This week On the Reading Rest I have a small report in Danish from an excavation in Jutland. This kind of report is called a developer’s report. It is a short description of an excavation partly paid for by the developer because prehistoric remains would have been damaged by the planned construction work. In this case the archaeologists responsible for the excavation and the report have chosen among other things to present a house from the period 400 to 550 CE, that is the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. The site is called ‘Domdalsgård’ or ‘Dooms dale Farm’ and although this direct translation is probably not correct I shall comment upon the house calling it Doomsdale.

Illu 00

Terkildsen, Kamilla Fiedler and Boddum, Sanne 2011.Domdalsgård: gravplads fra ældre romersk jernalder, landsby fra ældre og yngre germansk jernalder (Domdalsgård: Cemetery from Early Roman Iron Age, Village from Early and Late Germanic Iron Age). Bygherrerapport nr. 61. Viborg Museum. ISBN 978-87-92778-11-6


Illu02On today’s farm the dwelling houses are small in comparison with dairy barns and manure basins because milk production at an industrious scale shapes the farm and its farmland, as well as and the agricultural firm called I/S Søndergaard that runs the estate. The relation employee:milk-cow is c. 1:75. It’s modern market-sensitive Denmark.


In the 5th century when Doomsdale was built, times were different and for the first time in centuries the byre or ‘the dairy barn’, in those days part of a main house, stated to become shorter than the dwelling quarters. This change was pointed out OtRR: 16 April, 2012, and exemplified by the St Darum village. In this regulated village the change was more marked and probably the result of a change in the agricultural economy favouring crops over cattle. The byres shrank and the dwelling quarters grew – the cattle became fewer and there were more people in the household. The number of heads would have balanced each other.

At Doomsdale which might be a somewhat earlier farm the proportions dwelling:byre are a little more balanced, but Doomsdale is still a typical EPCIA building because of its formalized planning, but also a little odd.


Usually in the PCIA the proportions between the lengths of the rooms were expressed in even numbers of feet. The central main room with the hearth was the largest room. The private quarters above the heath room were larger but divided into the gable room and the chamber. In most PCIA farms the outer room was not smaller than the chamber and frequently larger probably as a reflection of the number of farm hands in the household. In Doomsdale this is not the case although a minimal change from the proportions 8-12-17-11, 5 to 8-12-17-12 would have been a natural solution if proportions mattered as much as they usually did.

Other proportional solution such as:

A four room residence with lovely chambers and a capacious central room featuring 8-12-18-10 ft. proportions …


The classical balanced 48 ft. room solution: 8-12-16-12 ft., often favoured on better farms in Southern Jutland …

simply didn’t fit Doomsdale.

The size of the gable room is a consequence of the roof construction, but the three other rooms are there to express a social and practical balance. When we visit one of the evenly proportioned farm we understand that there are quite a number of farmhand and that the private quarters in the upper end of the house are capacious. The central room, therefore, may be a bit crowded, but that was probably just as it ought to be on a busy modern farm. Visiting Doomsdale, on the other hand, would give the impression that the farm hands were few or their living quarters crammed, the central room was large and the chambers capacious. This would have reminded one of a Late Roman Iron Age situation being an echo of the time when cattle were more important, and large farm owners larger.


In the byre part of the house there are no simple proportions other than the ones that were dependent upon the construction of the house. This is quite a modern trait compared to Southern Jutland where the post setting in this part of the house was functional, mirroring the construction of the cow’s compartments, dividing this part of the main farm house into byre and barn. At Doomsdale the post pairs were probably spread out evenly east of the entrance room in order to support the roof in a rational way. This solution probably involved measuring, but also small factions of the foot which cannot be measured on an excavation plan. The general impression of the main house would thus have been a mixture of rooms mirroring the social order of the household as well as rational and practical solutions to house construction. Compared to the RIA the byre part of the house would have lost a little of its ideologically inspired Early Iron Age design.


As mentioned, the technical construction of the building shows in the distance between the short end of the house and the nearest post pair – eight feet. In reality, however, this distance is linked to a relation between the wall plate in the corner of the house and the first roof-supporting trestle. Doomsdale was built according to a proportional system which starts with a rule of the thumb stating that if the distance from the short end to the first trestle is equal to 2 and the distance from the wall plate to the side ridge equals 1, then all the roof angles in the house will fit a thatch roof, if the height of the post in the trestle is 4, given that 2 equals the wall height. In this case the central ridge will be 5 units above the ground. Moreover, owing to the rounded corners, and supported by the first trestle and the side ridges, the rafters from the short end will meet with the rafters from the side roofs in one and the same point at the central top ridge. This will not happen if the wall height isn’t equal to the distance from the short end to the first trestle. Consequently, wall height at Doomsdale equals 8 feet, i.e. 2×4 feet. The total height of the house was thus 4×5 = 20 feet, i.e. 0.312×20 = 6.24 meter.

In the ever more open Early Iron Age landscape finding the necessary timber in order to build a house gets more and more difficult and there is thus a great point in being able beforehand to figure out the dimensions needed to build the house. In tandem it becomes all the more important to build large main houses as a symbol of the status of the owner. Social competition is in other words important and little by little architecture turns away from the functionalism of the Pre Roman Iron Age to the formality and rational technique of the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. There is a short revival of the functional ideal in the beginning of the Late Carolingian Iron Age, but Harold Bluetooth, who else, sees to it that formalism gets back in business (cf. OtRR 11 August, 2014).

This week On the Reading Rest I have one of the less rewarding poetic compositions among the Eddic texts. Usually it is known as Helgakviða Hjǫrvarðssonar—The lay of Helgi son of Hjorvarth. In codex Regius, the only manuscript in which the text exists, it is called Fra hiorvarþe oc sigrlin—On Hjorvard and Sigrlinn and that is a level 2 caption, which designates a primary section within the first or the second part of the manuscript (1).


Since King Hjorvard wants a fourth wife and one more beautiful than the three beautiful ones he already has he sends Atli, the son of his Earl Idmund, together with some men to King Svavner to ask for his King’s daughter Sigrlinn’s hand in marriage. Hjorvard has heard that she is the most beautiful. Of course he wants a son too. He already has three, one with each wife, so why not a fourth. Hjorvard sends out his suitor, as we would expect him to do.

In Svavaland the neighbouring King Svavner’s realm the Earl, Franmar, is also the foster father of the King’s daughter and Franmar advices against the marriage – case closed!


We get the impression that Hjorvard collects beautiful young women and that power in King Svavner’s kingdom is divided in order to curb the king.

One day, before he returns, Atli is standing in a groove listening to a gossiping bird. He strikes up a conversation with the bird, who obviously has information to sell, but while negotiating an agreement the bird gives away the essence of its secrets. Atli understands that Sigrlinn’s consent is in fact not the problem.

Returning to Hjorvard’s court, Atli doesn’t mention his bird talks. Instead he explains his lack of success with reference to the difficult journey over the liminal elements of the world – high mountains and a river separating the kingdoms. Probably Atli and his men didn’t look too good when they arrived at Svavner’s, but their difficulties are just the ones a suitor meets when he sets out to woo on behalf of his master within the model of the Holy Wedding. In this case the differences between the kingdoms could not be overcome.

King Hjorvard suggests that they try again and this time he will join them.

The common reader and indeed King Svavner, not to mention Franmer, will tend to find it odd and threatening that King Hjorvard takes such an undiplomatic step, given that any king could be expected to use force to get hold of Sigrlinn.

Not surprisingly therefore, when the wooing party reaches the top of the mountains and looks down on Svavaland, they see a country plagued by war. It would seem that a certain King Rodmar has killed Svavner and ravaged and burnt the country because he couldn’t have Sigrlinn.

Well in Svavaland in their first camp, Atli, despite being on guard, crosses a river in the middle of the night and hits upon a house guarded by a bird that has fallen asleep. He snipes the bird with his spear, enters and finds Sigrlinn and Alov – what a coincidence! Since this calls for an explanation we are told that because of Rodmar and his warriors, Earl Framnar who had to save his two daughters brought them to this safe house defending them with magic while dressed in his eagle guise. With no father, foster-father to trouble them Hjorvard takes Sigrlinn and Atli puts up with Alov. Since all readers of Eddic texts are supposed to be as conventional as a Wagnerian opera audience with double standards we know that Atle’s raid leaving his duty is wrong, but also model WW1 behaviour: leave your own lines, cross no-man’s-land, snipe a guard, take two prisoners and bring them back.

This concludes the first section of the texts related to Helgi Hjörvardsson. The strophes quoted so far relate to Atli, his bird talking capacity, audacity and cunning behaviour – taking risks and being successful.

