This week On the Reading Rest I have an article from Antiquity. It concerns strontium 87Sr/86Sr values in human skeletons from the Carolingian Iron Age. Measuring 87Sr/86Sr values in tooth enamel will disclose the strontium bioavailability in the environment where the human being lived when the tooth enamel was formed, i.e. where the person grew up. If these values are compared to the baseline values in a certain environment we may speak of a possible match or mismatch between the values of a tested person and the baseline values – most often a spectrum – characterizing the area where this person’s skeleton was found. A match indicates that the test person grew up in the area in question and died there, while a mismatch suggests that the person at some stage in life moved into the area perhaps only to die there.

Since some areas are more uniquely defined than others and since areas may vary in size, the analysis and interpretation may be more or less rewarding. However, if we want to check prehistoric migration 87Sr/86Sr values may be surprisingly revealing not least owing to our present-day reluctance to believe in prehistoric migration without manifest proof, which in practice rather than formally there might be in 87Sr/86Sr values.


fig 00Price et al. 2011. Douglas T. Price, Karin Margarita Frei, Andres Siegfried Dobat, Niels Lynnerup and Pia Bennike. Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? Strontium isotope investigation of the cemetery at the Viking Age fortress at Trelleborg, Zeeland. Antiquity; Jun 2011; 85. Pp. 476-89. Acronym: WiHaBa.

In Viking Age research, Harold Bluetooth is usually considered a very Danish political player and an emblem of state formation. His nationalistic centrepiece as we know it, is nevertheless an odd one on several legs: his equation: Christianity = The Church, his building projects, his quest for formal geometrical architecture, his ahistorical modernity in which he cunningly incorporates the past, as well as his use of text and rune stone ornament as propaganda. This make him stand out as outlandish – introducing all kinds of European novelties and uniformities that today’s neo-nationalists/fascists in Denmark would have frown at and compared to intolerable EU directives, had they been able to draw historical parallels. Many academics on the other hand, think that Harold is interesting because to their mind his measures look like steps towards the foundation of the Christian Medieval Kingdom, the future ‘Nation State’ and eventually even ‘The Viking’ – once signs of civilisation, nowadays tarnished phenomena reduced to the mantras of neo-nationalists – but nevertheless part of Danish history.

Despite his endeavour, one may question Harold’s success as the king who reigned for decades changing country and society. Although he may have been king for several years (‘fifty’ his grandson Sweyn Estridsson thought when (c. 970) he wanted to please Adam of Bremen) it is unlikely that Harold gained supreme power until a couple of years after the death of his father, that is, c. 965 CE. By c. 985 his rule was over after the war with Otto II (974) and a power struggle, started c. 980 by his son Sweyn Forkbeard. Harold-Bluetooth’s rule, as demonstrated by his building activities, might thus have been short and unsuccessful inasmuch as it aimed at transforming and reorganizing society.

Analyses and interpretation in WiHaBa fit the general academic understanding of Harold. Therefore, the answer to the question of the title – Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? – is: foreigners! or, in the eloquent last sentence of the abstract: Trelleborg, home of Harold Bluetooth’s army, was a fortress of foreigners with vivid implications for the nature of his political mission (WiHaBa:476).

Foreign and non-foreign among the buried

How foreign were they when they died? How vivid their implications? When we look at WiHaBa:Fig. 2, and that happens well before we know anything about the actual 87Sr/86Sr values, it seems that the proportion between non-local and possible local values is more or less 50-50 outside the mass graves. Although there are baseline foreigners in the graves there seems to be equally many locals interred on the cemetery.

baseline values in Denmark

Fig 4, WiHaBa:483, presents the South Scandinavian baseline values and the authors draw the conclusion that values outside the range 0.709-0.7108 indicate a non-South Scandinavian or non-Northwest German human being. This conclusion, nevertheless, doesn’t match the map presented in Fig 4. In fact, there are several values between 0.7073 and 0.709 in Denmark not least in Jutland something one should not forget when discussing matters related to Harold Bluetooth. To the East, in Scania, there are few reference values, but in northern Scania there is a baseline value of 0.7160. Colours will help us see the pattern of the 87Sr/86Sr values.

fig 05In the end the most striking pattern is that of the difference between the mass graves and the single or double common graves. Interpreting this pattern is difficult owing to the lack of baseline data from Halland and Scania (where 87Sr/86Sr values above 0.711 are possible). If that is indeed the case some of the ‘foreigners’ in Trelleborg would be ‘less foreign’ and based perhaps in a Scanian trelleborg before they died. Some, moreover, could have been children on Bornholm, or on  Öland and Gotland. Be this as it may, those interred in mass graves were a more varied group of people and more baseline-foreign than those buried in traditional graves. This indicates that those who seem to have been living more permanently in the garrison had a more homogenous regional background – albeit with a marked non-Zealand foreign component – than the mass grave population. Indirectly, since there are far too few values below 0.708 to reflect a ‘Danish’ population, there is an emphasis on a regional component and we can conclude that those who lived and died at Trelleborg were not predominantly from Jutland let alone Jelling men.

