First Century CE reforms in Väster Hacksta, Västmanland

3 November, 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have the report from the excavations at Väster Hacksta (West Hacksta or Hacksta in this text). Hacksta is a settlement south southeast of Gilltuna and the second of the three almost totally excavated Iron Age settlement sites in the western outskirts of Västerås: Gilltuna, Hacksta and Skälby. In this entry I continue the chronological analysis of these settlements, introduced OtRR 22 Sep 2014. In two weeks’ time or four I will discuss the chronology of Skälby and summarize all three posts.

Overview 00

OmslagLagerstedt, Anna & Lindwall, Linda. 2008. Äldre järnålder i Väster Hacksta – Hus, hägn och gård. RAÄ 1060, 1061 och 1062 Västerås stad, Västmanlands län. Med bidrag av Lotta Fernstål och Svante Norr. Rapporter från Arkeologikonsult 2008:2067. Acronym: LaLi.
In the report Svante Norr has discussed and analysed the 14C dates (LaLi: 33-39 and (0)). He concludes, convincingly, that the settlement, which consisted of a number of farm sites, was established in the PRIA and more or less abandoned in the end of the 4th century CE.


Overview 01

The earliest dates, 2340-2100 bp, are six dates at site C, and one at A. At Site E there is an early outlier, 2085 bp dating the solitary house VH11. The 14C dates of these early settlement stages look like outliers to the bulk of dates because the sites were used sporadically in a system based on rotation between a number of sites defined during a couple of hundred years. Eventually one site (C) is established as a small village. When the dates at Site C come to end 1930 bp, except for an outlier 1840 bp, Site E starts to produce a series of new dates up and until c. 1700 bp. Site B seems to have been used for the first time c. 1975 bp when Site C was still the central settlement site. After 1700 bp, only sites A and B were occupied. Site A was a small farm, but the homestead at Site B was no more than a croft and in the end probably just a barn standing on a plot (cf. OtRR 18 March 2013).

Generally speaking, therefore, Hacksta shows the expected development: (1) sporadic presence at different sites in the EPRIA (2) turns into a small village accompanied by (3) the odd peripheral homestead. (4) Perhaps unexpected this village site is given up in the ERIA and a new village created at Site E. (5) In the LRIA, not surprisingly, Village E is given up. (6) A few peripheral homesteads survive into the first decades of the EPCIA.
In this development, and exactly as we have learnt to expect, several sites, first visited in the PRIA, continued to be attractive sites in the human landscape.

Since the Hacksta Village C seems to move c. 200m eastwards to become Hacksta Village E in the 1st c. CE, it may be interesting to look into the chronology of this change. To analyse the relation between Hacksta Village C and E I will use BCal – an on-line Baysian radiocarbon calibration tool (1).
The first step in the modelling is to exclude the outliers and house VH18 from the samples and check the chronological relation between sample C and sample E.

Overview 02

The two samples are taken to represent the occupation of Sites C and E and to begin with we do not build any specific relation between them into the model. Since BCal will model the ‘posterior probability distributions for an estimate of the time elapsed between the events represented by two parameters’, this posterior probability distribution will be our point of departure in order to analyse the relation. In this case this distribution suggests an overlap (negative values) between the end of Hacksta C and beginning of Hacksta E, albeit perhaps a small one.

Intuitively this is the expected relationship because, generally speaking, gradual rather than abrupt change seems likely in the first century CE. Intuitive or not, it is reasonable to add it as a fact to the model that there was in effect an overlap in time between the end of the early settlement Hacksta C and the beginning of the later settlement Hacksta E and revise the model. The next step, therefore, is to query (1) the possibility that at a certain calendar date Hacksta C had come to an end and (2) the possibility that at this date Hacksta E had commenced. If we compare these two queries we may conclude that the period 40 to 70 CE is the most likely period to be characterized by an overlap between Hacksta C and E.

Analysis 02

So far we can conclude that some time in the middle of the first century CE, the first farm in Hacksta E was erected before the last farm in Hacksta C was pulled down. We may thus ask ourselves whether the first farm in Hacksta E was an addition to the farms in Hacksta C or a farm transition from Hacksta C to Hacksta E.

