This week On the Reading Rest I have an article that discusses the reburial of indigenous people once exhumed for the benefit mainly of race biology. The article focuses on the ethics of complex situations, questionable already when they occurred. Today, more or less by definition, the roots of the problems belong to a relatively remote past that we are able to judge without too much ado. Thus I too, wise in the event, read:

NAR nummerSvestad, Asgeir. 2013. What Happened in Neiden? On the Question of Reburial ethics. Norwegian Archaeological Review. Vol. 46, No. 2, 194-242. Acronym: ASve.

To most readers Neiden, if anything, is geography, a point on a map of Northernmost Norway and a river where we do not live. The actual place, nevertheless, is a settlement called ‘Skoltebyn’—a place where Skolt Sámi people live, although there are very few left. This place name suggests that non-Skolts, the very great majority, needed to define the place. Skoltebyn is probably full of living traditions with little historical evidence to corroborate or question and reconstruct the past and the present. ASve’s approach is straightforward geographical and historical. He defines the place on a map and in relation to two precisely dated historical events. In essence, his approach is based on facts and the individual opinion of some of those who took part in 1915 and 2011. Wider aspects, the more we know about them, are brought in when necessary, but in principle everything pivots on what happened in July 1915 and September 2011. ASve’s analysis of the two situations is revealing and cautious.

It turns out that history allows itself to play a trick on everyone involved in the two events. Notwithstanding, the central question is simple enough: what, if anything, should be done with the bones from Neiden? Needless to say we know very little about the bones too.

To the physician and odontologist of 1915, Johan Brun, bones and even skeletons were a source material worth describing because without anatomical knowledge there would have been no physicians. Anatomical description wherever possible is thus above the individual physician – ideally speaking. It is difficult, therefore, to accept a physician who for ethical reasons would not be prepared to use the human body as a source material, nor use the evidence-based knowledge about broken bones, often obtained without ethical considerations, to help us. Still today a large number of corpses are anatomized. This doesn’t give Johan Brun the right to go to Neiden and loot a cemetery it just creates an everlasting ethical problem.

The still unsettled cemetery

The reason is simple – we think of our forefathers as our heritage and thus as ours by right! Except of course if we are landowners. If that is the case, we may think that we own what is on our land exploiting it is as best we wish. Landownership as opposed to communal rights is a cornerstone of practical colonialism and the relatively rich Johan Brun took advantage of a relatively poor landowner Ondre Jakobovitsj, who knew that there were inhumation graves on his land. Since his land was not on the early colonial monument still in use, i.e. the Orthodox chapel and churchyard in Neiden, he sold Brun the right or a concession to dig on his land and take skeletons back to Oslo – payment per skeleton. To buy and sell in this way may be seen as unethical and condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed. Irrespective of our point of view it may in time repeatedly be condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed.

Only oblivion can save us from heritage and ethical problems, and that is the reason why much heritage legislation is built on oblivion. When something material is no longer used or when it has been forgotten, i.e. when it has fallen into oblivion while still existing, i.e. when its role as meaningful in a living culture has come to an end, then it becomes accepted as everybody’s heritage and protected by law despite the fact that we lack knowledge about it. If it comes to our knowledge it must be treated with respect and preserved as best we can. Since preservation is impossible in the long run, and since knowledge can be reproduced, respecting the past as our heritage is knowledge driven. The more we know, the more will become our heritage and revived material culture. In a democratic society this may solve a lot of ethical problems, but obviously not all.

Brun's excavationBoth Johan Brun and Ondre Jakobovitsj acted unethically because they should have understood that the existing churchyard was no more than a part of a larger burial ground – in all probability its pre-Christian parts, which had fallen into oblivion and thus become part of our common heritage. The ideological colonialism of Christianity, which denounced indigenous culture and faith, is to blame for the oblivion. At least Johan Brun ought to have understood this. Needless to say, in this situation the obvious cannot be proved. Most of what we know about what happened in 1915 is what Johan Brun told us in his report and he steered clear of ethics, context and any wider perspective. The skeletons exhumed were his objective, the living his problem. Bargaining with the locals, Brun spend money, but ASve doesn’t mention whether Brun was compensated for his expenses. It stands to reason, nevertheless, that he was, and if so his description of the way he haggled with Jakobovitsj makes sense inasmuch as it demonstrates that he did not waste money.


True to his approach, which is based on Heidegger’s view upon the disclosure of the hidden and the care and being that characterizes humans, ASve goes beyond describing what happened in 1915 and 2011 respectively, and his Heideggerian discussion works quite well. Nevertheless, being and care didn’t characterize the agents when they took part in the disclosed events. Moreover, I don’t think it is possible to lay bare or disclose the 1915 and 2011 events, because there is nothing specific – no essence – to lay bare. Contrary to Heidegger I don’t think that nur ein Gott kann uns retten – only a god can save us – because such an entity cannot be disclosed. Inventing a god or seeing oneself as one, jeopardizes the human, i.e. the agents now and again bothered by ethics. I find enlightenment and emancipation a better approach to ethics.

No ethics will solve ethical problems. Oblivion will erase them, but we learn nothing from oblivion because knowledge in a historical situation, be it past or present, is the only way to come to terms with ethical problems. Knowledge often fails, even if it concerns disclosure, because it is easily disputed by those who take only a limited interest in the obvious. Care and being are roads to ethical shortcomings and Heidegger’s life is a case in point. Being, moreover, is hard to avoid and care is a cornerstone in reproduction – caring for those who cannot survive without it.

ReburialASve is cautious when he describes the events that led up to the reburial in September 2011. One might say that he discloses the events in an unbiased manner rather than he exposes them. While the reader reads between the lines, ASve is true to his sober method – almost. The comment on the Orthodox tradition that governed the reburial is an exception (ASve:211, col. 2).

Actually there is no need to be cautious because the events leading up to September 2011 make up a textbook example of how a majority marginalizes a minority. In this case the Sámi community, the majority among the indigenous people in northern Scandinavia, and organized around Sametinget (the Sámi Parliament), has turned a place central to a minority, the almost extinct Neiden Skolts, into a memorial of its own and a protected heritage area. The Neiden Skolts have been sqeezed into heritage. In this process, as we would expect from a textbook example, the 10 odd Skolts involved have been divided into a larger group of people who find themselves excluded and alienated and a few who back-up the powerful Sámi majority.

Njauddâm sijddAt least since 1826 Skolt identity has been threatened (1). In this year the border between Finland (Russia) and Norway (Sweden) was closed and the Skolt community and its settlement area – both referred to as Njauddâm sijdd lost its land, and began losing its identity, being unable to live in the sijdd in the intended yearly cycle. While the sijdd used to be orientated towards Russia the frontier delimination meant that Spring and Summer was incorporated in Norway, while Autumn and Winter and most of the population stayed in Finland. In Norway the population was concentrated to Njauddâm (Now: Neiden), the summer site of the sijdd, in a permanent settlement called Skoltebyn. For more than a millennium the sijdd’s cemetery and since the 16th c. the orthodox St George chapel and its churchyard were already situated at Neiden. Soon a protestant chapel marked Norwegian colonization and the ideological consequences of the closed border.

neidenkapellkartaThe marginalization of the Skolts and their loss of identity has continued. Their language is no longer spoken in Norway, they are not represented in Sametinget. In effect, Neiden rather than being part of the Skolt Njauddâm sijdd has been culturally annexed by the Sámi and become a site where this people demonstrates its unified heritage and ideology at the expense of the identity of the Skolts. Neiden has become a protected heritage area and a museum site dedicated to Skolt culture. Ironically, as if the authorities awaited Skolt culture and the last Skolt to pass away, the museum building has been left empty and leaking through the roof since 2008.

the burial siteThe reburial fits the cultural demise of the Njauddâm sijdd. As ASve shows Johan Brun excavated more than a sample of Sámi skeletons. He found an unknown cemetery older than the Christianization of the Skolts with a potential of reviving an unknown Skolt history with a potential to illustrate the Skolt interaction with other people. Moreover, given that Neiden was the millennia old summer site of the Njauddâm sijdd it is by no means certain that all the human remains were Skolts. The Neiden Skolts understood this and that was obviously their reason to place the skeletons in a respectful context without destroying them as a source material. In view of losing their history or recovering it, they opted for knowledge. It is obvious from ASve’s analysis that destructing the source material and keeping Skolt history in the firm grip of decay and oblivion to benefit their own ideas of essentialist colonial and Christian ethics guided the representatives of the Sámi establishment. The representatives of the Church of Norway and the representatives of the Orthodox Church, moreover, were supported by the Norwegian Government and its institutions.

There may be utilitarian reasons to destroy remains of the past, mainly the resent past, and the representatives of a society may judge it to be necessary and have the power to act accordingly. In the Neiden case it is difficult to find any reason for anybody except Skolts to destroy Skolt history. An ossuary would have been an alternative to the slow destruction in the burial mound – echoing a distinctly South Scandinavian past – in which the 94 small wooden coffins are now decaying. This mound can be appreciated only as a monument of the colonialist oppression that the Scandinavian majority societies have subjected their minorities to. While doing so, they effectively taught the tame majority groups within the minorities to act likewise against their minorities. Since this is a never-ending process it is important that the Neiden reburial story split the Neiden Skolts. Divide et impera is at the heart of the matter. ASve lets his quotations speak for themselves rather than pointing the reader in the right direction. This is quite an effective strategy not least given the context in which representatives of those in power speak. Here they are at Neiden, literally burying the history of the Neiden Skolts in a mound letting it moulder away, and the Minister for Reform, Administration and Church Affairs says:
‘ – I hope this will remind us of the importance of reconciliation. We should lift our eyes and use this opportunity to look at the need to protect Skolt Sámi language and culture’—Jeg håper dette kan minne oss på betydningen av forsoning. Vi bør løfte blikket og bruke anledningen til å se på behovet for å ivareta skoltesamenesspråk og kultur,

the newspaper adds: ’she thinks.’—mener hun.

Indeed, and she is right, of course! This need to protect Skolt language and culture is visible in the sky only, i.e. above the grey September clouds over Neiden. Moreover, as Minister of Church Affairs it is appropriate in this solemn context to express a pious hope echoing a biblical phrase. In fact, almost anything one could say as an official representative will add to the unintended but nevertheless carefully constructed irony of the occasion.

Only knowledge can save us – nur eine Erkenntnis kann uns retten.



(1) The history of the Skolts and the injustices done to them is outlined (in Nowegian) in an official governmental commission 1997

översiktskartaThis week On the Reading Rest I have three volumes from the Norwegian E18 project, the contract archaeology carried out between Gulli and Långåker. The volumes are impressive and they are part of the significant development of Norwegian contract archaeology that has taken place because of the many carefully designed excavation projects in connection with the new highways southeast and southwest of Oslo (0).


Gullilangåker framsidorMjærum, Axel and Gjerpe, Lars Erik (eds). 2012. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Dyrking, bosetninger og graver i Stokke og Sandefjord.  E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 1. Oslo Fagbokforlaget.

Gjerpe, Lars Erik and Mjærum, Axel (eds). 2012. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Jordbruksbosetning og graver i Tønsberg og Stokke.  E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 2. Oslo Fagbokforlaget.

Gjerpe, Lars Erik (ed.). 2012. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Oppsummering og arkeometriska analyser. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 3. Oslo Fagbokforlaget.

There are almost 1,000 pages to read, but I have chosen to look at the Hørdalen Area, Site 51. This site is a field system containing cleared fields, intensive soil improvement, a droveway alignments, clearance cairns, linear cairns, etc, etc.

This means that I read two chapters:

Mjærum, Axel. Dyrkningsspor og fegate fra eldre jernalder på Hørdalen (lok. 51) In: E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Jordbruksbosetning og graver i Tønsberg og Stokke.  E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 2. Acronym: MjAx

Cannell, Rebecca J. S. The application of multi-elementalanalysis at Hørdalen (site 51): an evaluation of methods and results. In: E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Oppsummering og arkeometriska analyser. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 3. Acronym: CaRe

And the relevant section, pp. 132-147 in:

Svensson, Nils-Olof and Regnéll, Joachim. Vegetationsdynamik och merkanvändningshistoria längs vägsträckan Gulli-Langåker i Vestfold. In: E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker. Oppsummering og arkeometriska analyser. E18 prosjektet Gulli-Långåker, bind 3. Acronym: SveRe

The early surveys and investigations at Hørdalen, followed-up by the project designed by the contract archaeologists and the archaeometrists involved, have resulted in stimulating results that add to our knowledge and open up a window towards a more hypothetical discussions, which may be interesting in the future when it may become possible to investigate field systems and farms united as one context. In the following I will look at the results from Site 51 in relation to such a future scenario.

site 51 surfaces

The Hørdalen area and Site 51 has been understood as a gentle W-E slope characterized by nutrient-poor soils consisting of a slightly higher A-Surface and consequently a slightly lower B-Surface. Despite the soil qualities this slope has been developed into a field system used for more than a millennium. In many ways earlier analyses have been confirmed and become less monothetic owing to the new investigations, but archaeological features, chemical multi-element analysis and paleobotanical analyses have shown that the border zone between surfaces A and B must be understood as an area in its own right dominated by clearance cairns and an oven area. In fact the AB Surface and the western part of the B Surface, which is dominated by cairns and the oven, can be seen as a transition from surface B to surface A. I will treat it as AB+B Surface as a unit creating a triparted site. Site 51 represents an agricultural space developed and used for centuries in different more or less intensive ways. The Hørdalen Area of which site 51 is just a part was probably used continuously, but when singling out site 51 a more varied usage comes to the fore.

jämför Gausel Hördalen

Before the beginning of the Common Era, the curves are quite similar at Gausel and Hørdalen as indicated by the parallel green lines inserted into the above illustration. It is conceivable to explain this similarity by suggesting that the investment in labour has led to a certain outcome – increase in investments leads to an increase in productivity. The period of investment belongs to a period in which Bronze and Early Iron Age farms are not yet stable, but nevertheless linked to a specific settlement area and thus able to use the same field system reaching it from different farm sites, some being more optimal in relation to the system than others.

