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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skeke proportioner

Lika hallar

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

Roof and walls at Skeke

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

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

ILLU Skeke hall fasad02

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

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


This week On the Reading Rest have the new Aggersborg publication

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

(3) see



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Overview 00

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


Overview 01

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

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

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

Overview 02

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

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

Analysis 02

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

Overview 03

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

Overview 04

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilltuna fig 00

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilltuna fig 03

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

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

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


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



ILU01This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German (with a small summary in English and French) on an Early Medieval settlement, Gladbach, with long houses and pit houses on the right bank of the Middle Rhine in the Neuwied basin. Gladbach is not the most romantic of places on the Middle Rhine — Heine and Wagner had little to say about the village, but nevertheless at the border between the Lower and the Upper Middle Rhine.

It is a pity that the site is called Gladbach since it is obviously not today’s Gladbach, which may well be as old as the archaeological site.

ILU02Grunewald, Lutz & Schreg, Rainer. 2013. Frühmittelalterliche Siedlungen und Gräberfelder in der Gemarkung von Neuwied-Gladbach – Forschungsgeschichte, Quellenbestand und Auswertung einer Altgrabung—Early Medieval settlements and cemeteries in the area of Neuwied-Gladbach – history of research, sources and analysis of an old excavation. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, Jahrg 43 4:2013:569-85. Acronym: LuGRaSch.

During excavations in 1937 dark features in the light pumice layers at Gladbach revealed themselves as pit houses. In fact the term Grubenhaus was coined here although it wasn’t the fist time one was excavated. The excavations were caused by the exploitation of the pumice resources and prior to the excavations, part of the settlement north of the excavated area had been destroyed. But not large parts since already in 1936 cemeteries surrounding the settlement had come to light as a result of the quarrying of pumice. To begin with when quarrying the pumice, machines remove the top soil and then the actual pumice layer. Afterwards the top soil is brought back and cultivation continues on a lower level.


Early excavations of settlements characterized by pit houses tend not to have been published and in that respect Gladbach resembles the first Danish excavation a decade later of the early Aggersborg settlement mixing long houses and pit houses (mentioned briefly OtRR 28 November, 2011). Even here the pit houses were recognized already during the excavation. Aggersborg, owing not least to the Late Carolingian Iron Age ring fort (10th c. CE) is about to be published and LuGRaSch’ article shows that the Gladbach excavations too deserve a publication.

LuGRaSch sketches the history of the settlement and its cemeteries in the light of new chronological analyses. Their discussion makes it clear that there was an overlap in time in the Carolingian Iron Age (750-1025 CE) for instance between Gladbach and Aggersborg, which LuGRaSch is obviously not discussing. Perhaps as a typical settlement expansion, Gladbach starts already in the 6th c. However, both settlements thrive in the 8th and 9th c. and come to an end in the 10th – Gladbach in the early part of the period and Aggersborg in the later part of the Century when it becomes the ring fort. Although they are sites far apart both are exponents of a specific kind of settlement characterizing large parts of northwest Europe: rural sites where long houses are matched by clusters of pit houses. I think there are economic as well as social reasons behind this kind of farm structure. In Scandinavia, the further north we go the later the examples of these mixed farms. This chronological trait suggests that general Middle Age economic change makes this kind of farms obsolete.

ILLU04Gladbach is situated just below alluvial depositions in a gentle slope towards the Southwest on the easily cultivated Bims (the light and well-drained soils, typical not least of the eastern Neuwied Basin. They are trachyte turfs and thus rich in pumice (0)). The situation at Gladbach – a loosely planned settlement surrounded by cemeteries is the expected Early Medieval settlement structure and the historical villages surrounding the site are exactly that, but the excavated settlement never becomes a historical village instead the site is abandoned in the early 10th century. Historically speaking its lands were swallowed up by historical and present-day Gladbach, a village c. 1.3 km to the East.

