Lost houses of Early Iron Age

Examples of the so-called Morby ware from Åland (ÅM 632:138, 652:61 and 77).

Examples of the so-called Morby Ware from Åland – finds ÅM 632:138, 652:61 and 77 stored in the Museum of Åland.

Early Iron Age on Åland is represented with very few finds and “settlement decline” is the keyword for the period. But I find this statement unsatisfactory and strongly suspect EIA settlement being downgraded.

When it comes to EIA settlement sites, well, until the excavations in 1981-82 in Godby (Fi 8.11), there were no EIA settlement sites known from the Åland islands. And even today, more than 30 years later, there are only about 12-13 EIA settlement sites of which the majority might belong to EIA as well as to Bronze Age (or to both periods). The thing is that EIA settlements on Åland as we know them are characterized by very small number of finds and almost non-existent cultural layers. Few have been investigated, there are hardly any radiocarbon dates from these sites and identification has been based on a certain type of pottery with the impression of grass and/or cat-paw ornament – this pottery style is known as Morby Ware and has its roots in the Bronze Age, but was used well into EIA (it is dated from ca. 800 BC until 300 AD). Thus, judging from the available settlement archaeological material, the center of gravity of EIA settlement is to be considered in the beginning of the period while for some unknown reason the settlement seems to have gradually thinned out during the later part of the period. This perception also finds strong support in the understanding that Late Iron Age began with large-scale colonization to Åland.

In archaeology, it is highly visible, spectacular and physically well-defined ancient monuments that have always drawn the attention. Although archaeologists today recognize the importance of less visible and know how to excavate such past, settlement sites are part of much larger human landscape with no definite borders making settlement archaeological investigations much more complicated and in need for funding that today’s systems are not willing to provide for such ‘unimpressive’ monuments. Therefore, EIA settlement sites are often located and studied as a result of large scale rescue/contract archaeological projects conducted with targeted research designs. In Scandinavia, it was rescue/contract archaeology opening up large areas for archaeological investigations that markedly changed the understanding of EIA settlements and enhanced our knowledge leading to the fact that EIA house foundations, for example, are now found on a regular basis. But on Åland, rescue/contract archaeological projects of such scale and design are rare (read: nonexistent) and ‘unspectacular’ sites are just not found yet, as was the case with Scandinavian archaeology decades ago. Therefore, instead of emphasizing “settlement decline” on Åland during EIA, the paradoxical situation with the absent source-material should be discussed.

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