As expected Hjorvard and Sigrlinn produces a son, big, beautiful and taciturn. None of the names given to him fasten on him. Then in the stage direction way dialogues are most often introduced in Eddic texts we are told: He sat on a hill. He saw nine Valkyries riding and one was the noblest. She said:

In the small dialogue that follows this Valkyrie calls the boy Helgi. She tells him where he can find a good sword and since the reader hasn’t yet been told in the strophes, this section ends in prose announcing that the helpful Valkyrie is called Sváva, her father being King Eylime.

After this rite of passage when the taciturn teenager becomes a man and adopted by the young Valkyrie, he pulls himself together and criticizes his father for not having stopped Rodmar when Svavaland was wasted. Hjorvard, who seems to be a cunning coward, immediately gives Helgi enough men to revenge his grandfather Svavner. Whatever the outcome when Helgi turns Beowulfian, travelling the country solving problems by killing things, Hjorvard will benefit. Helgi collects the sword, sets out together with Atli, who else, and slays Rodmar. This is the beginning of his great deeds.

So far the persons responsible for making Helgi a man have been presented. The strophes have been no more than interesting quotes of direct speech from epic narratives. The prose on the other hand has created a framework for the poetic fragments.

The next section consists of 19 strophes, a dialogue interrupted by prose, between the evil giantess Hrimgerd, loyal old Atli and capable young Helgi. Touring Norwegian fjords doing their deeds Atli and Helgi have killed the giant Hata a horrible and habitual bride abductor. Afterwards in the night when Helgi, Atli and his men are on board their ship, and Atli keeps watch while the others are sleeping, Hata’s daughter Hrimgerd tries to lure Atli ashore. This time he wisely stays on board and together with Helgi they quarrel with Hrimgerd until it dawns and she, being a troll, is petrified.

In the standard carrier of a mythological king Helgi has reached the point where he has shown good strategic sense on top of bravery, righteousness, good looks and a taciturn childhood. Consequently, Helgi is ready to become a king.

It is obvious that Helgi and Atli, Sváva and Hrimgerd as well as Hjorvard and Hata constitute complementary pairs. The two kings, man and giant, are obviously mostly interested in beautiful young women and of the two young but violent women Sváva is the righteous one while Hrimgerd is the over sexualized monster. The male pair – the old retainer and the young prince – is not unheard of either. There’s a touch of Falstaff and Prince Hal when Atli and Helgi wrangle with Hrimgerd. However, in the process of making Helgi a king, Atli develops from the daring young man who leaves his night watch to the loyal old retainer who doesn’t.

Significantly, Helgi, who must have an H-name like his half-brothers and their father, is called just that: Helgi – the holy one (he who is dedicated to the gods) by Sváva who is the equivalent of a God sent angel. His father the powerful Hjorvard—the sword guardian, moreover, is not as good as Hegli.

The long 19 strophe-dialogue in which Helgi gets the last word, calls for minor epic continuation or why not just another break and a new prose section jumping to the next predictable stop in Helgi’s life.

So, when Helgi passes by King Eylime’ court he asks to marry Sváva and since they love each other they are betrothed. He continues to fight and she doesn’t stop being a Valkyrie. Everything seems prosperous! But then Hedin, Helgi’s half-brother, meets a witch riding on a wolf on Yule-eve. She bauð fylgð sína Heðni—offered Hedin her help, but Hedin just cries out ‘No!’ stupidly giving the witch a reason to get annoyed and curse him. Yule-eve rituals eating pork and sharing a mead cup includes a serious New Year’s resolution, Consequently, Hedin being cursed and bent by magic, vows that he shall gain Sváva for himself. Having sworn, Hedin is devastated by his pledge and seeks out Helgi who is campaigning in the southern part of the country. And we the readers are in for another fragment of a dialogue, five strophes, between Hedin and Helgi.

Super-neurotic Hedin is heartbroken, but Helgi tells him not to bother and explains that since he has a duel coming up they might as well wait and see – fate being fate. And then, clairvoyantly, Helgi tells Hedin exactly what happened on Yule-eve when Hedin met the witch. Since clairvoyant kings are usually more carefully introduced, as in the Finnsburg fragment, this strophe calls for an explanation. In this text explanation is matter of prose and the author goes on to tell us what we expect: In the duel Hegli is lethally wounded by Alf the son of King Rodmar.

The duel took place at Sigarsvoll and Helgi sends Sigar off to fetch Sváva. She comes, Helgi dies and dying he expresses his opinion that Sváva should love Hedin, but Sváva doesn’t think so Hedin being jöfur ókunnan—an unknown prince. Being what he is the ever-vowing Hedin who is present cries out: ‘kiss me Sváva’ before he promises not to return until he has revenged Helgi, the best lord etc. Notably in this scene Sváva is not present to begin with although as a Valkyrie she is supposed to look after her Helgi. On wonders whether her active years were over.

Finally in plain prose we are told that Helgi ok Sváva er sagt at væri endrborin—it is said that Helgi and Sváva were born again. Many poems end in some sort of poetic vein but why elaborate in a text that just wants it readers to know so that they don’t forget.


If ever there was a cut-and-paste author ridden by topoi (cf. On the Reading Rest, Devotional Formula 19 August, 2013) it is the compiler of the Eddic text we call helgakviða hjörvarðssonar. At least two metrically different poems have been cut up and patched together.

Everything is chucked in, the cunning king, the suitor in an echo of the Hieros Gamos myth, the perfect retainer, the bipolar loser-brother, the vicarious parricide on Hata, trolls – wolf-riding as well as petrified, madonna and whore (the filth is in strophes 19-22), the clairvoyant king, curse, vow, fate and the objectified female beauty Sigrlinn. We are not even spared an offer death and resurrection reminding us of Christ’s. There is no Christ, no Easter, no supper, no wine, no Judas, no crucifixion, and no Mary Magdalene. But there is a twist: Sváva, duel, Hedin, beer, pork, Yule and prophetic Helgi.

That Helgi and Sváva are born again is more or less the whole point. The love-driven resurrection story might come in handy if we intend to compose something on the cause and effect of Fimbulwinter and Ragnarök (cf. On the Reading Rest, Codex Regius is a Synopsis, 9 March, 2015).

And would you know! Everything started with Hjorvard – topos: old king with dubious habits, sending off Atli – topos: young man who speaks with birds, to woo – topos: standard upper-class procedure.

It seems that all this happened in Western Norway and in a larger historical perspective this is not a bad setting. Not because the events in the patchwork took place in Norway, they didn’t inasmuch as everything happened in a study defined by its narratives. Fictional Western Norway is suitable a setting because we can imagine that in it intellectuals understood that outside their study they witnessed the interaction between, and the practical transition from a folk-religious society accepting a an autonomous reality demonstrated as fate to a society accompanied by a universal religion, which in principle didn’t accept fate and its consequence an autonomous reality.




(1) On the captions and the structure of Codex Regius see:
Lindblad, G., 1954. Studier i Codex Regius av Äldre Eddan i-m. [Lundastudier i nordisk språkhistoria 10.] Lund.
Or more specifically on captions:
Herschend, F. 2002. Codex Regius 2365, 4to – Purposeful Collection and Conscious Composition. Arkiv för nordisk filologi. Vol 117:121-143.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report from a road section excavated by archaeologists before the road was built.

Skeke framsidaLarsson, Fredrik et al. 2014. Skeke – gudar, människor och gjutare. Rituella komplex från bronsålder och äldre järnålder samt en höjdbosättning från yngre järnålder med gjuteriverkstad. Utbyggnad av väg 288, sträckan Jälla–Hov, Uppsala län; Uppland; Uppsala kommun; Rasbo socken; Skeke 1:3, 2:6; Rasbo 55:1–2, 654, 655, 669, 695, 696, 697, 626:1–627:1, 682–688 samt delar av Rasbo 628:1 och 629:1 UV rapport 2014:53 Riksantikvarieämbetet. Stockholm.



Skeke översiktIt is difficult to know what the place name Skeke means, but it could in principle refer to a landscape element characterized by oak trees or less likely contain a word meaning ‘to spread’ (Larsson et al., p. 42 with references). In this entry I shall use the very unlikely but at least pronounceable Spread-Oaks or Spreado for short.

All kinds of things are dated at Spreado. 14 C-wise ‘everything’ gives rise to a number of questions and looks like this:

Illu All dates with questionsHowever, if we disregard questions about continuity and discontinuity and filter the dates according to categories some patterns arise.

