludes traditional definition because it is embedded in social relations, which do not proceed in a series of stages excluding each other. As soon as money, the commensurable, is introduced risk, credit, fair profit, usury, caritas and so on must always be taken into account, irrespective of their being important or not. Defining day one of capitalism let alone the end of canonical financial moral is impossible.
When Aelfric, c. 1000 CE, indicated that merchants should be compensated for the risk they take, when John of Salisbury pointed to the needs of the subject as being on par with the rights of the King, and when Richard FitzNeal described the fairness of the Exchequer system of account, split tallies, administration and justice c. 1180, the arguments pointed towards social relations that became popular with JaLGo’s capitalism and modernity. But in JaLGo’s discussion important elements of capitalism cannot have been around for two or three hundreds of years without resulting in any change. Modernity cannot be a substratum of the Medieval. To many, not least British historians this is nevertheless quite possible. The reviewer of MoMa in Times Literary Supplement (01 Feb 2013) for one, is as good an exponent of this tradition as ever Aelfric, or John of Salisbury or Richard FitzNeal.
Let us return to the questions posed above: Why was there such as thing as the squeezed 14th-15th century? To JaLGo this question is irrelevant because the period is just one in which capitalism doesn’t happen. That is why the answers one might point to are not likely to be accepted by JaLGo. Nonetheless, one may point to the following: In the dwindling and soon drastically reduced populations, the amount of money per capita grew. And since coin economy, owing to all the circumstances put forward by JaLGo, was not spread to every corner of society and since there was thus a surplus of money, money was invested in wars. Instead of pointing to the anachronistic understanding of the early 14th century frescos in Siena as allegories of good and bad government, as JaLGo does, one might instead stick to their original topic, the difference between war and peace. War, not bad government was the problem of the squeezed 14th and 15th centuries.
A demographic crisis may be the result of inadequate energy regimes perhaps caused by factors such as the Little Ice Age and a subsequent breakdown in subsistence systems, which causes people to die of starvation. In the 14th century this kind of crisis was followed by the plague which reduced the population drastically and money thus became relatively speaking abundant and of limited use. In this situation it is typical of the wealthy capital owner with access to money, i.e. when money is cheap and populations decreasing, to start investing in wars, to follow the interests of power policies because it pays although it destroys the countryside. Rebuilding the economic system from its foundations is not the first capitalistic option – not even today. The point is simple: because there was an embryonic capitalism, investors followed the hopes of Kings lending them money to invest in wars because as bankers they had money. Both Investors and Kings thought it would be profitable; to begin with it was, in the end it wasn’t.
It is difficult to embrace JaLGo’s view upon capitalism, but in the end one finds that that is not a problem because MoMa is a book that should be read not for its thesis but for its ‘plaidoyer’.
18 February, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a book that try hard to escape what is expected of it. The expected is expressed by the Annals of Ulster, e.g. in the second entry for the year 798 CE: The burning of Inis Pátraic by the heathens, and they took the cattle-tribute of the territories, and broke the shrine of Do-Chonna, and also made great incursions both in Ireland and in Alba (U798.2): Shrine-breaking Vikings in the Irish Sea or Salafists in the Sahara – same Huns then as now – because a Hun is a Hun is a Hun and yet that may not be the whole truth.
Griffiths, David. 2010 (2012). Vikings of the Irish Sea. Conflict and Assimilation AD 790-1050. The History Press.
We learn a lot from Vikings of the Irish Sea. It is a good and interesting book and David Griffiths (DG) has written an introduction – a point of departure – in which he stresses the fact that viking – wicing in Old English – means ‘pirate’; that the actual word is uncommon; that the Irish spoke of foreigners sometimes dark or fair; that Vikings played a number of different roles in society. DG uses the label ‘Viking’ in the neutral conventional sense. Nevertheless we get the impression that as an ethnic heathen group they eventually dropped their barbarian identity. If we read the jacket blurb, which probably isn’t DG’s words, this misleading simplicity, Viking Reformed, makes us drift towards the general selling point, the Viking hype:
In part, the impression that although they are not Vikings the jacket-blurb way they still are, is due to the way DG introduces his investigation in the chapter following the introduction – Raids and Early Settlement in Ireland. He begins his analysis highlighting the earliest entries in the Annals of Ulster and similar chronicles simply by referring to them, seemingly taking them for granted. If we do so, we will have difficulties emancipating ourselves from their allegedly objective style and their skillfully constructed choice of events, the ostensibly important ones, which simply happened to take place in a certain year. Notwithstanding, we know that social chronology and the annalistic genre is never a simple series of events: the annals don’t lie; they are selective and imprecise to a fault.
Instead of highlighting the impression which the intruders made on the literate who lived by the coast or on small islands in monasteries amidst a material wealth ideologically attractive to any plunderer, the analysis must start before the Scandinavian colonists began what eventually turned out to be their not entirely successful project. The atrocities of heathen shiploads, al Qaida or salafist groups are ‘shameful terrorism’ to borrow an analytical term from Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, but they didn’t start at Inis Pátraic, in New York or Timbuktu. In the Viking case we need not know a lot about Scandinavia to understand the origin of Scandinavian behavior.
(1) In the 6th and 7th century, based on ownership of land, a new upper social stratum emerged, signified by magnate farms, and by landowners who need not live on their estates.
(2) The 7th and 8th century marked the end of a demographic crisis and the beginning of a growing population.
(3) Despite the demographic crisis, i.e. owing to social stratification and landownership, the landless, i.e. the pit-house population, couldn’t take over abandoned farms (cf. OtRR 21 January 2013).
(4) From the onset of the 8th century, if not before, larger boats and sailing ships (cf. OtRR 4 ebruary 2013) stimulated the political ambitions of the new upper classes inasmuch as new boat types renewed the logistics of communication and warfare.
Together, social structure, a popularion surplus, political ambition and new logistic possibilities paved the way for the formation of new political networks, plundering and colonization – in short a much enhanced revival of the dynamics of the 4th and 5th c. – around uniting seas. The magnates and their halls became the nodes in political networks. The waters of Central Denmark are the original uniting seas and they helped to define the colonial waters of The English Channel, and The Irish Sea. Since scale is important when logistics are crucial, the North Sea, albeit possible to cross, is too large to unite. On the other hand, the system may be modified to fit some coastal areas too, as well as fjords, the Trondheim Fjord being case in point.
Since the model for this kind of political space came from Scandinavia as a geographical area, Scandinavians were among the first to engage themselves, but there was nothing particularly Scandinavian in the endeavor or in uniting seas. In the long run uniting seas could not sustain political units, except in Denmark where Øresund became a border in 1658 and in Sweden up and until 1809 when peace liberated Finland and made the Baltic a divide. Not surprisingly building bridges and tunnels are the most important communication projects in modern Denmark and indeed coastal Norway.
It is difficult to know when the Scandinavian model of the uniting sea became colonial, but it probably started as a small scale phenomenon following old expanded passages. This collonization or contact could be peaceful as well as violent. Similar to the situation in the 4th and 5th c. the journey would seamlessly combine acquisition, successful homecoming, emigration and death.
By quoting the annals DG emphasizes ethnic aspects rather than the model ones although he is often able to criticize ethnicity, e.g. when it comes to place names and the actual ethnic affiliation of a certain landowner. Language is not a perfect ethnic marker and must Scandinavian or non-Scandinavian landowners live on a farm with a Scandinavian respectively non-Scandinavian name? This is the basic question to which the answer is: No! DG’s critique is reasonable, but it backfires as criticism of the overarching ethnic perspective. This perspective, which is embraced as well as not-embraced by DG, stems from the inability to abandon the traditional Viking concept although we know that it is misleading.
