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

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

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

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

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

The still unsettled cemetery

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

A Spell for Old Bones

26 May, 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report on the excavation of some LIA graves (and not a book by Eric Linklater).

figur 00Hulth, Helena. 2014. (H Hulth med bidrag av Ylva Bäckström, Emma Sjöling, John Ljungkvist & Elisabeth Pettersson). Den skyddande logen. Brandgravar från yngre järnålder samt en och annan medeltida och efterreformatorisk grop på Ultuna. Arkeologisk för- och slutundersökning Fornlämningarna Uppsala 401 & 653, Ultuna 2:23 Uppsala stad (f d Bondkyrko sn), Uppland. SAU rapport 2014:1. Pp 203. Acronym: HeHu&Co

Saving and excavating the monuments in the Ulltuna area south of Uppsala, Sweden, has kept archaeologist busy for a number of years with excavations and monuments of varying complexity and preservation (cf. OtRR 14 October, 2013) In the present case, many of the graves, and the ones I shall focus upon, were built into a barn belonging to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. This happened already in 1860s when the university was still an agricultural school. Since the barn was to be rebuilt in 2011 and thus not pulled-down — its exterior being a valuable heritage in itself — large parts of the excavations had to be conducted inside the building.

figur 01

The barn stood in the middle of the remains of a cemetery, and because the roof might fall down and kill the archaeologists when its supports were undermined, excavating the graves proved difficult. This, and the fact that the building and its concrete floor had fragmented as well as preserved the graves, sharpened the awareness of the archaeologists. They excavated carefully and controlled solving all kinds of stratigraphical sequences, technical and logistic problems.

figur 02The artefact contents of these cremation graves and their dates are interesting in themselves and fills a chronological gap in Ulltuna’s prehistory (cf Ljungkvist in HeHu&Co:97 ff.). Nevertheless, I have chosen to concentrate on bone material of a small group of graves that are part of a cluster and compare them with a small solitary grave monument situated at a short distance from the clustered ones. Stratigraphy as well as artefact chronology suggests that all the graves belonged to a period stretching from c. 700 to c. 950 CE, that is, a period in the Pre Carolingian- and Carolingian Iron Age (PC- & CIA).

Schematically the chronology of the four graves in the cluster and the solitary grave looks like this:

figur 03

The artefacts from the cremation graves belong to the standard material characterizing the period, and variation between the graves seems not to indicate anything more than the expected. But the way the pyres were (1) characterized by animals and humans, (2) sampled and/or rearranged to become grave installations and (3) made to link-in and differ from each other mirrors complex ritual practice significant choice.

The osteological ananlyses (Bäckström and Sjöling in HeHu&Co:48ff.) showed that on the pyres there were all the bodies parts of humans, horses, dogs, pigs and the odd bird. Small samples could of course blur this picture. Nevertheless, these remains should be looked upon (1) as the diseased, (2) as offerings and (3) as followers of the diseased. Despite large samples, other animals were represented by parts only suggesting (4) their food character. The former, being complete bodies, would have been relatively easy to recognize in the remains of the pyre when preparing the final installation of the remains. I shall focus on these the five ‘common’ individuals: humans, horses, dogs, pigs and birds. As a typical example of food I shall also note bones of sheep/goat because their post-pyre usage differs from that of the common individuals.


In the solitary monument A100019 there were two concentrations of cremated bones in a small cremation layer consisting of burnt bones and charred remains – only charcoal had survived. On top of this layer there were a few small stones marking the site rather than covering the cremated remains. Bones and charcoal had in other words been deposited on the ground marked by the scantiest of monuments – a few stones. A horse nail dropped or trotted down into the cremation layer in early modern times makes it likely that the grave was never covered except by the few stones.

figur 04

The cremation layer contained a minimum of bones compared to the two bone concentrations. There may have been an intended difference in the composition of the two bone concentrations (the horse:dog balance), but the general impression is a post-pyre bone collection emphasizing the diseased over the animals. Sheep/Goat seems only to have been indicated, perhaps by chance – perhaps not. Given that the grave was 2.5×1.8m and that several different animals were found although there were precious few bones preserved, suggests that the remains may represent an unprotected pyre site. In that case, however, human activities and taphonomic processes such as weather – wind and rain, frost and snow – would almost have destroyed the pyre site before it was covered by vegetation. Alternatively, the remains may have been brought to the site from the pyre before they were weathered. Routinely a earth beneath a cremations layer should be checked in order to establish whether or not it has been influenced by fire.

In the cluster there are two types of graves: (1) the covered ones constituting a protected monument and (2) unprotected remains similar to A100019. The latter ones, the early A100493 and the late A100537, are miniature depositions. A100493 is 45 cm in diameter and A100537 is 50. They were both placed directly on the ground and there is nothing to suggest that they were ever covered or marked out. Although there are only a few bones in the cremation layers there is nevertheless many species. In that respect these two graves are similar to A100019.

It stands to reason moreover, that the old grave, A100493 (average preservation: 5 fragments per spices) would have disappeared altogether had it not been protected in the early 10th century by the grave A4206. Likewise the slightly better preserved A100537 (average preservation: 13 fragments per spices) was probably saved by its ‘sheltered’ position between the low monuments A4018 and A4206. There is nothing to suggest that A100493 and A100537 represent pyre sites or bone concentrations in a larger layer of cremated material. More probably they are just remains taken from a pyre – a small collection moved to a suitable site and left there to be preserved or disappear by chance – dispersed by the wind and dissolved by rain.

Although there are at least 5 generations between the two unobtrusive but nevertheless monuments, A4018 and A4206, they were made into one context when A4206 was constructed. As pointed out in HeHu&Co the old monument A4018 was altered to accommodate the pyre site eventually becoming A4206 and its urn, which was places on top of the old monument when its cover had been made to bulge out to the West. Moreover, a ditch was dug around A4206 so as to attach it to A4018. Finally A100537 when was placed between A4602 and A4018 along their mid-axis it would seem to complete the monument as indeed a chain of burials anchored in deep time.

figur 05There are at least two humans, one pig, one dog and a horse in A4018. The horse is extremely badly represented indicating that it was not moved from the pyre other than by chance or mistake. In the urns there are almost exclusively human remains – one person in Urn 1 and at least one other person in Urns 2 and 3. Around Urn 2, one of the followers, the pig, is well represented in the cremation layer. It was essential to preserve human remains in the urns and separate one of the humans from the other. The three fragments of pig probably got into Urn 3 by accident.

figur 06

What we see in A4018 is a sorting and a selection of material from a pyre. The humans and the pig are essential in this representation and show that the closer to the urns the better the representation of the diseased. The urns represent the humans and Urn 1 is depicted as less central. Keeping the pig out of the urns seems to have been intentional. The centrally placed  remains are in Urn 2 and 3 while the person in Urn 1 is peripheral.

The bone fragments in A4018 represent the same spices as in A100537, but they do so through 1540 rather than 66 fragments. Moreover, there is a very strong emphasis on the two humans. This shows, not least, in the fact that the contents of the urns is virtually 100 percent human. For technical reasons it seems irrational originally to have place one of the dead bodies, the one later filled into Urn 1, in the periphery of the pyre. The preripheral position of urn 1 therefore seems intentional. Eventually A4018 was domed over the Urn 2 and 3 (F335 and F336) and that suggests that grave installation was the arranged remains of a pyre that stood somewhere else. When integrating the bones with the monumental pattern one of the humans became central and the other (Urn 3 F334) was made peripheral. The pyre, therefore, was a means to create a specific symbolic pattern – not the intended pattern itself. The intentional pattern was a the result of a rearrangement of the remains on burnt-down pyre. Moreover, the animals that followed the diseased on the pyre, that is the usual ones – horse, dog and pig – were down-played to a minimum. The individual in the peripheral Urn 1 was young (juvenilis/adultus) the other person was middle aged. Taken together the person in Urn 1 seems to have been the follower of the person(s?) in the urns 2 and 3.

Since old and young are not likely by chance to die at the same time, A4018 is p0erhaps an example of ‘double death’ being more common in graves that in daily life.

