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 population 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.

Uniting seas

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.

abboIn 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 in AbbasAelfric 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   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

Aelfric’s Old English text at

A translation of Aelfric’s text – with a pathetic introduction – can be found at:

TFig 00his 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.


Select: UV Rapport 2011:124.


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.

Fig 02Grönån 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.

Grönån skepplanda

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.

Fig 04

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.

Fig 05

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

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

(2) Nydam: 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:

 Valsgärde 6

 (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?