Since the Viking concept is denoted by violent and pagan ethnic Scandinavians, it becomes difficult to uphold if the people involved cannot be defined ethnically, if myths could be embraced as narratives by non-Scandinavians, and if categories such as Norse, Native and half-breed were never exhaustively defined. Likewise it becomes difficult to uphold the concept if the intruders were no longer heathens, but Christians, which by the mid-10th century most of them were.
Grave finds lead to exactly the same problems as place names: it is impossible to maintain that Scandinavians were buried in a Scandinavian way. DG sums up the problem thus:
It is no longer acceptable merely to divide the practice of furnished and unfurnished burial along simplistic ethnic lines, with the latter being seen as an exclusive ‘native’ phenomenon. Just as people of non-Scandinavian origin may have been accorded pagan rites at their internment or cremation others who did have direct or familial Scandinavian backgrounds were probably buried in unfurnished graves, almost indistinguishably from those of the people they had settled amongst (p. 99).
DG nevertheless continues:
Science, particularly stable isotope analysis, promises to illuminate this question further. Nevertheless, the evidence from burials adds greatly to the picture of developing cultural hybridity around the Irish Sea … … (p.99).
Science in the shape of its current Deus ex machina, stable isotope analysis, obviously doesn’t tell us how people felt about their identity. Moreover, it stands to reason that amalgamation rather than hybridization characterized most identities, in which lineage were easily integrated. Vikings nevertheless are still there.
Even when they predate themselves, Scandinavians buried in Dublin before the first mentioning of monastery burners 795 CE, it is difficult to not to continue to believe chronicles and annals. DG accepts the possibility that Scandinavians settled in Ireland before 795 – somewhat reluctant to begin with and perhaps a little less reluctantly in Conclusions. Once again, a crucial point doesn’t really change anything – the annals are still trusted, albeit reluctantly. Because an unobtrusive start rather than full-blown terrorism is what we should expect, the early graves from Dublin, instead of being something perhaps possible, should have been the point of departure – trade before terror?
DG is not to be blamed for the obscurity that surrounds a series of early 14C-dates from graves in Dublin, Linzy Simpson is. How hard can it be to account for the results of a 14C-test? The central information is the name of the Laboratory, the number of the test, the year before present and the standard deviation, e.g. Xyz, 12345, b.p. 1250+/-45. Nonetheless, when the crucial dates were published in Medieval Dublin vol. VI 2005, that kind of simplicity and clarity was banned and readers were referred to a misleading ‘intercept date’ and supplied with the first and the last date of the +/- 2σ span. Only in the notes do we find the +/- 1σ, values, which do not figure in DG’s otherwise clarifying table (p. 76). It is difficult to find a 14C test result that will match the five figures given by Simpson: interception year, +/- 1σ and +/- 2σ limits, e.g. Grave F 196 South Great Georg’s Street: 770, 690, 790, 670 and 880 CE. Nevertheless a 14C-date such b.p. 1250 +/- 33 comes close. Since there are three burials with dates identical or very similar to F196, this implies that the probability that three of the dead were buried 795 CE or later is c. 25%.
The probability that all three are dated 795 or later is thus 0.25×0.25×0.25 = 0.015625. Consequently, the probability that at least one of the graves is earlier than 795 CE is 0.984375.That is a very high probability given that probabilities don’t come above one. The intention behind all this would seem to be a wish to obscure what would otherwise have been obvious: in Dublin before 795 CE, i.e. the first mentioning in the Annals of Ulster of a heathen attack on Ireland, people who felt it necessary to show affinities with the material culture of Scandinavia buried young men and at least one older woman, thus creating new burial grounds and consequently an element of a permanent new settlement inasmuch as graves make up an important element in a permanent and autonomous Iron Age settlement in Scandinavia.
The possibility that something similar to an 8th century CE Mesolithic diet would have caused a marine reservoir effect that made everybody look too young 14C-wise, is no more than a vain hope disguised as scholarly cautiousness, not least while the Annals of Ulster point out that the heathens took the cattle-tribute in 798. Reading the Annals as proof of the fact that heathens had not seen cows until 798 will not solve the problem of the early Dublin dates. In Dublin, beyond all reasonable doubt there is a pre-Annalistic heathen settlement with Scandinavian affinities — that is, a colony on a foreign coast.
If we trust the Annals of Ulster ‘heathens’ disappear in the early 900s and most Scandinavians, as we learn e.g. from DG’s discussion (143ff.), were Christians by 990s. In the Annals of Ulster, ‘Norsemen’ follow in the footsteps of the heathens. ‘Danes’ are rare and late and if anything related to the turbulent times in England from the 980s and onwards. This means that we can understands what happens between the 8th and 11th century CE in relation to a series of model stages:
(0) Small-scale immigration, sword in hand.
(1) A period of continued settlement and armed survey
(with a ’crusade’ character, in search of booty, of little benefit for Heathendom)
(2) A period of further colonization and political formation
(3) A period of engulfment in local politics
(4) A period of international power struggle in connection with state formation
Vikings, i.e. pirates or sea robbers, probably existed up and until the third stage, but they were not labeled thus until the second model stage. Prior the Carolingian Iron Age (750-1025 CE), Vikings/Pirates were already an Iron Age Scandinavian phenomenon and we may argue that only when Scandinavians abroad started to look upon themselves as countrymen and players on the political scenes in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, did it become necessary now and then to label Scandinavians and other freebooters ‘Vikings’, thus denouncing them.
There are no Vikings in the Annals of Ulster, because Vikings are rare, but they may be fitted into the model by means of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Their intermediate status belonging to stage 2 and 3 can be corroborated if we look into a translation from the 990s of a text originally written in Latin in the 980s.
In Abbo of Fleury’s Life of St Edmund (Latin late 980s CE) translated into straightforward Old English (and shortened) by Aelfric of Eynsham in the late 990s CE, we are told how Ivar the Boneless and his men killed King Edmund of East Anglian a hundred odd years earlier in 869 CE. Translating this Latin text into Old English must have been a good opportunity to use the word wicing in order to describe both Ivar and his men as negatively as befitting, but ‘Viking’ and ‘pirate’ are used only in modern translations. Abbo of Fleury’s original Latin text uses pirata—pirate, pirata truculentes—grim pirates, piratica—piracy and latrocinium—freebooting to describe the Danes and their doings. But Aelfric writes flot-man throughout loosing pirates and freebooters in translation. Flot-man means seaman and since some seamen are pirates and some pirates Scandinavians, Bosworth and Toller translate: Flot-man: (1) sailor and seaman; (2a) pirate; (2b) ravaging Scandinavian. In our Aelfric case we may proceed down this road and add (2b:1) ‘Danish marauder’. Flot-man none the less is a euphemism – an indirect and vague substitute for the blunt and offensive wicing.
Abbo, a French career monk (1), who was in England at the Abbey of Ramsey in East Anglia 985-7 organizing and teaching, a visiting professor brought in from abroad, heard of Edmunds fate and wrote his Passio Sancti Edmundi dedicated to Archbishop Dunstan (†988) before he went back to the Fleury, his monastery near Orleans, and a new step in his career. Abbo had no problems calling a pirate a pirate and in all probability his informants at Ramsey were the ones who gave him the impression that pirate was the right word to use when they told him about Edmund’s death. Had they wished they could have referred to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the mid-9th century and the three Viking cases in East Anglia to prove their point (cf. OtRR 8 August, 2011).