ILLU dating of groupsSpreado is inaugurated with a grave indicated by the earliest date of cremated human bones. This monument is probably a pre-settlement manifestation although there may of course be some kind of settlement outside the excavated road corridor. For 400 years one burial seems to suffice, but c. 1000 BCE graves start to become more common. Sometime during the 3rd c. BCE this grave period comes to an end. As expected in this kind of ‘cemetery monument’ there are structures that did not contain any burial remains. Perhaps, and in that case typically, there is a small burial-revival during the Carolingian Iron Age (Spreado:55; 65).

The first dwelling house, House 16 doesn’t convince the reader although on can naturally build something makeshift on a random distribution of post holes. Not until the late Bronze Age are there any typical dwelling houses at Spreado. They are just two but in all probability there were many more in the environment owing to the temporary character of the one-house farms of the period. Nevertheless, grains, animal bones and houses covariate although many of the grain finds are intrusions in much later houses build on top of the earlier temporary farms. Spreado is a good example of the Early Iron Age habit of resettling a place that has already been settled albeit hundreds of years earlier.

The situation at Spreado reflects the fact that Late Bronze Age and Early Pro Roman Iron Age living produced a lot garbage that wasn’t moved out of the settlement as well as holes and layers in which to trap garbage and ecofacts. Later settlements at Spreado are not characterized in the same way.

The dates of the dwelling houses at Spreado reveal the expected pattern: a few short dwelling periods during a millennium and then the establishment of a more stable settlement during several hundred years. This often happens before or the beginning of the Common Era, but in Spreado it happens late. The farm, which may at times have had two households, is eventually characterized by a small hall, House 2. The precise date is difficult to give owing to contaminations, but c. 400 CE is a plausible date. The farm on which House 2 is the emblem doesn’t survive the turbulent 6th century. Exactly when House 2 was rebuilt as House 21 is difficult to know since it is dated by an animal bone in a layer. The bone has little precise linkage to the house.

The interesting thing about House 2 is its measures. they are formalized in a way that is characteristic of the end of the Early Iron Age. Although the house may not have been an elegant or well-proportioned building – it was, however, a well-measured edifice, which shares some common South Scandinavian traits and perhaps some sort of architectural norms emphasizing measure and structure rather then function, in a way that would not have suited the general functionalistic norms of the Early Iron Age.

Skeke proportioner

Lika hallar

At the same time there are some local characteristics in the post setting and wall height and in the fact that the building was erected on a terrace on top of a small hill in order to be seen from afar. This landscape statement was deemed important because older graves had to be removed in order to give room for the building (Spreado Fig2:6 p:25; p:61ff.).

Roof and walls at Skeke

As an ideological statement, the hall at Spreado is older than the middle of the 6th century and the 536-45 CE dust veil, that is earlier then the new large halls characteristic of Lejre and Tissø. It is in other word a manifestation of the old upper classes, their inter-Scandinavian hall-designing network as well as their wish to prove themselves locally.

The contrast between Gilltuna (On the Reading Rest: 6 October, 2014: 536 and all that – the Gilltuna case) and Skeke is in other words model: Gilltuna, a traditional village closing down in the 6th century, happened to become one of the new large estates of the Late Iron Age characterized by its large 27-metre hall; Skeke, a traditional village formed in the 3rd century, developed into a 5th-6th century estate with a 20-metre hall. Both sites are exceptional: Skeke because it survived long enough to become a hall farm giving us a glimpse of an Early Iron Age success that came to nothing; Gilltuna because it was Late Iron Age success that came to nothing. The two farms happen to mirror something significant: the social change among the well-to-do in the 6th century.

ILLU Skeke hall fasad02

Since the fate of the Spreado hall and events central to Beowulf or Codex Regius as a synopsis (cf. On the Reading Rest 9 March, 2015) exemplify the way real-time archaeological past on a hillock in Uppland link-in with the fictional pan-European alleged time perspective in Beowulf and Codex Regius, it stands to reason that the Spreado hall, like many other halls, was the home of local real-life Hrothgar, Unferth and Beowulf as well as Sigurðr, Guðrún, Gunnarr and Brynhildr loving and hating each other. Although Spreado was a small place — the spiral gold ring buried outside the hall (house 2/21) (Spreado:241, A26) was actually made of gilded copper — there is nevertheless a chance that when Guðrún from Spreado left for Denmark and married Jonakr she went to Dejbjerg on Jutland.

Today, little by little archaeology in Scandinavia excavates both the large halls where the heroic epics were recited as well as the small ones in which the historical events that formed the backbone of the epics took place.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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



This week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from a rescue excavation in an urban exploitation area. During the last 10-15 years archaeologists from UV Syd have pieced together the history of a number of Early Iron Age (EIA) villages and farms in the hinterland of historical Helsingborg, One of these is Gustavslund.

ILLU 00Aspeborg, Håkan & Strömberg, Bo. 2014. H. Aspeborg (red.) Gustavslund – en by från äldre järnålder. Skåne, Helsingborgs stad Husensjö 9:25 (Gustavslund), RAÄ 184. UV Rapport 2014:132. Riksantikvarieämbetet. Acronym: HASB

Today, an area in the outskirts of the town. The present Gustavslund farm (18th c. Mårtenstorp – Martin’s thorp) was founded in 1792 when surveyors established the boundaries of the property and eventually, in 1810, carried out a land consolidation.

ILLU 01By 1810 the EIA settlement area was situated in the grassland at the eastern border of the estate and the westerns border of neighbouring farms. Probably the settlement remains had been invisible and forgotten for more than a millennium. Protected by its peripheral situation in the historical landscape, in itself typical EIA situation, the location of the prehistoric settlement was model – homesteads sitting between two water causes, c. 3 km from Öresund, a little below a flat hilltop, on a slope facing the SW, above a small wetland and brooks suitable for water-meadows – model, but not exceptional. Today, large parts of the settlement area have been excavated accommodating infrastructure, housing and private company offices along a road. This road follows an old N-S divide in the landscape, a parish border as well as the border of Gustavslund. When this zone was made a ring road, Österleden, in the late 20th century no excavations took place at Gustavslund and some parts of the settlement area were damaged prior to the investigations in the early 2000s. The southwestern parts of the settlement have not yet been excavated probably because they are not yet threatened by the growing town.

ILLU 02 Similar to the excavations at Västerås – the focus of OtRR 6 October 2014, 1 December, 2014 and 3 November, 2014 – once begun by Håkan Aspeborg, HA in the above acronym, the excavations in the outskirts of Helsingborg have been archaeologically most rewarding. And the present report adds considerably to the overall picture.

HASB has identified four settlement sites – three in the present report and one in an earlier publication (1). They conclude that in the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era the settlement area was a small village consisting of (at least?) four farms and covering c. 400×200 m or 8 ha. This village may be described as a settlement phase in which suitable, but spatially loosely defined sites, which had been used sporadically in the preceding centuries, were now permanently settled for a longer period.

The 14C-dates give a general picture of the chronology of settlement in the area with a strong emphasis on the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era. Precisely dating the beginning of this village period is difficult, owing to the flat calibration curve, but the end of the village phase is less difficult to pinpoint.

ILLU 03Because of the general character of the 14C-dates we may add the ones from the earlier excavations in the eastern part of the village and look at the chronology of the 4-farm village, as HASB do when they sum up Gustavslund (HASB:73-88). The site was used sporadically for hundreds of years before the village was established in the late PRIA and given up in the ERIA. Nevertheless, the area that was once the central part of the village saw stray presence as late as the 5th century CE.


Analyzing the 14C-tests in Bcal (2), we can date the end of the village relatively sharply, modelling it in three ways. First (A) we may consider that the tests that belong to the last 20 14C-years of the village period represent the end of the settlement. There are six tests dated between 1953 and 1933 bc. Modelling the end of this phase returns the period 31 to 137 CE with a 95% probability and 56 to 94 CE with a 68% probability.

We may also (B) consider that these last six dates represent the same end date and pool them. In that case the pooled date is somewhere between 22 to 85 CE with a 95% probability and 52 to 75 CE with a 68% probability. This analysis neutralizes the probabilities stretching into the 2nd c. CE, induced by the calibration curve, but the basic hypothesis is nevertheless questionable.

Lastly (C), we may ask what the probability is that a certain year is older than the end of the village phase. This analysis returns the most reasonable understanding of the end date – a date in the last half of the first century CE. Method one and two match each other supporting the interpretation that the village was abandoned in the later part of the 1st c. CE. When we know this we may start wondering why it existed for c. 200 years.