If Harold’s army had consisted of foreigners it would have been noteworthy, not least because it is difficult in a country with a weak monetary system, to build an army of mercenaries, who must be paid inasmuch as looting is not a permanent option. On the other hand it is a great advantage to have a number of loyal mercenaries, perhaps with a background in Scania, if controlling Zeeland is an option in a civil war. It is much more likely therefore, that Trelleborg was manned by a mixture of Zealanders and non-Zealand non-Jutland foreigners. WiHaBa suggests that it is significant that the mass graves were probably reserved for groups who didn’t live permanently in the fortress. Had they been part of the ordinary crew they ought to have been buried individually, even if their death was traumatic.

WiHaBa is an article that jumps to conclusions – hopefully for no apparent reason, such as campaigning for Sweyn Forkbeard’s true Danish values or any other involuntary agenda. The article simplifies and inflates ‘the foreign’, the legacy of Harold Bluetooth and the history of the Carolingian Iron Age forcing its readers to scrutinize its arguments as well as its number foundation. There is nothing wrong with applied natural sciences, in this case recording the measurements of a multicollector VG Sector 54 IT mass spectrometer (Institute of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen). It is reassuring that this instrument works so well that five ng loads of the NBS 987 Sr standard gave 87Sr/86Sr = 0.710236-0.000010 (n = 10, 2s). Obviously one needs craftsmanship and critical sense to handle the material and its preparation. But that must not obscure the fact that until the scientist starts interpreting the stable isotope values, analysis is essentially a systematic craft. In this case the interpretations demonstrates a considerable gap between material and conclusion in tandem with a historical interpretation that borders on the naïve.

This week On the Reading Rest have the new Aggersborg publication

Illu00Roesdahl, Else et al. 2014. Else Roesdahl, Søren Michael Sindbæk, Anne Pedersen and David M. Wilson (eds). Aggersborg: The Viking-Age Settlement & Fortress. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications vol 82. Århus. Acronym A-SaF.

All Aggerborg illustrations in this entry are based on A-SaF.

I read the book not primarily because of the famous late 10th c. fortress, rather I want to learn more about the village demolished in the 970s in order to give room for one of Harold Bluetooth’s uniform ring forts. The fortress turned out to be short-lived and the village was reestablished presumably already in the 11th century. It is conceivable, therefore, that historical or post-fortress Aggerborg had its roots in the LIA settlement. The editors and the highly qualified research group behind the book have done a splendid job summarizing the essential facts concerning a material that lay dormant for half a century in the archives of the National Museum in Copenhagen. During recent years, metal detector surveys, limited new excavations and successful geophysical measurements have enhance the original excavation results. In a series of chapters, members of the research group contextualize the investigations in relation especially the fortress, to the Limfjord and to the other Harold Bluetooth fortresses.


Illu02If we paste an overview of the excavations at Aggersborg on the first cadastral map of the modern village, it appears that the ‘Aggersborg’, although we do not know its original name, was founded in the LIA and thrived at least from the 8th century CE and onwards. Its east-west layout suggests a social structure reminiscent the EIA – a number of smaller dependent farms in one end and a large dominant one in the other.

Illu03In this 8-10th century version, the large farm in the west-end stands out as a manor, unrestricted by boundaries and characterized by large buildings (House A, D and GS) as well as pit houses. By contrast, the smaller farms in the east-end seem regulated and crammed on their plots. The parallels to continental situations with farms and pit houses were exemplified OtRR 14 April, 2014 referring to the Gladbach excavations.

Historical Aggersborg is also characterized by this manor-and-farm structure.