This then is the grave that those responsible for the monument A4206 wanted to attach to. A4206 does so, for instance by means of several concentrated depositions – a kind of ‘urns with no pots’. The differences, nevertheless, are also obvious.

figur 07

Contrary to A4018, A4206 is a pyre site. There is at least one human, one pig, two dogs, one horse and a bird (at least parts of it) as well as parts of a sheep in the monument. In the urn, human, horse and bird were collected and that is an intentionally biased sample of the general mixture on the pyre. By chance a single fragment of sheep was put into the urn where otherwise the followers: horse and bird are over-represented. It meets the eye that the pig and two dogs were kept out of the urn. Because of the burnt sand beneath the cremation layer it was concluded by HeHu&Co that the pyre foregoing the creation of the monument stood at least partly on the spot where the monument was eventually constructed. Obviously there was no intention to cover up a scene represented by the material that was once put on the pyre and cremated. On the contrary, the cremation layer is a result of selection and rearrangement of material. As in A4018, the pyre was a filter and a means, which makes it possible that Bone Concentration A was meant to have relative few human bones and many horse bones. The opposite is typical of Bone Concentration B. These concentrations may thus represent a horse concentration next to a human concentration, indicating a bond between the two and not only proximity in the installation as well as perhaps on the pyre.


One would have imagined that the contents of a layer or an urn would have been more or less similar, with only minor variations. And if variation occurred it should primarily be among contexts with a small number of bones, which would have made it likely that species represented by just a few fragments, such as sheep, would have been missed in selection. That however, is a truth with modification. There are six main species to be found in the material, which means that if we find only six fragments in a layer it would be odd if they represented all the six species. If, on the other hand, there was 100 fragments in a layer we would expect all the species in the grave to be represented by chance at least with a few fragment mirroring general frequencies. However, if we make a diagram where we look at the number of species in a layer in relation to its total number of fragments we get the following result:

figur 08There is a tendency that very few fragments mean fewer species, but this tendency is weak and already when the sample is larger than 50 fragments the core species are present despite some species being very scarce. This indicates that those who picked out the bones did it with the intention of representing the animals on the pyre and that limited concentrations, as well as small layers, or layers poor in bone fragments, were intended to mirror the species on the pyre. The relevant species were present not by chance, but by intent.

When we turn to urns it becomes apparent that, contrary to the concentrations, selection limiting the number of species is crucial. If, therefore, we check the relation between the number of fragments and the number of species we see the capability of Iron Age undertakers to select some species and avoid others, that is, a wish to select specific species even when the number of fragments is large, despise the fact that a high number of fragments makes it more likely that a species would be picked by chance:

These patterns makes the difference between the urn in A4206, containing man horse and bird, and the urns in A4018 containing humans (252 fragments and three small fragments of a sheep), very significant. The differences between the simple uncovered graves and the complex ones are equally significant.

There is a great potential in the osteological material and its distribution in cremation layers and pyre sites. Piously covering up whatever was on the pyre seems not to have been an option. Analyses promise to trace a series of choices and events related to burial practices, much more specifically than grave good artefacts. What differences and similarities mean is still difficult to say, but there are obviously patterns to be found in cremation graves from the Late Iron Age and these patterns may easily be understood as intentional.

The trick is to combine the osteological variables with a better understanding of their spatial distribution. The reasons why osteological & spatial analyses have not yet become a pair are purely economic. Osteologists are competent and perfectly able to record, analyze and understand the distribution of cremated bones in graves in detail producing new knowledge. As it happens, their ability is much greater than the County Administrative Boards (CABs) will allow them to demonstrate. The CABs prefer to make sure that time and money is securely wasted in a traditionally and to their mind acceptable way emphasizing the osteological variables and their quanta, rather than variables, quanta and distribution, the CABs effectively obstruct knowledge production. Rational archaeology produces more knowledge to lower costs and thus it saves money. Waste on the other hand comes with a price and it must not be an end in itself.


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


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

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

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

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

This means that I read two chapters:

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

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

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

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

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

site 51 surfaces

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

jämför Gausel Hördalen

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

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

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

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

surface dates hördalen investments

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

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


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

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

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

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

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German consisting of two articles:

Sommer, Sebastian. 2008. Die Römer in Künzing – Wege zur einer virtuellen Rekonstruktion dess Kastellvicus oder: Versuch der Annäherung an ein Lebensbild—(The Romans in Künzing – roads to .  virtual reconstruction of the vicus of the fort or: An attempted approach to a picture of living space. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp.107-126 + 128

In the end of the article there is a perfectly autonomous contribution:

Sättele, Manuel. 2008. Methodik der virtuellen Rekonstruktion—(Methods of virtual reconstruction. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp. 126-28.

Contrary to the authors, acronomised SebSo and ManSä, some readers, who start their German geography with Lech, Main, Mas, Rhein, Inn, Donau, Weser Oder Elbe before they gather that perhaps Inn/Donau is more or less the environment where Künzing may be situated, have only a vague idea where to find Roman Quintana. To many Künzing is at best like Fiesole, Haut de Cagnes, Valtournanche, Gandersheim, Kelso, Vorbasse, Sogndal or Hög i Hälsingland, that is, European places we have perhaps heard about, but cannot point out on a map. The above articles won’t help us perhaps because their readers are required to know the geography of Bayern, but Wikipedia et cetera will (0).

Fig 01

Fig 02Twenty five – thirty years ago it was common to point out that one of the scientific values of reconstructions, despite their propensity to be wrong deceiving the public and the odd researcher, was the fact that in order to obtain a result, reconstruction forced researchers to perform a series of actions that had little or no support in the source material. Ideally, having completed the reconstruction, and being aware of its hallmark, the reconstruction should prompt the researcher to study the source material once again, searching for hitherto undetected significant patterns. The reconstruction was meant to throw new light over the existing records and suggest new ways of recording future investigations in order to produce knowledge. In reconstruction archaeology as in any applied natural science describing something, patterns are detected because the perceived is studied and described on the basis of different models.

In complex human contexts, however, it becomes obvious that although we get a better understanding, for instance of the reconstruction of the Iron Age house in Scandinavia, when using models, we are chasing a fleeing goal that becomes more and more distant because of its growing complexity: now that we have learnt how Iron Age man made use of timber it seems there are no extant suitable woods to be found anywhere in Scandinavian to supply us with the timber. Moreover, the quality of the craftsman and the contribution of his childhood experience to his craftsmanship will be difficult to judge although it may well be important, now that we a have a general understanding of the principles of house construction. Chasing this fleeing goal and trying to answer the impossible questions in order to know more about woods and craftsmanship make up the methodological point of the reconstruction.

Quite a number of words and repeated observations could have been saved had these commonplace insights into problems and possibilities of reconstructions simply been referred to. One might also have started with ManSä’s contribution because it summarizes the character of the virtual reconstruction project arguing along some of the lines sketched above. Referring to these by all means Scandinavian and thus barbaric rather than Roman insights would also have made it obvious that one should think about one’s readers when writing about reconstructions. There is little general purpose in trying to describe why the Kastellvicus at Kastell Künzing – the vicus (settlement) around the Künzing fort – should be reconstructed in this or that way. Instead these steps of the actual reconstruction itself and the report on what precise decisions were taken in the process, concerns mainly those who are supposed to continue the heritage management and carry out possible future excavations in Künzing — not the commonl archaeological reader.

Based on the article alone the common archaeological reader cannot and should not check the foundation of the reconstruction because the common reader doesn’t belong to the local scientific community addressed in the article. The reconstruction is interesting to a wider group of readers and worth reading for the simple reason that it is a platform which demands to be followed up.

The task is simple: reconstruct the Roman settlement and the landscape surrounding it according to a relevant chronological framework for the benefit of heritage management, future town planning, research and the public. Only quite far into the article does SebSo argue for two settlement phases, but the section is easy to find at page 117 ff. and may thus be read in advance by those who think that chronology is an interesting early companion to history.

The point of departure is simple too. The contextual remains divide themselves into two groups. Group (1) consists of areas of relevance to the task. They are either (1:a) that is, recorded before they were destroyed or (1:b) that is, destroyed but void of any helpful records. Group (2) consists of areas in which future investigations may be helpful.

So why not start by making a chronological series of maps, such as phase one and two, of areas (1) and areas (2) with the subdivision (1:a) or (1:b). A possible grey zone between (1:a) and (1:b) may come in handy. Needless to say: if investigations are actually begun at a specific place the division between (1) and (2) may need revision. There is no such series of maps. Implicitly the landscape map is there and somewhere it can probably be found. I don’t doubt that the Bodendenkmalpflege – the heritage board – have these maps. The article, however, has the only following Beilage:

Fig 03

Fig 04Remains, records and documentation govern the reconstruction and SebSom has almost got it right: to begin with, reconstructions of contexts dominated by large formal structures, such a dominant fortress in a specific topographical situation, are built up hierarchically imitating a past reality. This means that even if the vicus is in focus, one should start with the auxiliary fort Quintanis.