Aelfric, like everyone else, knew that wicing meant pirate, but he chose the inexact over the exact term and that is understandable since he calls Ivar’s army a fyrd and talks of his ships as a scip-here, i.e. a fleet. A fyrd is a large army and fleet a large number of ships, and thus not emblematic of pirates, who don’t come by the thousands. That kind of consequence didn’t bother Abbo, who knew a pirate when he heard of him and needed something rascals-like rather than lordly to murder his martyr. In the retrospect, and to the educated reader in the 990s calling Ivar a Viking—‘pirate captain’ makes no sense because he commanded a big army and conquered East Anglia, although he ultimately came from the sea. Aelfric’s prose is not unobtrusive, on the contrary, it is pointed – Ivar’s emissary to Edmund describes his master boisterously as a great King, but Aelfric prefers árleáse flot-man—‘honourless’ seaman, which points safely to Ivar’s moral shortcomings. His choice of words allows us, albeit silently, to read ‘infamous pirate’, and ‘honourless’ is a significant term to Scandinavians, to whom honour was all-important, if we are to believe Icelandic sagas. Compared to Aelfric’s translation, Abbo’s original is genuinely agitprop. He calls Ivar furcifer, an abusive term which means yoke-bearer. It is used when mocking someone, because it implies that he is a slave doing menial work. But the invective may also label a gallows rogue, hang-dog or rascal. Consequently when Aelfric criticizes Ivar, his language is much less abusive than Abbo’s.
Aelfric lived in Cerne Abbas 10 miles from the extraordinary 10th c. mass grave at Ridgeway Hill with the 54 beheaded mercenaries, of whom, isotopically speaking, at least 10 had ‘grown up in a colder climate than Britain’ and another 10 miles from the very last Viking attack recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Portland 982 CE). Writing in the 990s, when not all Scandinavian lay beheaded in mass graves there may have be a point in not calling every Dane a Viking and any Danish petty king a hang-dog. In all robability, Christian Scandinavians were already part of society. In effect we may argue that what Aelfric achieved by translating Abbo so wisely, was to put an end to Scandinavian Vikings. In a way he succeeded since in the 11th century Viking became a metaphor for runaway thralls (Cf. On the Reading Rest: Pirate Settlements in England, 8 August, 2011; note (7) on Wulfstan’s Homily 33).
(1) This is what Saints.SQPN.com http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-abbo-of-fleury/ has to say about Abbo (945-1004CE): Benedictine monk, taking the habit and coming of age at Saint Benoît-sur-Loire monastery, Fleury-sur-Loire, France. Studied at Paris, Rheims and Orleans in France. One of the great scholars of his age; we still have writings by him on astronomy, grammar, philosophy, mathematics, canon law, theology, biography, and other matters. Administered the abbey school and taught at Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, England from 985 to 987 at the request of Saint Oswald of Worcester, archbishop of York. Abbot at Fleury-sur-Loire, France in 988 where he instituted Cluniac observance; his election came into dispute, which was settled by the bishop who would later be Pope Sylvester II. Brought the abbey school to great renown. Fought for the rights of monks at the Synod of Saint Denis in 995. Ambassador to the Vatican where he became a close friend of Pope Gregory V. Peacemaker and negotiator between Pope Gregory V and King Robert the Pious of France. Worked to calm fears and reassure people who feared the end of the world or other problems with the millennial change to the year 1000. Murdered during a riot by monks he whose discipline he was trying to reform.
(2) Those who want to read about Edmund and the way Ivar made him a martyr will find a lot on the web:
Abbo’s Latin text at http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/abbofloracensis.html
Aelfric’s Old English text at http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/oecoursepack/edmund/index.html
A translation of Aelfric’s text – with a pathetic introduction – can be found at: http://faculty.virginia.edu/OldEnglish/aelfric/edmund.html
4 February, 2013
This Week On the Reading Rest I have something very common, i.e. a report (again in Swedish, but with good pictures) concerning a ‘unique archaeological’ find. Presently, entering ‘archaeological’ returns c. 43 and ‘unique archaeological’ c. 21 million hits on Google, and among the latter the ironic usage is probably ‘quite unique’, i.e. ‘like uncommon more or less’. Nevertheless, the combination, “quite unique” + ‘archaeological’, returns 400,000 hits. Luckily, when scrutinized the archaeologically unique turns out to be trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.
Nordqvist, Bengt. 2011. Våtmarksfynd från the forna åbädden vid Grönån [Wetland Finds from the Ancient River Bed by Grönån (i.e. Green River)]. UV rapport 2011:11. Arkeologisk undersökning. Swedish National Heritage Board. http://www.arkeologiuv.se/cms/showdocument/documents/extern_
In Scandinavian discussions within maritime archaeology sails have always been important because they indicate technological progress and refinement (cf. OtRR 25 July 2011). As it happens maritime archaeology is still obsessed with the importance of rational technology and invention as the emblem of historical development, as well as the emblem of modern scientific maritime method. The sail and its consequence the sailing ship are technological inventions that changed society because the sail was the first event in a chain triggering the next: Sail → Sailing Ships → Vikings → End of Prehistory →…. Because development is supposed to be dynamic and because we already know that the end of prehistory didn’t happen until 1025-50 CE, sails mustn’t be introduced too early or History will run ahead of itself.
Despite our archaeological endeavor, there are but a few contexts dating the introduction of the sail. The sailing ship with its buried crew of warriors from Salme on Saarema has nevertheless been dated to the beginning of the 8th c. CE and when published in more detail it will set Vikings sailing the seas and getting killed purposeless for generations unable to get started with the ‘Viking Age’, which began only 793 CE, a year that used to be just after the invention of the ‘Viking ship’ (1).
Since mainstream archaeologists have a gut feeling that technological solutions will become popular only when they fulfill a purpose, they are usually not bothered by technological implications. They simply wait for new sources to come to light dating the introduction of the sail. When that happens, i.e. when introduction is redated, it means that theory-based interpretation has been corrected by simple empirical observations, and mainstream archaeologists, who are always prepared to find something by chance, cry: ‘Eureka!’ – and why not ‘unique!’ while they are at it. Accordingly, mainstream archaeologists are prepared to cry havoc when theory threatens to inform empirical observation, and urge the archaeological observer to cast doubt upon the obvious in the observed.
The wetland finds from Grönån are referred to by Bengt Nordqvist (BN) as unique, which means that there is a good chance that they are actually trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.
Grönån is a tributary to Göta Älv, which is the most important waterway in Southwest Sweden. It connects backwoods and coastland. Together with its tributaries, such as Grönån, it also runs through and structures a number of fertile settlement areas. During the Iron Age (IA) the most strategic settlement areas along this river would seem to be situated on the left shore of the river just north of its bifurcation at Kungälv. Sitting here, able to subside between coast and inland, one could benefit from exploiting the hinterland as well as from incoming and outgoing traffic without the immediate risk of being descended upon. Although the area is thus inland, up the river and relatively protected, choosing a settlement by Grönån rather than directly by Göta Älv would suit the general tendency for Early Iron Age (EIA) settlements, contrary to Late Iron Age (LIA) settlement, to avoid the relatively speaking unprotected ‘coastal situation’ by the large river.