One of the main topics discussed by HASB in connection with the EIA settlements around Helsingborg is the production of ceramics during the LPR- and ERIA – the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era (3). Potsherds are abundant on these sites and together with several ovens at Gustavslund as well as nearby Backen and Ramlösagården, they indicate a production in excess of household needs. On the two former sites there was probably no, or very limited, iron production, which means that hearth areas, wells, pit shelters/houses and the odd lump of fine clay are more clearly linked to pottery production.

Since most people made their own, selling ceramics (or for that matter iron tools) in the PRIA was probably not big business. The production therefore begs the question: to whom would the potters at Backen, Gustavslund and Ramlösagården have sold their pots with a profit? And: could the people at Gustavslund pack their wagons and set out on a tour selling ceramics to the coastal population between Halmstad and Malmö competing with their neighbours from Ramlösagården?

The answer is: No! In order for producers or traders to distribute household ware it takes a regionally developed infrastructure, suitable wagons, large scale pottery firing and not least market places where people would buy all kinds of commodities. There is no archaeological evidence for such a complex economic system, investments or power-structured society in the PRIA. Alternatively, bearing in mind the settlement expansion east of today’s Helsingborg, we may argue that in the end of the PRIA pottery production and settlement, such as the 4-farm village Gustavslund, were two sides of the same coin.

The chronological settlement pattern of Gustavslund as well as that of the Backen settlement, 1.5 km North of Gustavslund, are typical: sporadic – concentrated – stray, but also characterized by pottery production in excess of household needs (4).

ILLU 07Nevertheless, Backen and perhaps also Filborna and Påarp (5) were closed down in the first part of the EIA expansion. However, 14C-wise, it would seem that Backen could have been moved to become the North farm in Gustavslund when settlements were concentrated to the village. This is obviously difficult to prove, but is it likely that the seemingly instant foundation of the 4-farm village was not the result of a growth of population, but rather the result of farms (and people) moving to a certain location at a certain point in time. The village was founded and four settlement sites that had been used now and again over the years were permanently settled.

ILLU 06This patterns implies a clue to answering the question: to whom did the potters sell their pots? Instead of thinking up an anachronistic economy with markets, transportation and exchange of simple commodities such as pots, it is more rewarding to understand villages such as Gustavslund to be markets in themselves or trade stations where good quality pots are produced and bartered or sold to people who arrive there from the inland to sell their products and as a fringe benefit buy good quality pots difficult to produce in the woodlands. What the trappers would sell is not necessarily sold to the people of Gustavslund, but rather to people who would move valuable the goods out of Scania. Villages such as Gustavslund and Ramlösagården are attractive to trappers, locals and traders, since villages facilitate transhipment and trade as well as the production of pots.

But is there any indications of inland Scania and Småland being exploited by trappers settled in the inland at this early date? Indirectly there is a find pattern suggesting this.

ILLU 08The low value Roman coins minted in the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era are typical in their distribution (1) in the coastland, (2) the inland and (3) possibly along routes of communication between inland and coastland (cf. OnRR 23 January, 2012). The presence of these coins and their distribution can be explained if we look at them as counters, tokens or IOUs in transactions between, a trader, a trapper and a middlemen. Limited and controlled, as such a system needs to be in order to be fair, it is nevertheless, a system that could turn products such as good quality ceramics (as well as iron tools) into a commodity. In such a system there is a point in concentrating potters and craftsmen in a village, because it will make the village more interesting to those involved in the system. The low-value or, in terms of real metal value, almost worthless Roman coins, have the advantage of being difficult to counterfeit. On the other hand: the closer South Scandinavia gets to Roman economy, the easier the access to low value coins. However, if the introduction of this coinage into the system cannot be controlled, then the system will probably collapse after having been sabotaged by coins that have not been introduced as payment for commodities traded within the system. If this happens, that is, if stakeholders get the feeling that there are more coins in the system than they have agreed, then Roman coins will tend to cause distrust within the systems. Thus enhanced economic activity in EIA society will probably lead to the introduction of weighed bullion as payment, as indeed it does in the LRIA.

A similar development can be seen in the transition from E- to LCIA. In the 8th century low value coins (sceattas) were minted in Ribe and used with a nominal value on the market – being the coins of this market, which was under some sort of control (6). Nevertheless, in the economic boom of the 9th and 10th c. silver weight economy carried the day in South Scandinavia. In most of the 10th c. Arabic dirhams and fragments down to a quarter were used in market places in order to speed up transaction time without losing track of their real value. They were thought of and represent a certain, small, amount of pure silver. In the end of the 10th c. coins with a nominal value are reintroduced as a royal coinage sometimes strongly linked to a market as in the Swedish case of King Olof Skötkonung and Sigtuna (7) .

To sum up: in a fairly low structured society with a limited power control and little spatial authority, booming economies make it difficult to handle economically sound notions such as nominal values. The reason for this is simple: during a boom transactions cannot be confined to organized markets and production places large enough to create and sustain their own coinage. Instead prices can be negotiated everywhere – not in relation to the commodities of a controlled market, but in relation to the value of a precious metal such as silver.

Owing to initial contacts with the Roman world economy, the economic raison d’être of a potters’ villages as an embryonic production and market place or trade station may well have become a fact. If so access to good clays, skills and local control of power were behind this possibility to satisfy a demand. When these contacts boomed local economic raison d’être disappeared. This change could be expressed in many very different way. That is why we may describe it as the end of the village as well as the ability of trappers, potters and middlemen to organize themselves in inland settlement areas during the prosperous RIA.



(1) Aspeborg, Håkan. 2012. Österleden vatten, etapp 2 Skåne, Helsingborgs kommun, Helsingborgs stad, Husensjö 9:25, RAÄ 261. Arkeologisk förundersökning 2011. Uv rapport 2012:31.

(2) The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service ( The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (

(3) There is a thorough formal analysis of the ceramic from Gustavslund by Thorbjörn Brorsson that analysis adds significantly to the value of the material.
(Brorsson, T. 2014. Den förromerska och romerska keramikens kronologi och funktion – exempel från Gustavslund I Helsingborg. Appendix 8 in HASB:190-222).

In view what will probably be included of her PhD. dissertation, Katarina Botwid has written an innovative preliminary assessment of the ceramic craftsmanship in EIA Gustavslund, with but a short discussion of the empirical basis for the qualitative categorizations of the craft.
(Botwid, K. 2014. Hantverkstolkning av keramik – en undersökning av forntida keramikers hantverksskicklighet, Appendix 9 in HASB:223-246).

(4) Strömberg, Bo. 2011. Österleden etapp 3, Helsingborg. En hantverksgård från äldre järnålder vid Backen, Helsingborg. Fördjupad förundersökning. Skåne, Helsingborgs stad, Husensjö, fornlämning 265. Uv rapport 2011:138.

(5) Larsson, Rolf and Söderberg, Bengt. 2004. Filborna by – Gård och by i ett långt tidsperspektiv. UV SYD Arkeologiska för- och slutundersökningar Rapport 2004:26.

Aspeborg, Håkan. 2012. In: H. Aspeborg med bidrag av Nathalie Becker (red). Arkeologisk undersökning. En storgård i Påarp. Skåne, Välluv socken, Påarp 1:12, RAÄ 22 och 43. UV Syd, dokumentation av fältarbetsfasen 2002:1. .

(6) Feveile, Claus. 2008. Series X and coin circulation in Ribe. In: Tony Abramson (ed.) Two Decades of Discovery. Studies in Early Medieval coinage. Vol. 1. Woodbridge. The Boydell Press. Pp 53-66.

(7) Herschend, Frands. 1992. What Olof had in mind. Fornvännen vol. 87. Stockholm. Pp. 19-31.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(1) The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service ( The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (

This week On the Reading Rest I have a letter by Sidonius Apollinaris, but I don’t read it without consulting relevant chapters in:

coverWaarden, Johannes A. & Kelly, Gavin. 2013. New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris. [Late Antique History and Religion 7] Peeters. Leuven – Paris – Walpola, Ma. Acronym: NatSa

Reading a letter by Sidonius Apollinaris is not just a matter of getting the words and their immediate meaning right. His nine books of letters must also be seen as a work in themselves, a series of instalments, nine books of letters, related to Sidonius, his life, conscious and unconscious decisions, plans and opinions in his ‘long decade’, encompassing the 470s. His letters, however, are not terribly annalistic. Consequently, arrangement, editing, his choice of addressees, composition, facts, mood and opinion, to name but a few factors, must be actively understood in order to grasp the contexts of the letters and a wealth of relations. The possible variables are neither reviewable nor well-defined and reading Sidonius in depth is in other words reassuringly impossible but nevertheless worthwhile.