The reconstruction should follow a path that runs from – the fort, to the roads – Passau-Regensburg and Künzing-Töging, to the cemeteries, to the streets defining the quarters, to the quarters, the plots, their structure, their houses and the open space in their backyards. One could go further into the diagnostics of the settlement, but to a broader research community there is little point in doing so because the information is already overflowing. Nevertheless, judging from ManSä’s contribution p. 127 it seems that the archaeologists and 3D modelers have each their approach to reconstruction. That may well have been their experience in the Künzing project, but that doesn’t make it true, i.e. a theoretically reasonable situation.

Probably the heritage management has already got its Künzing instrument and the ability to make the vicus an even more interesting site. Likewise town planners in Künzing have something to refer to and the villa owners between Kastellstrasse and Kohortenstrasse may realize that a geophysical prospection in their gardens, and in other parts of the community, could be worthwhile and non-destructive. The Bodendenkmalamt is probably all in favour because the latest edition of Archaeologisches Jahr in Bayern is full of geophysics. Moreover, work was done already in the 1990s on the cemeteries (1).

The only problem seems to be that the project has not been followed up. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

The end product of the article consists of two reconstructions. They are very nice, but they are presented as illustrations informing the public, not as results of a research into the reconstruction of the vicus. Thus they are only illustrations and historical documents since there seems to be no 2nd and 3rd editions of the reconstruction. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

Fig 05

Fig 06

But suppose I am not wrong, then the Künzing project highlights the inability to of heritage authorities and museums to incorporate a scientific approach to knowledge production into their projects. This is not solely due to lack of funding, it also reflects an inability to design projects. Let’s hope I am wrong.


(0) There is a popular description of this part of the Limes in English and German by Wolfgang Czysz, Andrea Faber, Christof Flügel and C. Sebastian Sommer at

(1) See illustrations in the description referred to in note (0) and: Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1993), Kombination von Luftbild und Magnetik zur Prospektion eines urnenfelderzeitlichen Gräberfeldes bei Künzing, Arch. Jahr Bayern, 1992, 180-182.
Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1996), Das urnenfelder-/hallstattzeitliche Gräberfeld von Künzing, in Archäologische Prospektion Luftbildarchäologie und Geophysik, vol. 59, edited by K. Hemmeter and M. Petzet, pp. 139-141, Bayerisches Landesamt f Denkmalpflege, ISBN: 3-87490-541-1.)

Fig 00 översiktThis week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish. The language is befitting. Prehistoric segregation is an important phenomenon easily niched in the Swedish landscape. Owing to the isostatic uplift that started when the ice sheet disappeared, settlements often sort themselves according to productivity and the less successful sit at higher altitudes than the successful ones. In Swedish, therefore, the present report presents four not very impressive sites in such a segregating Swedish landscape. Today, and since the Iron Age, they are situated at the margins of a relatively prosperous rural area.

FASEALASAndersson, F. et al. 2013. Fredrik Andersson, Susanna Eklund, Ann Lindkvist & Anneli Sundkvist. Med bidrag av (with a contribution by) Anneli Ekblom, Rasbo-Hov: From Bronze Age Shores to Iron Age Fields. Särskilda arkeologiska undersökningar inför omdragningen av väg 288, Jälla – Hov Rasbo 632, 634, 635, 659, 660, 668, 704 & 705, Hov 1:7, Uppsala kommun, Uppsala län. SAU rapport 2013:4.

I abbreviate it FASEALAS [Fa-sea’-las] and have based all illustrations upon it. Most of the illustrations are adaptation.


Along the present road section the very first trace of human activity is a cooking pit situated on a small island on the site Raä 634 (Andersson in FASEALAS). This island must have been a stopover for people entering or leaving the passage that begins or ends just north of the island. The place would have made a perfect camping site, a terrace on the beach below and between two small hills. If you wanted to sit in the afternoon and evening sun cooking and enjoying a meal a summer’s day in the 18th c. BCE pondering whether the Neolithic was drawing to an end or Bronze Age commencing, this was the place to sit.

In the millennium around 1000 BCE, the larger area to which the sites in this report belong, is characterized by two kinds of easily recognizable monuments: burnt mounds and cairns. Both are built and heavily dependent on stones either un-burnt in the cairns or fire-cracked and brittle-burnt in the burnt mounds. The other elements involved are air or earth in the cairns, but in the burnt mounds in which there is never any air, the earth is mixed with all kinds of remains related to all kinds of human activities. In the cairns the remains have to do mostly with burying humans.

Materially speaking burnt mounds are broad-spectrum and built over a considerable period of time with a large element of ´produced’ material, while cairns are narrow-spectrum and built during a short primary building phase with material that was ‘gathered’. Burnt mounds are often related to a boulder, cairns less so. Both monuments have a relation with the landscape. Cairns are often easily visible at a distance and often vantage points, while burnt mounds belong to small scale environments. Both monuments share a relation with waterways, but in a bay environment suitable for landing a canoe, and situated as an interface between productive lands and sheltered waters, the burnt mounds are more frequent than the cairns. Both monuments cluster, but as Ann Lindkvist’s analysis shows, clusters of burnt mounds are not as peaked as cairn cluster.

CLUSTERThere are two reasons for this. Burnt mounds are closely related to a production landscape and their clusters will reflect the size or productivity of niches or areas in the landscape. Cairns are related to the natural landscape and their clusters will reflect points in this landscape – visible points or vantage points.

In the eyes of human beings, seeking primarily to sustain themselves, the isotactic uplift in a landscape such as that of the Northern Mälar Valley will change a given environment from a prominent point in a natural landscape to a prominent niche in a productive landscape. This change will cause clusters of burnt mounds and cairns sometimes to overlap, but most often the fact that on a dwelling-site or local scale they do not overlap is the more striking.

Burnt mounds as well as cairns are connected with remains of cremated human beings. Cairns, which are often secluded monuments, have singular grave qualities, while the cremated remains in burnt mounds demonstrated ways of including the remains of the dead in the daily life of the living. The latter context, the daily interaction between the living and the dead, involves a third phenomenon: the fact that boulders attract the remains of cremated human beings as well as the produce of daily life. It would seem that if possible a dwelling site will involve remains of cremated human beings and ritual sites. Rather than being confined to graves the remains of the dead are integrated into the monuments as well as the life of the living.

Lastly it must be pointed out that building a cairn or a burnt mound is not a primarily something one does to sustain oneself, both monuments as well as the activities around boulders, represent ritual needs in prehistoric society. Cairns represent sporadic events, while bunts mounds refer to frequent events.

Access osvTo get a general feeling for the landscape when it starts to attract people we may compare the clustering tendencies among burnt mounds and cairns respectively to the isostatic uplift. This demonstrates that the cairn clusters in the northeastern part of the larger area have to do with the access from the north and a landscape in which the shores have a sharp inclinatrion and heights suitable for cairns. There is little fertile land in this area and thus no burnt mounds. In the western part of the greater area the picture is reversed, access is from the South. The concentrations of burnt mound in the northwest are situated along to a bay behind a narrow sound. On the shores around the bay it is easy to make landfall and the soils are fertile.

In the central part of the area, which is accessed from the south, the cairn and burnt mound landscapes overlap. And the area should be understood primarily to consist of three phases of usage governed by the isostatic uplift. The northernmost part is accessed through narrow sounds which dry up early especially the eastern water way. The southernmost part has the longest history because it is a broken landscape that attracts burnt mounds as well as cairns, probably at different points in time.

Between these two landscapes there is a small intermediary one situated at the southeastern passage to the northernmost landscape. This passage dries up c. 1200 BCE creating the shorelines followed by the new road, which in its turn caused the excavations to take place. During the following centuries, shorelines rapidly disappeared southwards creating a flat and wet landscape difficult to access. Two sites with burnt mounds, Raä 634 and Raä 668, nevertheless survive as coastal into the 8th c. BCE.

Rasbo-hov 800 BCE

Inlet and cemetery

Originally Raä 668 belonged to a small cluster of burnt mounds facing north towards the bay accessed from the southeastern passage. We may in other words conclude that c. 1200 BCE the isostatic uplift brought an end to a small marginal niche in the maritime Bronze Age landscape. Circa 1000 BCE Raä 668 was revived, but this time from a shoreline southwest of the monument because the bay to the north could no longer be accessed. At the same time even the burnt mound at Raä 634 was built on a shore facing southwest. Consequently, the changing landscape in tandem with the traditional subsistence system favouring coastal settlements created two marginal 9th c. sites. Both Raä 634 and 668 are Bronze Age settlements, without house constructions since the house remains found at the sites and situated exactly where one would prefer to build one’s house, are Iron Age.