Illu04Although the Aggersborg fortress looks like a rigid layout of barracks, the few artefacts contemporary with the fortress show that of the buildings were also the abode of rural households. Only a limited part of the settlement area has been excavated, but the artefact distribution nevertheless reveals the typical east-west pattern, albeit within the confines of the fortress – its courtyards squared off by Haroldian halls in quarters defined by axial streets and the circular rampart. In the west the artefacts are dispersed inside the West Gate and in the east condensed inside the East Gate. Despite the village being haussmannized by Harold’s planners and builders, the spatial division of its settlement seems intact if we focus on the permanent fortress households. Given the short fortress period, it stands to reason that owing to the necessity to look after a fortress presumably most often empty, rural production and maintenance were outsourced to local entrepreneurs, their agro-consultants and household technicians. When, and there are few clues as to exactly when, the village was reestablished this structure was retained in the historical village. The Royal manor was first mentioned in relation to events in 1086, long after the fortress period, and there was hardly a manor without a village. Despite the autocratic planning of the fortress there was in other word a kind of continuity in the social structure of the community. If the fortress had become a long-term royal success with a permanent garrison in the barracks, the traditional social structure would not have been visible as an artefact pattern mirroring densely and sparsely settled areas.

It may well have been traumatic when manor and village were pulled and perhaps burnt down in the 970s CE, but it is hard to imagine that the estate, the community’s economic base: fields, meadows and grassland, would not have been maintained and perhaps expanded when the fortress was built. Moreover, the social continuity suggests that the King controlled Aggersborg before the construction of the fortress in such a way that to his order he could settle the locals in his model architecture. This form of royal power need not exclude the unpopular King’s unfriendly takeover ousting his steward by force. Be this as it may, the basic social structure of the local society was maintained from the LIA and until today because it continued to be economically reasonable.

Illu05Belonging to the 8th – 11th century, the pit houses are an added settlement component, and they seem to cluster around the settlement’s main houses except the pre-fortress hall (Building D). There are two kinds of pit houses: the excavated ones and the ones detected by the geophysical survey. Both categories are described and discussed by Søren Sindbæk. The geophysical surveys were undertaken in order to compensate for the limited excavation areas and aimed at getting an overview of the whole settlement. The measurements were interpreted in a plan and pit houses were relatively easy to see not least while they are large enough not to fall between measuring points. The plan maps probable and possible pit houses and I have chosen to add ‘the probable’ to the excavated ones. ‘The possible’ ones are indeed possible, but I see them more as indications as to where future excavations should perhaps take place. Their distribution differs from that of the probable houses inasmuch as the easternmost part of southernmost cluster, which is made up of several ‘probable’ and two excavated houses, may well have been the western end of a row stretching east-west.

In the west-end of the settlement the pit houses have a north-south distribution probably linked to fewer and larger east-west orientated houses west of the manor building. The western pit houses dates to the whole of the Carolingian Iron Age. Some are earlier than, some contemporary with, and some later than the fortress.

Illu06The eastern part of the settlement is organized in rows of three-aisled houses seemingly surrounded by pit houses. If we check the way the pit houses overlap, the direction in which they move is southwards except in one or perhaps two cases. This indicated that the position of a pit houses is determined by a building situated north of the primary house. If we take this trait as significant of the settlement at large, then there may be a development from the north to the south in three rows. The northern one with few pit houses and two southern ones with many.

Illu07The constellation main house/pit house represents a production site linked to and protected by farms, situated on the shores of the Limfjord at a suitable landing site. Production was depended on a manor-and-farm based rural economy to provide for its workers. Few crafts except textile production can be traced in the floor layers of the pit houses. Farm hands, and fishermen perhaps engaged in herring fishery, may nevertheless have been an important workforce settled in the pit houses – permanently and seasonally. The excavations plans therefore seems to show us a socially stratified society with manor, farms and cabins. In this structure the dominant landowner, the dependent farmers and the free or unfree workforce, subsisted and produced goods that could be exported to urban communities.