ILLU05LuGRaSch shows that the settlement is expanding a little within its settlement area beginning in the Northeast. The 8th century may be the zenith and in the 10th century it seems to have become a relatively small settlement. Whether it is a village or not, it is organized along a road that can probably be seen today. ILLU06If we allow ourselves to think of its Eastside as the earliest part of the settlement and its Westside as the later expansion, then it meets the eye that the eastern part of the settlement is more orderly and indeed more spread-out than the two units on the westside. LuGRaSch writes very informative about the site, but also cautiously in such a way that the reader is not allowed to draw any conclusions since when conclusions may be reached readers are immediately told that nothing can be known for sure. If, e.g. we want to interpret the plan we are told that preservation varied, but how, where and to what extent is not discussed. In principle therefore we cannot know whether there are fewer pit houses in the southwestern part of the settlement and whether the freestanding building is not surrounded by pit houses. The reader, therefore, shall have to draw a number of very basic conclusions in order to make this article more than an announcement of the authors’ claim to the Gladbach site. One might even venture to say that owing to the character of the article one has a duty to interpret the site.

To begin with it would seem that the settlement east of the road is occupied by a large farm with a reasonable main house, c. 7 x 14m, in the south in some sort of ‘splendid isolation’. This might be a small manor and needless to say it may have been short-lived because the economy of the farm is the northern part of the Eastside, where pit houses cluster around a number of long houses that are probably no contemporary. ILLU07 The easternmost and the westernmost long house on the settlement have (not yet?) been interpreted as buildings, but if they are, it means that the Westside consists of two settlement units characterized by one long house and a cluster of pit houses. These clusters are of the same kind as the ones next to the freestanding houses in the Northeast. The relation between long house and pit houses is relatively exceptional since there are many pit houses – on average 8 pit houses in one freestanding building, if we count all possible freestanding ones. The pattern with clusters next to farm houses and areas characterized by sparsely distributed pit houses and no long houses, as if the pit houses were situated on the common is not unique to Gladbach (1). It is characteristic on the other hand that the settlement planning is more orderly on the Westside than on the Eastside. The orientation of the houses testifies to this. On the Eastside the extremes of the pit houses, which are not very extreme compared to the pit houses on the Westside, actually constitutes a small group of diverging houses. On the late Westside order simply doesn’t seem to be equally important. Spatial order is characteristic of those who can afford to invest in it. In that case the heyday of the settlement seems to have been the 8th century CE, before order was allowed to deteriorate. Gladbach is a miniature Aggersborg inasmuch as it may be a manor investing in production and handicraft in the pit houses to a degree more than usual on its dependent farms. Basically, pit houses are multi-purpose building characterized, when compared to freestanding post buildings, by their uniformly moderate size and the moderate costs involved in constructing them. They are not high standard housing and those who live in them will understand the difference between living in a pit house and a large capacious building. On a rainy day in the Neuwied basin when the pumice layers drain the water swiftly down the gentle slope and through the pit house at Gladbach, one feels the difference and thanks God that the subsoil isn’t clay. Settlement such as Gladbach or Aggersborg fit a society where there are a number of workers and craftsmen who are not landowners, but live from what they produce on farms that feed them, inasmuch as they are linked to or associated with the household. Seventh or eighth century Northwest European rural settlements with a pit house:long house ratio higher than 5 – pit houses to one Long house – are probably production settlements producing goods such as cloths or other relatively expensive commodities for towns as well as royal or religious institutions. That a rural household engaged solely in agriculture and husbandry, that is, in subsistence would be in need of more than one or two pit houses is unlikely. It is impossible to know whether looking into the Gladbach excavations will result in any socio-economic interpretations, but it is worth trying and worth suggesting that the Late Iron Age in Scandinavia or the Early Middle Ages in northwest Europe would seem to allow us to benefit from a rather crude socio-economic model befitting the rural settlement landscape as well as breaking up the usual internal interpretation of pit house-infested settlements: ILLU08 NOTES

(0) On the Geography of the Ndeuwied Basin see Elkins, Thomas. H. and YATES, Edward. M. 1960. The Neuwied Basin. Geography, Vol. 45, No. 1/2 (January-April 1960), pp. 39-51 URL: .

(1) See Fig. 3 in: Schreg, Rainer. 2012. Farmsteads in early medieval Germany – architecture and organization. ARQUEOLOGÍA DE LA ARQUITECTURA, 9, enero-diciembre 2012, págs. 247-265. ISSN: 1695-2731. Pit houses situated on the common exists in Scandiavia too, e.g. at St Darum OtRR 16 April, 2012.