Although deceased people were taken care of on sites characterized by burnt mounds, a small cemetery, Raä 659, was added to the landscape c. 1100 BCE situated in a cove a couple of hundred metres west of Raä 668 and 1.5 km east of Raä 634. This site was almost overlooked by the archaeologists responsible for survey and trail excavations and thus also by the heritage authorities at County Board, None the less this cemetery is by far the most interesting site in this part of the road section and accordingly, loosing information about it, while gaining conventional knowledge about a host of others, would have seemed a very high price to pay for conventional knowledge. Although the County Board was unable to take the right decision: the total excavation and precise chronological understanding of the whole cemetery — archaeologists eventually managed to record and excavate some of the monuments. This allowed them to conclude in general terms that the site was a peripheral burial ground used occasionally during c. 1500 years. Over time, its position changed from one next to a sound, over one in a cove next to a possible landing place (completely destroyed by road building) into becoming an ancient burial ground revived c. 500 CE. By then it was situated on a shelf below a ridge at the edge of the forest. The site is a diminutive ritual place of a surprisingly long-lasting importance to prehistoric man.

Rasbo-hov 400 BCE

During three centuries the water withdraws causing the section where the road runs today to become inland and a more and more marginal part of a flat agricultural country around a center with low hills, a country surrounded by peripheral. But owing to a change in subsistence economy, which allows smaller family groups to survive during a longer period at a given site, the three sites are reestablished in the Pre Roman Iron Age and a new site is added (Eklund in FASEALAS). Raä 635 is a farmstead next to suitable pastures and arable land. Raä 634 gets an annex, Raä 632, bordering on the southern side of the same arable land. These small settlements are not permanent. On the contrary they are occupied at intervals for no more than a house generation or two. The farm houses are small, but the sites are used by minor households from the 5th c. BCE to the 6th c. CE. The four sites Raä 634, 632, 635 and 668 represent locations where is it possible at intervals to settle a family or at Raä 635  two families (Eklund in FASEALAS). Probably these settlements have kept the cemetery Raä 659 in living memory. At least some graves on this cemetery belong to the 6th c. CE.

Given the ritual practices of the period, it is worth asking oneself, whether the remains of one of the three human being in connection with the block A1342 (In total c. 370 grams of bone) on the cemetery Raä659 (Eklund in FASEALAS), dated (Ua-40848) 2164 ± 31 BP (360–110 f.Kr.) is the same being as the remains (40 grams of bone) in connection with the block A4149 on the settlement Raä 668 (Lindkvist in FASEALAS), dated (Ua-41796): 2199 ± 37 BP (380–180 f.Kr.). The question is rhetorical, but nevertheless worth posing.


At one level the story about the sites in the road section is a function of the general change in more dynamic parts of society, at another it is a distorted reflection adding a critical light to the general picture. At a third level we get a glimpse of peripheral social values.

Although some of the places are very old in their landscapes they are neither abandoned nor developed – they are simply open or common places befitting needs that may occur in any society. Outside the road section and perhaps in the immediate vicinity of the excavation trenches, there are perhaps more populous and lively places characterized by the commonplace, but the sites as we know them were nevertheless unimportant and undecided during thousands of years. This doesn’t mean that there was no drama here – actually both House 1 and House 3 at Raä 635 were  burnt down (Eklund FASAELAS:146) – it just means that so little happened on these settlements that the life lived there didn’t bother to erase the traces of an event as dramatic and yet as commonplace as a fire. Instead of tidying up the scene and rebuildung House 1, which occupied the best location at Raä 635, people preferred to build something next to the ruined house.

Rasbo till Hov dateringar

If we sum up the dates related to these outskirts there are two intensive phases c. 800 and 300 BCE and a long less intensive phase covering the first five centuries of the first millennium CE. In addition to these phases there is occasional and sporadic presence signified by the odd 14C-test. There are no remains of buildings to counteropint the burnt mounds of the intensive presence c. 800 BCE, but c. 300 BCE the first house remains start to occur. This shift is a reflection of the common shift in subsistence economy, but socially speaking settlements are still short-lived exploitations of resources. In the beginning of the Common Era something new, a function of general social change, starts when subsistence economy in the road section gains sustainability and when some new settlement locations are added to the old ones. If this period, 0-500 CE, had been the most intensive, the 14C-diagram would have resembled that of the prolific Roman Iron Age farm, which often occupied a place that had been settled several times before it became the location of a permanent and successful farm. In the road section the typical picture is in other words distorted. Contrary to success, the persistent low-frequency presence indicates that the periphery works as an expansion vessel, albeit in a settlement rather than hot water system: when settlement pressure in central areas becomes too high and the settlements too crowded, people drop off into the outskirts and margins of rural landscape and society.

We may look upon this expansion as something positive suggesting that indirectly it shows the right to found a family still to be respected. There is little doubt on the other hand that this right was never meant to result in social segregation and since segregation is at play, we can easily imagine that not everyone living in the outskirts enjoyed a model family life – if one can live in an outhouse in the Eketorp ring fort (OtRR 25 Nov 2013) one can do so too in the settlement at Raä 635. In the long run, inability to prevent segregation from growing will harm society (O).

Raä659 There are obviously too few graves in the road section, if we expect those who lived there to be represented in monuments, but more importantly there is the uncommon cemetery, used from the Early Bronze Age, EBA, to the Pre Carolingian Iron Age, PCIA. It would seem that this cemetery was inaugurated by a stone setting representing a ship at the shore of the EBA sound or LBA cove.

Although this monument is at the bottom of a slope it dominates the cemetery in a way quite opposite to the normal monumentality, which could well have been a cairn or two at one of the obvious locations in the immediate vicininty. There is nothing wrong with the symbolism of the ship, given the BA landscape, but scunnering hights and cairns or diminishing their value is deviant BA behavior and almost impossible to excuse with reference to building a cairn being too much labour for a few outskirters. On the contrary, the boat-on-the-shore cemetery seems a most significant contribution to a new and this case outskirt identity in a shore-bound newly marginalized area (cf. Eklund162 ff.). A break with traditions, it seems significant that the site continues to be part of the human landscape even after the water disappeared c. 600 BCE (cf. Lindkvist 2013:153;fig 119). The road section Rasbo to Hov runs through the traditional lands of the prehistoric outskirters — the Commons?.

(0) Since this topic has been relatively frequent On the Reading Rest, I have added the category ‘Iron Age Segregation and Poverty’ to the existing ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 03

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The 4th-5th century farm

The 4-5th century farm

More or less well preserved CIA farm houses

More or less well-preserved CIA farm houses

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

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

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

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

Fig 05

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

CroPulStefHaa Fig01

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

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

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

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

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

CroPulStefHaa Fig02

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 00


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

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

GroPulStefHaa Fig04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report on the excavation of six Iron Age settlements. Chronologically they cover the great Roman Iron Age (RIA) settlement expansion and the harsh Pre Carolinian Iron Age (PCIA) conditions partly caused by the dust from the Ilopango eruption 535-536 CE. This eruption created the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) tephra and veiled even the northern hemisphere in years ‘without summer’ (1). In the present, Mälar-Valley, case the settlement area under discussion is slightly peripheral in relation to central local settlements, i.e. the villages still existing today or known from historical records.

Hennius fig 01

Hennius, Andreas et al. 2012. Andreas Hennius (Main author and editor) Äldre Järnålder i Danmarks socken – Sex boplatser vid Säby (Early Iron Age in the Denmark Parish – Six settlements at Säby). Med bidrag av—with contributions from—Anneli Blom, Torbjörn Brorsson, Ylva Bäckström, Erik Danielsson, Dan Fagerlund, Per Frölund, Stefan Gustafsson, Malin Lucas & Örjan Matsson. Upplandsmuseets rapport 2012:15.

There is a summary in English (2) and the report discusses seven settlements inasmuch as one was excavated already six years ago (3).

Hennius fig 02

Light blue shoreline 500 BCE, dark blue shoreline 500 CE

Sä-by means ‘the village by the water’ and the water in question, the (i.e. ‘sea’), has generated several place names. The report will probably be known as the Säby Report for quite a while because it addresses a significant settlement period and a model case – a well-defined settlement area – in a clear-sighted way. In a comparison of three major settlement areas around Uppsala Andreas Hennius, moreover, discusses some of the prominent differences and similarities between the long-term settlement development and the socially and environmentally generated characteristics of the Roman Iron Age (RIA) settlement expansion, its stagnation and eventual demise.

