Eketorp House 013 – Working and living in an Outhouse

25 November, 2013

Again this week On the Reading Rest I have the material needed to publish an Iron Age house from the mid-first millennium Ölandic ring fort Eketorps borg – the Eketorp ring fort. House 013 was excavated 1968 (0).

Fig 01The Situation. When it was built, House 013 was the only detached building in the ring fort. As a structure the house is not quite symmetrical because corners and short ends have been adjusted to the surrounding buildings in an effort to squeeze-in the house among the existing buildings. If we model what the situation would have been had the houses been symmetrical the adjustments become apparent.

Since the floor covers 51.6 sqm making the house one of the largest buildings in the ring fort, we can conclude that the stone masons intended to build as large a house as possible given its situation in the settlement. Its asymmetry, therefore, has to do with different needs such as the need to pass through the ring street and to drive a cart into the small square created behind House 013 when it was built. In all probability, those who live in the street and around the once much larger square insisted on their right of way when some of them deemed it necessary to build the house. The minimum measure used in the ring fort when planning passages, is a pole of 6 ell or 9 foot, c. 2.82 cm, i.e. the width of the large gates. The whole radial structure of the ring fort is based on dividing peripheries into sections measured in poles (1).

Fig 02

Owing to the building chronology and the chains of abutting and contemporary houses created during the erection of the Northeast quarter we can infer that House 013 was the last to be built.

Fig 03

Fig 05It was erected late in the settlement period when house S had already been rebuilt and enlarged. To begin with it was the smallest house in the ring fort, dominated by a large oven (House S1) when rebiult it was a dwelling house (House S2). House S2 is in all probability the last but one house to be built in the quarter. Logically speaking House U may be as young, but given the flat Southeast corner of the house, the position of its door and the space in front of House S, the planning of House 013, with its withdrawn entrance seems to have been meant to protect an open space in front of House S2 and House R. Likewise the architects took the passage between the existing House U and the southeast corner of House 013 into account.

Fig 04If we ask ourselves who benefits from House 013, the answer is: those who live in House R and House S2. It is conceivable, therefore, that when House R was rebuilt to become a small dwelling house and S2 rebuilt to become a larger one, the storage once a pert of House R was compensated by House 013. In practice rebuilding the houses R and S, as well as adding House 013 to the settlement, may well have happened as one series of events.

Turning the axis of the House 013 more to the South, making the entrance wall parallel to the short end of House T, would have made it possible to build an even larger house facing House T or U. Since this did not happen the overall situation of House 013 indicates that it was meant to function together with House R and House S2.

Indirectly, the reason why House 013 was built had to do with the growing general need for more roof-covered dwelling space. The situation of the house is thus the result of a compromise between these needs and the communal interest in the Northeast quarter to organize daily life around a comparatively large square. The latter interest guided those who built House 011, the first detached house in the ring fort, and later on the situation of House 011 governed that of the houses 010 and 012.

Fig 06Interior constructions. House 013 is divided into two parts by its constructions, primarily because of the floor in its southern part. This floor consisted of a limestone packing and above it a layer of limestone gravel, which created an even, hard and stable floor (construction P).The northern part of the house was meant to have an earthen floor, but the builders found no reason completely to take away the radial house walls of the first ring fort. In some places these remains were left as pavements in the floor, constructions A and B. There are only four interior postholes in two pairs (E/F and G/H) and they are visible because the posts had to be embedded and fixed in those parts of the house where the posts were standing in loose soil rather than directly on the gravel floor or on flat lime stones in earthen the floor. The mid-aisle is wide c. 50 percent of the inner breadth of the house.

The entrance (N) is paved and constructed in the traditional way with and an outer and inner post pair (I/K and L/M). Being the entrance to an outhouse with a storage, the entrance is relative wide and the door blade heavy. Probably it swung on pins in the back of the door fitted into the supporting construction next to the southern entrance post (M).

In addition to these constructions that have to do with the building itself, there are two other constructions, which have to do with furnishing the house. At some stage a small stone foundation was built on top of the gravel floor in the southern part of the house along the wall just south of the entrance (const. O). This kind of foundation, which, except for the one in House 013, belongs to dwelling houses, cosisted of several lime stone courses and could be framed by vertical slabs. They are difficult to interpret, but meant to support a construction that had to be kept well above the floor. A wooden box or crate of some kind – perhaps for storing yarn or grain — has been suggested, but archaeological or ethnographical records have little to support this suggestion. In a settlement with too little roofed dwelling space it stands to reason that whatever the function of this construction, it could be dispensed with if floor space was needed. The second construction consists of two postholes (C and D) which supported a vertical loom. The loom and its workspace is discussed below. It is typical, nevertheless, that the two functional constructions the ’pallet’ O and the loom C/D are usually found in the dwelling houses. If there is but one loom in a house it tends to be situated along the wall and close to the fire place even in contemporary Iron Age farms on Öland and Gotland. If there were more looms in a household they would follow the long walls further away from the hearth (2). Although weaving is closely linked to the main house on a farm, weaving in the Pre Carolingian Iron Age is also a characteristic of pit houses and thus an activity that may well be moved out of the main house into an outhouse.

Stratigraphy. When House 013 was built the ground was leveled. The floor layer on the gravel floor was thin, 5-10 cm. In the northern part the earthen floor could reach c. 15 cm because more finds could be buried in it. The thin floor layers of House 013 were sealed by the gravel and garden slug layer which covered nearly the entire ruined fort, and later on part of the medieval settlement was constructed on a surface that was defined as the top of the first preserved cause of the walls of House 013. The compressed stratigraphy is caused by the thin turf and lack of debris from the ring wall as well as an easy access to building material in the ruined lime stone walls.