Aggersborg was never a town, but opposite the village, the town of Løgstør became a fact in the early 16th century probably after the King had given up his estate at Aggersborg (1). It may be argued that the southern shore of the Limfjord was the more optimal if we wished to found a town, but in that case one may wonder why such a town didn’t exist until the 16th century. Given the way the private Aggersborg manor (Aggersborggård) tried to prevent the town from profiting from the local fishing waters, which were important to the town’s economy, it is conceivable that the interests of a manor, its farms and pit house production settlement tended to prevent the foundation of towns or at least the success of actual towns. All Haroldian fortresses on the other hand are town-situated and most of them in the vicinity of a rather insignificant modern towns except for Odense and the not impossible fortress in Helsingborg (2). This indicates that Harold in addition to his political ambitions viewed his strategic measures in the light of the communicative and demographic parameters of a densely settled place – in this case a garrison with access to water. In order to create his network of fortresses Harold seems nevertheless to need access to land, which in some cases meant that the Place he chose had historical roots. This is typical not least of the fortresses in Scania, but also of Trelleborg on Zealand and Aggersborg in Jutland. We knows little about the environment of Fyrkat and Nonnebakken, but the new site, Borgring, next to Køge, is situated only 500m from the village Lille Salby and the manor Lellingegård. This place-name situation indicates that Borgring was founded on the land of an existing manor (a sal) (3). Since a number of towns were also founded or recreated in the days of Harold Bluetooth we can defend the hypothesis that Harold, engaged in his nation-building, wanted to establish an urbanized as well as a fortified nation held together in a coastal network of urban and military nodes. Towns are characterized by their harbour situation, garrisons most often situated a little more inland no more than a few kilometres form a temporary landing site. Ribe is the exception among the towns since it is situated by a river slightly inland, i.e. like a fortress. Aggersborg is the fortress exception situated directly by the water, albeit without a harbour

In southern Denmark, in Hedeby, at Ravningenge, in Jelling and indirectly, be means of the rune stone DR 55 at Sønder Vissing, Harold didn’t forget inland manifestations.


(1) Painting by R.H. Kruse, Rasmus Henrik Kruse,  7.8.1796-30.5.1877, maler, antikvar. Født i Navtrup, Salling, begravet på Fur

(2) A number of facts about the early history of Løgstør, in Danish, can be found at Løgstørs ældre historie

(3) see



This week On the Reading Rest I have three reports from the excavations at Skälby, the last of the three Västerås settlements to merit a Bayesian chronological analysis. All three reports have an English summary. The two first reports concerns the Skälby village, the last one deals with excavations in the outskirts west of the village. I read these reports mostly to understand how the 14C -dates mirror the chronology of the settlement.

OmslagenAspeborg, Håkan. 1999. Västra Skälby – en by från äldre järnålder. Riksantikvarieämbetet UV-Uppsala, Rapport 1997:56. Stockholm 1999. Acronym Asp.

Onsten-Molander, Anna. 2008. A. Onsten-Molander (red) Skälby. Bilden av byn växer fram. Fortsatta undersökningar av boplatslämningar från äldre järnålder. Med bidrag av Ylva Bäckström, Tony Engström, Susanna Eklund, Helena Hulth & Ann Lindkvist. SAU Rapport 14. Uppsala 2008. Acronym OnMo.

Korpås, Ola & Wikborg, Jonas. 2102. Skälby. Bebyggelselämningar från järnåldern. Med bidrag av Elisabet Pettersson (Skälby. Settlement remains from the Iron Age (with contributions from Elisabet Petterson). SAU rapport 2012:13. Acronym KoWi.


There are c. 120 14C-dates related to the greater Skälby settlement area collected between 1992 and 2009. They describe a settlement period with varying intensity. The most common 14C-dates belong to the PRIA. In the LPR- and ERIA the settlement consisted of a village just south of a small impediment where the remains of an IA cemetery are still visible. West of this EIA village there are some small settlement areas on the fringe of a small forest growing on moraine partly covering a very small mountain. It has been suggested that there was a small prehistoric ring fort on the mountain (KoWi:10). Village and outskirts shared an agricultural area between them with small heavily fertilized fields and water meadows (Asp:71f.). The arable land is often wet and dominated by a clayey raised seabed. To the north these fields meet slightly higher woodlands on moraine. The arable land stretches out towards the south and the small stream between Skälby and West Hacksta.

Overview 00Historical and modern Skälby is situated just east of the Early Iron Age village. Today, the area around the modern village is surrounded by the suburb Skälby, but it stands to reason that the LIA settlement lies under the modern village or north of this village next to the remains of the cemetery. Since the latter alternative creates a connection between excavated settlement remains and the cemetery, this might well be where the LRIA village was situated.

The distribution of the 14C-dates has a strong emphasis on dates belonging to the period bp 2150–1950, i.e. a c. 200 year phase commencing in the early 2nd c. BCE and coming to an end in the 1st c. CE. All periods from the Late Bronze Age (LBA) to the Late Carolingian Iron Age (LCIA) are represented in the area, but this cannot hide the fact that from the 4th century and onwards dates become scanty. The emphasis in the village on the LPRIA is enhanced if we take the dates from the peripheral settlement area into consideration. No less than forty tests, a third of the total number, are dated bp2100–2000 (2nd–1st c. BCE).