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.

Again this week On the Reading Rest I have the material needed to publish an Iron Age house from the mid-first millennium Ölandic ring fort Eketorps borg – the Eketorp ring fort. House 013 was excavated 1968 (0).

Fig 01The Situation. When it was built, House 013 was the only detached building in the ring fort. As a structure the house is not quite symmetrical because corners and short ends have been adjusted to the surrounding buildings in an effort to squeeze-in the house among the existing buildings. If we model what the situation would have been had the houses been symmetrical the adjustments become apparent.

Since the floor covers 51.6 sqm making the house one of the largest buildings in the ring fort, we can conclude that the stone masons intended to build as large a house as possible given its situation in the settlement. Its asymmetry, therefore, has to do with different needs such as the need to pass through the ring street and to drive a cart into the small square created behind House 013 when it was built. In all probability, those who live in the street and around the once much larger square insisted on their right of way when some of them deemed it necessary to build the house. The minimum measure used in the ring fort when planning passages, is a pole of 6 ell or 9 foot, c. 2.82 cm, i.e. the width of the large gates. The whole radial structure of the ring fort is based on dividing peripheries into sections measured in poles (1).

Fig 02

Owing to the building chronology and the chains of abutting and contemporary houses created during the erection of the Northeast quarter we can infer that House 013 was the last to be built.

Fig 03

Fig 05It was erected late in the settlement period when house S had already been rebuilt and enlarged. To begin with it was the smallest house in the ring fort, dominated by a large oven (House S1) when rebiult it was a dwelling house (House S2). House S2 is in all probability the last but one house to be built in the quarter. Logically speaking House U may be as young, but given the flat Southeast corner of the house, the position of its door and the space in front of House S, the planning of House 013, with its withdrawn entrance seems to have been meant to protect an open space in front of House S2 and House R. Likewise the architects took the passage between the existing House U and the southeast corner of House 013 into account.

Fig 04If we ask ourselves who benefits from House 013, the answer is: those who live in House R and House S2. It is conceivable, therefore, that when House R was rebuilt to become a small dwelling house and S2 rebuilt to become a larger one, the storage once a pert of House R was compensated by House 013. In practice rebuilding the houses R and S, as well as adding House 013 to the settlement, may well have happened as one series of events.

Turning the axis of the House 013 more to the South, making the entrance wall parallel to the short end of House T, would have made it possible to build an even larger house facing House T or U. Since this did not happen the overall situation of House 013 indicates that it was meant to function together with House R and House S2.

Indirectly, the reason why House 013 was built had to do with the growing general need for more roof-covered dwelling space. The situation of the house is thus the result of a compromise between these needs and the communal interest in the Northeast quarter to organize daily life around a comparatively large square. The latter interest guided those who built House 011, the first detached house in the ring fort, and later on the situation of House 011 governed that of the houses 010 and 012.

Fig 06Interior constructions. House 013 is divided into two parts by its constructions, primarily because of the floor in its southern part. This floor consisted of a limestone packing and above it a layer of limestone gravel, which created an even, hard and stable floor (construction P).The northern part of the house was meant to have an earthen floor, but the builders found no reason completely to take away the radial house walls of the first ring fort. In some places these remains were left as pavements in the floor, constructions A and B. There are only four interior postholes in two pairs (E/F and G/H) and they are visible because the posts had to be embedded and fixed in those parts of the house where the posts were standing in loose soil rather than directly on the gravel floor or on flat lime stones in earthen the floor. The mid-aisle is wide c. 50 percent of the inner breadth of the house.

The entrance (N) is paved and constructed in the traditional way with and an outer and inner post pair (I/K and L/M). Being the entrance to an outhouse with a storage, the entrance is relative wide and the door blade heavy. Probably it swung on pins in the back of the door fitted into the supporting construction next to the southern entrance post (M).