In the beginning of the Common Era and during the following centuries, investments at Hørdalen drop, but at Gausel the outcome represented by the charred seeds found in the Gausel excavations, grows. Tentatively we may conclude that adding nutrients to the fields more effectively, for instance bringing livestock to the fields at intervals and collecting more dung in the byres, may explain the difference. Bringing manure into the fields from a stable nearby farm seems more manageable than bringing it from less stable farms with a variety of situations. However, bringing farm hands to a field system from different farms, investing labour in burning and slashing as well as in clearing the site, seems a logistically straightforward possibility already in the Bronze and Pre Roman Iron Age. Since transportation costs are low when clearing fields and making ashes on the spot, it is more easily organized than bringing in nutrients, which is expensive in terms of transportation.

Since Gausel represents a larger area than Hørdalen Site 51, which may represent nothing but itself, the seeds at Gausel probably had more sources other than just one field system. Hørdalen, therefore, could have been given up for all kinds of irrelevant reasons unknown to us, but if for the sake of the discussion, we suggest that it is more likely to fit into a general pattern, as indeed it did up and until the beginning of the Common Era, rather than a deviant one, then the expected change in farm size and settlement stability in the beginning of the Common Era could indicate a shift in labour investment from developing visible clearings to adding ‘invisible’ nutrients. Moreover, with stable farm sites, slash and burn farming will be more difficult to imagine given the deforestation that will take place around a farms with a stable position in the landscape.

Site 51 Hørdalen, with the droveway on the B Surface, indicating a nearby farm, probably 80m north of the excavation area (MjAx:187 with reference), has a place in the human landscape as well as a formation history. If we analyze the 14C dates the formation can be termed additive as well as varied.

surface dates hördalen investments

Given the dates on the different surfaces (and I do not take the problematic optically stimulated luminescence dates, the OLS, into account) the formation of the site is additive inasmuch as Surface B is the first to be developed, followed by extensions, Surfaces AB+B (framed by a green line on the map) and A. It seems significant that little by little and up and until the beginning of the Common Era investment periods gradually become shorter and more intensive. They are indicated by green shades in the above figure. Moreover, it was uncommon that investments peaked in two surfaces at the same time. As MjAx, CaRe and SveRe all point out, the site is intricate and time seems to be a decisive factor when it comes to the complexity of the site. It seems that when the system has been created it may have been and probably was used for many different agricultural purposes.

Although CaRe is cautious in her conclusions it stands to reason that the A Surface has received more nutrients as a result of anthropogenic activities than the B Surface. As a correlation to this surface character, the 14C-dates indicate a chronological dimension to the surface division suggesting (1) an earlier period of investments into the construction of cairns clearing of fields and (2) a later period in which manure was more important and investments thus less visible. As SveRe shows the fields were not used continuously, but alternating with periods when animals grazed and fertilized the fields.


The project designers were well-aware that they would not be allowed to link the excavation of the field system with the nearby settlement. Had this been possible the contextual knowledge produced would obviously have been more important and less expensive owing to the research design being more rational. But as long as the Scandinavian countries, where governments have copied each other’s legislation for under hundreds of years, are not prepared to fund a percentage or two of the national cost for contract archaeology to further archaeological development projects that will enhance our knowledge and make contract archaeology less expensive, archaeologists are not allowed to do better that the E18 project. Given the attitudes of heritage boards this Project level is excellent, but nonetheless a matter of little by little setting new archaeological standards whenever Chance and Circumstance makes it possible.

The reason why it is so uncommon to excavate the farm and its fields, 80 metres apart, has to do with the notion of the ancient monument. Up and until WWII ancient monuments were well-defined physical structures preserved into modern times and thus incredibly marginal inasmuch as nobody had bothered to erase them from the surface of the earth. From the 1960s and onwards the invisible human landscape and its ancient monuments, not least from the Iron Age, were recognized, and by definition an ancient monument, instead of being a monument, became an area looking like plough land, small forest and meadows. The most common monument became hectares in central parts of the modern human landscape. The past became almost as large as the present covering large areas with no definite borders. At the same time the past became unspectacular. With hardly any artefacts to show let alone grave goods the Iron Age became full of social science, subsistence economy, social structure, functional and symbolic architecture, etc. The familiar past, that is, the traditional Iron Age, could no longer be mirrored in monuments of death and thus it passed away resurrecting itself as everyday life rather than funeral feasts and burial rites. The past became loaded with its own history, kept alive for instance in field systems that had been used, developed and known for a millennium already in the beginning of the Common Era. No longer monumental, the past started to grow and its contexts became hectares rather than square metres. The heritages boards are unable to cope with the consequences.

Archaeologists know how to excavate the past, but they are seldom allowed to do it. And that is why large parts of 30 and 20 years old excavations stand out as a waste of money and most importantly as a legacy of heritage management. Many excavations have been wasted because they were never reported or because they have been buried in inaccessible archives, but quite a number are pointless because they were, from the very beginning, focussed on pointlessness.

(0) A general discussion about the multi-disciplinary design of a large contract archaeological project and Gulli-Langåker in particular can be found in:
Gjerpe, Lars Erik. 2013. Om arkeometri, en fornøyd arkeolog og jordbruk i eldre jernalder. Primitive tider 15. Pp. 33-57.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a Festschrift:

Hellström fig 00ΛΑΒΡΥΖ. Studies presented to Pontus Hellström. Lars Karlsson, Susanne Carlsson and Jesper Blid Kullberg (eds). Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near East Civilizations 35, Uppsala 2014. 533 pp. with 231 ills. ISBN 978-91-554-8831-4

It is typical inasmuch as it is not a Festschrift, but a studies-presented-to and it might as well have been a “vänbok”, which sounds much more relaxed that its Latin original liber amicorum—“book of friends”, had it been in Swedish. It is also an essays-in-honour-of book.

Hellström fig 01Labrys in the title refers to the site Labranda in the southeastern corner of modern Turkey. Labranda is a prominent place in an impressive landscape and the site was held sacred, and at times constructed as a sanctuary, from nobody knows when until Byzantine times, but Ottoman coins from the late 14th c. CE have also been unearth during excavations. As a sanctuary signified by the name Labraunda the place was understood to be connected to the double bladed axe – the labrys.

Pontus Hellström has devouted a large part of his research to Labraunda and more than half the contributions to Labrys concerns Labraunda and surrounding sites in Caria, i.e., the region in which Labranda is situated. Since the contributions are many this means that there is room for a large and varied smorgasbord stacked with ancient Greece, Etruscans and Rome.

There are many good reasons for reading a Festschrift. For instance, being sufficiently old, one may compare the contributions one reads to one’s own papers in different Festschrifts. This kind of comparison makes it apparent that Labrys, like many other studies-presented-to, represents a typical research career spread out among several researchers at different points in their career, rather than collected in the end of the individual career. One would perhaps have thought that the outcome and structure of the individual career would differ from the cross section of the collective, but given that disciplines and their research themes vary the classification of the two sets are most similar: your student approach writing about an interesting detail; your serious post doc contributions when your demonstrated depth and breadth within new and old fields (there are several of those); your joint contribution which actually point to something new; your contribution to a friend, and the then the contributions you wrote because you thought they would interest your colleague too – some probably did. Trying to recall your contributions you will discover the last category, the one or ones you have forgotten.

The contents and composition of a Festschrift therefore looks very much like a cross section of a discipline, or a sub discipline, or a school, or a research group. Labrys is no exception and although not everyone in Swedish classical archaeology and studies took part in the volume many did and the result has quite a lot to do with the character of the discipline which is marked by disciplinary interaction between departments and research institutes. When this kind of cross section becomes visible it is one of the great advantages of the Festschrift, because it is not filtered by the academic publishing market, the policy of journals or anonymous peer reviewers, but primarily by the more or less open invitation sent out by the editors and secondarily by that which researchers felt they wanted to write about given the circumstances, that is, given their affiliation with the discipline.

Although many contributions stand out in Labrys I have chosen to comment upon one that I think stands out in a significant way. I read:

Siapkas, Johannes. 2014. Karian theories: seeking the origins of ancient Greece. In: L. Karlsson, S. Carlsson and J. Blid Kullberg (eds). ΛΑΒΡΥΖ. Studies presented to Pontus Hellström. Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near East Civilizations 35, Uppsala 2014. Pp. 301-314.

And refer to author and contribution as JoSiKa.

Karians were one of the great number of prehistoric peoples that were thought to populate the past. Mentioned by Classical authors, such a people may be employed in different ancient and modern and discourses. Needless to say many may have felt that they were Carian. JoSiKa gives us the background in ancient sources and place names to this relatively nondescript people which could nevertheless be employed to describe the origin of different cultural phenomena, when archaeology in the late 1800s started to produce a source material completely unmarked by classical authors, with few of the qualities later recognized in Greek culture. Although researcher debated the importance of Karians in Bronze and Iron Age in and around the Aegean Sea, they did not question that there was once a people called Karian and that such a people, as indeed a specific people, could be the origin of Mycenean civilization or not; could be inferior as a people or not; could be a migrating people or not; could be the same people as the Leleges or not. As JoSiKa points out it was the need to find a specific origin for what was called the Mycenean civilization, which, being a civilization and specific, needed a specific origin, that gave the Karians a historic identity. In the end of the 19th century there were three competing models of Mycenean origins: 1) the Mycenean civilization had northern origins, c. 1890 and onwards. 2) the Myenean civilization was indigenous c. 1900 and onwards . 3) the Mycenean civilization had eastern origins, c. 1880 and onwards (JoSiKa:310). The Karians fitted all scenarios, actively 1 and 3, or passively 2.

JoSiKa concludes that
1) the Karian theory was employed in a discourse trying to establish the rank of aesthetical and historical explanations, in the struggle for ideal or contextualized analysis. Aesthetic ideal analysis ranked higher than the contextualized historical analysis (JoSiKA:308).
2) The Karian fitted the two-race model in which researchers agreed that one people was more civilized than the other, which accordingly was the more primitive. Karians were primitive because their art was not refined.
3) In (Karian) theory therefore the Karians were a perfect origin.

It is one of the great advantages of archaeology that when excavations start to produce a source material, classical analyses of the past as well as interpretations based on classical authors or aesthetic ideals cannot survive. To begin with archaeology is disappointing because it doesn’t support prevailing explanation, later on this inability to support becomes a critical asset forcing some kind of historical contextualization upon ideals and aesthetics.

Labraunda is a case in point. When JoSiKa discusses the beginning of the Swedish excavations in Labraunda, the fact that the place is situated in Caria was though to make exvacations at the site promising as a means to solve problems of the Karian theory. It didn’t and there may be several reasons for that such as 1) there is nothing to prove when it comes to the Karian theory. 2) Archaeology revealed a complexity that had nothing to do with the simplified explanations that the Karia theory was meant to support. 3) Right after WW2, the excavations started 1948, two-race theories and ethnic groups keeping up a superior culture among primitive or decadent groups, may have been difficult to argue for, except privately.

The contributions on Labraunda and the surroundings suggests that the research has become thoroughly explorative, however, with a preparedness once again for combining material culture with ancient people, such as the Leleges, who were once perhaps Karian (cf. Benoit, Labrys:467:note2 with references).

In my opinion, the importance of JoSiKa:s discussion links-in with the development of humanistic research disciplines, laying bare the roots of the concept of ethnicity and pointing out its methodological shortcomings. There is nothing wrong studying ethnicity, since it was a common enough analysis in the past, as it was common in 19th and 20th century history and archaeology. The problem in humanistic research rests with the belief that ethnicity, emphasizing a cultural simplicity that enables researchers to point out a homogenous people of the same race or nationality who share a distinctive culture, is indeed the correct way of looking at complex cultural phenomena where heterogeneity seems always to accompany homogeneity. There are strong norms in any culture, but they continue to exist and to change not because they define an ethnic society, but because they are regularly questioned. Ethnicity as an explanation is the outcome of a flawed historical analysis. Nevertheless, studying prehistoric norms is rewarding.