On the left side of Göta Älv between Lödöse (the Early Medieval town directly by Göta Älv) and Nol we find a suitable upstream settlement area characterized not least by its maritime finds preserved in the wet and clayey sediments along the rivers. The ships from Äskekärr, a boatyard from the Carolingian Iron Age (CIA, 750-1025 CE) and consequently situated directly by Göta Älv are the most well-known. After Bn’s excavations we may add a similar, but much older site by Grönån. I will call it Skepplanda 226 (Sk226) because the parish name Skepplanda is significant and because it is conceivable that there are other similar sites along Grönån. The name Skepplanda is composed of the words land (in the plural) and skip—ship or skipvidh, i.e. the lands or district that supplies boat timber. BN, doesn’t comment on Skepplanda, but shows that waste and wood chippings indicates that trunks were brought to Sk226 to be processed, making radially split planks (boards), oars, ribs, oarlocks, etc. In addition there are several tools, such as wedges and a mallet, as well as boat details that support the boatyard interpretation. Sk226 is a site that befits a skipvidh-land, but also a landing-place that belongs to one or more farms on higher grounds the odd kilometer north of the river. Situated at Grönån, rather than Göta Älv, the site is protected and comparatively peripheral, i.e. typical EIA compared to CIA Äskekärr. Grönån, contrary to Göta Älv, is an obvious artery for floating small amounts of timber to yards near its estuary. As it happens Äskekärr is situated just 3km downstream from the point where Grönån falls into Göta Älv making it easy to supply the boatyard at Äskekärr with Skepplanda timber.
The reason why we find sites such as Äskekärr and Sk226 is a combination of the need in prehistory to maintain ships and boats, and the fact that rivers because of sedimentation and erosion change their course within the riverbeds. This leads to sediments covering some of the old shores preserving wood and fibers once dropped there by the boat builders. Today the river fronts are protected areas usually not touched by contract archaeology, but in the Skepplanda case the new road E45 had to cross Grönån, and since the span of the bridge was made as short as possible, the edges of the stream had to be investigated.
The excavation was difficult, but very successful and thanks to the sedimentation the stratigraphy revealed two chronological phases divided by sediments deposited c. 375 CE when the river moved c.15 meter to the South. Above the sediments the site continued to be used to land boats. In order to do so despite the new circumstances characterized by a wet strip between the river and the dry land, short canals were dug making it easier to pull the vessels out of the water. BN argues convincingly that in this phase the boats and ships that went into the canal had keels and a cross-section that we usually recognize from ships belonging to the CIA – that is sailing ships. Since the upper Skepplanda stratum is dated after c. 375 and before the 600s it would seem that sails were introduced sometime during these centuries. Salme and Sk226 thus make it likely that sails, but not the Viking Age, were introduced well before 800 CE. The fact that the canals were dug to fit the cross-section of the vessels indicates that the boats were floating when they entered their canal and that the canals were similar to a dock yard from which the boats were probably dragged up on the dry land.
In the first phase the site was used much more intensively in connection with the maintenance of boats. The site was established in the 2nd c. CE, but the hundred years c. 260-360 CE were its heyday. It stands to reason that Sk226 was not meant mainly to give service to people punting and rowing up and down Grönån. Using the boats on Göta Älv and in the archipelago or for coastal trafic in South Scandinavia would seem more important – not least why the popularity of Sk226 in the 3rd and 4th centuries, i.e. the LRIA, coincides with an economic boom in tandem with a period of warfare in South Scandinavian. In the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries we may instead expect lower economic activities. Skepplanda circumstances must to some extent have brought about the boom, but places such as Sk226 must nevertheless boom if the boom is going to be as general as it was. Sk226 is a site that fits the types of boats one would have built in the first half of the first millennium CE. A long, narrow and light boat such as the one from Hjortspring or a long, broad and heavy ship such as the one from Gokstad would not have fit the yard. But a series of boats similar to the ones from Nydam (the pine boat) or Valsgärde might well have been maintained at Sk226 (2).
The report is an overview with an understandable, but nevertheless biased focus on the ‘unique’, i.e. so far in Sweden the oldest wooden artefacts of their kind, definition, character, and function. Thus influenced by the face value of the ‘unique’, the report lacks the systematic information that would have allowed the reader to interpret the character of the site, i.e. its commonplace context, in greater detail (3). Consequently, the report doesn’t discuss intra-site matters in relation to time or the three periods defined by the 14C-tests.
Two examples go to illustrate this: (1) Although part of the canals belonging to the upper layers cut down into the glacial clay below the lower layers, we don’t know precisely where these disturbances of the lower layers occur. (2) The chronology rests on 14C-tests, but it is difficult and sometimes impossible to find out where the dated artefacts were found. Despite shortcomings such as these, there are nevertheless clues here and there in the text; some conclusion can probably be drawn and some insights sifted from it. Despite the restricted attitude in the report to conveying contextual facts, contextualizing the site is worth a try.
If the lower artefact layer at Sk226 is a boatyard used with varying intensity during 2-300 years, then one may wonder, especially looking at the last 100 years of the LRIA, whether the find distribution reflects the structure of a yard. The hypothesis (i.e. a theoretically informed point of view that may be tested against empirical patterns sometimes overlooked) is the following: maintenance takes place when a boat is lifted out of the water and secured with props allowing the craftsmen to stand next to the boat working on. In this position, while working, they tend to lose tools and utensils and to drop waste and broken parts. We would expect these wooden objects to be trodden down into the humid clay by chance and perhaps eventually by intension making the ground more stable. Since there are planks that must be wedged out of trunks, dressed and cut by the ax, we can expect wooden chippings and bits of planks more or less all over the place, but not specifically under or next to the boats. This means that (1) where the boats stood finds ought relatively speaking to be few. (2) Next to the boats there would be concentrations of artefacts; and (3) between the boats there should be more chippings and pieces of plank than next to or under the boats. These hypotheses hold true only if some parts of the site are defined by their boat standings. In the long run they are unlikely to hold true given the general freedom to choose a boat standing as best you please.
In the report the artefacts are divided into groups and mapped. Insignificant pieces of wood were plentiful but not recorded. Wooden chippings were abundant and fragments of planks relatively common. Both categories were recorded and mapped because being marked by tools they might reveal something about craftsmanship. If we use the categories defined by BN and combine the artefact maps in the report to give an impression of density and complexity there emerges a pattern to some extent consistent with the hypotheses indicating where the boats stood when they were maintained and repaired.
The pattern is easy to see in the two peripheral distributions, but blurred in the dense central part of the site where the boats may have stood within a larger less specific area just west of the landing-place. The peripheral boat standings are characterized by relatively speaking fewer artefacts.
When we add the chippings and the planks to the artefact distribution it is enhanced inasmuch as the areas between the possible boat standings are filled up by signatures. Since wedging the trunks, and dressing and cutting the planks benefit from an open work space rather than a boat standing, the two distributions match each other. Obviously axes were used next to the boats too, but less intensely.
If we figure out where the four oldest, i.e. the 2nd century 14C-tests were found their distribution coincides with the dense central part indicating that over the centuries the ideal division at the center of the site – the landing and the standing – becomes blurred because of the activities going on. It seem fair therefore to conclude that in the centre of the distribution, next to the landing area, later marked by the canals, there were standings where for hundreds of years boats stood when they were not used. In the period after c. 375 CE when the boats had their standing above the landing-place, maintenance might well have taken place at Sk226, but in that case the dry conditions of this possible site has deprived us of wooden remains. Nevertheless, the analysis of time and space at Sk226 suggests that the central part of the site was used between the 1st and the 7th c. CE. In the LRIA, work in the yard was intensified and this intensification shows in the addition two or three peripheral standings left and right of the original site. Because the peripheral standings were not used during a longer period and because they were left undisturbed by additional landings, their find distribution is not blurred. It tells us that from time to time in the LRIA there was more than one boat being looked after at Sk226. The expansion indicated by the 14C-dates is in other words matched by a find distribution that suggests a growing demand for tonnage in a period of dynamic economy and warfare. Before the activities at the site come to an end they became less intensive and thus more similar to the activities of the ERIA.