In addition to these constructions that have to do with the building itself, there are two other constructions, which have to do with furnishing the house. At some stage a small stone foundation was built on top of the gravel floor in the southern part of the house along the wall just south of the entrance (const. O). This kind of foundation, which, except for the one in House 013, belongs to dwelling houses, cosisted of several lime stone courses and could be framed by vertical slabs. They are difficult to interpret, but meant to support a construction that had to be kept well above the floor. A wooden box or crate of some kind – perhaps for storing yarn or grain — has been suggested, but archaeological or ethnographical records have little to support this suggestion. In a settlement with too little roofed dwelling space it stands to reason that whatever the function of this construction, it could be dispensed with if floor space was needed. The second construction consists of two postholes (C and D) which supported a vertical loom. The loom and its workspace is discussed below. It is typical, nevertheless, that the two functional constructions the ’pallet’ O and the loom C/D are usually found in the dwelling houses. If there is but one loom in a house it tends to be situated along the wall and close to the fire place even in contemporary Iron Age farms on Öland and Gotland. If there were more looms in a household they would follow the long walls further away from the hearth (2). Although weaving is closely linked to the main house on a farm, weaving in the Pre Carolingian Iron Age is also a characteristic of pit houses and thus an activity that may well be moved out of the main house into an outhouse.

Stratigraphy. When House 013 was built the ground was leveled. The floor layer on the gravel floor was thin, 5-10 cm. In the northern part the earthen floor could reach c. 15 cm because more finds could be buried in it. The thin floor layers of House 013 were sealed by the gravel and garden slug layer which covered nearly the entire ruined fort, and later on part of the medieval settlement was constructed on a surface that was defined as the top of the first preserved cause of the walls of House 013. The compressed stratigraphy is caused by the thin turf and lack of debris from the ring wall as well as an easy access to building material in the ruined lime stone walls.

Find distributions. During the excavations in 1968 it was not yet possible to spend time pinpointing fragmented bones in the floor layers. In House 013 this was not a great problem because there were precious few fragments. Charcoal pieces and ashes, nevertheless, were mapped because of their diagnostic qualities when trying to define floor levels.

Fig 07

The division of the house into two parts indicated by the constructions is enhanced by the find distribution. On the hard gravel floor there were few finds, oddly enough mostly beads, relatively few pieces of charcoal and few signs of occupation. Since nobody is expected to live on a hard gravel floor this is consistent with this part of the house being a storage. Now and then things were dropped on the floor, but the southwest corner seems to have been more protected, i.e. regularly cover. Contrary to the southern part, the northern is characterized by finds that indicate that somebody lived and worked in the house albeit perhaps not permanently. In the northwestern corner potsherds and resin from a bentwood vessels indicate a living area where people ate.

Fig 08

The area was protected from charcoal, but not from the occasionally broken pot. This pattern suggests that furniture, perhaps a bed to sit on, may have been standing in the northwest corner of the house. The charcoal and the two small ash concentrations enhanced the picture of daily life, but there is no fireplace or hearth and thus the charcoal, the ashes and the potsherds indicate that light, warmth and food were consumed by those who stayed in the house, but the food wasn’t cooked there.

Fig 09The most dominant feature in this part of the house is the 27 loom weight that seems to have fallen to the floor from the post where they were hung up when the fabric was taken down. The remains of two broken loom weights were found in the floor closer to the door. Some of the 27 weights were only partially burned or baked. Nevertheless, if each of the 27 weight were suspended in one or two inches of warp the breadth of the fabric would have been 1.5 or 3 ells, i.e. c. 71 or 142 cm. These breadths are both in accordance with the distance between the postholes C and D. Since they are not part of the roof construction, they are best explained as a way of anchoring the two pots of the vertical loom in the floor. Above the trestles the posts were fitted to a beam that in its turn linked the two trestles anchored on the postholes E/F and G/H. If this beam was attached to the trestles by halving, its diagonal position, indicated by the ‘loom’ holes, would be reasonable inasmuch as the halving would fit the trestles in an oblique angel, thus locking the beam firmly between the trestles. It meets the eye that the loom wasn’t, as usual, set up against the wall. This anomaly indicates that the house walls were lower in House 013 than in the radial houses, i.e. lower than c. 1.7 metres (3).

Fig 12As an additional indication of textile production we must point to the large whetstone with a furrow for producing bone needles buried in the floor next to the loom weights as well a smaller one found in the floor next to it.