Hennius fig 03In this case, the name Säby points to a settlement situation in the beginning of the Common Era on a narrow peninsula less than 300m from the water. To establish a permanent settlement at this site in a period that eventually changed the area from archipelago to inland, must have stood out as significant in the beginning of the Common Era, but rather pointless c. 500 CE. Present-day Säby with its cemeteries just north of the village, was in all probability the center and beginning of the permanent prehistoric settlement. The cemetery is a typical Early Iron Age (EIA) border cemetery fencing off Säby towards Gnista and other settlements such as Slavsta the odd kilometre north of present-day Säby. As an economic area the central Säby settlement benefits from the land rise, which created new meadows and eventually fields to the west of the village.

Clarity is one of the great qualities of this report because it allows the reader to use the sites in new discussions – testing hypotheses and bringing the report into more general archaeological discussions. I have chosen three topics to illustrate this. (1) Formal rules in the IA building tradition. (2) The layout of the homesteads. (3) The character of the settlements, given that they were not the most central ones in the greater Säby area.

Hennius fig 04

(1) Formal rules in building tradition. If we superimpose the plans of the post holes at D180 upon the older neighbouring houses at D168, the over lapping and systematic dislocation is easy to see. This indicates that the four houses were built with same measuring rod. A similar conclusion can be drawn from the parallelism between the post pairs when they intersect the length axis of the house at oblique angles.

Hennius fig 05

We may thus figure out the length of the principal unit, and a simple analysis shows that this unit was a foot of c. 31.25cm or an ell, i.e. a double foot. Similarly to houses, e.g. from Jutland, the long measures are also the more precise ones (4). This trait can be explained if we suggest that long measures and relatively large units are the more important ones because indirectly they define the general character, size and costs of the house as a construction. Room size and partition walls, on the other hand, are a matter of convenience rather than system. There are indications of the foot being divided into thirds and fourths, which probably means that a foot consisted of 12 inches. The length of some houses can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4 as well as 6, 9 or 12 feet, i.e. total lengths amounting to 72, 84, 96 or 108 feet. When builders aiming at having 62 feet between the outer post pairs, preferred the series 14.25 – 17.5 – 17— 13.25 = 62f over the technically equivalent: 15.5 – 15.5 – 15.5 – 15.5 = 62f, it stands to reason that 14.25 – 17.5 – 17— 13.25 = 62f, demonstrates room proportion and variation as a value in itself. Perhaps measuring a distance down to ¼ of a foot (c. 7.8 cm) is aethestical overkill and difficult to prove, but the general attitude to constructing architecture with large simple and short complex measures — creating a standardized exterior and differentiated interior — is nevertheless a widespread Roman Iron Age (RIA) Scandinavian phenomenon.

(2) The layout of the homesteads. If we want to look at the settlements and their distribution during the 400 year boom from the 2nd to the 6th century CE, we must start by excluding D170 and D190 because they are too old. And if we want to catch the beginning of the boom rather than its aftermath, we must also for the moment exclude D168 and D180, i.e. two phases of a mid-millennium solitary farms. This leaves us, on the one hand, with D162 and on the other with D169 and D193. The two latter are rather scattered settlements with a mixture of main houses and smaller or lager outhouses. D162 is the eastern part of a much more dense settlement with main houses as well as large and small outhouses. At D162 the settlement area is restricted and the buildings are orientated either E-W or N-S. D 162 is the western part of a small village.

At D169 none of the 9 houses overlap and among the 11 houses at D193 there is only one small overlap between the SE and NW corner respectively of two houses. At D162, on the other hand, 8 of the 15 houses from the 2nd to 6th c. overlap. This means that there is a 10% overlap at D169 &193 and a c. 50% overlap on D162, which in its turn indicates significant differences between the two kinds of settlement.

On D162 there are 7 main houses, 4 large outhouses and 4 small ones. The main houses are more or less parallel to each other, the E-W orientated houses are quite far apart and the N-S houses make up an E-W row of main buildings. The small outhouses are situated among the main houses, but of the four large ones, one is orientated N-S and three E-W. The latter from an E-W row of buildings.

The clue to understanding the village D162 is the way it changes over time. Wisely, the excavators devoted two 14C tests to every house foundation and because of the generally speaking wet conditions on the Säby sites it was possible often to date fragments of the posts found in the post holes. In principle these dates tend to be older than the houses even though they may have been introduced in connection with repair during the lifetime of the house. Moreover, old timber could have been used: side ridges may thus have been redressed to fulfill a secondhand function as posts, and interior posts may have been shortened to become corner posts. Since a post gives the house a terminus post quem (tpq) date, other pieces of charcoal in the holes may be viewed in relation to this date telling us whether the charcoal fell into the hole as a contamination  from earlier activities or not. Typically in a settlement such as D162, age difference between the oldest post and the youngest date – be it a post or a piece of charcoal – grows when we compare the latest end dates to the earliest.

Hennius fig 06The table shows that the settlement comes to an end c. 1550 bp – allowing the outhouses to stand c. 25 years after the last construction phase – sometimes in the first half of the 6th c. CE. The dates, moreover, help us divide the activities of the builders into stages. The first is bp 1775-1740, H 11, 10 & 07. The second is short, bp 1695-80, H15 &14 (in effect two phases of the same house). The third is an even shorter period bp 1655-50, H09 & 08. Lastly there is the phase bp 1600-1575, H19 & 13. Taking the houses with just one date into consideration makes the last construction phase begin in 1605 bp and adds houses to the other phases.

When mapped, these construction periods structure the settlement in a reasonable way. In the phase bp 1775-1740 there are two parallel main houses with each their small outhouse or barn. They are two small farms typical of the ERIA. The pair H11+18 may well have been the very first farm on the site later accompanied by the farm consisting of H10+7.

Hennius fig 07

Hennius fig 08

The short phase, bp 1695-1680, introduces a new orientation of the settlement and larger houses. Instead of a N-S line between two farms, the axis is shifted c. 24° to the East. This suggests that the undated House 12 is partly contemporary with the introduction of this new axis. The new houses, constructed in this and the next phase, are orientated E-W, e.g. House 14, at right angles to the new divide, i.e. 90+24=117° to the East. This indicates a regulation of the plots and makes them the two westernmost estates in a village stretching towards the East. There seems to be no small outhouses belonging to this construction period, but compared with the first phase, the main houses are longer. Measured in roofed square metres the farms have in other words become bigger. In the fourth phase, bp 1655-50, a new farm with a small barn is built on the western plot.

In these two latter phases, i.e. the settlement period combining the two construction phases and covering the period bp 1695-1650, there are probably two farms on the western plot and one on the eastern suggesting that there was now two households on the western plot. This partitioning into South Plot and North Plot indicates that the lands of the original estate were parceled out to two beneficiaries. In the last building phase, bp 1605-1565, after a hiatus or the ebbing out of the main house period, bp 1775-1650 and onwards, four outhouses were constructed on the site. They are obviously plot-related — although perhaps not conpemtorary — and should be seen as someone’s claim to a specific plot and a part in the village. This means that although the plots were without a proper homestead, the estates nevertheless existed.

The development demonstrates that in the first part of the 6th c. at least three small farms disappears from the village D162, without radically affecting the ownership of the land. It is easy to imagine a connection between this abandonment of farms and the dust veil tpq 536 CE.

The way the building phases mirror the boom in the LRIA and its decline during the 5th century CE is typical, but the outhouse period, the very beginning of the PCIA, is equally important because it speaks of the will to claim the land.

Hennius fig 09That D162 is a village is also indicated by the fact that it has its own small cemetery D69, 200m to the West. The small cemetery and the fact that village was no more than twice as big as the excavated area, indicate that D162 is part of the RIA expansion – a new village situated 750 m East of present-day Säby, 750 m North of present-day Villinge, and 750 m South of present-day Kumla – that is, a new village fitted into an existing older structure of settlements with each their cemeteries.

Let us turn to the contemporary settlements: D193 and D169.

Hennius fig 10On D193 there is one small main house, House 33, two large outhouses, H23 (phase 1) & 29, and no less than six small barns or sheds, H24-26, H28 and H30-32. House 27 is a pit house and a dwelling. Houses 33 & 29 are contemporary and may well have been a small 4th century farm and so may the rebuilt House 23 (phase 2) & the outhouse 28. These two farms represent the boom at a site originally characterized by outhouses. The small barn H32 is the last on the site, which it claims in a way similar to the first ones and the last barns at D162. House 32 represents decline and abandonment after the boom. In the late 6th century someone lived in the pit house H27. By that time, there were no other houses on the site.