Seneca on Benefits

2 September, 2013

Some weeks ago I read a review by Peter Thonemann of some books on Roman economy. In a good-humoured way it was witty and ironic – and critical. Thonemann pointed out that so called formalist views on past economies are back in business. Large ancient market spheres and exchange are once again popular, driven by the – overruling, ever-present, always-rational – laws of economic behavior.

The return of the Roman market economy is a typical, if slightly belated, backlash triggered by a critique starting in the 1990s. This was a critique of the deconstruction once launched by the ‘post’-methodologies. These deconstructions targeted structuralism and modernism and indeed naïve dichotomies or binary oppositions such as the one between formalist and substantivist views on past or for that matter modern economies.

Wikipedia will explain the almost outdated terms formalist and substantivist.

The reviewer says that this divide and the study of past economies is no longer a hot topic. And he is right. In fact the main reason for the paired labels and the field to be outdated was the criticism developed in the 1980 when past and present economies became many and varied as well as more or less popular, dominant and long-lived, rather than an ordered series from the past to the present, emblematic of civilization, rational economic choice and progress. Economies became difficult and simple strategies and analyses dangerous.

Economies as it happens are contextual, they may be technically difficult to grasp, e.g. when they are encapsulated in systems deliberately playing with variables such as real value vs. nominal value, as well as parameters such as trust, transaction time, obligation and speed, to name but a few. As intellectual constructions, nevertheless, forms of economic behaviour are simple enough – especially the popular ones such as gift giving, market exchange, monopoly, redistribution, cooperation or acquisition, which are easily combined to bring out unexpected results.

One of the books reviewed, The Roman Market Economy, pleaded so fervently for a formalist position that it convinced the reviewer of the significant shortcomings of this perspective on past economies. Most researchers during the last decades have experienced that any proof or indication of ancient market-based economies comes with severe restrictions to the idea the free market. In fact, if we want to argue for something market-like we must start by restricting the context in which such a market works, i.e. start by contradicting the very idea. Ancient markets do not combine large demographic and geographic entities, they don’t striving to be free, they aren’t expanding and not models of rational behavior. Moreover, a very large number of sources, which ought to have helped us elucidating the market concept, are few and far apart and they become spurious during the critical process when we try to judge their representativity.

The reviewer points to the fact that Seneca’s essay On Benefits, which might very well have discussed economic matters in terms of market exchange, doesn’t do so. This is true also of Petronius’ Satyricon although the freedman Trimalchio is very much connected to the way Romans as merchants became rich. This ridiculed protagonist, as well as the whole story about him, conjures up the antithesis of Seneca and the way he argues in On Benefits. It has since long been observed that part of the irony in the chapter Trimalchio’s Dinner becomes funnier if we imagine the surreal but historically speaking possible conversation between a Trimalchio and a Seneca on the value of profit and benefit.

Spain and sailing routes

Turning to archaeology rather than satire or philosophy, there are examples that indicate irrational market situations in the 1st c. CE, even in connection with a popular commodity such as lead in the form of so called lead pigs. In a number of shipwrecks from the glorious 1st c. CE when the exploding imperial commerce tought merchants’ ships to sail the Mediterranean the hard way, the cargo consisted among other goods of lead pigs on their way from Spain to Rome. There are two very different kinds (1).

Lavezzi 2

First there is the unusual wreck Lavezzi 2. It consisted of 95 ingots weighing c. 144 mina each (all in all c. 5 ton lead). These ingots were all produced by the lead founder Minuciorus, who sold them to the merchant Iunius Appius Zethus, i.e. a freedman, the former slave of Caius Appius Iunius Silanus, who was married to the Emperor Claudius’ mother-in-law and killed by Messalina 42 CE. The investment, ship and cargo, suggests close ties between the aristocrat and his former slave. The aristocrat may well have financed Zethus’ operations. Be this as it may, the example demonstrates a simple economic context – one producer, one merchant, a large cargo on its way to Ostia and Rome where lead was needed e.g. for water pipes – i.e. in profitable public and semi-public construction work sponsored by the aristocracy.

Cabrera 5

But most examples are far from this paragon. A cargo half the size, c. 40 ingots, may typically involve five named merchants and perhaps some anonymous dealers. As it happens some ingots have been stamped by three different merchants and since there are also some blanks with no merchant’s stamp at all, we may expect that a fourth and perhaps a fifth anonymous merchant was involved such as the captain or the owner of the ship. We don’t know how many owners were involved in a cargo such as the one from the wreck Cabrera 5, but its composition is so complex that we must conclude that the lead market in Baetica (Southern Spain) was in a very bad state despite the enormous demand for lead in Rome. Needless to say, the weight of the individual lead pig in the small cargoes is light and varied compared to the more uniform ones in Lavezzi 2.

These two cases suffice to demonstrate that there was a market, several in fact, and that some worked badly, which in formalist theory they ought not to have done in a period when the century old demand for lead rocketed. If the market had worked well, i.e. as it is supposed to work after a couple of centuries, then the wrecks would have contained Lavezzi 2 cargos, preferably with only one stamp. Since this is not the case, we must conclude that even though the aristocrats who sponsored their freedmen, understood the point in bypassing the Spanish market, they didn’t invest in lead mines and foundries in Spain in order to export directly to Rome. There was no lack of slaves to run the business, so why not use forced labour to create one large and fair lead market? The answer is probably that they had read Petronius or Seneca or both.

Seneca who writes about benefits has nothing to say about The Lead Market or indeed any market other than the local market place, which he mentions twice. But he writes a lot that can explain why the immensely rich upper classes, to which he himself belonged, looked upon the difference between profit and benefit in such a way that it kept them back.

As pointed out by Griffin and Inwood in the introduction to their translation of On Benefits (2011:loc283 on a Kindle), Seneca makes a clear distinction between profit and benefit. When profit is involved, as in the agreed exchange at the market Place, no bonds or obligations are necessarily involved. But in very many situations, which also concern money, benefit and obligation are integral. And this, Seneca argues, is normal because we are humans. Not surprisingly, On Benefits is not referred to in The Roman Market Economy (TRoMEc) of which there is an easily checked Kindle edition.

Seneca mentions market only a two times, but On Benefits is full of references to economic concepts such as ‘cost’, ‘price’, ‘money’ or ‘profit’ not to speak of ‘benefit’, i.e. concepts frequently figuring also in TRoMEc.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the first ‘market’ quotation runs: One man paid out a sum of money on behalf of a convicted debtor, but to do so he drew on private resources; someone else made the same payment, but took out a loan to do so or pled to get the money and submitted to being under a major obligation for the favor. Do you think the fellow who had to borrow in order to give is in the same position as the man who effortless provided the financial benefit (8.3) Sometimes it is the circumstances that make the benefit large rather than the money. The gift of an estate so productive that it could depress the price of grain at market – that is a benefit.

Seneca’s point is ‘circumstance’ – important in his treatise, unimportant in TRoMEc – and the way it links-in with financing and benefit and obligation. Financing creates split, complex and stressed situations, while a productive estate is a benefit to the local market and to its owner and to his donor and to society because it secures and supports regular subsistence. Locally, the estate makes the extended household economy rather than market economy beneficial.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the second ‘market’ quotation runs: And indeed the price of a thing varies after all with circumstances; though you have touted your wares well, they are worth only the highest price for which they can be sold. A person who buys them at a good price owes nothing extra to the seller. (15.5) Then again, even if they are worth more, no generosity on your part involved, since the price is determined not by their usefulness and efficacy but by the customary market price.

Again circumstance is the point and the market and its money problematic because it makes the price decisive although price cannot determine the usefulness and efficacy of the commodity, i.e. its value. Moreover, the market situation takes away the bonds and obligations between seller and buyer. Seneca understands how markets work, but he is not impressed.

The two quotations fit the lead pig examples. Zethus, ultimately financed by an aristocrat, bypassed the Spanish market and saved time and money. Consequently he made good quality lead cheaper in Rome for the common good. Five ton high quality lead equals 353 m 10-digit water pipe. Zethus’ bonds and obligations to his former master or the lead founder as well as his benefits and profits are easy to imagine and so are the risks he took, although similarly to Trimalchio he may have taken them with his master’s money. The owners of the small cargoes on the other hand were trapped by the inefficient and time-consuming Spanish market trying to put together a cargo from lead pigs circulating in Baetica.

When the rich think about benefits the way Seneca does, benefit linked to benevolence and obligation will invade their minds and ruin their formalist economic senses. It may well be that the rich in Rome were quite pleased with making money bypassing the market feeling the obligation to develop their society, but it didn’t set the market free. There is no point in trying to describe Roman economy as generally speaking a market economy. One must, however, not forget that if humanities had been better financed scholars would have would have continued to write about the problems of simplified economic analyses all the way into the present financial crisis pointing out that the benefits of financing is a matter of circumstances – as Seneca use to say.


(1) Since past economies are difficult but not impossible to study, the article on these cargoes is a somewhat technical and indeed quite old. Herschend, Frands 1995. Friends of Trimalchio’s. A study of Spanish lead ingots from three Roman wrecks. Tor 27:269-310. 1995. (ISSN 0495-8772).

This week On the Reading Rest I have yet another report from Östergötland, in Swedish, and the excavation of a peripheral site, albeit in the central Linköping region. This time the farm site is a better place than Götala, cf. ‘Down by the Farm Hands’ 21 January 2013. Valla is situated just West of the town and today it’s on the University of Linköping campus.  In the 11th c. CE it was peripheral to the new town and thus regionally speaking central. In modern urban terms it is still a little peripheral.

Sköld, Katarina. 2012. En gård från yngre järnålder i Valla Östergötland Linköpings stad och kommun Kv Intellektet RAÄ 330. UV Rapport 2012:73. Särskild arkeologisk undersökning. Del 1-2. Linköping―A Farm from the Late Iron Age in Valla Östergötland … … UV Rapport 2012:73. (No summary in English).

Fig 00The Valla excavation was professional, but the report is blemished by a tendency to draw conclusions from the unknown or from the possible but improbable, supported by a very modest tendency to strengthen important interpretations by relevant comparisons, except when the references are local, i.e. Ostrogothic.

When writing about a small cultivated area, c. 100 sq m just north of the main building remains, the author suggests that this area might have been a kitchen garden. There are few facts supporting this interpretation, but since Katarina Sköld (KaSk) finds this croft too small for a growing cereals or flax, she suggests that cabbage and other hard-to-prove crops might have been grown there. They might, but there is obviously no evidence of this or anything that precise in a patch that has been used at intervals during hundreds of years.

A multipurpose marginal area northwest of the farm houses, next to some large embedded boulders and rocks, is seen a ritual place in addition to its being a dumping ground. Eventually in the report it becomes the Ritual Area. An impediment to any farmer, these bounds were used during a 1000 years period and may at some point in time have been used also in connection with rituals – since ritual will take place and find its form almost anywhere at any time, but apart from that, and the odd indication in connection with dumping, there is not much to support the interpretation. Interpreting a site as ritual during a millennium demands more specific contextual patterns. As a rule local and informal ritual sites have difficulties surviving for centuries. Boulders, rocks and bounds attractive as they may be are not enough.

Next to crofts and the dumping ground there are a number of house remains, as one might expect on a site to which farmers have returned. This plot is defined by topography and the repeated use of the site, but the author detects a main farm building c. 19 m long and no less than 8 m wide. This building has been standing on the plot for 700 years or more from the LRIA into the 11th c. CE. The obvious solution to such a cluster of post holes: several houses on more or less the same spot during a period with some breaks in the occupation, is not even mentioned.

Needless to say, the report hints that the farm may have been of central importance in the Late Iron Age. But in reality it is just a fine example of a peripheral site occupied during two major and separate settlement periods – in the Late Roman-Pre Carolingian Iron Age (LR-PCIA) and the Late Carolingian Iron Age (CIA). The latter period was extended into the earliest decades of the Middle Ages (MA). Moreover, the farm incorporates the iron working site by the brook Smedstadbäcken.

Fig 03

A minimalistic approach forgetting about never-ending possibility and continuity, but nevertheless a critical reading of the report must be recommended. The County Administrative Board in Östergötland (CABÖ) should consider asking the archaeologists in Linköping to keep speculation to a minimum and start looking for parallels that a large number of archaeologists outside Linköping will spot in their excavation plans. In Östergötland, contrary to the rest of Sweden, there are almost as many types or forms of houses — as well as confused and overlooked house remains — as there are excavated settlement sites.

Since the report blurs the biography of the site wishing to create something as odd as a millennium of continuous settlement at a peripheral site, is must, as far as possible, be reinterpreted. The CABÖ should ask for a revision of the report. Thanks to the good quality of the documentation, such a request is not impossible to grant.