Grönån is a small river and the boats and ships that landed at Sk226 in the RIA were hardly more than 12-15 m. Probably they were similar in size to the small LRIA (pine) boat from the war offerings at Nydam. Oarlocks and a number of oars suggest that they were rowing vessels. A helm indicates that it wasn’t just small boats that landed. Some of the finds parallel elements of the LRIA boats in Nydam and one detail, a block with no wheel and thus perhaps a kind of gutter ring, might fit a rig. Since part of an anchor was also found the object might perhaps have filled a function in that connection uniting rope and anchor. Because of the Nydam parallels, the boats probably had a cross-section similar to the large Nydam boat and according to the new reconstruction of this boat the hull must have been supported by props when the boat stood on its standing in the yard. Probably the weight of such a boat was c. one ton. If we imagine that boats were now and then to be dragged past waterfalls, and compare them to what we know about the capacity of the large Nydam boat, they had a crew of c. 18 giving each man 55-60 kg to drag. Speculating about the reasons for giving up Sk226 it is reasonable to point to the fact that if we are engaged in regional and inter regional transportation the ships that could be maintained in Grönån became too small. A sites such as Äskekärr would accommodate large boats and ships although it lacked natural protection and easy conditions for floating timber. Sk226 was probably too small-scale and too protected for the new dynamic times of the CIA.
Sk226, Äskekärr and Fribrödreå (on Falster in Denmark) make up a small series comprising a millennium of off-settlement South Scandinavian ship yards in wetland environments characterized by wood because iron is not preserved. Their complement, linked to settlements such as Lundeborg (on Fyn) and Parviken (on Gotland) and covering the same period, are the dry land yards characterized by iron rivets because wood is not preserved. Together these sites define an economic geography and it is comforting to know that just as they are few and far apart today, they were once commonplace.
(1) Salme http://www.academia.edu/244134/Rescue_excavations_of_a_Vendel_era_boat-grave_in_Salme_Saaremaa
There is an abstract: Warrior Burials with Scandinavian Finds of the Late Vendel Period (ca 750 AD) from Salme in Saaremaa/Ösel (Estonia)
Jüri Peets, Raili Allmäe, Liina Maldre (Tallinn University, Estonia) and Ragnar Saage (University of Tartu, Estonia)
In autumn 2008 remains of human skeletons and ancient artefacts, including some deformed sword fragments, boat rivets and two antler dice, were brought to light while digging an electrical cable trench for the lighting of a cycling track. Deciding mainly by the shape of the weapon fragments they were dated to the Vendel Period or the beginning of the Viking Age (7th–8th centuries). The finds were of Scandinavian types. Some of them, including gaming pieces and single-edged swords, hadn’t been previously found in Estonia. Artefacts related only to Estonia or Saaremaa were missing. The excavations of the site were resumed in 2010 and 2011, revealing a second ship – a big warship about 17m long. The ships contained the skeletons of 43 warriors with weapons and other grave goods: about 40 swords, 12 shields, about 50 arrowheads, 12 horn combs and about 300 game pieces lated of whalebone and 20 bovine femur heads, 5 of them were ornamented. Alongside with humans, dogs and hawks were sacrified. As food offerings swine, goat/lamb and bovine bones were found. The most significant find beside the ancient artefacts were the discovery of the remains of the first prehistoric boats (ships) in Estonia.
And information in Estonian on http://www.delfi.ee/teemalehed/juri-peets
(2) Nydam: http://www.abc.se/~pa/uwa/nydam-e.htm or Rieck, Fleming. 1994. Jernalderkrigernes skibe. Nye og gamle udgravninger i Nydam mose. Vikingeskibshallen i Roskilde
Valsgärde, the boat in grave 6 looks like this:
(3) Seemingly, the County Administrative Board (CAB) didn’t ask for it. At page 74 the author refers to some questions, posed before the final excavation took place and they may well have been formulated by a CAB because they are so odd:
Why is the largest artefact group objects that can be connected with the production of planks? The whole process of production from trunk to plank is represented in the material. Do these remains emanate from the production of something specific – such as boats?
If planks are what you find and boats what spring to you mind then you obviously know something that has already provoked the affirmative. The following question is thus not really surprising: Do even abandoned boats occur? But then again you better ask yourself because you wouldn’t want to miss them just because it hadn’t occurred to you that there might be boats, do you?
The next on the other hand is puzzling:
Is the agglomeration of the processed wooden objects a natural deposition? One might think that there is no need to talk of natural or unnatural depositions when we may talk of what is presumably meant namely primary or secondary depositions, but then again perhaps not; you never know with CABs. The right answer may actually be: ‘No, it’s an unnatural deposition!’ because you are not allowed to reformulate the original question, are you?
21 January, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from an archaeological excavation – i.e. a final archaeological investigation in bureaucratic terms – of yet another unspectacular site ‘finally’ erased from the face of the earth – this time in Ostrogothia rather than Uppland (cf. OtRR 10 Dec 2012).
Lindkvist, Ann. 2012. En ensam gård? Boplats från folkvandringstid vid Nedre Götala. Arkeologisk slutundersökning. Fornlämning Styra 44. Styra socken, Motala kommmun, Östergötland (”A Solitary Farm? A Settlement from the Migration Period at Lower Götala. Final Archaeological Investigation. Ancient monument 44, Styra Parish, Motala county, Ostrogothia”). SAU rapport 2012:4. Uppsala. Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis.
Scandinavian archaeology isn’t really interested in finding the poor. This attitude is understandable, given that archaeology was laid out c. 200 years ago as a nationalistic project underpinning a world view that aimed at harmonizing monarchies, their governments and their educated classes in times when democracy was imminent. When Scandinavian countries had become political democracies they went on to demonstrate that as such they could extinguish poverty because lack of poverty is an emblem of a Scandinavian democracy in which there are no poor citizens. Since prehistoric society, our unspoiled embryonic nations, decorates our display windows, poverty is not on show because we don’t sell it. We are not fond of Iron Age serfs either, but knowing that similar to the poor they are common elsewhere, we accept them, not as a social institution, but as misfortune catching up with captured warriors and the odd drop-out. Instead we continue to like free peasants on small or large farms, development, warriors, upward social mobility and of course the upper classes – everything on top of poverty.
Like any silent group, the poor are difficult to see and that allows us always to wonder whether they actually existed or whether it was positively horrible to be a serf; what exactly does it mean to be poor? Did people really live in pit houses (cf. OtRR 16 April 2012)? This is still a question to which ‘Perhaps!’ is often perhaps the right answer, since if they did their life must have been miserable.
As soon as Scandinavian archaeology began excavating Iron Age settlements it was taken for granted that they were the remains of the farms of free peasants. In Sweden Mårten Stenberger’s excavations on Öland around 1930 were ground breaking. He excavated four farms which he considered representative, but his choice of farms nevertheless led him to excavate two hall farms, the dominating farm in each their village. He didn’t recognize them as hall farms or manors because he took it for granted that they belonged to the free Iron Age farmer. Today we know that in order by chance to excavate two hall farms we would have to excavate ca 25 less impressive homesteads.
In the greater part of the 20th century, the prehistoric cultural landscape in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, was defined by monuments. This definition meant that most often the graves of reasonably prosperous settlements were excavated, since only those, who lived on that kind of farm, could afford to build the monuments on their village cemetery. Things started to change in the later part of the century when the ‘invisible’ human landscape (the one hidden by modern activities) became important. By definition Iron Age farms, destroyed and rebuilt by later farmers and turned into plough land and modern settlements, are important elements of the cultural landscape compared to surviving monuments that nobody bothered to erase. The former are central, latter peripheral. But to begin with in the 1980s and 90s archaeologists guided by County Administrative Boards investigated and excavated the invisible mostly because it was close to visible monuments. Around the year 2000, when the new legislation which wasn’t based on distance to monuments, had been around for c. 15 years, small ‘invisible’ sites hundreds of meters from visible monuments started to be excavated. With these new sites, the lower classes or ‘the poor’, became visible e.g. in Lower Götala (LG).
