Some reflections on the Early Medieval Åland – settlement reduction or continuity
by Jan-Henrik Fallgren
Finally, I’m going to make some comments on the area of Saltvik–Kvarnbo where the most recent settlement archaeological excavation on Åland was carried out 2016 under the direction of Kristin Ilves. These excavations, at fields belonging to Kvarnbo, have revealed traces of a high-status farm just to the north of Saltvik’s church, dated from the late 6th century to end of the Viking Period. This is also, to this date, the richest settlement found on Åland, presumably the residence of a local chief or even petty king. However, this farm was not alone at the site; it must have been part of a larger settlement, a village. Just 350 meters to the north, at Kohagen, there are still the remains of seven excavated early medieval houses, dated between the beginnings of the 9th century to the end of the 13th century. Some more exclusive finds were found at the excavation. Furthermore, finds of numerous arrowheads, and the fact that these houses were burnt down, makes it tempting to put this violent event in the context of the Swedish seizure of Åland, as suggested above, and also at the time of the founding of the royal curia Saltwiik at the place, as Per Olof Sjöstrand proposed earlier. Just 50 m to the south of the elite-residence at Kvarnbo lays the parish church, which was built in the late 1200s. It has been established, that the church was built on very thick cultural layers, containing among others, Viking Age pottery and several pole-holes, which reveal a settlement contemporary with the one on the field of Kvarnbo and the houses at Kohagen. Another area with cultural layers, also from the transition period between the Viking and the high medieval periods, can be found only about 25 m southeast of the church. A further 150 m southwest of this is also an area of cultural layers from the same time periods. Overall, this indicates that there has been a larger settlement at the place, which covered around 700 meters from north to south, and 500 meters from east to west, undoubtedly a village. This is also confirmed by the existence of several burial sites, one of which is the largest registered on Åland, which demarcate the settlement in different directions, just in the manner grave-fields usually delimit villages from other neighbouring villages during the early middle ages/pre-Christian periods.
When it comes to the name of this prehistoric village, it can, to my mind, have been Saltvik. There is a consensus that all other churches in Åland, except Saltvik, received its name from the village or farm where they were built. However, this cannot be right. Why should not the church of Saltvik been named from the settlement where it was erected? In 1375, Curia Saltwiik is mentioned as a former crown possession, earlier donated to the bishop in Åbo. It has been suggested that this happened when the cathedral chapter was established in 1276. It is well known that medieval royal estates, like curia Saltwiik, as a rule, was founded in association with conquests and confiscations of villages in the conquered areas, villages whose farms were evicted and the lands converted to larger farming units, not only in Scandinavia, but throughout the whole of Europe (one single farm could never have been the basis for an estate). All over Europe, royal estates were often in an early stage donated to churches and religious societies, as was also the case here. After being donated to the bishopric in Åbo, curia Saltwiik eventually came to be called Boo, like many bishop estates in other regions of Sweden and Denmark during the high and late medieval periods. Ludvig Rasmusson, the secretary of Gustav Vasa, identifies curia Salwiik as Boo (moreover, it is well documented in many other cases, that a common noun boo has replaced an original name of a farm or village with management function). In the 16th century the property was alternative called Boo and Kvarnbo. Today’s Kvarnbo is thus the same property, and in the same location as the high medieval royal estate Saltvik, which apparently was formed by evicting an already existing village at least since five hundred years. Since both stone church and the royal estate, probably almost contemporary, were called Saltvik, the name should therefore originate from that old village that existed on the site since long. If this is correct, we have an onomastic history at the place, which begins with a village named Saltvik, and then, due to changes in ownership and political conditions, the name changes to Curia Saltwiik, and as new ownership conditions were added again, the place came to be called Boo, and finally Kvarnbo. Thanks to fact that a church were built on the site, the original name Saltvik survived as the name of the church and the parish.