To begin with, trying to understand the archaeological context one may look at the overall organization of the site and its immediate surroundings. Surveys and trail excavations have shown that Valla is situated on a small slope at the very lowest settlement level in the local landscape. Higher up, i.e. to the north there are other possible settlement sites and of course the historical village Valla is also a prime candidate for prehistoric settlements. Be this as it may, Valla is peripheral since in this landscape there is no settlement below it, i.e. south of it. Ninety meter south of Valla, by a small brook called Smedstadbäcken (Smest) there was a small site without house remains, but with indications of iron working – that is an open air ‘smithy’. The site was used mainly during two periods as shown by the 6 14C-dates, which indicate that the Smest was visited now and again during the Late Bronze Age and PRIA (LBA-PRIA) as well as in the 4-6th century CE, i.t. the LR-PCIA (01).

Fig 04BIf we combine the 6 dates at Smest with the 19 14C-dates from Valla they fit each other in the following way: There is one isolated date at Valla corresponding to the three LBA-PRIA dates at Smest when both sites were visited at intervals. There are six dates at Valla that correspond to the three 4-6th c. dates at Smest when the site was in continuous use. While Smest ceased to be used in the 6th c. CE, Valla was revisited and perhaps resettled already in the 8th c. with a peak in the 9-10th and an aftermath in the 10-11th c CE. The artifact dates do not speak against the 14C-dates; on the contrary, among the Valla artefacts the end phase is well represented. This probably has to do with the growing material wealth in the end of prehistory and the tendency for end phases not to be tidied up, thus leaving more artefacts to be found with a metal detector. Metal detectors were systematically used at Valla with very good results.  After the Middle Ages both Valla and Smest were visited occasionally, probably because the northern part of the Valla settlement stood out as a fertile spot while a path leading down to the brook close to Smest facilitating dumping by the brook.

The dates of the small Valla-Smedstadbäcken settlement are typical of IA sites inasmuch as sporadic visits in LB-EIA are followed by a permanent farmstead. Permanent Valla is a late-comer and part of the settlement expansion during the RIA. Although this expansion comes to an end in the 5th c. it runs into the 6th century in a few places. In the Valla case the settlement period is late and short – c. 150 years compared to the usual 250-350 years. Nevertheless, the Valla settlement stands out because the site is resettled in the CIA in such as way that, as pointed out by KaSk, it becomes part of the new expansion characterizing this period. Most peripheral settlements are not resettled.

Fig 01KaSk’s general understanding of the Valla structure is well argued and the Smest component easily fitted into the overall picture. The main settlement sorts itself into three areas from the north to the south. The sorting follows the landscape, gently sloping from a slightly higher to a slightly lower level, from the centre of the settlement with its larger houses, over two small cabins where people dwelled engaged in handicraft, to the outskirts of the farm area and a small house with an unspecific relation to rural economy and farm life. In the handicraft area and the outskirts, activities are less marked by subsistence than in the larger central part of the settlement. Circa 100 m south of the farm itself, but linked to it, we find the small iron working site down by the brook where nobody lived.

This enhanced farm pattern is building up and slightly changing during the whole settlement period.

The 4th-5th century farm

The 4-5th century farm

More or less well preserved CIA farm houses

More or less well-preserved CIA farm houses

If we look at the central part of the settlement there is an obvious spot where farm buildings have stood at intervals. KaSk is right in saying that the site is difficult to sort out, but three to five houses can nevertheless be traced. The oldest is a house from the LRIA – a relatively large building c. 27 m long probably containing all the farm-house functions under one roof. As discussed by KaSk the western part of the house is the dwelling. There may of course have been EIA houses too, but in that case they are difficult to see. It is much easier to detect the typical CIA houses with plank walls between the upright wall posts that also supported the roof. They cover the dwelling part of the earlier house and revive the old farmstead with houses that belong to a new approach to rural economy. This means that there is no LPCIA house — with its typical narrow mid aisle — to fill the gap between an early and late settlement phase.

It would seem, therefore, that the house types support the 14C-dates as well as the artifact dates. As KaSk shows there are four small crofts around the main farm houses. In addition to the dumping ground 20 m west of the farm buildings there is a farm-yard just south of the main buildings. If social-climbing is your goal, Valla’s the place to be born.

The central part of the farm occupies two-thirds of the total settlement area and the farm-yard seems eventually to have been enclosed by the well, a possible cattle pen, the crofts and the dumping ground. South of central part there is a multipurpose area where a lot of different activities have been going on. There are no early 14C-dates in this area, but if we look at the houses there seems to be two chronologically different types among the three obvious house remains.

Fig 06The southernmost house is a small three-aisled building with three trestles. It is smaller than the houses at Götala (cf. On the Reading Rest, 12 Jan 2013). The length of the Valla house is two-thirds of the Götala houses, but the post setting is the same indicating a minimal house with two rooms – one slightly larger than the other. Probably the houses at Götala and Valla are more or less contemporary, 4-5th c. buildings. There may be a house similar to the Valla house in the iron working site at nearby Mjärdevi.

Fig 05

The two other houses, i.e. the ones in the northern part of the southern multi-purpose farm area, are small houses with a post in each corner supporting the roof and framing the wall planks. As a construction, one of the houses is almost identical to the best preserved small house at the central part of the farm.

When it comes to size and activities the small houses at Valla are the equivalents of pit houses. The huts are housing people who live and work just outside the farm-yard. They are workers dependent on the main household for their subsistence. Since iron working played a role for those who lived here, we may expect that now and then workers occupied themselves down by the brook already during the 4-5th century. In the CIA, when the site at the brook was given up, work seems to have been concentrated closer to the central part of the farm around the small CIA huts just south of the farm-yard.

Götala and Valla show us how the settlement crisis in the PCIA is reflected at peripheral LRIA sites. In Valla a temporary EIA one-house farm with no cemetery can sustain itself and attract the odd worker. As a substitute of a grave, there could be an informal pars-pro-toto ‘grave’ consisting of an upper arm ‘buried’ in a pit eventually covered by the croft just northwest of the main house. This farm doesn’t survive the first part of the 6th century, but the site has qualities that attract a new farm and probably more workers in the beginning of the CIA — in effect the revival of an ancient site that was not completely forgotten. The short distance to Linköping before the town was firmly established may explain the temporary success of this marginal CIA farm and its significant handicraft. In the 11-12th c. when Linköping becomes a regulated urban economy, i.e. when the workers have become townsmen, part of the economic foundation for the revived farm, with its broad production originally targeting the new market in the proto town, disappears — and so does the farm.

Götala is an even less fortunate peripheral site that was never resettled after the PCIA settlement contraction. Or we may turn the perspective around and admit that the economic expansion in the CIA could not revive a settlement that was marginal already in the middle of the first millennium.


Starting in the LBA and continuing up and until the RIA the economic capacity of nearly every place in the human landscape is defined. Many places become known in such a way that they attract people because the sites are valuable in a given economic situation.

Since remains significant of workers become visible in the middle of the first millennium, it would seem that in many parts of Southern Sweden there was no free access to land after the end of the RIA.

If we think that the abandonment of settlements or the end of expansion is a sign of a crisis in society, then the 6-7th c. CE is a significant crisis period eventually turned into a new, albeit modest period of expansion combined with a much enhanced material wealth in the CIA. There is little doubt that the stratification of society grew continuously from the RIA and onwards and that is created a drop out already in the 5-6th c. while the abandonment of farms was still an ongoing process. It seems that the ongoing social stratification checked the expansion of the CIA, eventually creating a group of landless people ready to become the first town dwellers. As soon as society had learned to see small townships as viable economic zones and societies, with at least some reproductive capacity, even rural society could change.

(01) Survey and trail excavation east of Valla and south of Smedstadbäcken has shown that the settlement doesn’t extend into these areas, cf. Ählström, Jan. 2012. Valla, Linköping inför kommande byggnation och bomässa. Stiftelsens Kulturmiljövård, rapport 2012:75.

Smedstadbäcken was excavated by the Museum of Östergötland Linköping, cf. Räf, Erika. 2009. Smideslämningar vid Smedstadbäcken. Rapport 2009:15. Östergötlands Museum

This week On the Reading Rest I have a very short text, a piece of composed indignation a response by a reformed Smithsonian curator and three descendants (archaeologists/anthropologists) working in Kodiak, Kodiak Island, Alaska. It’s a ten year old case, but I hope that time and the opening session of the 2013 SAA meeting in Honolulu, the Presidents Forum: The Future of Archaeology, will help shedding some light upon this indignation.

CroPulStefHaa Fig01

Crowell, Aron L., Pullar, Gordon L., Steffian, Amy F. and Haakanson Jr, Sven. 2004. Response to Lee and Graburn’s Review of “Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People”.  American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 106, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 431-32 URL: .
Alutiiq archaeology has become a textbook example of a successful native Alaskan archaeology (00). Because of the dedicated work not least of descendant archaeologists and anthropologists it has been possible to make archaeology contribute considerably to an Alutiiq identity as well as to remodelling this identity. To begin with in the 1930s there was a clash between on the one hand the ‘pure Smithsonian research’ – rounding up the past and taking it into custody – and on the other baffled local interests forcefully overrun by the ‘pure’ archaeologists. Today fundamentalist Smithsonian curators are rare — the reformed all the more common.

By the 1980s the importance of what was labelled ‘the right of indigenous nations or peoples to their history’ – rather than political autonomy – had already been growing for a while. In this eventually happy case, since there were only a few advocates of the traditional society left, collaboration about the past was easily establish, and the role of the education of descendants and their endeavour bridging a gap between the traditional or suppressed and the modern must not be underestimated (01). Some traditional knowledge was still living culture, but the educated descendants– an intelligence reserve made visible – understood that one could also learn a lot from archaeology laying bare the material details of a lost world.

But lo and behold, when found, it turned out that this world was not lost – instead it was looked upon as primordial and living Alutiiq identity resurrected. Saving language, traditions and material culture from extinction applying among other techniques archaeology, gave back the Alutiiq their history by confirming it rather than making it more complex. At the same time, none the less, archaeology was instrumental in making this identity an integrated part of decidedly modern society.

The Kodiak textbook example is naïve and clarifying. To begin with, the textbook authors, Kelly and Thomas (Ke&Tho), build their didactic Alutiiq case on Aleš Hrdlička (1869-1943).

Between 1898 and 1903, during his scientific travels across America – later on he travelled east Asia too – Hrdlička sought to prove his hypothesis that the Americas were colonized (by Indians) from east Asia across the Bering Strait, probably some 3,000 years ago. Right and wrong, he obviously worked with questions related to a vast geographical area much larger than the Kodiak or the Aleutian Islands, despite their importance. With hindsight, especially since he didn’t believe in hominid evolution (sic!), we understand that he might as well have constructed his research as a series of case studies in a series of areas with more easily understood geographical borders, such as Kodiak Island. That would have been the correct thing to do – effortless combining regional and over-regional scales, but there were neither political nor scientific reasons forcing him to do so. On the contrary, travelling and collecting were mainstream research methods and very appropriate ones, if diffusion is what you are looking for. Collecting by travelling, moreover, was the only approach that got funding. Travelling for DNA backed up by a television team is still a wet dream to many.

CroPulStefHaa Fig02

Ke&Tho excel in double standards when they insist on putting Hrdlička into the Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) context. They start by humorously insinuating that there was perhaps some truth about the man in the fact that some anecdotal Alutiit (pl. of Alutiiq, thus: Sugpiat) spotted ‘hard liquor’, in their pronunciation of his surname name. Given the traumatic effects of alcoholism – amongst a series of culturally induced devastating lethal diseases – on Alutiiq society, this mock-humorous anecdote is inappropriate – indirectly suggesting that alcoholism was the foreigners’ problem.

Ke&Tho go on to indicate that Hrdlička’s excavations were no more than robbing people of their heritage and they end suggesting that his ‘strictly scientific’ Smithsonian views were of limited value. Heralding ‘scientific’ values is otherwise emblematic of their text, but tacitly in pursuit of a greater glory they are obviously prepared to make an exception when it comes to giving the ‘Alutiiqs’ (they do not use the correct plural Alutiit) an identity.

Somewhat surprised, moreover, Ke&Tho state that when archaeologists with a local background consulted the Alutiiq suggesting that excavations would contribute to the understanding of Alutiiq identity, an agreement to excavate (based on common grounds) was soon reached. To Ke&Tho this was a ‘curious situation’. While the Alutiiq were still fighting for the repatriation of the material that Hrdlička stored in the Smithsonian Institute, they were not against modern archaeological excavations, if namely they felt sure it would help their cause (in a way most similar to the way public heritage management and museums helped the small Scandinavian countries in the 19th century when this dyad was invented (02)).

The Alutiiq deal was struck by an Alutiiq ‘descendant’ – a graduate student from the University of Michigan. Since the descendents continued to build up the heritage management and the archaeological museum in Kodiak and became Archaeologists, the Kodiak example fits Ke&Tho perfectly. To these textbook authors it is a model example under their heading ‘Seeking [and indeed finding] Common Grounds’.