Book 8 letter 6, probably written from Clermont-Ferrand to his friend Namatius the Visigoth King Euric’s admiral stationed in Saintonges, is a case in point. (Go to page 145)

Sidonius Apollinaris personifies Late Antiquity. He writes classical Latin (Rodie Risselada, NatSa:273f & 300), but he also promotes himself in a non-classical but definitely Late-Antique style full of pretentious mannerism that doesn’t chime in well with the ever-present alleged modesty and professed inferiority of the author. This kind of lip service is so common and so linked to topos that is no more than the equivalent of more or less harmless politeness. It need not bother us reading the letter as long as we remember that life in Late Antiquity was horrible to most. Mannerism, moreover, hasn’t completely left us.

SidoniusWhen it comes to the overall structure of the nine books of letters, Roy Gibson (NatSa:195ff.) has argue that Sidonius composed his nine books according to an overarching structure reminiscent of the way Pliny the younger organized his (1). This means that anxiety would be a theme we must not be surprised to meet in a letter in book 7 or 8. Contrary to Pliny, Sidonius, who was well aware of the bleak aspects of life, makes a point of not losing hope. Fond of staging the drama of his own life in a historical setting (cf. Sigrid Mratschek, NatSa:254), he is nevertheless confident that ultimately the very kind of intellectualism that he himself represents will lead the way out of our present problems. Composing a series of ‘Books of Letters’ doesn’t prevent Sidonius from writing personal letters reflecting the world he lives in, and in this setting the last two books, 8 & 9, are appendices to the first seven inasmuch as he ends book 7 and 8 telling his addressee that enough is enough. Needless to say on request he procures book 8 & 9 (and so did Pliny). Sidonius, true to his composition is acutely aware of all possible dangers, but obeys ‘the command and set[s] his ‘sails to the old winds’. He asks himself why he, who has ‘navigated oceans’, ‘shouldn’t cross this quiet water’ (Book 8, letter 1). The book is the answer, anxiety present, and Sidonius is not discouraged.

With Ralph Mathisen we can expect that Book 8 was circulated in some form or other c. 480 CE, that is a couple of years after Books 1-7 (NatSa:Tab. 3 p 231).

The structure of Letter 6 is not straightforward. But reading the very last paragraph we understand that the letter is an answer to a request by Namatius asking Sidonius to send him some books that his friend would like to read because he is in camp organising his campaign and could do with a little leisure. Sending these books would have been a logical way to end the letter, had it not been for the paragraphs 13 to 17. In paragraph 13, after the first sentence, there is a break because a courier arrives. Talking to him Sidonius is told that Namatius has already weighed anchor pursuing the Saxons. If the last paragraph had not already been written we would expect the last paragraph to have rounded up the letter. Something like this: I send the books with the courier and they will await your happy return – please write to me as soon as you can! In fact what we have is a post scriptum pasted into the original last paragraph once meant to state the following:

[13] But, joking apart, do let me know how things go with you and your household. THE POST SCRIPTUM: [18 ]In accordance with your request, I send you the Libri Logistorici of Varro and the Chronology of Eusebius. If these models reach you safely, and you find a little leisure from the watches and the duties of the camp, you will be able, your arms once furbished, to apply another kind of polish to an eloquence which must be getting rusty. Farewell.

Prior to this last paragraph there are two sections. To begin with a rather long one (paragraphs 1 to 9) dedicated to one of Sidonii role models Flavius Nicetius. This man is a towering intellectual and orator successfully involved in governing. Since Flavius Nicetius likes Sidonius too, we are not surprised. Moreover, paragraph 1 begins with a reference to Caesar and that is relevant in view of the books by Varro – himself an intellectual at the centre of power and an antagonist accepted by Caesar.

Understandably, inasmuch as self-promotion must be balanced, the second part (paragraphs 10 to 12) begins: ‘But no more of me and my friend’ and Sidonius then goes on to jokingly to tease Namatius while flattering him. They are palls, God bless them, and now when the conversation has been made public we cannot help eavesdropping because Sidonius has chosen to publish himself in a way that reminds us of someone talking loudly into his phone on the train.

When the letter was finished the courier from Saintonges entered – what a coincidence! He is not Namatius’ courier, but having talked to the man Sidonius has to write the post scriptum (paragraphs 13 to 17). Needless to say he may have invented the anonymous courier. Later when Sidonius edits the letter he puts the post scriptum where it has the most dramatic effect. The post scriptum serves Sidonius to show his concern for a Saxon-hunting friend, and although he need not tell Namatius of the dangers, he does so anyway because danger, concern and anxiety it is one of his themes in Book 8. This mean that we know why the Saxons entered the letter – they are an indisputable example of the ruthless chillingly capable and dedicated barbarians – the IS/Isis of the 470s. Sidonius writes about the Saxons exactly to describe what Namatius and the well-informed already agree upon when it comes to Saxons. Everything is factual – horrible and true.

[13] … [The inserted Post Scriptum:] Just as I was on the point of ending a letter which had rambled on long enough, lo and behold! a courier from Saintonges. I whiled away some time talking with him about you; and he was very positive that you had weighed anchor, and in fulfilment of those half military, half naval duties of yours were coasting the western shores on the look-out for small curved pirate ships of the Saxons in whose every oarsman you think to detect an arch-pirate. Captains and crews alike, to a man they teach or learn the art of brigandage; therefore let me urgently caution you to be ever on the alert.

[14] For the Saxon is the most ferocious of all foes. He comes on you without warning; when you expect his attack he makes away. Resistance only moves him to contempt; a rash opponent is soon down. If he pursues he overtakes; if he flies himself, he is never caught. Shipwrecks to him are no terror, but only so much training. His is no mere acquaintance with the perils of the sea; he knows them as he knows himself. A storm puts his enemies off their guard, preventing his preparations from being seen; the chance of taking the foe by surprise makes him gladly face every hazard of rough waters and broken rocks.

[15] Moreover, when the Saxons are setting sail from the continent, and are about to drag their firm-holding anchors from an enemy’s shore, it is their usage, thus homeward bound, to abandon every tenth captive to the slow agony of a watery end, casting lots with perfect equity among the doomed crowd in execution of this iniquitous sentence of death. This custom is all the more deplorable in that it is prompted by honest superstition. These men are bound by vows which have to be paid in victims, they conceive it a religious act to perpetrate this horrible slaughter, and to take anguish from the prisoner in place of ransom; this polluting sacrilege is in their eyes an absolving sacrifice.

[16] I am in full of anxiety and apprehension about these dangers etc. etc. (Dalton 1915: Sidonius to Namatius: Book viii, letter vi, section 13-17).

The quotation describes fleets of small sailing ships full of oarsmen. The ships are many, quite fast and easy to manoeuvre, the sailors are capable.

Concerning the translation one may wonder about the word pandos translated as ‘curved’ in the expression Saxorum pandos myoparones—‘the Saxons’ small curved pirate ships’. The pirate ships, the myoparones, are light ships and thus easy to manoeuvre and dangerous to large men of war. Indirectly, Cicero Against Verres describes the character of these light vessels:

Is it because while you (Verres) were praetor, a most beautiful fleet, the bulwark of Sicily, the defence of the province, was burnt by the hands of pirates arriving in a few light galleys? Cic. Verr. 2, 3, 80, § 186

The ‘light galleys’ are the myoparones and their maritime strategy is based on their number (always several) the impossibility easily to foresee their movements and their speed, which makes them difficult to target. They are the equivalent of light cavalry attacking a formation of foot soldiers. Describing these light vessels as ‘curved’ is pointless. Most ships are curved and the shape of a myoparō not very important. It would be more reasonable, therefore, if pandos referred to the primary meaning of the verb pandere, that is, to spread out, extend; to unfold, or expand and described the ‘spread-out’ formation of the small ships when they attack heavy vessels. Moreover, if we believe that pandos refers to the shape of the individual vessel we tacitly imply that Sidonius is engaged in an ethnographic description of The Saxon Boat. Evidently he is not! boat, sail and anchor are instruments in the hands of the Saxons. He is concerned about these pirates’ naval skills, their landfall, their terrorising innocent people and murdering them in the most gruesome way – honestly believing that they do the right thing.

