Documented Iron Age

Emanating from the registered state of the Iron Age on the Åland Islands, the picture of the period is hugely dominated by graves and cemeteries. Different kinds of settlement remains constitute less than 2% of all the registered features, while 97% are related to death and mortuary practices. At the same time, archaeological excavations (no matter the size or the character of the projects) have been conducted at almost 60 settlement features, i.e. 30% of the registered settlement remains have been excavated to some extent. But, as only about 935 graves of the registered 12.000 have been investigated by archaeologists, the percentage of excavated graves is just about 8%. In total, only about 1000 features dated to Iron Age have been archaeologically excavated. Although, I do think that we should not stare blind on the issues of how disproportionate is the relation between Iron Age settlement sites and cemeteries and/or how few field-investigations there have been implemented on Åland, these are, nonetheless, significant factors to consider.

A.Hackman's field-report from 1924

One of my favorite field-reports from early times of archaeological research on Åland is A. Hackman’s report from 1924 on excavations at Late Iron Age house foundations in Lagmansby, Saltvik (Sa 18.4)

As in archaeology we have to destroy that which we wish to understand – there is a saying that archaeological excavation is a controlled destruction – more important than the quantity of archaeological field-investigations is the quality of field-documentation. In my opinion, in case of accurate field-documentation, archaeological sites and features are not really destroyed but merely altered, transferred into site-reports. This is how and why archaeologists can re-examine sites excavated decades ago and come up with new interpretations. Fortunately, lots of field-reports from Åland are readily available through an online database administered by Finland’s National Board of Antiquities; reports are stored in the archive of the Museum of Åland as well. Unfortunately, despite the number of investigations being rather small, not all sites which are known to have been excavated have field-reports. Still, there are around 215 field reports relevant for the Iron Age on the Åland Island. But it is important to note that many of these field-reports are of very low quality – f.ex, it is not seldom that a feature rich in finds is described in less than 100 words (yes, I have counted 🙂 ). Therefore, in terms of settlement archaeology, when it comes to these approx. 60 settlement features (excavated from around 35 settlement sites), according to my standards, only one-third of sites that have been studied have substantially useful reports on the excavated features.

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