Ke&Tho pretend they do not know that despite being beneficial bringing archaeology to Kodiak Island enhanced the modern remodelling of the traditional Alutiiq society – barely surviving when the United States in its capacity as a colonial power bought Alaska in 1867 and continued to destroy whatever local culture it could. Their choice of words, the ‘curious situation’ shows that somewhere in the back of their patronizing mind they know this is the case. True to their double standards they refrain from doing the obvious, i.e. a political rather than archaeological analysis of the situation arguing that strengthening the identity of the local society, even at the cost of destroying a number of traditional graves instead of preserving them, is recommendable. Using archaeology to confirm the present by referring to the past is politically wise, but scientifically, i.e. morally, dubious.
When it comes to history or archaeology ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ is a contradiction in terms. When something is resurrected it cannot be integrated and vice versa. It is resurrected as the true past, and thus parallel to the modern. It is recovered as the remains of a past forever lost and thus integrated with the modern, in as much as we recognize its agency. In everyday politics, nevertheless, ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ works just fine thanks to grave social injustice and the readiness of archaeologists always to side with the political and its current correctness. After all, the discipline and its funding were invented in the 19th c. owing to political will. Nationalism and racism were always an archaeological option, and today siding with the political rights of disappearing minorities has become a worthy option now that the heydays of nation state nationalism and colonialism are (hopefully) over.

This is where descendants as a category enters the scene as go-betweens, since integrating stubborn small minorities as well as defending their political rights and their traditional, in our sense of the word ‘non-modern’, ways of life is no doubt a politically popular/honourable thing to do – supported by any central government. Today, meeting the US census category ‘some ancestry’ rather than ‘exclusive ancestry’, the descendants are c. 50% of the Native Americans and a typical people with a go-between mission:

Table 00


And so, the Kodiak example found its way into textbooks. Some might have thought that blunt political correctness would be commented upon in a less friendly way since textbooks are meant to educate future archaeologists in a historical discipline and not in political behaviour. If archaeology is politicised such expectations are obviously naïve.

Looking both ways
Before the Alutiiq experience entered the textbook, part of the success of this endeavour to revitalize Alutiiq identity was an exhibition called Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People. As this exhibition travelled the country it was paralleled by an exhibition of decontextualized Alutiiq masks in Paris at Musée du Quai Branly: Les Masques de la Collection Alphonse Pinart du Chaiteau-Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer. Both exhibitions were accompanied by catalogues. In a review article Molly Lee & Nelson Graburn (LeGra) wrote about both the exhibitions and their publications. The LeGra criticism was gentle, but they pointed out the political agenda and correctness of both exhibitions. They suggested that Looking Both Ways was marked by a political will to stress Alutiiq, essentially ‘Our Alutiiq’, rather than say Unangan or indeed Sigpiaq (coastal dweller) identity. Looking Both Ways simply could not fall short to governmental interests, not least while it is in the interest of a central government to exchange broad categorizations, i.e. large heterogenic groups, for small homogenous groups. Small groups are easier to handle and balance against each other not least while anthropologists and linguists have taken it upon them to do their best categorizing Native Alaskans minutely.

GroPulStefHaa Fig04

Supporting an urban centre of Alutiiq culture, i.e. a Kodiak centre, is always right from a governmental point of view. At the same time the whole exhibition project found its platform in consultation with a broad committee of Alutiiq advisers. Having defined the vested interests of two parties the stronger succeeds in defining the common grounds, in this case the exhibition, on which the parties act.

KodiakmuseumSuch structures will have consequences: LeGra pointed out that the exhibition fitted its original setting, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, better than the Anchorage Museum of History and Art’s (AMHA) Gallery 7. They noticed this as a sign of the long-standing drawbacks of a travelling exhibition. But that is hardly the case. Instead it is in the structure of ‘looking both ways’ that the exhibition was designed for the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and when it travelled out of its original setting it naturally lost a little, because nowadays Alutiiq identity has an urban centre – a national museum.

A Yup'ik story knifeLeGra suggested that less politically correct common grounds would have resulted in a more important exhibition. They hinted that the myriad of problems besetting rural Alaska, should have played a more prominent part in the exhibition. They thought that the picture of the Alutiiq was too superficial, uncritically painting a primordial, i.e. a fundamentally Alutiiq past into the present. The direct and indirect messages of the exhibition were obvious: now that we have a centre for Alutiiq culture, Alutiiq identity and its centre have become idealized.

LeGra didn’t sum up their critique as a blunt message, but nevertheless their views caused indignation and a response arguing that:

Alcoholism and other social problems in Alutliiq communities – presumably what Lee and Graburn refer to in their review – were discussed at an Elders’ planning conference for the exhibition in 1997 [… … ]. However, Elders spoke of these social ills as symptoms of the loss of identity, not characteristics that define it. [ … … ]. One said, “To sit and listen and think about the social ills that we’re all faced with – and they’re common – that is for another time.”(Response pp. 431f.)

Nobody can turn a blind eye to the problems of the Alutiit, LeGra just wanted to point out that finding common grounds in a politicised landscape comes with a price to disciplines such as Archaeology and Anthropology. The response is ample proof of their point telling us about the role and power of the ‘Elders’ – an institution with a capital E no less. The Elders’ dubious analysis of the concept of identity, and their dictum: social ills – that is for another time, are significant.

There is no doubt that the rights of every Alaskan must be respected and that modern society has an obligation and a duty to compensate rural Alaskan population, but that doesn’t mean that LeGra got it wrong. On the contrary they were right in their analysis ten years ago. Nevertheless, it has turned out that being right is of little importance in the political archaeology surrounding Native Americans.

Hoholulu2013It so happened that the Alutiiq became a textbook paragon of descendant/indigenous archaeology, and at 2013 Honolulu meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) this political archaeology was introduced at the opening session, the presidents forum — isn’t that a contradiction in terms? On this forum seven descendant archaeologists making up a panel consisting of a moderator and six discussants introduced themselves as representatives and discussed the problems they experience e.g. with archaeologists who do not respect the rights and obligations of those living in an area to protect and control its heritage. To the panellists the problem was the violation of the rights of the indigenous and the descendants. It was obvious that they equated this with the rights of indigenous peoples to their history.

After the presentations the audience could write down questions on cards, which were then collected and (perhaps) handed down to the panel. In this way, at the very end of the session, the panel was asked about the future of archaeology and how that could be brought about given the sadly familiar problems we had just heard about. The answer was simple, almost ‘Elderly’: If we learn by experience and do the right thing then everything will be fine. There was a general humming of consent on the podium, but out on the forum the audience didn’t seem totally convinced, because it is not often we hear scientific ideals ignored and reformulated as demagogic buzzwords at the very beginning of a scientific conference. Only if political archaeology is the centrepiece ‘doing the right thing’ is what matters, but then again doing the right thing borders on fabrication.

Archaeology and history cannot be defined as belonging to any modern group of people. In fact the remains of the past preserved in an area to which people or the individual relate are the remains of actions that aimed to form a near or distant future. These actions are not primarily intended to define the history of a specific modern group of people – not primarily intended objectively, specifically or fairly to prove the identity of those who live today. They were meant to create the future by whatever means necessary. Today one cannot reclaim one’s history, only an understanding of the past as ways of influencing the future.



(00) The textbook is Kelly, Robert L. & Thomas, David Hurst s. 2012 Archaeology. Wadsworth Publishing; 6 edition .403-4

(01) There is a well referenced paper on the role of and lack of education by Gordon L Pullar at  Pullar’s own experience of being a descendant is described and analyse in an article from 1992 in Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 2, Maritime Cultures of Southern Alaska: Papers in Honor of Richard H. Jordan (1992), pp. 182-191. See:

(02) Indigenous Danish archaeology, i.e. Political Archaeology, began in the summer of 1807 when Rasmus Nyerup (*1759 †1829), who had become a professor of history of literatur at the university of Copenhagen, visited Fyn the land of his childhood and ancestors. When he wandered around in this landscape he understood that its heritage—his heritage and that of the Danes – was threatened. He wrote an article in a Copenhagen newspaper and the King saw the political potential of national heritage management and 10 years later the potential of the national museum.  The birth of Danish archaeology is paralleled by the birth, c. 175 years later, of Alutiiq archaeology – in fact Alutiiq archaeology and heritage management is modelled, consciously or unconsciously, on its Danish and Scandinavian predecessors (cf. On the Reading Rest, 12 November, 2012, The New Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom)

This week On the Reading Rest I have the past in the form of a printout of an article from the latest volume, 78:1, of American Antiquity.

Because I have a grandchild in Japan I was happy to accept an invitation to give a paper at the April SAA congress in Honolulu. Nagoya is my base between Hawaii and home. Going to SAA meant that like many others of the more than 3,000 participants, I had to become a member of SAA. Being a member, whether I like it or not, whether I can pick it out from JSTOR or not, whether I read it in the library or not, whether I get a paper copy or not, I got a message, among frequent communications, telling me that I may download American Antiquity 78:1, 2013. Because I haven’t read an article in American Antiquity since perhaps 1973 when I wrote a master thesis on concept formation in archaeology – classical genus proximum et differentia specifica versus family resemblance concepts – and needed some examples of pointless New Archeology, I couldn’t resist a look.

The cover has changed, but between front and back nothing but authors’ names and reference years are new. I probably suspected just that, but who can resist a deja vue knowing that the whole antiquarian installation is staged in April – The Past, Live in Honolulu. Today, when the material remains and contexts of iterative long-lasting cultural performances are in vogue, who wouldn’t do a participant observation of the ritual gatherings of the New American Archeologists? NAAs are not endangered, not yet indigenzed and I am not doing an ethically questionable anthropology in my own society. I may be post-colonializing them, but that is still PC.

As a preparation I read:

Cover Am Ant 78 1Arakawa, Fumiyasu; Nicholson, Christopher and Rasic, Jeff. 2013. The consequences of social processes: Aggregate populations, projectile point accumulation, and subsistence patterns in the American Southwest. American Antiquity 78:1:147-165.

Arakawa, Nicholson and Rasic (AraNiRa) have observed that as of 2005 (referring to Diamond: Guns Germs and Steel) scholars have investigated the potential causes and consequences of – the Neolithic no less (p.147, first column). What a splendid idea. This Neolithic thing it seems could have had potential consequences! Thus astonished and worried – could global warming be among the consequences? – we may proceed to contemplate the following:

[Neolithic human] groups began manufacturing and using pottery vessels, used the bow and the arrow, shifted subsistence patterns from strictly hunting and gathering to horticulture and agriculture, began domesticating animals and established sedentary villages.

First year students usually don’t get away with suggesting to their teachers that pottery, the bow and the arrow and domestication, e.g. of the dog, were emblematic of anything as belated as the Neolithic. And by the way, initially among agriculturalists the sedentary villages and the distinction between manufacturing and using pottery were of little importance. In the current American antiquity, nevertheless, this new-age-dawning perspective is creed. Having introduced us to their unique cultural context the authors turn to their archaeological mission and

argue that artifact deposits from a range of settlement sizes can inform meaningful interpretations about the consequences of social processes, such as aggregation and increases in group population density.

Rather than dubious, this proposition – artifact deposits can inform a range of meaningful interpretations – is so obvious that it can be proved, i.e., probably be proved since we mustn’t jump to conclusions, must we? Where would Archeology be if we just thought it could be meaningful?

I am thrilled: reading the article, planning to go to Honolulu, believing that two of the authors will be there, I feel surfing on the forefront of that wave of research, which roles on under my surfboard without moving forward. I shall add American Antiquity to the list of consequences brought about by the Neolithic.

True to New Archeology hoping to create a meaningful pattern composed on a few hopefully controlled variables, AraNiRa start to track down (1) large and (2) small settlements, (3) high and (4) low population density in (5) a central and (6) a peripheral area, with (7) lithic projectile points and (8) earthen utility wares as well as faunal data in which we may distinguish between (9) large and (10) small game. This is not ideal because there is a dependency between lithic projectile points and large game as well as warfare, albeit perhaps a secondary one, but very little dependency between utility ware and small game or indeed warfare. New Archeology scholastics would not have taken lightly that kind of variable dependency. Variables 7 to 10 must thus be transformed to general markers, i.e. a point:sherd ration and an artiodactyle index, which are either high or low.(Google actually returns 29.900 hits for ‘artiodactyle’ e.g. beating ‘hemiepes’ with 9.000 hits).

The construction of index and ratio is always tricky. In this case it is a specimens-of-species index (based on the Number of Identified specimens in archaeological reports – NISP). That is less informative than a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) index, but it cannot be helped since the archaeological records give us NISP and ours not to reason why. Actually, in order not to get completely trapped in source critical problems, already troublesome, simplification is a must. The authors therefore total all the artiodactyles (even-toed), i.e. bison, deer, sheep etc, who are large, and then they sum the lagomorphs, i.e. hares, rabbits and pikas, who are small. Indeed there are no perissodactyles — odd-toed (12.700 hits). Based on these sums they construct the Artiodactyle index (AI): AI= artiodactyle/(artiodactyle+lagomorphs).

