The history of a farm in the history of a village

9 February, 2015

Once again this week On the Reading Rest I have a report on the excavation of a small Iron Age village. Once again in the easternmost part of Uppsala, Old Uppsala a suburb incorporated in of today’s city. Once again the primary reason is the possibility to define new local time frames, i.e. new historical situations. The secondary, overarching reason, has to do with research history and the way the present, which holds the power over the historical records, shapes the past making it more or less interesting – that is more or less historical in a contextual sense.

When the Greater Stockholm area went through an unprecedented expansion 1965 to 1975 archaeology was generally confined to excavating cemeteries and visible monuments, i.e. graves. Emphasizing traditional heritage categories, and the same procedure as usual, during a vogue of pressing development, rather than focusing on developing the concept of ancient monuments, is typical of metropolitan areas, especially that of the Capital. In these areas, in addition to the pressing needs, the conservative influence of the national boards of antiquities, most often situated in the Capital, is manifest simply because these categories were once pointed out by the boards as ‘our’ significant monuments of the past. During a large-scale modernistic urban development project, history simply isn’t not called upon to rock the boat.

Later on, in a less modernistic period, when provincial towns expanded, local autonomy played a greater role in tandem with a central wish to monitor local administration and see to it that they didn’t overlook any ancient monuments on their road to modernity. One of the effects of this situation was the introduction of new categories expanding the concept of ancient monuments. Adding invisible settlement remains in arable land to the categories was a typical example of development and the reason why expanding towns such as Västerås, Helsingborg and Uppsala can boast so many IA farms in their outskirts. Sometimes small is less ugly than large.

Berget omslagGöthberg, Hans; Frölund, Per and Fagerlund, Dan. 2014. Gamla Uppsala – åter till Berget. Om undersökningen av en förtätad bosättning från äldre järnålder med begravningar från äldre bronsålder till romersk järnålder. Fornlämning 614:1, Uppsala Gamla Uppsala 21:52 Uppland. [With contributions by] Thomas Bartholin, Ylva Bäckström, Stefan Gustafsson & Emma Sjöling [Upplandsmuseets rapporter 2014:16]. Uppsala, Upplandsmuseet. Acronym: GUB.

There is a summary in English and the report can be found at:

Berget – the mountain in English – is a small rocky hillock. Once in the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (EBA) it was surrounded by water, but gradually, owing to the isostatic uplift, by arable land sloping north and northeast facing a narrow sound that was turned into bay. Today this water has become the small river Samnan. In the IA the farms at Berget would have benefitted from the low-lying meadows north of the village.

ILLUo1ILLU02The history of the site starts in the BA when rituals in connection with funerals and burials took place by the blocks on the hillock. Twenty nine context were excavated. Some may reasonably be called graves others are less evident. Now and again from c. 1400 BCE until the end of the 300s CE a few people were buried on the hillock and a number of contexts have probably disappeared during Iron-Age and modern occupations (cf. Göthberg & Frölund GUB:51ff.). Being already a site in the human landscape the first house was built here in the very beginning of the EIA (cf. Göthberg GUB:109:Hus 33, fig. 78). As expected this was a One-Generation House, never rebuilt and thus standing c. 30 years without major repairments before the house was demolished and people moved somewhere else.



If we map the earliest 14C-dates we see a dispersed settlement structure with One-Generation Houses in the eastern part of the settlement area. Circa 1950-1900 bp (i.e. in the beginning of the Common Era) the farms move westwards and started to cluster. If we look at the latest 14C-dates, circa 1650-1500 bp (the century around 500 CE), we see a more clustered settlement in the western part of the settlement close to what will eventually become the situation of the historical farm. In the 5th c. some farms have already been pulled down, but the surviving ones, on the crowded plots in the west, respect the larger deserted plots in the east such as that of Farm D, inasmuch as they do not spread out to occupy them.

ILLU03Between the long sporadic beginning of the settlement and the end phase there lies a dynamic period with a massive and varied cluster of 14C-dates. With the Bcal program (1), this beginning and end can be modelled quite well and it would seem that the central dynamic period of occupation commences c. 180 and ends c. 400 CE. Perhaps the time limits are less wide. This period is not just an intensive settlement period, it is also the period characterized by tar production. Cause and effect are impossible to judge, but the correlation adds to the dynamics of the village and indeed to seeing these two centuries as an era in its settlement history.

ILLU04Göthberg & Frölund have analysed the farms and summarized the whole history of the settlement and its farms (GUB:251ff.). Owing to the numerous and strategically chosen 14C-dates a more precise chronology of the individual farms may nevertheless be obtained by means of Bayesian statistics. In the following Farm D will be taken as an example (cf. GUB:259-61).



All these numbers, plans and diagrams boil down to a small history of farm and property. Farm D occupied a site in close spatial relation to an ancient place, a historical site, and developed into one of the oldest farms when Berget became a village with permanent farms in the second century CE. In the 200 dynamic years in the third and fourth c. CE, the main house at Farm D was the largest in the village and in the human landscape its situation was quite prominent. We would perhaps have expected that this farm should be the last to be demolished, but that was not the case. On the contrary it was pulled-down before the smaller neighbouring farms and the farm was succeeded by a barn, erected to claim the property. This indicates that the owners of one of the economically more important units chose to move somewhere else without giving up their land. Since we have never excavated a large solitary farm established in the 5th c. CE we don’t know where the land owners lived, but in all probability it wasn’t at Berget. This means that land could be owned by people who didn’t live on the land. The original idea, emanating in the beginning of the EIA, stating that a family could settle for a generation or two sustaining itself on the land surrounding it, was replaced by an ownership that wasn’t based on the presence of a household. Ownership to a property became more abstract. Since the small farms couldn’t occupy the large abandoned plot of Farm D, we may suggest that they were in some way or other dependant on the non-present landowner although they may of course have been autonomous land owners themselves. Already in the 5th c. it would seem that there was an organisation of plots that forced farmer to build their farms on a plot that reflected the size of their property. This didn’t create a formal pattern at Berget, but plots were nevertheless respected. The barn on the plot of Farm D, i.e. House 20, was the first example of a formal definition of a plot – not its boundaries – but its centre representing presence and non-presence at the same time. Berget, Farm D is a prime example of the early centuries in the development of landownership, which eventually allowed land owners (probably the large ones) to live on one property and control an estate composed of several unoccupied properties – claiming their right with reference to a concept of ownership that wasn’t based upon land use.




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