In Euric’s days coasting the Atlantic shores on his behalf as Namatius does, would be sailing all the way up to the mouth of the Somme hunting pirates in the sea and on land as the expression indicates when Sidonius describes the admirals assignment: atque inter officia nunc nautae, modo militis—‘and among assignments now naval, partly military’. Consequently, Sidonius describes the Saxon fleet as an effective naval force anchored in waters outside a coastal settlement making land fall although it is their seamanship that catches the eye. Since they are ‘setting sails from the continent’ to their homeland, these Saxons may have come from England as well as from the isles in the Wadden Sea or further north. Be this as it may, Sidonius relates second- or third-hand knowledge, which sounds very much like a narrative originally told by people who had encountered Saxons along the French coast and have had reason to be impressed by their tactics, because they were unusual and difficult to come to grips with. Sidonius’ description of the symbiosis between Saxon, ship and sea strongly suggests that 480 ce sailing ships existed in Northwest Europe.

Sidonius writes primarily to prove that he understands the perils of Namatius’ coast guarding and secondly in the end of his letter he demonstrates that he has complete confidence in the admiral. Nothing in the description of these terrorists seems wrong, and as Sidonius knows, taking more prisoners than one can safely bring home is a very good reason for sacrificing every tenth of them by chance if you are a rational and not just superstitious barbarian believing in fate. The prisoners are on the boats and thrown overboard just before the Saxons set out to sail home and decimation – as practiced by the Roman army – creates discipline.

If we look at the description of their setting sails:

Praeterea, priusquam de continenti in patriam vela laxantes hostico mordaces anchoras vado vellant, mos est—Moreover, prior to leaving the continent and enemy territory for their homeland, about to pull out their biting anchors and broad sails, it is their habit … .

we understand that they are living on their ships on the water as pirates making landfall. When Sidonius writes … priusquam de continenti in patriam vela laxantes hostico vado vellant, mos est …, he falls back on Vergil, Aeneid 1 169 (1) when Aeneas anchors on the Libyan coast. The 5th c. Afro-Roman author Dracontius, moreover, seems to have been drawing on both Vergil and Sidonius in his description of boats anchored on a shore, a very North-African situation. The fact that Sidonius writes to someone able to judge his description and that he inspires a poet to draw upon his formulation when describing a common phenomenon indicates that Sidonius’ second-hand description stood out as authentic.


There is something Pirate or Viking about Sidonius’ Saxons. Their tactics described in section 14, match a piratic strategy and it is not surprising that traveller Widsith has been together with two kinds of EIA Vikings. Indirectly, we may infer the existence of Vikings from the function of the barrages in EIA Denmark and find support for Viking behaviour in the odd water-related name on early runic inscriptions, such as Sikijaz (one who lives on a syke) or Wagagastiz (a guest from the wave). There are also similarities between Sidonius’ letter and Beowulf. The poem touches upon sailing and raiding allegedly one generation after Sidonius. Beowulf and his 15 armed warriors sail. Probably they are arch-pirates to Sidonius, but heroes in the poem. These fifteen men do not set out on their expedition until they have observed omens (vv 204 and 217). Later in the poem we are told that King Hygelac was killed in an attack on Friesland and the Franks by a Merovingian force. His combined naval and military operation failed and from the first description of the strife in which Hygelac was killed, it is obvious that it took place at least partly on the ships. As it happens, Beowulf, having fought well, jumps overboard and swims home. Fate, disrespect for water and the symbiosis Saxon–ship–sea, which Sidonius pointed to, would seem to have found a fantastic and eloquent exponent in Beowulf (vv 2354-66). Although Sidonius’ letter and Beowulf value their material differently they describe the same technology-based warfare.

Given the complementarity of their perspectives the actual profile of the Grönån canal (OtRR 4 February, 2013), becomes chronologically interesting. As Jan Bill points out (Bill 1997:187f. finns i reflistan) referring to the shape of the Oseberg ship, its frames were made of several pieces of wood in a brace-shaped [ }] rather than curved [ )] section. This construction created a stability essential for sailing the ship. Curved sections on the other hand result in faster albeit crank ships. Sidonius/Beowulf, c. 500, the Grönån section, c. 600, the Salme ships, c. 700 (2) and the Oseberg ship circa. 800 ce indicate a long and gradual technological development of the sailing ship in a naval/military Scandinavian setting. It is this long-term perspective which suggests that the Saxons were in fact sailing home already c. 480 CE.


(1) Tizzoni, Mark Lewis. 2014. Dracontius and the wider world. Cultural and intellectual interconnectedness in late fifth-century Vandal North Africa. Networks & Neighbours: Vol. 2.1: ‘Comparisons and Correlations’. Pp. 87-105.

(2) Bill, Jan. 1997. Ships and Seamanship. In: Peter Sawyer (ed.). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford. Pp 182-201.
Juri Peets. 2013. Salme ship burials. Revealing a grim cargo of elite Viking warriors. Current World Archaeology vol 58. Pp. 18-24

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

Overview 00

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


Overview 01

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

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

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

Overview 02

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

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

Analysis 02

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

Overview 03

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

Overview 04

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


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

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

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

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

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

Gilltuna omslagThis week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from the excavation of a small village in Västmanland, Gilltuna, in the western outskirts of today’s Västerås. It is the westernmost of three Iron Age settlements, situated east, south and west of an open area of meadows and grassland. Skälby, Väster Hacksta and Gilltuna have been excavated during the last 20 years because the Västerås has grown. The area was colonized in the Late Bronze Age and settlements expanded during the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era.

Sundkvist, A. and Eklund, S. 2014. Gilltuna – där man följde traditionen. Den första storskaligt undersökta tuna-gården. SAU rapport 2014:4. Acronym: ASuSEk.

Gilltuna fig 00

Since the whole Gilltuna settlement area has been excavated, archaeological and historical source materials can be brought together allowing us to follow the development of the area and its settlements during 2300 years up and until today.

From Maja Eriksson’s chapter on the historical maps we learn that today’s Gilltuna is a small farm established in 1628 (ASuSEk, Eriksson:14 ff.). It was called Gilltuna because it was situated on or adjacent to farmlands that were called ‘Gilltuna’. This estate was first mentioned 1384 when it was still relatively large. Gilltuna might have been an estate without farm houses already then and soon it was split-up and farmed by neighbouring landowners and tennants. On the cadastral maps from the early 18th century, nevertheless, ‘The Gilltuna fields’ have been marked out exactly where the archaeological excavations found the remains of farm houses that had been used until the Late Carolingian Iron Age (LCIA, late 10th century). Remains of the Early Medieval farm houses have not been found, and they might very well have been destroyed by ploughing, but the excavations showed that there were still two farms in the village in the 10th century. In 1384 there was obviously just one estate. The two CIA farms go back to what was originally a single Pre Carolingian Iron Age (PCIA) farm situated inside a stout enclosure, i.e. a ‘tun’ in Swedish (ASuSEk:135). The suffix ‘-tun’ is similar to the suffix ‘-ton’ in Anglo-Saxon place names such as Brighton – Beorhthelmes tūn in Old English. There are many kinds of enclosures and as a place name ‘Tuna’ (plural of ‘tun’) may stand alone. Moreover, when combined, the meaning of the first part of the names varies considerably.

Gilltuna fig 04In Gilltuna, the enclosure is a prominent feature measuring c. 44×44 metres or 144×144 feet. It is a formal enclosure and a plot respected and maintained during hundreds of years. From a purely practical point of view it is a rather pointless restriction, which makes the manifest significance of the enclosure all the more important. This enclosure is connected with the revival in the Late Iron Age (LIA) of the Early Iron Age (EIA) village. This latter village was replaced by a rather large farm, which in its turn was accompanied by a small croft 40m south of the enclosure close to the brook. It seems reasonable to suggest that something radical happened in the settlement and this event in all probability resulted in a farm called Tuna or perhaps Gilltuna. The first part Gill- may refer to people feasting together (ASuSEk, Engström:200). In that case they would have been doing it in the large house behind the enclosure rather than on a farm marked by subsistence economy.

Based on 51 14C-dates ASuSEk divide the settlement into eight phases. The settlement starts with one or two farms spread out in the area. There is a time gap between the first and the second farm in the area and that suggests that to begin with, when it came to farm houses, there was no continuous presence in the area. But already in the Late Pre Roman Iron Age (LPRIA) there were several contemporary farms in the area. By then the settlement had become a small village with an ad hoc structure visible as a number of farm sites not always boasting a farm. This is the expected settlement development.

Around 500 CE the 14C-dates indicate that there was a hiatus in the central part of the settlement and after this break the -tuna farm was erected. ASuSEk discuss the 14C-dates, and find that the hiatus in the central part of the settlement is a plausible interpretation. Nevertheless, the Gilltuna area as such was not completely abandoned. In the easternmost part of the settlement in an area mostly used for outdoor purposes there was a small cottage with a fire place dated 1531 bp +/- 30 and a date, 1574 bp +/-30, from the well just outside the house. The size of this cottage is c. 60m2, with a 24 m2 dwelling room, a small central entrance room and perhaps a cowshed similar to the size of the dwelling. This is quite possibly a small croft and at the time the only inhabited building at Gilltuna.