The construction of the point:sherd ratio is more difficult because it aims at reconstruction a factual prehistoric balance. This reconstruction is complicated by the fact that ‘10 out of 72 sites’ have not yielded any projectile points, just pottery. Since there is a balance between the two artefact categories, the authors manage with a bit of Bayesian statistics to produce a Posterior Mean Value, PMV, reflecting the once existing balances between points and shards. Technically speaking there is nothing wrong with the construction of this value, but the construction doesn’t differentiate between small and large sites. There is just one mean for The Core Area sites and another for The Periphery. Primarily, Core and Periphery is a matter of population density.

This means that ‘small’ and ‘large’ sites are the only straightforward, i.e. non-aggregated, variables. ‘Small’ and ‘large’ are taken for granted. In the end of the article, when it comes to comparing the meaningful patterns related to a prehistoric reality, the comparison of the PMV is primarily between small and large sites and secondarily between the somewhat aggregated periphery and core concepts, i.e. areas defined in general geographical, topographical and demographic terms. Belonging to an area makes a site ‘peripheral’ or ‘central’. In the article, methodologically motivated simplification is driven by fuzzy dichotomization keeping the reader relatively unaware of the basic distributions of the variables on the intra-site level – projectile density distribution and utility ware density distribution being cases in point.

Although this is not promising, the authors proceed to produce diagrams mapping the PMV on one axis and the AI on the other with dots representing all sites as either small or large – differentiating between core and periphery by means of symbols. In theory the expected pattern should like this:

The hypotheses suggestWhen we start reading ‘Results’, it soon becomes obvious that there is a discrepancy between the diagrams Figures 4 to 7 and the Tables 1 & 2. There are more sites in the tables (75) than in the diagrams and the text discussing them (72). Moreover, the points plotted in the diagrams are not always the ones defined by the numbers in the tables. There are 39 tabled sites in the Core Area not the 36 plotted in the diagrams. The distribution in Fig. 7 cannot be checked because there are too few decimals in the PMV values in tables 1 & 2. There are astonishing errors too: in Fig.4 the median PMV for the small sites in The Periphery is given as 0.03, but judging from table 1 it is 0.01 and less in line with the authors’ hypotheses. This is of little importance for the obvious conclusions, but it makes patterns that are not in line with the hypotheses more significant. Only the diagram Fig. 6 (the small sites in Periphery and Core) can be reproduced and compared with the published. Based on tables 1 & 2 this revised diagram looks like this:

Small sites indexes

Superimposed upon Fig. 6 in the article we get a discrepancy:

Comparison table values figure contra AraNiRa fig 6

Most of the differences are ‘decimal differences’ (the authors use four places in the diagrams and only three in the tables), but the values for McElmo-Yellow Jacket are distorted. This means that when it comes to this densely populated area the authors cannot rely on their hypotheses to explain the deviance among their large or small sites.

Small sites observed vs theory

If we add the theoretical categories to Fig. 6, the greatest problem with the interpretation is the many small sites dominated by large-game bones, but none the less characterized by few projectile points with which to kill the game. It so happens that the upper left corner of the diagram refutes the theory on its own assumptions. This patter becomes even more obvious when we re-scale Fig. 7 and add the large sites to the small ones to get a total picture.

When we look at all sites, there is thus an even more obvious split between those with relatively speaking many and those with few large mammals, since between AI 0.4 and 0.6 there are very few sites.

Last figure

There are fewer large mammals in large sites, dots, but that doesn’t mean that the animals killed in small peripheral sites, open diamonds, or indeed any small site, any diamond, were not brought as meat or cut of meat to large sites in The Core, green,blue and red dots. ‘Numerous’ and’ few’ obviously mean different things on different sites in different environments. Parallel to the split dense group, the two left corners of the diagram, there is a spread-out peripheral western group wedged between the two main corners. In this group as in the dense groups, a growing PMV means either a minimum or maximum AI. Sites in the McElmo-Yellow Jacket (McElyja) core area, moreover, are distinctly different from Mesa Verde sites suggesting that The Core Area Concept implicated by AraNiRa is flawed. If we were able to check the topographical distribution of MaElyja sites, there is a fair chance we could find a division between core sites and peripheral sites within the region.

The hypotheses suggest a theoretical distribution and meaning that doesn’t match the observed patterns. The article obscures the methodological reasons for this discrepancy, but common sense suggests that the different ways projectile points and utility ware are produced, used, dispersed, rejected, recycled, reused, deposited etc, help to obscure the meaning of the ratio point:sherd and the diagrams Figs 4-7. Probably, measuring the density of game and domesticated species as well as pottery density – leaving out the strongly dependent projectile variable, which moreover is split between killing large game and humans — as weapons still tend to be in everyday American usage – would have been more meaningful.

All this ends up in a classical example of the shortcomings of the New-Archeology approach: (1) simplification based on fuzzy dichotomies and oppositions blurs the meaning of the variables and makes correlations and discrepancies between the hypothetic suggestions and the observed patterns difficult to comprehend – for authors as well as readers. For some reason beyond our reach, (2) the formal consistency of the New-Archeology presentation often breaks down adding to the reader’s confusion. But in the end (3) this takes away nothing from the conclusions because they are but tentative and commonplace:

The analyses provide support for the idea that increasing population density and aggregation of settlement patterns led to changes in sociopolitical organization and subsistence patterns (p. 161).

It takes a backup of c. 100 references pushing at this open door. Ten seemingly innocent persons and institutions share the doubtful honour of being thanked in the acknowledgement at the very end – And of course, we [AraNiRa] take responsibility for any and all mistakes or omissions. It didn’t go without saying.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from an archaeological excavation – i.e. a final archaeological investigation in bureaucratic terms – of yet another unspectacular site ‘finally’ erased from the face of the earth – this time in Ostrogothia rather than Uppland (cf. OtRR 10 Dec 2012).

SAUrapport2012_4_omslag-210x300Lindkvist, Ann. 2012. En ensam gård? Boplats från folkvandringstid vid Nedre Götala. Arkeologisk slutundersökning. Fornlämning Styra 44. Styra socken, Motala kommmun, Östergötland (”A Solitary Farm? A Settlement from the Migration Period at Lower Götala. Final Archaeological Investigation. Ancient monument 44, Styra Parish, Motala county, Ostrogothia”). SAU rapport 2012:4. Uppsala. Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis.

Scandinavian archaeology isn’t really interested in finding the poor. This attitude is understandable, given that archaeology was laid out c. 200 years ago as a nationalistic project underpinning a world view that aimed at harmonizing monarchies, their governments and their educated classes in times when democracy was imminent. When Scandinavian countries had become political democracies they went on to demonstrate that as such they could extinguish poverty because lack of poverty is an emblem of a Scandinavian democracy in which there are no poor citizens. Since prehistoric society, our unspoiled embryonic nations, decorates our display windows, poverty is not on show because we don’t sell it. We are not fond of Iron Age serfs either, but knowing that similar to the poor they are common elsewhere, we accept them, not as a social institution, but as misfortune catching up with captured warriors and the odd drop-out. Instead we continue to like free peasants on small or large farms, development, warriors, upward social mobility and of course the upper classes – everything on top of poverty.

Like any silent group, the poor are difficult to see and that allows us always to wonder whether they actually existed or whether it was positively horrible to be a serf; what exactly does it mean to be poor? Did people really live in pit houses (cf. OtRR 16 April 2012)? This is still a question to which ‘Perhaps!’ is often perhaps the right answer, since if they did their life must have been miserable.

Mårten StenbergerAs soon as Scandinavian archaeology began excavating Iron Age settlements it was taken for granted that they were the remains of the farms of free peasants. In Sweden Mårten Stenberger’s excavations on Öland around 1930 were ground breaking. He excavated four farms which he considered representative, but his choice of farms nevertheless led him to excavate two hall farms, the dominating farm in each their village. He didn’t recognize them as hall farms or manors because he took it for granted that they belonged to the free Iron Age farmer. Today we know that in order by chance to excavate two hall farms we would have to excavate ca 25 less impressive homesteads.

In the greater part of the 20th century, the prehistoric cultural landscape in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, was defined by monuments. This definition meant that most often the graves of reasonably prosperous settlements were excavated, since only those, who lived on that kind of farm, could afford to build the monuments on their village cemetery. Things started to change in the later part of the century when the ‘invisible’ human landscape (the one hidden by modern activities) became important. By definition Iron Age farms, destroyed and rebuilt by later farmers and turned into plough land and modern settlements, are important elements of the cultural landscape compared to surviving monuments that nobody bothered to erase. The former are central, latter peripheral. But to begin with in the 1980s and 90s archaeologists guided by County Administrative Boards investigated and excavated the invisible mostly because it was close to visible monuments. Around the year 2000, when the new legislation which wasn’t based on distance to monuments, had been around for c. 15 years, small ‘invisible’ sites hundreds of meters from visible monuments started to be excavated. With these new sites, the lower classes or ‘the poor’, became visible e.g. in Lower Götala (LG).


Ndr Götala orto

Ndr Götala cadastrial

Lower Götala is situated in the western part of the plain of Ostrogothia c. 110 m a s l. Before the Götala area was drained it was characterized by shallow perhaps intermittent lakes, waterlogged lands and meadows. Maps from the 19th century show that the excavated settlement was situated on the edge of a small spot of gravel c. 105 m a s l. bordering on low-lying meadows and wetland. Above the settlement, 100-200 m to the Northeast, there are two mounds, and on a cadastral map from the 18th century there’re three more next to the two extant ones. This suggests that on the plain, at the top of a diminutive ‘ridge’ next to a small cemetery, there was once an Iron Age settlement, probably a village. The excavated settlement belongs to this village and sits on its damp eastern border.

LG översikt 03 LG översikt

LG översikt 02

The structure of the site is simple. The ground slopes gently towards the south-southwest, the house is situated on the most elevated ground on a cleared surface. The settlement has a front facing south and its back to the North. Outdoor work went on mostly in front of the house in an 800 m2 area around a waterhole used up and until the 17th century when it was filled up. There were some groups of large hearths and pits suggesting that the corners of the yard were designated for special purposes although there was no obviously systematic ‘hearth distribution’. There are no signs of any specific crafts going on and no signs of tar or iron production. The bone material found in the layers suggests that the bones were more closely related to cooking than to slaughter. The material tells us that in this rural settlement cattle and sheep were the most common animals.

Ann Lindkvist (AL) has made a study of the hearths at LG classifying them according to morphology and function, and analyzing their charred contents. This has resulted in a lot of useful information supporting the interpretation of the site. One would have thought that the hearths were used repeatedly, and that is also the case, but only when it comes to the two indoor hearths and one of the many outdoor ones. The analysis of all other open-air hearths indicated that they were used once or a few times only. In some cases their construction leads to this conclusion, in other cases it is suggested by the fact that each hearth is completely dominated by fire wood from one kind of wood only – either birch or alder or hazel of oak. In 6 out of 7 analyzed outdoor hearths this is the case.

It is difficult to imagine that the people at LG would have created such a pattern by chance if they reused the hearths as they pleased and took their fire wood in their surroundings where they could find it. It is more likely that the pattern emerged because the majority of the hearths were used but once in one of the loosely defined hearth areas. The selection of firewood, therefore, suggests that those who made the fire collected the firewood they needed in a systematic way before they went home, packed their hearth with fuel and bridled burned stones and set fire to their construction.

By chance, a sample might contain just one species. For indoor usage birch could have been selected because of its quality as fire wood. Because of its ember oak could be suitable when drying and roasting grain and so forth. But since the pattern is general it is hardly random – on the contrary, function explains the indoors hearths, but the outdoor pattern it is best explained by a tendency to use an outdoor hearth only once for a relatively small job that made it easy to collect the fire wood each time the job had to be done. If we combine the need for firewood with a duty of the farmhand within forestry to thin out stands of alder, hazel, birch or oak, we can imagine a situation that will result in the pattern we observe. Nevertheless, the pattern is odd if we think that job and hearth mirror daily life on a farm characterized by self-subsistence.

Another oddity leading to a similar conclusion is the pattern that results from the analyses of macro fossil in the samples from 10 hearths. In these there was an abundance of charred remains of fire wood, more than 3000 pieces, but only 2.5 grains (1.5 from an indoor hearth fired with oak). Considering that thrashing, roasting and grinding cereals was customary on the Iron Age farm, the number of charred grains is very low. Again chance may explain the situation, but the impression that the household at LG was not engaged in self subsistence, nevertheless, finds support in the lack of macro fossils as well as in the homogenous fire wood and the tendency for the bone material to be related to cooking rather than slaughter.