Fig 10

Apart from a find distribution that we can understand only as the result of ‘activities’, the western corner of the northern part of House 013 is characterized by textile handicraft and daily life in a small household that doesn’t cook. Owing the organization of the workspace, and to the dismantled loom, the production would seem to vary perhaps also in intensity, maybe following a yearly circle. We may thus conclude that the ‘pallet foundation’, the textile production and one or more of those who worked with textiles could be permanently or seasonally moved out of the dwelling house to live in House 013. This indicates a population pressure demonstrated also in the very building of the House 013, but obviously also a social pressure, which tented to exclude some members of the local or regional community.

The Artefacts. There are very few artefacts in the house floor, and the way they relate to each other is partly odd: there are no beads in the earthen floor where activities were most common, but well on the gravel floor where activities were less frequent. If we judge by the frequency of potsherds there are many iron fragments or few potsherds if we reverse out point of departure. Loom weights and whetstones, moreover, dominate the artefacts. In House 013 as well as in House T wearing beads when going about one’s business would seem to be in vogue c. 600 CE. The lack of beads, needles and spindle-whorls in the northern part of the house, as well as the presence of an arrowhead, may or may not indicate that the weaver was specialized and a man.

Fig 11To sum up: Apart from being an outhouse, House 013 was an even humbler abode than House T, because small fires and broken pots are signs of an insignificant household. The dwelling-and-workshop area is small and for subsistence, whoever lived in the house, must have done so in cooperation with its owners, to whom it was primarily an outhouse. We may think that living in House 013 is something one does only temporarily, but given the general trend in the rebuilding of the houses in the ring fort, changing them from a variety of primary functions to dwelling houses, makes it unlikely that a temporary dwelling would result in a situation such as the one in House 013, if there had not been an urgent need to find someone a place to live. Temporarily setting up a loom against a wall in a dwelling house takes very little room compared to what it took setting it up in House 013. That too suggests that the problem was not the work space, but the space occupied by the worker or workers.



(0) Näsman, Ulf et al. 1976. Ulf Näsman, Kaj Borg & Erik  Wegraeus (eds). Eketorp – fortification and settlement on Öland/Sweden, The Monument. Almqvist & Wiksell.

(1) Näsman, Ulf. 1976. The settlement of Eketorp-II. In: Ulf Näsman, Kaj Borg & Erik Wegraeus (eds). Eketorp – fortification and settlement on Öland/Sweden, The Monument. Almqvist & Wiksell. Stockholm.

(2) Nordström, Karin & Herschend, Frands. 2003. Det ideologiska inslaget i väven. In: Thomas Lindkvist & Janken Myrdal (eds). Tralar. Ofria i agrarsamhallet frab vikingatid till medeltid.. Skrifter om skogs- och lantbrukshisrotia. Vol 17. Nordiska museet. Stockholm. Pp. 50–76.

(3) Edgren, Bengt and Herschend, Frands. 1979. Nya gamla hus. Riksantikvarieambetets rapport 1979:3. Riksantikvarieambetet. Stockholm.

This week On the Reading Rest I have the material needed to publish an Iron Age house from the mid-first millennium Ölandic ring fort Eketorps borg (0)

Översikt Eketorp Hus T

House T, excavated in the early 1970s, is a dwelling house in the North-east block of the ring fort. It is a primary house radiating from the ring wall, i.e. a free-standing building later accompanied by the neighbouring houses S and U. The description of the house will approach it from its entrance, speaking of its outer and inner parts – the ones closest to the ring wall – looking left and right. The house was ruined and partly pulled down already in the Late Iron Age. But not until c. 1200 CE, when the medieval settlement was laid out, was the ground completely leveled and the skins of the walls of House T knocked down to what was by then the surface of the ground. In this process, the Iron Age floor levels were sealed off by debris from the ring wall, new wall foundations supporting wooden sills, and limestone paving.

House T fron the ring street

Interior Constructions. The entrance is simple and there is neither an entrance paving nor post holes to support its construction. The roof-supporting foundations are few and uncertain: two post supports (C and D) and one posthole (A). Probably the lime stone packing below the floor supported most of the roof and the four posts needed to construct the entrance. It seems significant that the only posthole is situated in an earth-filled depression in the limestone packing. The flat hearth for the open fire (E) is located a little behind the centre of the house and next to it farther into the interior there is a cooking pit filled with brittle-burned and fire-cracked stones (G) where the glow could be kept. The outer part of the house is characterized by a hearth refuse (F) consisting of brittle-burned stones, charcoal and some ashes. Adjacent to F and around E and G there are ash concentrations (H, J and K). In the interior, in the right corner, two pieces of a charred plank had been preserved (L).