Gilltuna fig 01When we look at the remaining 49 14C-dates as a general probability distribution they seem to fall on three parts. An intuitive analysis of 14C-dates from Gilltuna, therefore, suggests that there was an initial presence in the PRIA (Phase 0), a permanent phase from the end of the LPRIA to the EPCIA (Phase1) and a third Phase commencing in the LPCIA and coming to an end in the LCIA (Phase 2).


The possible time gap between Phase 1 and Phase 2 merits a more formal analysis because this break seems to fall in the middle of the 1st millennium CE, and a period characterized by radical change also in Scandinavia. Usually we do not see this kind of hiatus and re-settlement in excavations, because generally speaking a settlement given up in the middle of the 1st millennium was demolished and/or incorporated into more prosperous villages in the given settlement area. Usually these villages survived into historical times. Since Gilltuna is an exception to this rule, it would be interesting to know more precisely when the re-settlement took place.

Consequently, if we turn to the representation of the phases in the central part of the settlement, as singled out by ASuSEk, it becomes natural to ask when Phase 2 commenced and when Phase 1 came to an end. There is in other words good reasons in the archaeological context and its 14C dates to consider it a fact that in the first part of the first millennium CE there were two different settlement phases at Gilltuna – a 1st phase followed by a 2nd phase.

Thus the first question to be asked is whether there was a hiatus between the two phases? To answer this question I will use BCal – an on-line Baysian radiocarbon calibration tool (1).

To begin with we want to know the probability that the data set, which dates Phase 1, is indeed earlier than the corresponding data in Phase 2. What BCal returns is an estimate of the probability that the event represented by beta 1 (i.e. the modelled end of Phase 1 consisting of 30 14C-tests) is earlier than the event represented by alpha 2 (i.e. the modelled beginning of Phase 2 consisting of 19 14C-tests). The probability is 0.968313. We can in other words safely conclude that Phase 1 came to an end before Phase 2 commenced.

Including this as a fact in our modelling we will re-define Phase 1 as definitely earlier than Phase 2. Since this is now true the query: An estimate of the probability that the event represented by beta 1 is earlier than the event represented by alpha 2 returns the probability 0.9995472.

Gilltuna fig 02Based on this model we can proceed and ask ourselves what ‘earlier than’ will mean in terms of a time gap or hiatus. BCal will model the ‘posterior probability distributions for an estimate of the time elapsed between the events represented by two parameters’. In our case these parameters are once again Beta 1 (the end of Phase 1) and Alpha 2 (the beginning of Phase 2). We will set the significance level to 0.95 and ask BCal to estimate the lapsed time between highest posterior density intervals (HPD intervals in years) for Alpha 2 and Beta 1. The estimate is 25 to 182 years. This means that we must think of a hiatus of 25 years and probably more.

Having drawn this conclusion we can proceed and try to relate the settlement phases to The Cold Decade 536-545 CE (TCD). This decade is important because it could have caused the death of a large part of the population (cf. OtRR 18 mar 2013). We ask: what is the probability that the event Beta 1, i.e. the end of Phase 1, took place before the year 536 CE and the volcanic eruption that is supposed to have resulted in a cold decade?

The probability for that is 0.9795934 and we must thus conclude that Phase 1 came to an end before 536 CE. Actually it is very likely (probability 0.90254027) that the hiatus started before the 500 CE.

What then is the probability that Phase 2 commenced after TCD, i.e. after the year 545 CE?

The probability for that is relatively low, 0.756811, but it is nevertheless more likely that the new settlement commenced after 545 CE than before. Bearing this in mind we can ask BCal to return the possibility that that Phase 2 had not commenced 600 CE. That probability is as low as 0.061325524.

If we sum up the modelling so far we have established (1) that there was indeed a gap between Phase 1 and Phase 2 and (2) that Phase 1 came to an end well before 536 CE. It seems that Phase 2 commenced after 545 CE, but it is not obvious. It is much more likely, however, (3) that Phase 2 commenced before 600 CE. In the next step in the modelling we will take this latter possibility for granted and introduce what BCal calls ‘a floating parameter, Phi 1’. In this case Phi 1 is the year 600 CE. In the model, therefore, it becomes a fact that the calendar year 600 CE is absolutely posterior to the beginning of Phase 2 – the event Alpha 2 modelled by BCal.

Adding this parameter to the model, we may once again ask about the probability that Phase 2 had commenced a certain year CE. The effect of the floating parameter can be seen in a diagram.

Gilltuna fig 03

Comparing the two models (with or without a floating parameter) to each other it becomes plausible that the large farm characterizing the beginning of settlement Phase 2 was established within a generation after TCD. It may have happened earlier, but that is not likely. The growth in probability 550 to 570 is probably indicative of the beginning of Phase 2 and dates prior to 530 have low probabilities.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to conclude that in the EIA ‘Gilltuna’ settlement, whose real name we don’t know, crisis became a fact in the EPCIA well before TCD. This amount to saying that the first stable settlement period (Phase 1) with several contemporary farms probably came to an end before 500 CE. Around 500 CE, a period in which the calibration curve is more or less horizontal, a small peripheral cottage, c. 60m2, with a 24 m2 dwelling room was the only standing building in the area (cf. ASuSEk:68-69). After this abode and TCD had disappeared, i.e. some time between 550 and 580 CE, the ‘tuna’ farm, perhaps Gilltuna, had become a fact. It might well be that events in TCD triggered the foundation of the ‘tuna’ farm, but in that case, crisis prior to this decade had already emptied the settlement paving the way for the takeover, which might or might not have been unfriendly to the crofter in the eastern outskirts,

Gilltuna is interesting because it is a god example of an excavated place name. The ‘tun’, the enclosure, is difficult to miss and owing to the hiatus it is fair to suggest that the ‘tun’ at Gilltuna was a mid-millennium invention organized as a takeover of an abandoned or almost abandoned agricultural area. The enclosure marks a new regime. This kind of takeover or re-establishment of a settlement is not unique. On the contrary, seen in relation to the many abandoned RIA and EPCIA settlements, this was probably what happened in most of the settlement areas. The vast majority of the settlements were abandoned, but the better ones were successfully re-established and contract archaeology has had no reason to excavate them because they are easy to avoid when exploiting a landscape creating industrial areas and suburbs. The specific character of Gilltuna is thus not the EPCIA abandonment. Instead, it is the abandonment during the Early Middle Ages (EMA) – that which robbed us of a village rooted in the LIA – that is noteworthy. This abandonment and urban expansion combined 2010 giving contract archaeology an extraordinary possibility to excavate a relatively large settlement that was given up in the Middle Ages. Contract archaeology brought the excavations to a successful conclusion.


The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service ( The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (



This week On the Reading Rest I still have the article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave, i.e. in a place that attracts and radiates – a ‘focus’ and a ‘centre’ in the human landscape (6). In this nave the stone does something and it seems plausible that the reason why the stone does what it does rests with the man who calls himself Wolverine. This man in his turn is connected to someone he calls Chilver-Servant (a chilver being a ewe lamb). Since it is plausible that a wolverine meeting a chilver in meadows or mountains will kill the lamb and eat it, it seems reasonable to suggest that the 1st and 2nd elements of the dithematic names, naudi-, -gastiz and –þewaz (7) are chosen to convey a less brutal situation. Generally speaking combining a variety of first and second elements in dithematic names (their stems) are meant to explore the concepts of being a Guest or a Servant.

Contexts containing names or appellatives with -þewaz, servant, as the second element indicate that being a servant ranks high among the upper classes. King Hrothgar’s perfect queen Wealhtheow in Beowulf is a case in point and so is Virgin Mary in Hêliand, she who modestly says: Thiu bium ic theotgodes—‘I am the Folk-god’s maid servant(=thiu)’. In Hêliand shs is betrothed to Joseph, the man who presently occupies King David’s throne in Bethlehem, no less, and Mary is by no means a servant to anyone except God in his capacity as protector of the people (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013). Being a chilver servant is thus a most honourable ocupation that accords harmoniously with having a wolverine as a guest. Since there is a symbolic ring of devotion to the name Kelbaþewaz befitting a member of the upper classes, this devotion spreads downwards in the hierarchy to his guest Erafaz, the Wolverine, when he calls himself Need-guest.