It is characteristic of this settlement that it doesn’t contain more than perhaps one farm with agriculture, husbandry and cows in the byre. Nevertheless activities are more abundant in the 3rd and 4th century, mirroring the boom character in a modest way. If there had been no aftermath in the form of a pit house the site would have been abandoned already in the beginning of the 5th century.

The site D169 is a sparsely settled area with a series of mostly small main houses, outhouses and sheds. If we follow the 14C dates the site was settled from the 2nd to the 4th century CE and around 300 CE there were probably two households on the site rather than one. Although there were no doubt farms with a multi-functional main house and a barn or shed, there must also have been times when households didn’t have cow sheds. The settlement seems to have been abandoned in the beginning of the 5th century.

D169 and D193 are unregulated peripheral settlements without cemeteries – settlements in which the ruins of earlier houses, rather than plots, guided those who were about to build themselves a new house. Since their farms and abodes were temporary, those who lived at these sites were not the landowning farmers of an autonomous village.


Hennius fig 11The sites D168 and D180, lastly, represent each their short period of farm life in an unregulated settlement. D168 is an old site with sporadic EIA presence, but no farm until the late 5th and early 6th century — i.e. a farm with no part in the RIA expansion. D180 is a younger site and the farm belongs to the central and later part of the 6th century. The youngest, at D168, is dated bp 1540, at D180 the date is bp 1490. Since a house lifetime, given maintenance, of c. 60 years is not unlikely D180 in all probability replaces D168 c. 100 meter to the north. Judging from the 14C dates, the buildings and their layout, the two farms replace each other, one being the first the other the second phase of one and the same estate. The farm is moved during or after the dust veil. D168/D180 is in other words situated before and after this event. The layout of the phases is very similar; it tells us that a farm could consist of a main house, 80 foot or more, and a 40 foot outhouse, which may also have housed a secondary household. The outhouse was sometimes rebuilt and extended. Because the farm consists of a main house and a rather large outhouse it is among the largest ones in the area. Its layout is standard and its farmyard situated between the two parallel farm houses in a relatively orderly way. When all other settlement sites have already been closed down or abandoned in the first part of the 6th century or indeed settled by the odd pit house dweller, D168/180 stands out as an investment in a new farm on a site that has not hitherto been used as a farmstead. D168/180 is going against the stream during at least three or four generations before it disappears.

 (3) The character of the settlements. D162 is the only village in the area. It developed a formal structure with plots. It was reduced and perhaps abandoned in the first part of the 6th century. It didn’t survive into historical times and may well be part of the RIA expansion that came to an end in the Pre Carolingian Iron Age (PCIA). A169 and A193 are marginal settlements abandoned in the 4th-5th century except for the solitary 6-7th c. pit house on D193. During the boom there are one or two small farms on D169 and D193 respectively. It would seem reasonable to suggest a connection between the village D162 and the peripheral settlement at D193. D169 may have linked in with a settlement further North, such as present-day Kumla.

The farm D168/D180 is probably not linked to the village D162 and although technically speaking peripheral, e.g. to present-day Säby, the farm was a full farm with a large outhouse and a multi-functional main house, but similar to homesteads and farms at D169 and D193, D168/180 occupied one of the temporary places in the larger Säby area, albeit for several generation. It seems not to be associated with any graves.

In a chapter on the osteological material Ylva Bäckström discusses the species and not least the balance between bones related to butchering and bones related to cooking – in percent this butchering/cooking relation is expected to be 60:40. In a settlement with more bones than expected related to butchering not all food was prepared at the settlement. Similarly, if bones related to cooking dominate, part of the food was imported to the settlement. In a sufficiently large economic area the balance between the two bone materials will nevertheless be 60:40. Turning to the village D162 there is a small surplus of offal, which means that some meat (mutton and pork) leaves the settlement. This surplus is matched by a small deficit at D193. Adding D162 and D193 to eachother the expected balance 60:40 meets the eye and we may suggest that the production at D162 matches that of D193. The bone material, as well as the layout of the settlements therefore suggest that D193 is a dependent, somewhat specialized, settlement engaged in husbandry linking in with the more central village D162 and its more complete subsistence system. Animals from D193 may thus have been brought to D162 to be butchered or indeed driven off to other parts of the economic system. In return the village D162 would to a certain degree have supported the peripheral settlement D193 – the point being that those living at D193 invested part of their work time in the economy of D162.

Initially, the well-planned farm D168/D180 suggests a subsistence economy or an economy similar to that of the village D162. None the less, the balance between offal and cut of meat is grossly distorted – 80:20 rather than 60:40. The farm D168/180 is in other words involved in exploiting the natural resource of its environment, allowing it to export half of its production of pork, beef and mutton from its immediate surroundings. Since we cannot expect a free market to have existed in the 7th c. CE, we must conclude that D168/180 was strongly tied to a not too distant settlement that needed a surplus, either because this settlement itself had a central position or because it was involved in a network around a more central place with a wish or duty to support people. Since manorial or central farms are characteristic of the PCIA (there are several candidates in the area) it is only reasonable to suppose that cattle farms such as D168/180 existed. Its economic raison d’être can be seen as a consequence of the fact that the other settlements between Säby, Villinge and Kumla were phased out and abandoned.


To sum up: When the isostatic uplift (the rise of land masses once depressed by the weight of the ice sheet) allowed people to settle permanently and farm the greater Säby area, the older part of the landscape with a few temporary Late Bronze Age (LBA) and EIA settlements, could be permanently settled. This happened in the 2nd c. CE when the area was settled with at new village and some marginal settlements. This expansion continued until the 5th century when the marginal settlements disappeared and the village was certainly reduced and probably abandoned. It stands to reason that this reduction could have been caused by overgrazing. Although the marginal settlements were abandoned the plots in the village D162, and the secondary site D193, continued for a while to be built on with an outhouse thus indicating that the estates and the D193 site were laid claim to, although there were no longer any farmsteads. In the first part of the 6th century even the outhouses disappeared and it is difficult not to see a connection between this abandonment and the general shortage of food and fodder created by the dust veil. The dust veil came in the end of a century in which a large number of farmsteads were abandoned. In the Säby area no LRIA estate disappeared, but the outhouses at D162 and D193 came to an end suggesting that nobody rebuilt them when necessary. It seems unlikely that everyone once living on the farms that were abandoned went on to live in the farms that were not abandoned. In the Säby area at least five households disappeared, none continued and only one new farm was created, probably after a hiatus.

The settlement situation at Säby is not unique, but in this particular area the settlement expansion is late and so is its decline. Compared to other well-dates cases e.g. in the Oslo fjord area where most farms are solitary, it become apparent that if the permanent farms of the expansion start early – often after centuries of sporadic presence – they will also come to an early end. If they begin with Common Era the end will come in the 4th century. Similarly, a late beginning results in a late end in the 5th c. CE. This is the prime, albeit indirect reason why abandonment should be seen in connection with the malfunction of the RIA subsistence system – its ecological weakness being its dependency on husbandry in combination with a temptation to graze too many heads and allow too many households to be established.

Since modern exploitation isn’t likely to target present-day farms we seldom excavate the settlements that survived 536 CE and continued to be settled, but it does happen – Old Uppsala being case in point.

In Säby a new farm was established in the 5th century as indeed the only one in the abandoned area. This farm survives the dust veil for a couple of generations and judging from the osteological material its economy was based on livestock that would have survived grazing the area, which 200 years earlier was occupied by five or perhaps ten farms. This can of course be done as long as the population pressure is low and as long as ownership is not disputed. Since the 6-7th c. settlement at D193 was a pit house and not a farm such as D180, it stands to reason that land could not be occupied by anyone in need of a farm. Despite the demographic problems, the landless continued to be landless, some even began to live in pit houses. The marginal areas were not resettled in order to create self-subsiding households, but rather households that fitted into a larger and more hierarchic economic structure and settlement pattern. The pit house at D193 and the farm D168/180 are the typical outcome of the agrarian crisis of the 4th and 5th century and its aftermath the lost summers and the decrease in population during the late 530s and early 540s.

There is a fair chance that Säby is typical of the settlement change from the mid-second to the early seventh century CE. In that case the crisis, enhanced by crop failure and famine in the sixth century, didn’t result in an agricultural reform, it just meant that for a few more generations a reduced population could continue overgrazing and exploitation. The nadir of the agricultural crisis therefore seems to be the seventh century CE.