Lower Götala is situated in the western part of the plain of Ostrogothia c. 110 m a s l. Before the Götala area was drained it was characterized by shallow perhaps intermittent lakes, waterlogged lands and meadows. Maps from the 19th century show that the excavated settlement was situated on the edge of a small spot of gravel c. 105 m a s l. bordering on low-lying meadows and wetland. Above the settlement, 100-200 m to the Northeast, there are two mounds, and on a cadastral map from the 18th century there’re three more next to the two extant ones. This suggests that on the plain, at the top of a diminutive ‘ridge’ next to a small cemetery, there was once an Iron Age settlement, probably a village. The excavated settlement belongs to this village and sits on its damp eastern border.
The structure of the site is simple. The ground slopes gently towards the south-southwest, the house is situated on the most elevated ground on a cleared surface. The settlement has a front facing south and its back to the North. Outdoor work went on mostly in front of the house in an 800 m2 area around a waterhole used up and until the 17th century when it was filled up. There were some groups of large hearths and pits suggesting that the corners of the yard were designated for special purposes although there was no obviously systematic ‘hearth distribution’. There are no signs of any specific crafts going on and no signs of tar or iron production. The bone material found in the layers suggests that the bones were more closely related to cooking than to slaughter. The material tells us that in this rural settlement cattle and sheep were the most common animals.
Ann Lindkvist (AL) has made a study of the hearths at LG classifying them according to morphology and function, and analyzing their charred contents. This has resulted in a lot of useful information supporting the interpretation of the site. One would have thought that the hearths were used repeatedly, and that is also the case, but only when it comes to the two indoor hearths and one of the many outdoor ones. The analysis of all other open-air hearths indicated that they were used once or a few times only. In some cases their construction leads to this conclusion, in other cases it is suggested by the fact that each hearth is completely dominated by fire wood from one kind of wood only – either birch or alder or hazel of oak. In 6 out of 7 analyzed outdoor hearths this is the case.
It is difficult to imagine that the people at LG would have created such a pattern by chance if they reused the hearths as they pleased and took their fire wood in their surroundings where they could find it. It is more likely that the pattern emerged because the majority of the hearths were used but once in one of the loosely defined hearth areas. The selection of firewood, therefore, suggests that those who made the fire collected the firewood they needed in a systematic way before they went home, packed their hearth with fuel and bridled burned stones and set fire to their construction.
By chance, a sample might contain just one species. For indoor usage birch could have been selected because of its quality as fire wood. Because of its ember oak could be suitable when drying and roasting grain and so forth. But since the pattern is general it is hardly random – on the contrary, function explains the indoors hearths, but the outdoor pattern it is best explained by a tendency to use an outdoor hearth only once for a relatively small job that made it easy to collect the fire wood each time the job had to be done. If we combine the need for firewood with a duty of the farmhand within forestry to thin out stands of alder, hazel, birch or oak, we can imagine a situation that will result in the pattern we observe. Nevertheless, the pattern is odd if we think that job and hearth mirror daily life on a farm characterized by self-subsistence.
Another oddity leading to a similar conclusion is the pattern that results from the analyses of macro fossil in the samples from 10 hearths. In these there was an abundance of charred remains of fire wood, more than 3000 pieces, but only 2.5 grains (1.5 from an indoor hearth fired with oak). Considering that thrashing, roasting and grinding cereals was customary on the Iron Age farm, the number of charred grains is very low. Again chance may explain the situation, but the impression that the household at LG was not engaged in self subsistence, nevertheless, finds support in the lack of macro fossils as well as in the homogenous fire wood and the tendency for the bone material to be related to cooking rather than slaughter.
In the Iron Age, if you use open-air fire places only sporadically, usually get your firewood from thinning, roast grain once in a century, and tend to bring home meat from whoever slaughtered the animals and parceled out the meat, then you are probably not a farmer and landowner. On the contrary you depend upon the landowning farmers for your subsistence investing your man power in their agriculture and forestery.
Even the houses that stood one at a time on the LG site, give some insights into the character of the household. Three dwelling houses were excavated. They are dated according to their type and by means of 14C-tests. The three houses form a series, but there is a chronological gap between the first house and the two last ones. The houses are equal-sized, small and far from well-built. They consist of two rooms. One is a dwelling room the other a combined entrance room and shed. Actually, they are all the same kind of two-room house with an entrance facing South. Each house exemplifies the gradual change in building traditions, as gradually from one house to the next their mid aisles become narrower.
The first house belongs to the Early Roman Iron Age (ERIA) and since it was never rebuilt it probably stood no more than c. 30 years. There are no sharply dated artefacts and no 14C-dates associated with this period. The second and third house constitute two consecutive house phases: The second house (House 1A) was rebuilt and in the process moved a little to the East becoming the third and last building on the site (House 1B). Moving you house a little in this way while rebuilding it, instead of building a new house somewhere else on the plot, suggests that simultaneously the old house was pulled down and the new one erected. In fact, this is an obvious and popular Iron Age way to facilitate the recycling of building material when giving your house a total make over. Furthermore, the procedure allows people to stay in the left half of the old house while starting to build the right half of the new one.
Eventually the family would move temporarily into the right half of the new house while the left half of the old one was pulled down and the new house completed. Since this didn’t happen when the first house (House 2) was replaced by the second one (House 1A), and since House 2 was never rebuilt, the house series is consistent with a chronological gap between House 2 and House 1A. Consequently the settlement site stands out as a peripheral part of a village – settled when necessary by people who were neither landowners nor farmhands.
At LG the houses in the RIA were small. As it happens, they fit the needs of a the 5-600 years old Pre Roman Iron Age (PRIA) household with a dwelling area of c. 25 m2 indicating that the inhabitants made up a family of 4-5 persons living in a cottage, perhaps with a few animals in their shed.
Although there were rather thick layers of household waste in the water hole area, nearly all the finds were animal bones. Only a post hole in the dwelling part of house 1B stood out because it contained two pot sherds from a perforated pot suitable for kitchen purposes. Given the way House 1 was rebuilt it is not surprising that material from the old earthen floor got buried in the new post hole.
Seven 14C-tests make up a chronological framework that covers the second phase of the LG settlement. Because of the calibration curve, this period equals 100-120 years between 440 and 570 CE. The period doesn’t cover activities connected to House 2, which is several hundred years older, but the period defines the continuous occupation period of House 1A & B. The chronology indicates that the cold climate 536-546 CE didn’t put an end to the settlement. One might have thought that a decade of harsh conditions that made subsistence more difficult would have caused the small households to vanish, to be absorbed by larger households when the population decreased or moved into abandoned farms. Maybe it did, but in the LG case people continued to dwell in their badly built cottages.
Describing the LG context in the above way leads to a number of conclusions, obviously practical rather than logical, that fit the small dependent Iron Age household in peripheral South Scandinavia. First of all one must point to the fact that this kind of cottages existed. In South Scandinavia proper between the 1st c. BCE and the 5th c. CE they didn’t. A few ring fort settlements on Öland may be the exceptions that prove the point, but they are exceptional contexts in very many ways. In densely populated South Scandinavia there are no RIA cottages and thus nothing substantial to reflect the limited right for some to form a household. Instead, the landless are incorporated into larger households. The fact that we find small cottages in the periphery indicates that PRIA ideology and rights tended to prevail, to some degree no doubt because the landscapes were sparsely populated and land thus available.
The ambiguous satisfaction of being the master of one’s own house survives in the commonplace and ironic wisdom of the poem Hávamál:
A dwelling is better be it but small
a man is all of us at home
though two goats he owns and taugreptan sal*
that is still better than begging.