The limestone packing below the earthen floor is characteristic of the houses in the eastern part of the ring fort, i.e. the part that borders on the intermittent lake east of the ring fort. The ring wall encloses a small section of this lake around a small spring, which was built-in to become the well of the settlement. In order to create dry and drained conditions this area was filled up with limestone – a packing on which the house, its cavity walls with their two limestone skins, stood. Later on more packing within the walls was added as a foundation for the floor constructed just above the packing.

In House T, as in most Iron Age houses there are intended constructions such as the limestone packing, the hearths, the posthole and post supports. The fill that levels out the depression in the packing is also a primary construction, but in addition to proper constructions there are features that were made semi-constructions by daily life. The ash concentrations are a case in point and so is the inner right corner where so little happened that charred planks, eventually concealed in the floor, were not trodden on. Daily life, moreover, results in a number of things that were lost on the floor and preserved as distributions.


Stratigraphy. The house has only one floor – a seemingly continuously growing floor level. The floor lies directly upon the packing or, in the partly filled-in depression in the interior right side of the house, somewhat above it. The floor varies in thickness from c. 5 to c. 15 cm. Stratigraphically the floor is sealed between the packing and the so-called gravel and garden slug layer, which represents the end-phase of the LIA settlements, i.e. the period  when the roof was dismantled and the walls partly pulled down (1).

Several factors have contributed to the characteristics of the floor layer. First there is a tendency, albeit not a very strong one, for the floor to follow the lever of the packing. Secondly, there is a tendency for the floor more markedly to grow in the inner part of the house than in the outer part owing to the way the house was used. Thirdly, the remains of the first ring wall in the outermost part of the house served as a kind of threshold for the inner part of the house – a threshold on which only a very thin occupation layer was deposited. The result of these factors working together is a leveled floor, with a tendency for the central parts being slightly higher than the floor level closest to the long walls.

Floor layer


If we interpolate a corridor of bones and charcoal pieces on a schematic profile in the inner part of the house, covering the depression in the packing, it becomes apparent that the levels where bones have been found are deeper than the levels containing pieces of charcoal. Since it is difficult to preserve bits of charcoal on a floor when people live and walk on it, it is conceivable that the charcoal (pieces with a length above 1 cm) represents quite recent floor levels with few pieces in the deeper and older layers. Bones, which survive much better than charcoal, may be found in deeper layers too, suggesting that the floor layer as we see it, is the result two kinds of behavior: Daily life producing a growing earthen floor tidied-up on a daily basis, and the habitual digging out the floor, i.e. the throwing out the upper floor layers before spreading a new earthen floor. In the process charcoal tends to be come fragmented or dust while some robust objects such as pieces of bone, the odd bead or potsherds are left in or pressed into the deeper otherwise untouched the new layers of soil. In tandem with a wish now and then to clean out the floors there was also a continuous retrieval of things dropped on the floor, such as bones.

Bead stratigraphyOne third of the artefacts found in the house were beads, and if we look at their accumulation in the floor in relation to other finds it is obvious that beads do mainly belong to the upper part of the floor. This indicates that in daily life beads are often found and retrieved before they disappear buried in the floor. Since the floor represents the end phase of the settlement, the distribution indicates that the beads were dropped on the floor shortly before the house was given up. Correspondingly, the representation of potsherds is fairly constant suggesting a propensity in Iron Age man not to retrieve a potsherd when seeing it trodden into the earthen floor.

Find distributions. The stratigraphic analysis suggests that most of the objects found in the floor reflect a relatively short period of usage, which happened to become the end-phase of the occupation. Occupation habits including furnishing and cleaning habits are also reflected in the find distributions.