The economic crisis in mid-millennium Scandinavia shares some structural similarities with the crisis in the centuries around 1400 CE (cf. OtRR 4 March, 2113). It was an agrarian crisis topped by a demographic catastrophe accentuating social stratification and followed by a period of political warfare. Society was marked by its inability to change its mode of subsistence in order to accommodate a larger population and also by its inability to balance the size of its population against its system of subsistence. The decrease in population enhanced social stratification and brought about political power struggle rather than a new social order. The Scandinavian society even resisted urbanization except in its southwestern corner where Ribe was the exception to prove the rule. When migrating Scandinavians become visible in the annals of the 8th century they are the result of a population surplus in the unreformed society. Leaving the old society, they favoured a new one with an economy built on interacting rural, urban and mercantile sectors – they are the aggressive modernists of their day and age.


(1) Information on this is found at

(2) See
and goto page 273

(3) This seventh settlement was reported by Göthberg 2007: Arkeologisk undersökning. Kumla- bosättning och djurhållning under äldre järnålder. Fornlämning 169, Danmarks socken, Uppland. Hans Göthberg. Rapport 2007:15 (3347 kb). Cf.

(4) See The Early Iroin Age in South Scandinavia pages 245ff.

TFig 00his Week On the Reading Rest I have something very common, i.e. a report (again in Swedish, but with good pictures) concerning a ‘unique archaeological’ find. Presently, entering ‘archaeological’ returns c. 43 and ‘unique archaeological’ c. 21 million hits on Google, and among the latter the ironic usage is probably ‘quite unique’, i.e. ‘like uncommon more or less’. Nevertheless, the combination, “quite unique” + ‘archaeological’, returns 400,000 hits. Luckily, when scrutinized the archaeologically unique turns out to be trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.

Nordqvist, Bengt. 2011. Våtmarksfynd från the forna åbädden vid Grönån [Wetland Finds from the Ancient River Bed by Grönån (i.e. Green River)]. UV rapport 2011:11. Arkeologisk undersökning. Swedish National Heritage Board.


Select: UV Rapport 2011:124.


In Scandinavian discussions within maritime archaeology sails have always been important because they indicate technological progress and refinement (cf. OtRR 25 July 2011). As it happens maritime archaeology is still obsessed with the importance of rational technology and invention as the emblem of historical development, as well as the emblem of modern scientific maritime method. The sail and its consequence the sailing ship are technological inventions that changed society because the sail was the first event in a chain triggering the next: Sail → Sailing Ships → Vikings → End of Prehistory →…. Because development is supposed to be dynamic and because we already know that the end of prehistory didn’t happen until 1025-50 CE, sails mustn’t be introduced too early or History will run ahead of itself.

Despite our archaeological endeavor, there are but a few contexts dating the introduction of the sail. The sailing ship with its buried crew of warriors from Salme on Saarema has nevertheless been dated to the beginning of the 8th c. CE and when published in more detail it will set Vikings sailing the seas and getting killed purposeless for generations unable to get started with the ‘Viking Age’, which began only 793 CE, a year that used to be just after the invention of the ‘Viking ship’ (1).

Since mainstream archaeologists have a gut feeling that technological solutions will become popular only when they fulfill a purpose, they are usually not bothered by technological implications. They simply wait for new sources to come to light dating the introduction of the sail. When that happens, i.e. when introduction is redated, it means that theory-based interpretation has been corrected by simple empirical observations, and mainstream archaeologists, who are always prepared to find something by chance, cry: ‘Eureka!’ – and why not ‘unique!’ while they are at it. Accordingly, mainstream archaeologists are prepared to cry havoc when theory threatens to inform empirical observation, and urge the archaeological observer to cast doubt upon the obvious in the observed.

The wetland finds from Grönån are referred to by Bengt Nordqvist (BN) as unique, which means that there is a good chance that they are actually trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.

Fig 02Grönån is a tributary to Göta Älv, which is the most important waterway in Southwest Sweden. It connects backwoods and coastland. Together with its tributaries, such as Grönån, it also runs through and structures a number of fertile settlement areas. During the Iron Age (IA) the most strategic settlement areas along this river would seem to be situated on the left shore of the river just north of its bifurcation at Kungälv. Sitting here, able to subside between coast and inland, one could benefit from exploiting the hinterland as well as from incoming and outgoing traffic without the immediate risk of being descended upon. Although the area is thus inland, up the river and relatively protected, choosing a settlement by Grönån rather than directly by Göta Älv would suit the general tendency for Early Iron Age (EIA) settlements, contrary to Late Iron Age (LIA) settlement, to avoid the relatively speaking unprotected ‘coastal situation’ by the large river.

On the left side of Göta Älv between Lödöse (the Early Medieval town directly by Göta Älv) and Nol we find a suitable upstream settlement area characterized not least by its maritime finds preserved in the wet and clayey sediments along the rivers. The ships from Äskekärr, a boatyard from the Carolingian Iron Age (CIA, 750-1025 CE) and consequently situated directly by Göta Älv are the most well-known. After Bn’s excavations we may add a similar, but much older site by Grönån. I will call it Skepplanda 226 (Sk226) because the parish name Skepplanda is significant and because it is conceivable that there are other similar sites along Grönån. The name Skepplanda is composed of the words land (in the plural) and skip—ship or skipvidh, i.e. the lands or district that supplies boat timber. BN, doesn’t comment on Skepplanda, but shows that waste and wood chippings indicates that trunks were brought to Sk226 to be processed, making radially split planks (boards), oars, ribs, oarlocks, etc. In addition there are several tools, such as wedges and a mallet, as well as boat details that support the boatyard interpretation. Sk226 is a site that befits a skipvidh-land, but also a landing-place that belongs to one or more farms on higher grounds the odd kilometer north of the river. Situated at Grönån, rather than Göta Älv, the site is protected and comparatively peripheral, i.e. typical EIA compared to CIA Äskekärr. Grönån, contrary to Göta Älv, is an obvious artery for floating small amounts of timber to yards near its estuary. As it happens Äskekärr is situated just 3km downstream from the point where Grönån falls into Göta Älv making it easy to supply the boatyard at Äskekärr with Skepplanda timber.

Grönån skepplanda

The reason why we find sites such as Äskekärr and Sk226 is a combination of the need in prehistory to maintain ships and boats, and the fact that rivers because of sedimentation and erosion change their course within the riverbeds. This leads to sediments covering some of the old shores preserving wood and fibers once dropped there by the boat builders. Today the river fronts are protected areas usually not touched by contract archaeology, but in the Skepplanda case the new road E45 had to cross Grönån, and since the span of the bridge was made as short as possible, the edges of the stream had to be investigated.

The excavation was difficult, but very successful and thanks to the sedimentation the stratigraphy revealed two chronological phases divided by sediments deposited c. 375 CE when the river moved c.15 meter to the South. Above the sediments the site continued to be used to land boats. In order to do so despite the new circumstances characterized by a wet strip between the river and the dry land, short canals were dug making it easier to pull the vessels out of the water. BN argues convincingly that in this phase the boats and ships that went into the canal had keels and a cross-section that we usually recognize from ships belonging to the CIA – that is sailing ships. Since the upper Skepplanda stratum is dated after c. 375 and before the 600s it would seem that sails were introduced sometime during these centuries. Salme and Sk226 thus make it likely that sails, but not the Viking Age, were introduced well before 800 CE. The fact that the canals were dug to fit the cross-section of the vessels indicates that the boats were floating when they entered their canal and that the canals were similar to a dock yard from which the boats were probably dragged up on the dry land.

Fig 04

In the first phase the site was used much more intensively in connection with the maintenance of boats. The site was established in the 2nd c. CE, but the hundred years c. 260-360 CE were its heyday. It stands to reason that Sk226 was not meant mainly to give service to people punting and rowing up and down Grönån. Using the boats on Göta Älv and in the archipelago or for coastal trafic in South Scandinavia would seem more important – not least why the popularity of Sk226 in the 3rd and 4th centuries, i.e. the LRIA, coincides with an economic boom in tandem with a period of warfare in South Scandinavian. In the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries we may instead expect lower economic activities. Skepplanda circumstances must to some extent have brought about the boom, but places such as Sk226 must nevertheless boom if the boom is going to be as general as it was. Sk226 is a site that fits the types of boats one would have built in the first half of the first millennium CE. A long, narrow and light boat such as the one from Hjortspring or a long, broad and heavy ship such as the one from Gokstad would not have fit the yard. But a series of boats similar to the ones from Nydam (the pine boat) or Valsgärde might well have been maintained at Sk226 (2).


The report is an overview with an understandable, but nevertheless biased focus on the ‘unique’, i.e. so far in Sweden the oldest wooden artefacts of their kind, definition, character, and function. Thus influenced by the face value of the ‘unique’, the report lacks the systematic information that would have allowed the reader to interpret the character of the site, i.e. its commonplace context, in greater detail (3). Consequently, the report doesn’t discuss intra-site matters in relation to time or the three periods defined by the 14C-tests.