*When a house is it taugreptan it means that the horizontal rafters in the roof (reptan) are flexible because they are composed of slender ribs and lath in a wattle, i.e. a taug –tow, like the cells in a musle. Taugreptan indicates that you are not a landowner with a forest where you will collect your straight high quality rafters, but only someone allowed to take coppice shoots in the brushwoods – tying your rafters together. You are in other words a poor man. Sal in the expression is ironic since real sals, i.e. ‘halls’ were never taugreptan.
The cottages at LG may well have been taugreptan and their masters may have envied the well-fed serfs of South Scandinavia imagining their cozy corners on prosperous Zealand farms, rather than freezing in his own Ostrogothic abode. Be this as it may, in order to survive their Ostrogothic reality the members of the LG household would have to work on the farms in the village on the basis of some sort of contract that allowed them to live modestly. It would seem that they didn’t have fields and thus no possibility to produce their own porridge. The meat they ate was not always from animals that they owned and slaughtered in their farm yard and we may thus expect that their compensation for working was partly in kind. The family may have owned more than two goats, since grassland in Götala was probably abundant, and all the family members may well have been free, but they were nevertheless poor, generation after generation. This means that they must have been visible as ‘the poor’ that lived down by the waterhole on a wet plot later on cut by a drainage trench.
It is probably significant that when society experienced a ten-year subsistence crisis the social effects were not the expected ones, if survival had been a matter of defending the commonweal when crisis threatened peoples’ lives. Had ownership of land stayed PRIA collective and society thus not become stratified according to sharply defined private ownership of the means of production in agriculture or craftsmanship, then the century long cottage settlements would not have existed. Instead, the households would have been enlarged family households, or communities made up of equal sized nuclear family household. Since not even a crisis could bring the poor cottage dwellers into the farms, it seems reasonable to suggest that RIA dynamics and stratification according to ownership had gone so far that allowing the poor back among the farm owners was not an option. In fact one of the points in some being poor and dependent on others in this society may well have been their visibility. The display of poverty is reassuring to the upper stratum of any stratified society because it allows those who are not poor to accept, pity and blame those who are, as best they please.
The County Administrative Board asked the archaeologists to find out about the function of the remains, their character, distribution, date and composition. If any house constructions were found their type should be defined. This is of course either straight forward or impossible – a pit is a pit, but what exactly is the ‘character’ and ‘composition’ of a hole? And if we decide that its form and fill explains what it was, can we really afford to excavate and process the details needed to answer the question? Since the report is a good one it answers the County Administrative Board question most faithfully – exactly as correct as expected, but it also poses a rhetorical question: ‘Is LG a solitary farm?’ The question is shrewdly constructed because it may also be read: ‘Is LG solitary?’ or ‘Is LG a farm?’ Close-reading the report the answer to both is No! LG has to do with settling the landless and demonstrably poor as close to the village and its farms as befitting.
But ‘No!’ is not a good answer on the fertile Ostrogothic plain where poverty rings false. And that is easy to prove. In neighbouring Götala the large 150 year old main house of the ‘West Farm’ – Västergården was on sale in Octobre 2012. In the description of the property, LG figured underpinning the long and proud agricultural traditions of farmers such as those who built and owned the West Farm. The correct answer therefore is: Yes, LG was a farm! When poverty is looming over the wrong place it is never wrong to be in doubt and for a lot of reasons archaeologists highlight just that.
7 January, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a kindle edition of a book by David Brewer:
The hidden centuries of Greek history are hidden because the source material is scanty and not easy to access for non-Turkish researchers, but more so because it is in the interest of nationalistic history to hide, distort or indeed invent essential and emblematic bits and pieces befitting the past. If, today, we believe that history came about because of the development of national identity and nation states in opposition to the Other and other communities, we will have something to learn from modern scholars, such as David Brewer, who respect and tell us what actually happened, thus making it easier to redeem the future. This point is successfully proved, and in its setting, the history of Greece and its historiography, this view upon past, present and future is still a radical one. Having read the book, the common reader, to whom the hidden centuries were probably well hidden before reading the book, will profit from David Brewer’s history lesson because it is easy to follow, novel, informative and mind-broadening.
That the common reader is expected to be British can be inferred from a number of passages, e.g. when Enoch Powell (location 2705) is referred to and we are told that he was ‘professor of Greek as well as a controversial politician’ the latter in this case irrelevant information is there only to satisfy a reader whose curiosity has been evoked by the name – most probably a British reader.
In the 24th and last chapter, or song, of this Greek history, or epic told from a distance, ‘Some Conclusions’, the book comes to an end having proved its point about past, present and future. Nevertheless, the critical reader is tempted to contextualize the book putting it into a post-colonial colonial setting, arguing the following: Since we in Northwest Europe have been able to maintain some sort of political power without always playing the nation card in the game about us and them, as we used to do, we are now telling those, e.g. the Greeks, once taught by us to build their state on heritage, national pride; uniting identity, language and hardship; binary confrontation, etc. to stop doing so, because we have stopped, having understood that we were wrong. Try, for example, to solve the climate crisis on the basis of national heritage or pride, uniting identity, language, hardship warfare etc., if you can! It cannot be done; we are right as always – today also about having been wrong.
This is unfair criticism of the book, but it allows us to look for the construction of the Greeks as an indigenous people – exactly because David Brewer is not looking for it. The reason for doing so is the tendencies in the present economic crisis to blame the Greeks (1). They are worthy of blame, because having been irresponsible they betray their heritage – anybody can find quotations from Aristotle or Plato that will tell the responsible citizen how to behave. Criticizing the indigenous for not being indigenous enough is a classical post-colonial colonial argument. And in the Greek case teaching the Greeks a lesson is all the more important because their heritage is our heritage too. ‘Pote, touche pas à mon héritage’!
In Greece the construction of the indigenous probably started already in the Middle Ages, but under Turkish rule the first systematic step was taken. There can be no colonial or indeed post-colonial understanding of the situation in a country without creating, or in the post-colonial case pointing out, the go-between and the in-between. They are needed for a lot of practical purposes but also to create the indigenous. Sometimes these go- or in-between succeed in defining themselves as significant others and an entity in social, cultural, religious or political terms, i.e. whatever terms accepted in society, i.e. accepted by the colonial power. In Bhabha’s post-colonial terms they have succeeded in ‘enunciating a third space’ for themselves and from this space they interact and take part in the definition of the rulers as well as the ruled, i.e. the colonized progeny of the original population. Conquering a Greek island the Turks would almost automatically upgrade, create or transform an existing group of individuals, such as a nobility, to fill a space between themselves and the majority, who they would see as individuated – elements in a subset called ‘tax payers’ (cf. Chapter 13 Turkish rule in Cyprus and Crete). There were several groups among the ‘tax payers’, but the Greeks as indeed Greeks and ‘indigenous’ were always there inasmuch as they were stigmatized. Happy, therefore, to take part in the definition of the indigenous as ‘the suppressed’ we tend to be critical of the middlemen because they serve the oppressors.
In the Greek case of the hidden centuries the Orthodox Greek Church (Chapter 10) is the formidable example, because it was understood by the Turks as a political entity controlling religion, education and part of the jurisdiction. In effect, therefore, the Church controlled the common written language of the Greek. Because of the Orthodox Church there were no ‘Old Greeks’ to liberate when it became obvious to the enlightened Europeans that the Greeks, enslaved by Turks and Church, had been detached from their true identity. This is a crucial point: before the original population can be termed indigenous they must have been almost extinct in cultural terms.