Slightly later, between bp 1960 and 1880 there is a possible gap in the 14C-distribution and it is worth testing whether this gap in the village settlement actually existed. The models used to test this will be returned by the BCal – an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool (1). 14C dates SkälbyThe solitary 14C-date (bp 1920) in the middle of the gap actually doesn’t represent the settlement inasmuch as it belongs to a peripheral well. It testifies to the fact that the area, whether settled or not, was continuously used, albeit with varying intensity.

The Skälby 14C-dates from the LPR- and RIA are not easy to model. They are many and since most of them were measured in early 1990s several average values are afflicted with standard deviations twice or thrice as large as the present standard. This makes modelling a possible gap or hiatus difficult. If we look at the end of the long, mainly LPRIA, settlement period and the beginning of the short RIA settlement (cf. the green circle in the above illustration), then the gap is hard to prove because the limits of a short period are more difficult to define than the borders of a long one. If we check the gap only in relation to the nearest 9 tests on each side of it, the gap is not like to have existed. Moreover, if we try to compare the 45 often clustering tests of the whole LPRIA period to the 12 tests representing the short RIA period, BCal will fail to calibrate the sample. However, if we delete every second test from the sample of the long period, then modelling becomes possible because the length and character of the period is retained while in the process the number and complexity of the tests have become manageable. When BCal is asked to calculate the gap between the event that signifies the end of the long period and the event that signifies the beginning of the short period, then the tool returns the interval 2 to 181 years if the probability is set at 95% and 52 to 138 if it is set at 68%. The fifty-fifty length is 65 to 120 years. An interval of c. 65 years is thus not unlikely although the gap may have been longer as well as shorter.

By checking the possibility that the long Phase A had come to an end and the short Phase B commenced, in relation to given calendar years, we may illustrate when the gap was likely to have been a fact. The RIA GapIt would seem that at least in the later years of the 1st century CE there was a gap in the Skälby settlement. A comparison between the posteriority distributions of the end of the long settlement period, Phase A, and the beginning of the short, Phase B, give the same impression. This, obviously, is a result that ought to be reviewed in relation to the spatial contexts of the dates.

Posteriority analys RIAfirst two phaseslast two phasesIf we look at this distribution of the 14C-dates sorted in 50-year long 14C-year periods,  the development of the village stands out. The same is true of peripheral wells and a tendency for the settlement to form phases which probably has to do with digging or repairing wells close to the farm houses and the rebuilding of farm the houses themselves. Generally speaking Skälby is not a very dynamic settlement since renews itself in phases rather than continuously; but it accords with a situation in which a settlement is abandoned in the late 1st century CE and eventually reestablished as a number of well-separated homesteads. A settlement that can be switched off and on—abandoned and reestablished – doesn’t stand out as autonomous. In the second century CE, not surprisingly, the distribution of the farmsteads is very different from that of the early LPRIA settlement, which had central and peripheral parts.End of settlementThe short RIA phase is a transition to a long period (10 14C-dates bp 1790-1600) of limited usage of the settlement site. An intuitive analysis of the dates makes it likely that among four farmsteads, crofts or cottages, only one exists in the settlement area c. 1650bp when the settlement was finally abandoned. For more than a century, this farm or croft had been situated in the northern end of the area next to cemetery. With a series of main houses c. 15 m long, this farm seems to have been established c. 1775bp and abandoned c. 1650bp, that is, c. 400 CE. During the settlement period bp 1790-1650 there seems never to have been more than two households in the area. Owing to the calibration curve the oldest dates in the period may well be more or less contemporary with the latest dates in Phase B in the northwestern corner of the excavation. This indicates that in the end phase (bp 1790-1600) there was one, two and eventually one continuously settled abodes in the northernmost part of the settlement area — on slightly higher grounds next to the cemetery. It is possible therefore that the end of the Skälby settlement is actually the end of the outskirts of a village situated north of the excavated area. If so, the village might well have looked like the last phase in West Hacksta, Village E (cf. OtRR 3 Nov 2014).


An Outline of the settlement history in the Gilltuna-Hacksta-Skälby triangle

In order to summarize the development in the settlement area I will interpret the chronological events as typical general events. This need not be the case, but it is a reasonable way of creating a model that may be falsified by new excavations.