FInd dist House T

If e.g. we look at the distribution of the complementary categories charcoal bits and bones in relation to hearth, cooking pit, hearth refuse and ash layers, it become apparent that there is a deposition of ashes, charcoal and hearth refuse in the outer part of the house. If checked against the artefact distribution which mirrors daily life around hearth and cooking pit in the inner part of the house, it is obvious that the amount of ashes etc. in the outer part isn’t matched by a sufficient number of artefacts. The amount of preserved pieces of charcoal on the other hand is greater than in the interior. This means that the outer part of the house serves as a (temporary?) dump for waste related to the fire place rather than dwelling. The distribution, moreover, indicates that the lifetime of a hearth before it is maintained is less than that of a floor. The hearth and its immediate surroundings are cleaned up at least once before the general cleansing of the inner part of the house.

The find distribution and the finds reveal the routines of a short period of everyday life as well as boundaries and paths or floor space that look empty either because it were covered and/or little used. Cooking, eating and work related to textiles as well as other kinds of activities on the floor took place in the inner part of the house especially in its right side next to the hearth area. To the left, i.e. north of the hearth area, less has fallen to the floor and its top level is thus a little lower. It stands to reason that in this part of the house some kind of furniture such as beds have to some degree prevented the accumulation of charcoal and artefacts.

The movement pattern in the house is indicated by the empty ‘corridor’ – a path where little is dropped and bits of charcoal not preserved – leading from the entrance into the interior of the house. There is an equally empty space dividing the house into an inner and an outer part and it is tempting to suggest that this space represents a partition wall and a storage area next to it. The absence of finds in the floor could indicate the presence of furniture such as chests.Conclusion House T

The find distribution fits the idea of a house divided into two: an outer entrance room and a passage leading into the interior, a family room or kitchen dwelling informally divided into different areas around the hearths in its centre. Preservation forces us to interpret the find distribution as positive as well as negative indications forming a tentative picture of the way people lived in the house.

The artefacts. Given the relatively large number of beads, the rest of the artefacts indicate a variety of different dwelling-room activities not by frequency but by presence. There is thus one knife, one piece of charred cake (2), one spindle whorl, one loom weight, one whetstone, one comb, one piece of slag and one piece of forging waste. Potsherds are more numerous, but without fittings. The artefacts on this scene in the kitchen dwelling indicate a compact and multi-purposed living. Cooking activities south of the hearths and perhaps spinning and weaving along the south wall are the most visible activities. The most obvious absence is the lack of complete artefacts such as those one would have stored in chests, on a shelf or on top of a wall: no jewelry, no weapons, no gaming pieces, no belt buckles, no cups, no glasses etc. This no doubt has something to do with the way the people moved out of the house, but probably also with the relative humble life lived on a limited space by those occupying House T. We may even suggest that they sat in their beds in the interior, along the northern wall, when they ate,

The size of the dwelling area is c. 25-30 square metres. That equals the size of the kitchen dwelling on a nuclear family farm in South Scandinavia during the Pre Roman Iron Age, i.e. a farm 500 years older than House T. When the floor in House T was lived on there was nevertheless no byre or cowshed belonging to it in the houses surrounding House T and the household wasn’t part of a farm. Compared to a contemporary farmhouse on Öland, the house is just the dwelling part, i.e. half a house. There is, so to speak, no door in the ring wall leading into the byre. Instead of a household on a farm, we should imagine a family living in the ring fort trying to fend for itself perhaps engaged in herding sheep (given the general economy of the settlement), but mostly in keeping warm, cooking food, spinning and weaving, mending a tool and using the outer room as a dump. The people might have had a bench to sit on just outside their door almost in the ring street, but in the summer climbing the ring wall and sitting in the afternoon sun might have been a pleasant alternative. Eventually, the people left with their belongings.

What the excavation has revealed is only a little of what resulted from a short period just before the house was left and pulled-down. In reality the house was used for hundreds of years, but in the end it was but a humble abode in which the last noticeable event before leaving the house might well have been when the string in a necklace snapped and  beads were spread all over the floor.


(0). ‘Eketorps borg’ can be googled. Following the link  and searching for ‘Eketorp’ will lead to some more information.

(1).General descriptions of the three ring fort phases is found in: Borg, K, Näsman, U & Wegraeus, E (red). 1976. Eketorp. The Monument. KVHAA, ALmqvist &Wiksell International, Lund.

(2). Hansson, A.-M., 1997. On plant food in the Scandinavian peninsula in Early Medieval Times. The Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University. Thesis and Papers in Archaeology B :5 (diss.).

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