Two examples go to illustrate this: (1) Although part of the canals belonging to the upper layers cut down into the glacial clay below the lower layers, we don’t know precisely where these disturbances of the lower layers occur. (2) The chronology rests on 14C-tests, but it is difficult and sometimes impossible to find out where the dated artefacts were found. Despite shortcomings such as these, there are nevertheless clues here and there in the text; some conclusion can probably be drawn and some insights sifted from it. Despite the restricted attitude in the report to conveying contextual facts, contextualizing the site is worth a try.

If the lower artefact layer at Sk226 is a boatyard used with varying intensity during 2-300 years, then one may wonder, especially looking at the last 100 years of the LRIA, whether the find distribution reflects the structure of a yard. The hypothesis (i.e. a theoretically informed point of view that may be tested against empirical patterns sometimes overlooked) is the following: maintenance takes place when a boat is lifted out of the water and secured with props allowing the craftsmen to stand next to the boat working on. In this position, while working, they tend to lose tools and utensils and to drop waste and broken parts. We would expect these wooden objects to be trodden down into the humid clay by chance and perhaps eventually by intension making the ground more stable. Since there are planks that must be wedged out of trunks, dressed and cut by the ax, we can expect wooden chippings and bits of planks more or less all over the place, but not specifically under or next to the boats. This means that (1) where the boats stood finds ought relatively speaking to be few. (2) Next to the boats there would be concentrations of artefacts; and (3) between the boats there should be more chippings and pieces of plank than next to or under the boats. These hypotheses hold true only if some parts of the site are defined by their boat standings. In the long run they are unlikely to hold true given the general freedom to choose a boat standing as best you please.

In the report the artefacts are divided into groups and mapped. Insignificant pieces of wood were plentiful but not recorded. Wooden chippings were abundant and fragments of planks relatively common. Both categories were recorded and mapped because being marked by tools they might reveal something about craftsmanship. If we use the categories defined by BN and combine the artefact maps in the report to give an impression of density and complexity there emerges a pattern to some extent consistent with the hypotheses indicating where the boats stood when they were maintained and repaired.


The pattern is easy to see in the two peripheral distributions, but blurred in the dense central part of the site where the boats may have stood within a larger less specific area just west of the landing-place. The peripheral boat standings are characterized by relatively speaking fewer artefacts.

When we add the chippings and the planks to the artefact distribution it is enhanced inasmuch as the areas between the possible boat standings are filled up by signatures. Since wedging the trunks, and dressing and cutting the planks benefit from an open work space rather than a boat standing, the two distributions match each other. Obviously axes were used next to the boats too, but less intensely.

If we figure out where the four oldest, i.e. the 2nd century 14C-tests were found their distribution coincides with the dense central part indicating that over the centuries the ideal division at the center of the site – the landing and the standing – becomes blurred because of the activities going on. It seem fair therefore to conclude that in the centre of the distribution, next to the landing area, later marked by the canals, there were standings where for hundreds of years boats stood when they were not used. In the period after c. 375 CE when the boats had their standing above the landing-place, maintenance might well have taken place at Sk226, but in that case the dry conditions of this possible site has deprived us of wooden remains. Nevertheless, the analysis of time and space at Sk226 suggests that the central part of the site was used between the 1st and the 7th c. CE. In the LRIA, work in the yard was intensified and this intensification shows in the addition two or three peripheral standings left and right of the original site. Because the peripheral standings were not used during a longer period and because they were left undisturbed by additional landings, their find distribution is not blurred. It tells us that from time to time in the LRIA there was more than one boat being looked after at Sk226. The expansion indicated by the 14C-dates is in other words matched by a find distribution that suggests a growing demand for tonnage in a period of dynamic economy and warfare. Before the activities at the site come to an end they became less intensive and thus more similar to the activities of the ERIA.


Grönån is a small river and the boats and ships that landed at Sk226 in the RIA were hardly more than 12-15 m. Probably they were similar in size to the small LRIA (pine) boat from the war offerings at Nydam. Oarlocks and a number of oars suggest that they were rowing vessels. A helm indicates that it wasn’t just small boats that landed. Some of the finds parallel elements of the LRIA boats in Nydam and one detail, a block with no wheel and thus perhaps a kind of gutter ring, might fit a rig. Since part of an anchor was also found the object might perhaps have filled a function in that connection uniting rope and anchor. Because of the Nydam parallels, the boats probably had a cross-section similar to the large Nydam boat and according to the new reconstruction of this boat the hull must have been supported by props when the boat stood on its standing in the yard. Probably the weight of such a boat was c. one ton. If we imagine that boats were now and then to be dragged past waterfalls, and compare them to what we know about the capacity of the large Nydam boat, they had a crew of c. 18 giving each man 55-60 kg to drag. Speculating about the reasons for giving up Sk226 it is reasonable to point to the fact that if we are engaged in regional and inter regional transportation the ships that could be maintained in Grönån became too small. A sites such as Äskekärr would accommodate large boats and ships although it lacked natural protection and easy conditions for floating timber. Sk226 was probably too small-scale and too protected for the new dynamic times of the CIA.

Fig 05

Sk226, Äskekärr and Fribrödreå (on Falster in Denmark) make up a small series comprising a millennium of off-settlement South Scandinavian ship yards in wetland environments characterized by wood because iron is not preserved. Their complement, linked to settlements such as Lundeborg (on Fyn) and Parviken (on Gotland) and covering the same period, are the dry land yards characterized by iron rivets because wood is not preserved. Together these sites define an economic geography and it is comforting to know that just as they are few and far apart today, they were once commonplace.

(1) Salme

There is an abstract: Warrior Burials with Scandinavian Finds of the Late Vendel Period (ca 750 AD) from Salme in Saaremaa/Ösel (Estonia)

Jüri Peets, Raili Allmäe, Liina Maldre (Tallinn University, Estonia) and Ragnar Saage (University of Tartu, Estonia)

In autumn 2008 remains of human skeletons and ancient artefacts, including some deformed sword fragments, boat rivets and two antler dice, were brought to light while digging an electrical cable trench for the lighting of a cycling track. Deciding mainly by the shape of the weapon fragments they were dated to the Vendel Period or the beginning of the Viking Age (7th–8th centuries). The finds were of Scandinavian types. Some of them, including gaming pieces and single-edged swords, hadn’t been previously found in Estonia. Artefacts related only to Estonia or Saaremaa were missing. The excavations of the site were resumed in 2010 and 2011, revealing a second ship – a big warship about 17m long. The ships contained the skeletons of 43 warriors with weapons and other grave goods: about 40 swords, 12 shields, about 50 arrowheads, 12 horn combs and about 300 game pieces lated of whalebone and 20 bovine femur heads, 5 of them were ornamented. Alongside with humans, dogs and hawks were sacrified. As food offerings swine, goat/lamb and bovine bones were found. The most significant find beside the ancient artefacts were the discovery of the remains of the first prehistoric boats (ships) in Estonia.

And information in Estonian on

(2) Nydam: or Rieck, Fleming. 1994. Jernalderkrigernes skibe. Nye og gamle udgravninger i Nydam mose. Vikingeskibshallen i Roskilde
Valsgärde, the boat in grave 6 looks like this:

 Valsgärde 6

 (3) Seemingly, the County Administrative Board (CAB) didn’t ask for it. At page 74 the author refers to some questions, posed before the final excavation took place and they may well have been formulated by a CAB because they are so odd:

Why is the largest artefact group objects that can be connected with the production of planks? The whole process of production from trunk to plank is represented in the material. Do these remains emanate from the production of something specific – such as boats?

If planks are what you find and boats what spring to you mind then you obviously know something that has already provoked the affirmative. The following question is thus not really surprising: Do even abandoned boats occur? But then again you better ask yourself because you wouldn’t want to miss them just because it hadn’t occurred to you that there might be boats, do you?

The next on the other hand is puzzling:

Is the agglomeration of the processed wooden objects a natural deposition? One might think that there is no need to talk of natural or unnatural depositions when we may talk of what is presumably meant namely primary or secondary depositions, but then again perhaps not; you never know with CABs. The right answer may actually be: ‘No, it’s an unnatural deposition!’ because you are not allowed to reformulate the original question, are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ndr Götala orto

Ndr Götala cadastrial

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

LG översikt 03 LG översikt

LG översikt 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three houses

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

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


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

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

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

Ndr Götala datering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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