In the Iron Age, if you use open-air fire places only sporadically, usually get your firewood from thinning, roast grain once in a century, and tend to bring home meat from whoever slaughtered the animals and parceled out the meat, then you are probably not a farmer and landowner. On the contrary you depend upon the landowning farmers for your subsistence investing your man power in their agriculture and forestery.

The three houses

Even the houses that stood one at a time on the LG site, give some insights into the character of the household. Three dwelling houses were excavated. They are dated according to their type and by means of 14C-tests. The three houses form a series, but there is a chronological gap between the first house and the two last ones. The houses are equal-sized, small and far from well-built. They consist of two rooms. One is a dwelling room the other a combined entrance room and shed. Actually, they are all the same kind of two-room house with an entrance facing South. Each house exemplifies the gradual change in building traditions, as gradually from one house to the next their mid aisles become narrower.

The first house belongs to the Early Roman Iron Age (ERIA) and since it was never rebuilt it probably stood no more than c. 30 years. There are no sharply dated artefacts and no 14C-dates associated with this period. The second and third house constitute two consecutive house phases: The second house (House 1A) was rebuilt and in the process moved a little to the East becoming the third and last building on the site (House 1B). Moving you house a little in this way while rebuilding it, instead of building a new house somewhere else on the plot, suggests that simultaneously the old house was pulled down and the new one erected. In fact, this is an obvious and popular Iron Age way to facilitate the recycling of building material when giving your house a total make over. Furthermore, the procedure allows people to stay in the left half of the old house while starting to build the right half of the new one.


Eventually the family would move temporarily into the right half of the new house while the left half of the old one was pulled down and the new house completed. Since this didn’t happen when the first house (House 2) was replaced by the second one (House 1A), and since House 2 was never rebuilt, the house series is consistent with a chronological gap between House 2 and House 1A. Consequently the settlement site stands out as a peripheral part of a village – settled when necessary by people who were neither landowners nor farmhands.

At LG the houses in the RIA were small. As it happens, they fit the needs of a the 5-600 years old Pre Roman Iron Age (PRIA) household with a dwelling area of c. 25 m2 indicating that the inhabitants made up a family of 4-5 persons living in a cottage, perhaps with a few animals in their shed.

Although there were rather thick layers of household waste in the water hole area, nearly all the finds were animal bones. Only a post hole in the dwelling part of house 1B stood out because it contained two pot sherds from a perforated pot suitable for kitchen purposes. Given the way House 1 was rebuilt it is not surprising that material from the old earthen floor got buried in the new post hole.

Ndr Götala datering

Seven 14C-tests make up a chronological framework that covers the second phase of the LG settlement. Because of the calibration curve, this period equals 100-120 years between 440 and 570 CE. The period doesn’t cover activities connected to House 2, which is several hundred years older, but the period defines the continuous occupation period of House 1A & B. The chronology indicates that the cold climate 536-546 CE didn’t put an end to the settlement. One might have thought that a decade of harsh conditions that made subsistence more difficult would have caused the small households to vanish, to be absorbed by  larger households when the population decreased or moved into abandoned farms. Maybe it did, but in the LG case people continued to dwell in their badly built cottages.

Describing the LG context in the above way leads to a number of conclusions, obviously practical rather than logical, that fit the small dependent Iron Age household in peripheral South Scandinavia. First of all one must point to the fact that this kind of cottages existed. In South Scandinavia proper between the 1st c. BCE and the 5th c. CE they didn’t. A few ring fort settlements on Öland may be the exceptions that prove the point, but they are exceptional contexts in very many ways. In densely populated South Scandinavia there are no RIA cottages and thus nothing substantial to reflect the limited right for some to form a household. Instead, the landless are incorporated into larger households. The fact that we find small cottages in the periphery indicates that PRIA ideology and rights tended to prevail, to some degree no doubt because the landscapes were sparsely populated and land thus available.

The ambiguous satisfaction of being the master of one’s own house survives in the commonplace and ironic wisdom of the poem Hávamál:

A dwelling is better    be it but small
a man is all of us at home
though two goats he owns    and taugreptan sal*
that is still better than begging.

*When a house is it taugreptan it means that the horizontal rafters in the roof (reptan) are flexible because they are composed of slender ribs and lath in a wattle, i.e. a taug –tow, like the cells in a musle. Taugreptan indicates that you are not a landowner with a forest where you will collect your straight high quality rafters, but only someone allowed to take coppice shoots in the brushwoods – tying your rafters together. You are in other words a poor man. Sal in the expression is ironic since real sals, i.e. ‘halls’ were never taugreptan.

The cottages at LG may well have been taugreptan and their masters may have envied the well-fed serfs of South Scandinavia imagining their cozy corners on prosperous Zealand farms, rather than freezing in his own Ostrogothic abode. Be this as it may, in order to survive their Ostrogothic reality the members of the LG household would have to work on the farms in the village on the basis of some sort of contract that allowed them to live modestly. It would seem that they didn’t have fields and thus no possibility to produce their own porridge. The meat they ate was not always from animals that they owned and slaughtered in their farm yard and we may thus expect that their compensation for working was partly in kind. The family may have owned more than two goats, since grassland in Götala was probably abundant, and all the family members may well have been free, but they were nevertheless poor, generation after generation. This means that they must have been visible as ‘the poor’ that lived down by the waterhole on a wet plot later on cut by a drainage trench.

It is probably significant that when society experienced a ten-year subsistence crisis the social effects were not the expected ones, if survival had been a matter of defending the commonweal when crisis threatened peoples’ lives. Had ownership of land stayed PRIA  collective and society thus not become stratified according to sharply defined private ownership of the means of production in agriculture or craftsmanship, then the century long cottage settlements would not have existed. Instead, the households would have been enlarged family households, or communities made up of equal sized nuclear family household. Since not even a crisis could bring the poor cottage dwellers into the farms, it seems reasonable to suggest that RIA dynamics and stratification according to ownership had gone so far that allowing the poor back among the farm owners was not an option. In fact one of the points in some being poor and dependent on others in this society may well have been their visibility. The display of poverty is reassuring to the upper stratum of any stratified society because it allows those who are not poor to accept, pity and blame those who are, as best they please.


The County Administrative Board asked the archaeologists to find out about the function of the remains, their character, distribution, date and composition. If any house constructions were found their type should be defined. This is of course either straight forward or impossible – a pit is a pit, but what exactly is the ‘character’ and ‘composition’ of a hole? And if we decide that its form and fill explains what it was, can we really afford to excavate and process the details needed to answer the question? Since the report is a good one it answers the County Administrative Board question most faithfully – exactly as correct as expected, but it also poses a rhetorical question: ‘Is LG a solitary farm?’ The question is shrewdly constructed because it may also be read: ‘Is LG solitary?’ or ‘Is LG a farm?’ Close-reading the report the answer to both is No! LG has to do with settling the landless and demonstrably poor as close to the village and its farms as befitting.

The stylish VästergårdenBut ‘No!’ is not a good answer on the fertile Ostrogothic plain where poverty rings false. And that is easy to prove. In neighbouring Götala the large 150 year old main house of the ‘West Farm’ – Västergården was on sale in Octobre 2012. In the description of the property, LG figured underpinning the long and proud agricultural traditions of farmers such as those who built and owned the West Farm. The correct answer therefore is: Yes, LG was a farm! When poverty is looming over the wrong place it is never wrong to be in doubt and for a lot of reasons archaeologists highlight just that.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a kindle edition of a book by David Brewer:

Greece-Hidden-CentBrewer, David. 2011. Greece, the Hidden Centuries: Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to Greek Independence. I. B. Tauris. ISBN: 9781780762388.

The hidden centuries of Greek history are hidden because the source material is scanty and not easy to access for non-Turkish researchers, but more so because it is in the interest of nationalistic history to hide, distort or indeed invent essential and emblematic bits and pieces befitting the past. If, today, we believe that history came about because of the development of national identity and nation states in opposition to the Other and other communities, we will have something to learn from modern scholars, such as David Brewer, who respect and tell us what actually happened, thus  making it easier to redeem the future. This point is successfully proved, and in its setting: the history of Greece and its historiography, this view upon past, present and future is still a radical one. Having read the book, the common reader, to whom the hidden centuries were probably well hidden before reading the book, will profit from David Brewer’s history lesson because it is easy to follow, novel, informative and mind-broadening.

That the common reader is expected to be British can be inferred from a number of passages, e.g. when Enoch Powell (location 2705) is referred to and we are told that he was ‘professor of Greek as well as a controversial politician’ the latter in this case irrelevant information is there only to satisfy a reader whose curiosity has been evoked by the name – most probably a British reader.

In the 24th and last chapter, or song, of this Greek history, or epic told from a distance, ‘Some Conclusions’, the book comes to an end having proved its point about past, present and future. Nevertheless, the critical reader is tempted to contextualize the book putting it into a post-colonial colonial setting, arguing the following: Since we in Northwest Europe have been able to maintain some sort of political power without always playing the nation card in the game about ‘us’ and ‘them’, as we used to do, we are now telling those, e.g. the Greeks, once taught by us to build their state on heritage, national pride; uniting identity, language and hardship; binary confrontation, etc. to stop doing so, because we have stopped, having understood that we were wrong.

Try, for example, to solve the climate crisis on the basis of national heritage or pride, uniting identity, language, hardship warfare etc., if you can! It cannot be done; we are right as always – today also about having been wrong.

This is unfair criticism of the book, but it allows us to look for the construction of the Greeks as an indigenous people – exactly because David Brewer is not looking for it. The reason for doing so is the tendencies in the present economic crisis to blame the Greeks (1). They are worthy of blame, because having been irresponsible they betray their heritage – anybody can find quotations from Aristotle or Plato that will tell the responsible citizen how to behave. Criticizing the indigenous for not being indigenous enough is a classical post-colonial colonial argument. And in the Greek case teaching the Greeks a lesson is all the more important because their heritage is our heritage too. ‘Pote, touche pas à mon héritage’!

Fig 04 place names

In Greece the construction of the indigenous probably started already in the Middle Ages, but under Turkish rule the first systematic step was taken. There can be no colonial or indeed post-colonial understanding of the situation in a country without creating, or in the post-colonial case pointing out, the go-between and the in-between. They are needed for a lot of practical purposes but also to create the indigenous. Sometimes these go- or in-between succeed in defining themselves as significant others and an entity in social, cultural, religious or political terms, i.e. whatever terms accepted in society, i.e. accepted by the colonial power. In Bhabha’s post-colonial terms they have succeeded in ‘enunciating a third space’ for themselves and from this space they interact and take part in the definition of the rulers as well as the ruled, i.e. the colonized progeny of the original population. Conquering a Greek Island, the Turks would almost automatically upgrade, create or transform an existing group of individuals, such as a nobility, to fill a space between themselves and the majority, whom they would see as individuated – elements in a subset called ‘tax payers’ (cf. Chapter 13 Turkish rule in Cyprus and Crete). There were several groups among the ‘tax payers’, but the Greeks as indeed Greeks and ‘indigenous’ were always there inasmuch as they were stigmatized. Because we are Happy to take part in the definition of the indigenous as ‘the suppressed’ we tend to be critical of the middlemen, who per definition serve the oppressors.

In the Greek case of the hidden centuries the Orthodox Greek Church (Chapter 10) is the formidable example, because it was understood by the Turks as a political entity controlling religion, education and part of the jurisdiction. In effect, therefore, the Church controlled the common written language of the Greek. Because of the Orthodox Church there were no ‘Old Greeks’ to liberate when it became obvious to the enlightened Europeans that the Greeks, enslaved by Turks and Church, had been detached from their true identity. This is a crucial point: before the original population can be termed indigenous they must have been almost extinct in cultural terms.

Fig 03 Arcadia

But this is not enough. We cannot just pity them for becoming extinct. Before they become indigenous they must be criticized and patronized with open, opaque or silent references made to their loss of virtue as we understand it.

Arcadia (location 1085 ff), is an early example. In the late Renaissance 1502 the myth of Arcadia was spelled out by the Italian poet Jacopo Sannazaro and during a century it developed into the idea of rural landscape and setting. The ever-present delightful nature populated by shepherds – an original life quality belonging to the Greeks in as much as Arcadia was a region in the Peloponnese. To begin with some, but not all, travelers saw the landscape and the progeny of the shepherds that must once have been Arcadia. But gradually, beginning in the 17th century when a rude and frank Scotsman toured Arcadia and ridiculed the falseness of the myth, the impression faded away and travelers found no resemblance between the mythic and the actual Arcadia. The myth was a falsification. This meant that in the 17th century travelers to Greece (Chapter 17) went from denouncing the Greeks as raw and uncivilized, pointing out their detachment from classical culture, to eventually seeing some faint signs of an affinity with the ancient Greece.

In the 17th and 18th century, therefore, the western European travelers had seen the corruption of ancient Greek values and the false myths, but also the genuine valor of the Greeks, i.e. something to support as genuinely indigenous almost lost in slavery and historical phantasies. What the Greeks themselves were unable to turn to their advantage, the Europeans knew how to restore. This is a decisive step towards creating the indigenous as indeed truth.