Overview 03

If we map the youngest dates from Hacksta C and the oldest Hacksta E dates, they stand out as concentrated to specific farms. The older dates from Hacksta C (disregarding the outliers) are evenly dispersed, suggesting that the three last farms had forerunners, except for the large farm in the northwest with the main house VH11. Turning to Area E it is obvious that the first farm established there was the large northern farm, represented by the houses VH19 & 22. If we disregard the dates related to this the first farm in Village E, we can ask ourselves whether in that case a hiatus occurs between Area C and Area E.
Therefore, when we query: ‘an estimate of the probability that the event represented by beta 1 (i.e. the end of Village C) is earlier than the event represented by alpha 2‘ (i.e. the foundation of the second farm in Village E), then BCal returns the probability = 0.9425471. This means that if we disregard the first solitary farm at Site E (houses VH19 & 22), then it is reasonable to speak of a gap between the last farm in Village C and the beginning of Hacksta Village E, as signified by the second farm in the area. There is in other words a gap between Hacksta C and the village Hacksta E as represented by the dates 1885-1700bp. This latter period is the one in which Village E spreads to the South and the West. During this change, the situation of the large farm VH19 &22 is stable.

Overview 04

Comparing Area C with Area E in this way it becomes apparent that the structure of the two villages differs. Village C is condensed occupying the same sites most of the time. Only towards the end of the settlement period was a large farm (houses VH11 & VH14(?)) added to the eastern part of the settlement. Village E, on the other hand, was established as a solitary large farm partly contemporary with the last farm(s) in village C. After a while this farm is accompanied by smaller farms, probably around an open area facing north. The large farm, VH19 & 22, resettles the plot where the first farm house at Site E stood more than 100 years earlier. This means that the large first farm returns to the historical roots of Area E.


Since the 14C-tests dating house VH11, i.e. the late large farm in Hacksta Village C, are fragments of two different posts both with the central value 1970 bp, it stands to reason that these tests date the construction of the house and that they may have an age of their own which should be subtracted from 1970 bp (i.e. 1970bp–the age of the timber in calendar years). The dates from VH19 & 22, the first farm in Village E, on the other hand, are hearth dates mirroring an occupation phase. This makes it likely that it was the large farm in Village C (VH11 & 14(?)) that moved out of this village and establishes itself as a large farm (VH19 & 22) at Site E. Later this farm becomes the dominant farm in the Northeast corner of the village Hacksta E. Farm ‘VH19&22’ is privileged because it has easy access to the meadows and grasslands north and east of the village.
Social change combined with spatial change in RIA not unique to the Mälar Valley. At Vendehøj in Jutland a PRIA village was taken over by a dominant farm similar to Hacksta C when the farm VH11 & 14(?) was established. In Jutland as well as in the Mälar Valley this happened in the 1st c. CE. Similarly, the resettling of a site with a village marked by a dominant farm, happens on a much larger and more prolific scale at Vorbasse in Jutland (2).

Hacksta, Village E comes to an end with the event moddelled as ‘beta 2’, which can be dated by BCal when it returns a posterior probability distribution and highest probability density (HPD) intervals for the event.

Overview 05Given these intervals it would seem that the village was abandoned in the 4th century CE – probably the middle of the century. This abandonment is not the end of the Hacksta settlement in as much as the small settlements, Site A and B established while Village E was still inhabited, existed also in the 5th century, albeit not necessarily continuously. Nevertheless, the settlement shrinks considerably when Hacksta E is closed down.

We might have expected that the small homesteads disappeared first. Since this is not the case we should perhaps draw the conclusion that the crisis was caused by the loss of woods, inasmuch as access to firewood around villages might well have become scares forcing people to walk far in a landscape with few roads in order to cover daily needs. Contrary to a village a small peripheral homestead with limited needs could find niches with limited open areas, but better access to forests. Such farms and crofts although not very successful might well be able to sustain themselves a little longer than villages during reforestation. Better roads, optimal situations, fewer people or fewer grazing animals and more grain are the only solutions to this problem.

(0) See: Norr, Svante. 2000. 14C-dateringar i boplatskontext: metodstudier utifrån exemplet Väster Hacksta, Västerås. Rapporter från Arkeologikonsult 2009:2067b.
(1) The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service ( The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (
(2) See: Herschend 2009:229ff (Vendehøj) & 73ff (Vorbasse)

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