On tentativeness of numbers

Just the other day, I read the first academic work on the archaeological subject in Finland that happens to be a book about Åland 🙂 It is from 1858 and titled Om Ålands fornminnen (About the ancient monuments of Åland) written by Karl August Bomansson. Karl August Bomansson (1827-1906) was an Ålander, born in Saltvik, who became the first national archivist in the National Archives of Finland. He was a pioneer in the realms of archaeology and archives in Finland. And he was a true academic of his time, not an antiquarian collector excavating for the sake of discovering “pretty old things”. Archaeology in Bomansson’s book starts with one of the most numerous and conspicuous archaeological features on Åland – grave mounds, soil-covered barrows that belong to the mortuary practice of the Late Iron Age. And already on page 4, Bomansson casually mentions that “last summer, with Academic support, I excavated a large amount of such mounds” and continues to account for their construction and finds. On page 8 we learn that not less than 50 or 60 barrows (!) have been investigated by Bomansson who “in order not to needlessly destroy these beautiful ancient monuments” always reconstructed the excavated mounds.

With very few exceptions, the excavations Bomansson conducted are not possible to trace in the database that contains all known ancient sites and monuments on the Åland Islands. Also, in his book, only some locations where he excavated are mentioned. Thus, without specifically investigating into the matter (with a possible starting point in the K.A.Bomansson’s archive in the National Archives of Finland), it is simply unknown where and which barrows exactly did Bomansson excavated. Thereby, the numbers I have given on the excavated features from the Iron Age must not be seen as absolute! Because when I say that only about 935 graves of the registered 12.000 have been investigated, I have not included these 50 or 60 that Bomansson excavated in the 19th century.

Generally speaking, there is a great deal of tentativeness about the numbers given while describing the registered and documented state of the Iron Age on Åland. The database that contains all known ancient sites and monuments itself is ever growing and changing. Despite the moderate size of Åland, new sites are still found, new features are registered at the sites already known, and existing data is modified with more knowledge gained. In this connection, it is rather illustrative to exemplify with the case of Ha 22.12(/Ha 22.11). The site stands registered as a Late Iron Age cemetery – this information implies that the features at the cemetery are grave mounds, barrows, as this was the way the dead were buried on Åland during the Late Iron Age. However, visiting the site, several stone cairns catch the eye among barrows, and to bury the dead inside cairns was the burial practice of the (Bronze/) Early Iron Age. Thus, this site is potentially a cemetery used throughout the Iron Age (and, thereby, of great interest for my research). Furthermore, although the site has been mapped as well as partially excavated in the first half of the 20th century, as late as in 2011 a new cairn of considerable proportions was discovered by archaeologists during the re-mapping of the same cemetery.

Ha 22.12

Ha 22.12 cemetery with barrows and cairns

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