ILLU 09Guest-names are common Old Germanic names and in their original form before 500 CE, they point out a male visitor to a social environment that accepts him as a guest (8).

The visitor, who is on his own and by definition comes from somewhere, has a dependent, albeit prestigious social position because he may have personal qualities or be useful and rewarded in certain situations as well as dangerous. Some guests cannot behave themselves, but others like Beowulf can, Being a useful guest, as well as lethal to the likes of Grendel and his mother, is no less than Bowulf’s road to success. To be a guest may thus be a career and guest-names may well refer to a role. Runologists often suspect that guest- and servant-names are based on a conventional variation of the first element making the semantics of the both uninteresting. However, in turbulent and formative periods such as the first half of the first millennium CE variation in the first element is obviously a way to investigate new concepts such as guest and servant as well as their social meaning in a society gradually becoming more and more stratified.

Proto-Germanic need-names are uncommon, MiSCHu knows of none except Hogganvik, but next to Naudigastiz from Mandal there is the broadly speaking contemporary Hnaudifridus from Housesteads across the North Sea (R(oman) I(nscriptions in) B(ritain) 1576; altar):


DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI ET N(numina) AVG(usti) N(umerus) HNAVDIFRIDI V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens et) M(erito)—To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabis, and to the divine spirit of the Emperor, the unit of Hnaudifridius readily and deservedly fulfils its vow.

The name HNAVDIFRIDI is the Germanic name Naudifriþuz in Latinised genitive. The initial H is a misspelling, but it is conceivable for other reasons too that the Latin speaking composer of the inscription had difficulties analysing what he heard – or perhaps what Notfried said (9). The numerus Hnaudfrifdi—‘Naudifrid’s unit’, is this officer’s loosely defined group of mounted men. Rather than a Roman or a Romanised German like 1st c. Cerialis the officer Naudifridus is a German, and this indicates that he and this unit were mercenaries of the 3rd c. CE (10). A Friesian wedge-formatted mounted unit (a cuneus) was often stationed at Housesteads by Hadrian’s Wall and in inscriptions this unit referred to the Germanic deities the Alaisagae. Owing to these circumstances Naudifridus and his men were probably Friesian from Twente or at least German speaking. The long-term presence of the Friesians and Tungrians as well as their involvement in the Romanization of Northern England is attested not least by the tablets from nearby Vindolanda (11).

Similar to Naudigastiz, the meaning of Naudifriþuz is in all probability positive and the name/appellative would signify something like peace/protection when there needs be just that. His mother may have known him as Schtroumpfy, but we may think of him as a -friduz recognizing that sword in hand he once brought peace to a negative situation. Perhaps the name could be paralleled with the place name Gundralöv, which once contained the name Gunþifriþuz—strife + peace, i.e. he who brings peace to strife in some way or other (12). Analogically, Naudigastiz would signify a guest who is needed – an outsider loyal to his host, who is probably a hall owner or at least a person with some kind of wealth and a political agenda that might need support.

In their inscription, both Naudifriþuz and Naudigastiz recognize the hierarchies to which they belong, and given the troubled 4th century with the disappearing Western Roman Empire and the thousands of farms that were given up in South Scandinavia, it seems reasonable to construct Naudi-names or –appellative. Indirectly they would signify belief in a social order under pressure. This endangered order reflects a social stratification, which grew during the RIA and created an elite that was replaced in the 6th c. when the new South Scandinavian centres emerge (13).

Irrespective of their first element, there is no need to infer that names ending in -gastiz, -þewaz or –friþuz must refer to martial skills only. The concepts are broader although martial skills may be required. And although Naudigast acknowledges the supremacy of Kelbaþewaz, Like Naudifrid, who acknowledges the Goddesses and the Emperor, the central figure in the inscriptions is Naudigast and Naudifrid respectively. Both may be praised. While R.I.B 1576 is conventional the Hogganvik inscription is exceptional, partly because it refers to the monument in which it stands – a nave and seemingly a relatively sacred place. Today we must appreciate the fact that a rune stone happens to mention and illustrate a nave thus giving us a clue to its capacity as a spiritual site where chanting lexical nonsense or uttering alphabetical magic for those who can read or hear was a worthwhile perpetual occupation at least for standing stones.

Commemorating Kelbaþewaz or the Emperor was not the primary purpose of the monuments. Instead, in Hogganvik as well as in Housesteads devotion and the glory it lends to the devotee is the central theme. In Housesteads inscriptions live up to a formulaic standard while in Hogganvik an original formulation seems much more important, but that does not tell us whether Naudigast was more devoted than Naudifrid or vice versa. Nor do we know whether they ever met their masters. Given the small-scale Iron Age society, which we believe characteried Southwest Norway, we nevertheless hope that Naudifrid and Kelbaþewa knew each other, as hinted when the former calls himself Kelbaþewa’s guest. In Hogganvik the introductory I-formulation, which always sounds as if we were listening to someone taking an oath, creates personal presence, while dedication gives gravity and distance to Housesteads. It is the suitable expression and the blending of a moral spiritual and a practical social status that matters.

Far from being no more than inscriptions on stones that ‘reflect hierarchical societies’ the statements at Housesteads and Hogganvik are ritual formulations befitting sanctuaries. At Housesteads the stone is an altar at a temple in the vicus, at Hogganvik the stone stands in the nave. At both places there is probably a nearness to spirits or gods. In Housesteads the altar in the edifice sees to that, in Hogganvik the stone, the kerbstones and the elevated position of the monument creates or enhances a nave in the landscape. As pointed out OtRR 9 Jan, 2012: “the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery“. We don’t know if the nave sanctuary had any other vertical elements other than the stone, but we may still speak of it as a small road sanctuary with a nave opening to the Northeast.


In the nave the stone, imbued with non-lexical runes, held an essential part of the ritual statement framed by a more worldly lexical explanation. As Naudifriþuz could have spoken the formulaic words later carved on the altar stone, Erafaz could have done the same in Hogganvik, not least why the inscription is direct speech. Like Naudifriþuz, Erafaz demonstrates his devotion, albeit indirectly, but there doesn’t seem to be any dedication in Hogganvik. A dedication may of course hide itself in the non-lexical expression – who knows?

The Hogganvik monument is very Norwegian and very 4th century CE, but it borrows the idea of the religious inscription and perhaps the idea of the constructed sanctuary from Roman civilisation. The stone didn’t last long and had I been a religious fundamentalist in the years around 500 CE smashing rune stones and opening chamber graves in the Mälar Valley in Sweden defending true religious values, I would have gone to Norway and toppled the Hogganvik stone. Since the road to Norway passed the Järsberg stone in Värmland I would have pushed that one over too and had a go at the Tune stone in Østfold when I passed by. But that’s another story.



(6) cf. Herschend 2009:139ff. Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University.

(7) The names can be looked up in Peterson 2004, se note (5).

(8) Recently guest-names have been collected and discussed by Haubrichs 2008:53-79. Haubrichs, Wolfgang. 2008 Namenbrauch und Mythos-Konstruktion. Die Onomastik der Lex-Salica-Prologe. In: Uwe Ludwig and, Thomas Schilp (eds). Nomen et Fraternitas. Festschrift for Dieter Geuenich on his 65th Birthday. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde – Ergänzungsbände 62. Berlin – New York. De Gruyter. See also MiSchu:125.

(9) There is an old but quite good discussion of the Germanic names of this innscrption by Theodor Siebs. See Siebs, Theodor. 1922. On an altar dedicated to the Alaisiagae 2. Archaeologia Aeliana. Vol 19:192-197.

(10) Bowman, Alan K. 2003. Life and letters of the Roman frontier. Vindolanda and its people. London. The British Museum. Alan Bowman gives an overview of the role of Friesians and Tungrians in the Romanisation of England pp 14-27 and specifically on Cerialis pp. 20f. See also the discussion on Hnaudifridus in: Birley, Anthony. 1980 The people of Roman Britain. Berkley. University of California Press.

(11) The Turingians emerged sometime in the early 1st c. CE when they became auxiliary troops (see Bowman 2003: 14-27. In Ceasar’s days they were but Gemani West of the Rhine in Northern Gaul. It would not be surprising if the Romans were instrumental in the ‘ethnogenesis’ of Tungrians and even Friesians, conveniently collecting a number of tribes or Germans under one heading. Skill was probably more important than blood for those who became auxiliary soldiers.

(12) See Peterson 2004:26 and Locked Inside a Nave Since the Fourth Century CE – Part I note (5) above.

(13). This development and change is the topic of chapter six, The Landscape of Warfare pp 331-81 and condenced at page 359 in Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University.