In a long-term structural perspective, the settlement area develops from the PRIA and onwards with the isostatic uplift, expanding in terms of settlement units until the RIA, seemingly starting to  disappear in the 4th century CE. The development in Gilltuna gives us a glimpse of the LIA organization of a settlement. Most importantly, the densely settled ‘tun’ illustrates the concentration of buildings on a LIA plot. On the tun in Gilltuna the remains of 17 houses covering c. 500 years, could be defined on 5,000 sqm. At Skälby, 39 houses were found on 70,000 sqm during an equally long period. This means that there was one house per 1800 sqm at Skälby. At Gilltuna during a similar time span there was one per 300 sqm. The relative density of houses on the tun was thus six times higher at Gilltuna. To this one must add that it is much more difficult at Gilltuna than at Skälby to link all large postholes to houses. Thus there are probably more unknown buildings at Gilltuna that at Skälby. Structurally, the organization of the settlement in the middle of the first millennium is thus a matter of confining farms to stable regulated narrow plots. The sites chosen to become dense regulated plots, and thus probably a ‘tun’, were used already in the EIA when it seems that most of the suitable settlements sites had already been recognized.

Moving a settlement, was part of the cultural identity of the EIA, the restricted and permanent plot on the other hand was novel and probably introduced in some places already in the LRIA, for instance in Village D162 in Säby, Uppland (cf. OtRR 13 March 2013).

Between the end of the 10th century and the 15th, when historical Gilltuna disappears, there is only one date of interest, an oven dated bp 486±30, i.e. cal CE 1407-50 (with ±2σ). This indicates that the remains of Early Medieval Gilltuna with most of its buildings standing on the ground was ploughed away from the 1400s and onwards. The dates from the excavations of the peripheral sites west of Skälby suggests that in the CIA peripheral activities were to some extent revived. sammanfattande analysIf we summarize the analysis as a matter of structure and chronology, as in the above illustration, we can describe a generalized development with rotating farms in the PRIA. This period of expansion leads to the first small villages in the end of the PRIA. In the ERIA villages are sometimes reorganized and a clear divide between central and peripheral farms, as well as crofts, becomes a reality. In the LRIA some villages become a little more regulated and in the end of the RIA and in the 4-5th century many villages disappear, but not all. Many peripheral settlements, moreover, continue to be inhabited before they finally disappear c. 500 CE. It seems reasonable to suggest that Gilltuna continues to be Gilltuna although it may have changed its name after the settlement hiatus. IA Skälby lives on in historical Skälby and West Hacksta may eventually have become Igelsta.

Settlement concentration and reorganization starts already in the RIA and it is an ongoing process which deprive us of small settlement units. Eventually the settlement contracts to a few densely settled village sites. Since we can see that this village development starts already in the ERIA, we might have expected it to be a gradual process, but the abandonment of a large number of farm units in the late 4th early 5th century might well represent an agricultural crisis speeding up the development. The Cold Decade didn’t stop the development although one might have thought that a period, starting with a drop in the population, would lead to the foundation of new farms when the population began to grow again. If so, these new villages were successful and invisible to constract archaeology, with a few cases such Gilltuna to prove the rule. The Klondyke situation characterizing the PRIA was not repeated in the LIA and not until the CIA do we see signs of expansion.

SlutfigIf we summarize the analysis as a matter of economy and chronology, then we must first acknowledge that in the long run farms become fewer, larger and more stable. Some farms, moreover, become larger than others. During the PRIA, husbandry is important, and fields are small and over-fertilized. When the households become larger it stands to reason that the fields grow too and the divide between fields and grassland more marked. Owing to larger fields and denser settlements, the balance between fields, grass- and woodland becomes stable and more prolific. The nucleated villages will benefit from larger fields and roads from the villages through infields to meadows and woods.

The social implication of the development stands out as social segregation and the transition from a flat to a more pointed social pyramid. The introduction of larger farms, dominating a village, and the ability to prevent peripheral settlements and settlers estabishing themselves outside the villages is a major social achievement that probably reflects the power of those who think the land belongs to them. They, who in the LIA live in pit houses outside the Gill-tun, either permanently or seasonally, are probably less socially important than those who live in halls. The former represent a growing population with no common right to settle and farm a suitable unoccupied land.

Owing to possible subsistence problems, the closing down of autonomous households in the 4th and 5th century, and the possibly famine in The Cold Decade, there are also demographic implications in the changing landscape. Migration from the area and trying one’s hand at external acquisition, as well as power struggle may have been seen as ways of coping with crisis, at the same time limiting the growth of the population. The Cold Decade, although a purely natural phenomenon may thus have hit a population that was badly prepared to resist it when crops failed and grasslands and meadows became low-productive.


(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. (