Since the indigenous by definition and construction equals the suppressed it ought to be liberated as a way of restoring dignity of the enslaved people. This, nevertheless, is a political decision which means that before an indigenous population can be assigned political rights they must at some stage have been betrayed or deceived by those who have detected their valor. This betrayal must be admitted by those in power as self-criticism forcing them to take active part in redeeming the appalling situation.

In the early 19th century, the feeling that Europeans did too little for the Greeks became widespread guiding Byron and many others. David Brewer relates a piece of dubious historical discourse which may nevertheless be seen as an early indigenous and intellectual way of opening up a discussion along the lines that will give an indigenous people political rights accepted by those who have defined them as indigenous. The example comes from a work that claimed to be The Chronicle of the Galaxídhi written 1703 and commenting upon a situation supposed to have been a reality 130 years earlier c. 1570 when a Venetian fleet captured a Turkish fortress somewhere on the southern tip of the Peloponnese in the Mani province. The Venetians left again losing the opportunity to make this bridgehead the start of driving out the Turks from the Peloponnese. The chronicler’s argument runs as follows: The Holy League called upon everyone to take up arms against the Turks. On the Mani peninsula the Greeks did exactly this (parallel to the Holy League at Lepanto 1571). But when the Venetians captured the fort and the Greeks offered their help and asked for weapons, their proposal came to nothing. Instead the Venetians under their admiral Marco Quirini just left. So much for solidarity and the greater cause of the 1570s. Ergo says the alleged chronicler in 1703, you cannot trust the Venetians and the Franks (i.e. any Catholic or Protestant European).

In 1703, moreover, the chronicler knew from the Venetian wars on Peloponnese since the 1680s (location 2900ff), that starting liberation in the Mani was prolific. This was proved again during the War of Independence in the 1820s.

The chronicler expressed 18th century sentiments, which he considered equal to those of the 16th century. He didn’t prove that his sources expressed 16th century opinion. Although his discourse was probably based on fabrication, his argument eventually convinced western powers of their guilt and of their duty to remedy the situation. The last element in the construction of the indigenous is thus to admit to the political rights of people already defined as culturally indigenous. It comes with a price to be accepted as indigenous.

Enlightenment liberated North Americans, but not the Greeks. It couldn’t. As a true indigenous people and thus under colonial rule the destiny of the Greeks in the late 18th century was backwardness and fruitless rebellion. Europe was ruled by wars and the Greeks by the Ottoman state and their politically subaltern Church. It took a post-war Europe and a measure of Late Romantic ideas about national character, right and destiny, as well as historical heritage and religion, before the ideas of enlightenment could become part of the political foundation for the liberation of the Greeks. Since liberation was impossible without nationalism, the young state, like many former colonies, had to live with nationalism and in the Greek case, the obligation to preserve Ancient Greece, Ancient Greek and the Greek Church – its heritage.

There is a strong heritage management side to staying indigenous and true to ideals. That is why those who have constructed the indigenous are saddened when a people defined as indigenous shows signs of drifting away from its ‘true’ heritage becoming masters of their past using it to redeem the future.

As noted in the very the beginning of this text commenting on of the indigenous, echoes of the colonial attitude to the indigenous are surprising and prolonged.


When Byron was in Athens on his Grand Tour in 1811 and Elgin was there to dig up graves and steal the marbles on Parthenon, Byron wrote the poem The Curse of Minerva strongly condemning this theft, because it robbed the Greeks of their heritage. Athena was eloquent:

“Mortal!”—’twas thus she spake—“that blush of shame
Proclaims thee Briton, once a noble name;
First of the mighty, foremost of the free,
Now honour’d less by all, and least by me;
Chief of thy foes shall Pallas still be found.
Seek’st thou the cause of loathing?—look around.
Lo! here, despite of war and wasting fire,
I saw successive tyrannies expire.
’Scaped from the ravage of the Turk and Goth,
Thy country sends a spoiler worse than both.
Survey this vacant, violated fane;
Recount the relics torn that yet remain:
These Cecrops placed, this Pericles adorn’d,
That Adrian rear’d when drooping Science mourn’d.
What more I owe let gratitude attest—
Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.
That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
The insulted wall sustains his hated name:
For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads,
Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!
Be ever hailed with equal honour here
The Gothic monarch and the Pictish peer:
arms gave the first his right, the last had none,
But basely stole what less barbarians won.

When Lord Byron died some of his books and belongings were catalogued and sold, among them an antique funerary urn of silver, weighing no less than 186 ounces, i.e. c. 5 kg, which Byron had come across at a cemetery in Athens 1811. He may not have had a team of diggers like Elgin, but robbing the Greeks of their heritage both lords took part in constructing the indigenous. True to the colonial perspective when constructing the indigenous, we stress that heritage must be protected, because it is the heritage of the indigenous people, who, although they cannot protect themselves, must have access to their heritage, because they are supposed to learn from it. But at the same time, in the colonial reality, that is not the point. Instead heritage is a matter of who has the power to own it. That is why stealing from people we have just declared and accepted as indigenous is so stigmatizing.

When we want to neutralize the indigenous rather than stigmatize it, there is a point in anchoring it firmly in the past not least by means of dressing it up in newly invented traditional dresses, i.e. ‘folklorizing’ it. In the late 19th and early 20th century when it became possible to take photographs of indigenous people in more or less everyday situations plainly dressed, their finery was soon enhanced to become emblematic of the indigenous – adding a showcase identity to their daily life. All kinds of indigenous people: Greek brigands, reindeer herders in Sweden (Sámi) or transhumant shepherds in Greece (Sarakatsani) may therefore be imaged as replicas of themselves.

Fig 01

When the idea of the indigenous has almost disappeared and culture and civilization stand out as a diverse as well as an amalgamated flow of human life with no specific beginning, Anthropology can be relied on to revive the indigenous – the Sarakatsani being a case in point even in anthropometric terms. As late as the 1950s, by means not least of the anthropology of the Sarakatsani, the roots of (the primitive) Greek folk medicine were (respectfully) traced back to ancient Greek traditions (location 3500ff.).

Accepting the indigenous as primitive and conservative is the only way to respect it. Emancipation, the Enlightenment way –‘man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’, is the only way to come to terms of the indigenous.

(1)    A more thorough discussion of the construction of the indigenous can be found in Hillerdal, Charlotta. 2009. People in Between: Ethnicity and Material Identity, a New Approach to Deconstructed Concepts. Occasional papers in archaeology 50. Uppsala.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a small standard archaeological report on the excavation of a solitary grave, technically speaking a Bronze Age stone setting, probably constructed in the 15th century BCE and revisited in the Pre Roman Iron Age in the 5th-4th century before the common era. A stones setting is one of the most commonplace ancient monuments in Uppland. There are tens of thousands of them, numbered and mapped, but still a detailed new survey of any two square kilometers with known Iron Age monuments will in all probability result in more stone settings.

Eklund, Susanna. 2004. Kumla en nyupptäckt stensättning. Slutundersökning och osteologisk rapport. Danmarks-Kumla 2:2 Danmarks socken, Uppland. SAU Rapport 2004:8.


Map of the three sites mentioned in the text.

Before the construction of the highway stretching North from Uppsala a large number of ancient monuments were excavated and published in reports and 6 impressive volumes – everything in Swedish. A small isolated stone setting, c. 16 m2, nevertheless, was almost overlooked. But in January 2003 a keen road worker spotted it between the heavy caterpillars and dumpers that removed the topsoil when the construction of the road started. For once heritage management reacted immediately and between 27 and 31 January, during 104 hours, archaeologists excavated and documented the monument. They also searched the immediate surroundings for more monuments without finding any. The conditions were truly horrible, starting in a humid weather just above 0 degrees Celsius and ending at minus 15 degrees Celsius – at least there were machines enough. Eighteen finds were recorded in the field and a concentration of cremated bones, c. 320 grs, was lifted en bloc and investigated and sieved indoors.

Kumla excavation 2003

Kumla 2003: Archaeology in cold climate, on a clayey site, Jan 2003. Photo Per Falkenström.

In the concentration of cremated bones in this insignificant stone setting, two 14C-dates once again (1) revealed the fuzzy character of burials from the Late Bronze Age (LBA) and the Early Pre Roman Iron Age (EPRIA). It seems that 4.2 grs of skull from a 5 to 14-year-old child,was buried in the 4th-3rd century BCE in what was originally the remains, 225,3 grs of cremated bones in a container, of an 18 to 44-year-old, buried in the 15th century BCE. Next to the concentration of cremated bones in the northeastern part of the monument there were another 15 small agglomerations of cremated bones. Needless to say there were other scattered fragments of human bones in other parts the grave.

It stands to reason that coming back to the monuments and the grave after some hundred years, and being able to find the old heap of bones, must have been done by someone with an archaeological mind as well as an archaeological perspective – someone who knew that by lifting the stones at the ‘top’ this unobtrusive monument (0.5 m) the cremated bones would be exposed. This, the first Kumla excavation, may not have been the first Swedish archaeological excavation ever, but presently it holds the record, because only the shape of the monument, and that is not obvious, suggests where to dig. The aim of the excavation – to bridge past and present – is as post modern as it gets and so the first Swedish archaeologist was a post modernist. And it took no more than 104 hours of horrible weather to find out. The crime, breaking the peace of the grave, is probably statute-barred.

the stone setting

The stone setting at Kumla. The arrow points to the cremated bones and the first excavation.

Revisiting a grave in order to reuse a burial incorporating the new one in the old is interesting enough and probably not that uncommon in the LBA and EPRIA, but at Kumla they have perhaps taken it one step further. The most interesting find in the monument located at the periphery of the stone setting the archaeologists found an unburnt glass bead. Although one may easily consider this find to be insignificant and nothing to bother about, it may also be the sign of an other kind of revisiting the monument and reusing the monument.

Two other revisited burial sites have been excavated in the immediate surroundings. One at just 40 metres at Kumla I south of the stone setting and another one 1.2 km to the northwest at Inhåleskullen (2). The both contains unburnt glass beads and they are both revisited LBA burial grounds.

opaque beads

Late Iron Age opaque glass beads are simple but popular.

If you find an unburnt glass bead in a cremation grave it has obviously not been on the pyre and although it might have, it is unlikely that it has fallen off at an early stage and been preserved unburnt. Nevertheless, unburnt beads are found in connection with cremation graves and their monuments. One in grave no 1 at Kumla I (in loose association with cremated bones) and one in grave A680 at Inhåleskullen under the lid stone among the cremated bones. It seems a fair hypotheses that such beads were associated with the deposition of cremated bones as a pars pro toto in or on old monuments.

At Inhåleskullen there are two graves with clay sheet and find contexts suggesting that part of the burial or a secondary burial was once situated on top of the sheet while a slightly earlier grave or deposition was situated below the sheet, A523 and A900. In the report Inhåleskullen, clay sheet graves are considered to represent one cremation and one burial only, but in the Uppsala area there are more of these graves, among others some with much better preserved surfaces, with many more burial remains on top of the sheet.

A 900 Inhåleskullen

Clay sheet grave A900 at Inhåleskullen. After Seiler and Appelgren 2012.

Graves situated on top of each other, and revisited ancient burial monuments are probably a Late Iron Age (LIA) vogue with its own traditions, but nevertheless part of a long-term tradition. Locally and even regionally, this tradition may have died away in the Roman Iron Age (RIA), but in that case the practice was probably revived in the LIA.

Although the phenomenon has not yet been studied in detail it is worth suggesting that the cemeteries of the LIA would now and then have displayed the remains of cremation on the ground and the top of monuments – as cremation sites and as scattered cremated bones and burnt as well as unburnt artefacts. We may find it odd or revolting to walk around in the remains of our forefathers. But speaking of the Uppsala Area, one of the most famous cemeteries is actually called ‘Valsgärde’. This toponym may of course be understood in several ways, one possibility, however, being gärde=‘the field of’ and vals=’the dead’. Needless to say there is at least one clay shield grave at this cemetery.

Since top burials on sheets are very easy to dig away when clearing the monument, it would seem that in the future archaeologists must be even more careful when they excavate Iron Age grave monuments. If carefulness can arise from the excavation experience of 27-31 January 2003 at Kumla, perhaps the 104 hours were among the very important ones. More important, nevertheless, is the insight that in some periods prehistoric man had a keen archaeological interest, well integrated in a heritage-based society. ‘Well integrated in a heritage-based society’ sounds nice, but in reality it was probably horrible.


(1) See On the Reading Rest 20 August 2012:

(2) The following reports: Andersson Fredrik, Guinard Michel, Lindkvist, Ann and Persson, Maria. 2002. Bronsålderslämningar i Kumla Gravar och gropar. Arkeologisk slutundersökning. SAU skrifter 3, 2002.

Seiler, Anton and Appelgren Katarina. 2012. Inhåleskullen. UV rapport 2012:158 Arkeologisk undersökning.  AND