Find distributions. During the excavations in 1968 it was not yet possible to spend time pinpointing fragmented bones in the floor layers. In House 013 this was not a great problem because there were precious few fragments. Charcoal pieces and ashes, nevertheless, were mapped because of their diagnostic qualities when trying to define floor levels.

Fig 07

The division of the house into two parts indicated by the constructions is enhanced by the find distribution. On the hard gravel floor there were few finds, oddly enough mostly beads, relatively few pieces of charcoal and few signs of occupation. Since nobody is expected to live on a hard gravel floor this is consistent with this part of the house being a storage. Now and then things were dropped on the floor, but the southwest corner seems to have been more protected, i.e. regularly cover. Contrary to the southern part, the northern is characterized by finds that indicate that somebody lived and worked in the house albeit perhaps not permanently. In the northwestern corner potsherds and resin from a bentwood vessels indicate a living area where people ate.

Fig 08

The area was protected from charcoal, but not from the occasionally broken pot. This pattern suggests that furniture, perhaps a bed to sit on, may have been standing in the northwest corner of the house. The charcoal and the two small ash concentrations enhanced the picture of daily life, but there is no fireplace or hearth and thus the charcoal, the ashes and the potsherds indicate that light, warmth and food were consumed by those who stayed in the house, but the food wasn’t cooked there.

Fig 09The most dominant feature in this part of the house is the 27 loom weight that seems to have fallen to the floor from the post where they were hung up when the fabric was taken down. The remains of two broken loom weights were found in the floor closer to the door. Some of the 27 weights were only partially burned or baked. Nevertheless, if each of the 27 weight were suspended in one or two inches of warp the breadth of the fabric would have been 1.5 or 3 ells, i.e. c. 71 or 142 cm. These breadths are both in accordance with the distance between the postholes C and D. Since they are not part of the roof construction, they are best explained as a way of anchoring the two pots of the vertical loom in the floor. Above the trestles the posts were fitted to a beam that in its turn linked the two trestles anchored on the postholes E/F and G/H. If this beam was attached to the trestles by halving, its diagonal position, indicated by the ‘loom’ holes, would be reasonable inasmuch as the halving would fit the trestles in an oblique angel, thus locking the beam firmly between the trestles. It meets the eye that the loom wasn’t, as usual, set up against the wall. This anomaly indicates that the house walls were lower in House 013 than in the radial houses, i.e. lower than c. 1.7 metres (3).

Fig 12As an additional indication of textile production we must point to the large whetstone with a furrow for producing bone needles buried in the floor next to the loom weights as well a smaller one found in the floor next to it.

Fig 10

Apart from a find distribution that we can understand only as the result of ‘activities’, the western corner of the northern part of House 013 is characterized by textile handicraft and daily life in a small household that doesn’t cook. Owing the organization of the workspace, and to the dismantled loom, the production would seem to vary perhaps also in intensity, maybe following a yearly circle. We may thus conclude that the ‘pallet foundation’, the textile production and one or more of those who worked with textiles could be permanently or seasonally moved out of the dwelling house to live in House 013. This indicates a population pressure demonstrated also in the very building of the House 013, but obviously also a social pressure, which tented to exclude some members of the local or regional community.

The Artefacts. There are very few artefacts in the house floor, and the way they relate to each other is partly odd: there are no beads in the earthen floor where activities were most common, but well on the gravel floor where activities were less frequent. If we judge by the frequency of potsherds there are many iron fragments or few potsherds if we reverse out point of departure. Loom weights and whetstones, moreover, dominate the artefacts. In House 013 as well as in House T wearing beads when going about one’s business would seem to be in vogue c. 600 CE. The lack of beads, needles and spindle-whorls in the northern part of the house, as well as the presence of an arrowhead, may or may not indicate that the weaver was specialized and a man.

Fig 11To sum up: Apart from being an outhouse, House 013 was an even humbler abode than House T, because small fires and broken pots are signs of an insignificant household. The dwelling-and-workshop area is small and for subsistence, whoever lived in the house, must have done so in cooperation with its owners, to whom it was primarily an outhouse. We may think that living in House 013 is something one does only temporarily, but given the general trend in the rebuilding of the houses in the ring fort, changing them from a variety of primary functions to dwelling houses, makes it unlikely that a temporary dwelling would result in a situation such as the one in House 013, if there had not been an urgent need to find someone a place to live. Temporarily setting up a loom against a wall in a dwelling house takes very little room compared to what it took setting it up in House 013. That too suggests that the problem was not the work space, but the space occupied by the worker or workers.



(0) Näsman, Ulf et al. 1976. Ulf Näsman, Kaj Borg & Erik  Wegraeus (eds). Eketorp – fortification and settlement on Öland/Sweden, The Monument. Almqvist & Wiksell.

(1) Näsman, Ulf. 1976. The settlement of Eketorp-II. In: Ulf Näsman, Kaj Borg & Erik Wegraeus (eds). Eketorp – fortification and settlement on Öland/Sweden, The Monument. Almqvist & Wiksell. Stockholm.

(2) Nordström, Karin & Herschend, Frands. 2003. Det ideologiska inslaget i väven. In: Thomas Lindkvist & Janken Myrdal (eds). Tralar. Ofria i agrarsamhallet frab vikingatid till medeltid.. Skrifter om skogs- och lantbrukshisrotia. Vol 17. Nordiska museet. Stockholm. Pp. 50–76.

(3) Edgren, Bengt and Herschend, Frands. 1979. Nya gamla hus. Riksantikvarieambetets rapport 1979:3. Riksantikvarieambetet. Stockholm.


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