But this is not enough. We cannot just pity them for becoming extinct. Before they become indigenous they must be criticized and patronized with open, opaque or silent references made to their loss of virtue as we understand it. Arcadia (location 1085 ff), is an early example. In the late Renaissance 1502 the myth of Arcadia was spelled out by the Italian poet Jacopo Sannazaro and during a century it developed into the idea of rural landscape and setting. The ever-present delightful nature populated by shepherds – an original life quality belonging to the Greeks in as much as Arcadia was a region in the Peloponnese. To begin with some, but not all, travelers saw the landscape and the progeny of the shepherds that must once have been Arcadia. But gradually, beginning in the 17th century when a rude and frank Scotsman toured Arcadia and ridiculed the falseness of the myth, the impression faded away and travelers found no resemblance between the mythic and the actual Arcadia. The myth was a falsification. In the 17th century travelers to Greece (Chapter 17) went from denouncing the Greeks as raw and uncivilized, pointing out their detachment from classical culture, to eventually seeing some faint signs of an affinity with the ancient Greece.
In the 17th and 18th century, therefore, the western European travelers had seen the corruption of ancient Greek values and the false myths, but also the genuine valor of the Greeks, i.e. something to support as genuinely indigenous almost lost in slavery and historical phantasies. What the Greeks themselves were unable to turn to their advantage the Europeans knew how to restore. This is a decisive step towards creating the indigenous as indeed truth.
Since the indigenous by definition and construction equals the suppressed it ought to be liberated as a way of restoring dignity of the enslaved people. This, nevertheless, is a political decision which means that before an indigenous population can be assigned political rights they must at some stage have been betrayed or deceived by those who have detected their valor. This betrayal must be admitted by those in power as self-criticism forcing them to take active part in redeeming the appalling situation. In the early 19th century, the feeling that Europeans did too little for the Greeks became widespread guiding Byron and many others. David Brewer relates a piece of dubious historical discourse which may nevertheless be seen as an early indigenous and intellectual way of opening up a discussion along the lines that will give an indigenous people political rights accepted by those who have defined them as indigenous. The example comes from a work that claimed to be The Chronicle of the Galaxídhi written 1703 and commenting upon a situation supposed to have been a reality 130 years earlier c. 1570 when a Venetian fleet captured a Turkish fortress somewhere on the southern tip of the Peloponnese in the Mani province. The Venetians left again losing the opportunity to make this bridgehead the start of driving out the Turks from the Peloponnese. The chronicler’s argument runs as follows: The Holy League called upon everyone to take up arms against the Turks. On the Mani peninsula the Greeks did exactly this (parallel to the Holy League at Lepanto 1571). But when the Venetians captured the fort and the Greeks offered their help and asked for weapons, their proposal came to nothing. Instead the Venetians under their admiral Marco Quirini just left. So much for solidarity and the greater cause of the 1570s. Ergo says the alleged chronicler in 1703, you cannot trust the Venetians and the Franks (i.e. any Catholic or Protestant European).
In 1703, moreover, the chronicler knew from the Venetian wars on Peloponnese since the 1680s (location 2900ff), that starting liberation in the Mani was prolific. This was proved again during the War of Independence in the 1820s.
The chronicler expressed 18th century sentiments, which he considered equal to those of the 16th century. He didn’t prove that his sources expressed 16th century opinion. Although his discourse was probably based on fabrication his argument eventually convinced western powers of their guilt and of their duty to remedy the situation. The last element in the construction of the indigenous is thus to admit to the political rights of people already defined as culturally indigenous. It comes with a price to be accepted as indigenous.
Enlightenment liberated North Americans, but not the Greeks. It couldn’t. As a true indigenous people and thus under colonial rule the destiny of the Greeks in the late 18th century was backwardness and fruitless rebellion. Europe was ruled by wars and the Greeks by the Ottoman state and their politically subaltern Church. It took a post-war Europe and a measure of Late Romantic ideas about national character, right and destiny, as well as historical heritage and religion, before the ideas of enlightenment could become part of the political foundation for the liberation of the Greeks. Since liberation was impossible without nationalism, the young state, like many former colonies, had to live with nationalism and in the Greek case, the obligation to preserve Ancient Greece, Ancient Greek and the Greek Church – its heritage.
There is a strong heritage management side to staying indigenous and true to ideals. That is why those who have constructed the indigenous are saddened when a people defined as indigenous shows signs of drifting away from its ‘true’ heritage becoming masters of their past using it to redeem the future.
As noted in the very the beginning of this text commenting on of the indigenous, echoes of the colonial attitude to the indigenous are surprising and prolonged.
When Byron was in Athens on his Grand Tour in 1811 and Elgin was there to dig up graves and steal the marbles on Parthenon, Byron wrote the poem The Curse of Minerva strongly condemning this theft, because it robbed the Greeks of their heritage. Athena was eloquent:
“Mortal!”—’twas thus she spake—“that blush of shame
Proclaims thee Briton, once a noble name;
First of the mighty, foremost of the free,
Now honour’d less by all, and least by me;
Chief of thy foes shall Pallas still be found.
Seek’st thou the cause of loathing?—look around.
Lo! here, despite of war and wasting fire,
I saw successive tyrannies expire.
’Scaped from the ravage of the Turk and Goth,
Thy country sends a spoiler worse than both.
Survey this vacant, violated fane;
Recount the relics torn that yet remain:
These Cecrops placed, this Pericles adorn’d,
That Adrian rear’d when drooping Science mourn’d.
What more I owe let gratitude attest—
Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.
That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
The insulted wall sustains his hated name:
For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads,
Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!
Be ever hailed with equal honour here
The Gothic monarch and the Pictish peer:
arms gave the first his right, the last had none,
But basely stole what less barbarians won.
When Lord Byron died some of his books and belongings were catalogued and sold, among them an antique funerary urn of silver, weighing no less than 186 ounces, i.e. c. 5 kg, which Byron had come across at a cemetery in Athens 1811. He may not have had a team of diggers like Elgin, but robbing the Greeks of their heritage both lords took part in constructing the indigenous. True to the colonial perspective when constructing the indigenous, we stress that heritage must be protected, because it is the heritage of the indigenous people, who although they cannot protect themselves must have access to their heritage, because they are supposed to learn from it. But at the same time, in the colonial reality, that is not the point. Instead heritage is a matter of who has the power to own it. That is why stealing from people we have just declared and accepted as indigenous is so stigmatizing.
When we want to neutralize the indigenous rather than stigmatize it, there is a point in anchoring it firmly in the past not least by means of dressing it up in newly invented traditional dresses, i.e. ‘folklorizing’ it. In the late 19th and early 20th century when it became possible to take photographs of indigenous people in more or less everyday situations plainly dressed, their finery was soon enhanced to become emblematic of the indigenous – adding a showcase identity to their daily life. All kinds of indigenous people: Greek brigands, reindeer herders in Sweden (Sámi) or transhumant shepherds in Greece (Sarakatsani) may therefore be imaged as replicas of themselves.
When the idea of the indigenous has almost disappeared and culture and civilization stand out as a diverse as well as amalgamated flow of human life with no specific beginning, Anthropology can be relied on to revive the indigenous – the Sarakatsani being a case in point even in anthropometric terms. As late as the 1950s, by means not least of the anthropology of the Sarakatsani, the roots of (the primitive) Greek folk medicine were (respectfully) traced back to ancient Greek traditions (location 3500ff.).
Accepting the indigenous as primitive and conservative is the only way to respect it. Emancipation, the Enlightenment way –‘man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’, is the only way to come to terms of the indigenous.
(1) A more thorough discussion of the construction of the indigenous can be found in Hillerdal, Charlotta. 2009. People in Between: Ethnicity and Material Identity, a New Approach to Deconstructed Concepts. Occasional papers in archaeology 50. Uppsala.