About the colonization

One way or the other, colonization relevant to the study of the Iron Age on Åland will be the topic of my next few posts. And in this case, we are actually talking about two separate phases of colonization. Because colonization as a driving force in settlement development has not only been suggested for the beginning of the Late Iron Age, but also indicated for the end of the period, for the beginning of medieval times.

LIA burial mounds

Late Iron Age burial mounds in Saltvik, Sa 14.4.

First, why has colonization been suggested for the beginning of LIA? Because when compared to the previous period poor in finds, suddenly, there are over 400 sites visible on the Åland islands with almost 10 700 features interpreted as graves from the LIA. During LIA, dead were cremated and buried in barrows. These burial mounds, clearly concentrated around the arable lands, are documented in all sizes from 1 m to 20 m in diameter; these are constructed of soil piled over the central cairn or layer of stones and often surrounded by a ring of stones. Mounds are dated from the end of the 6th century AD to around the year 1000, and at least large cemeteries seem to have been continuously used throughout this period. Adjacent to many LIA cemeteries, there are often house foundations. Big (many houses have been over 20 m long and 5 m wide), rectangular, stone framed foundations are frequently documented in groups and dated to the same period as the burial mounds; oldest houses being of the same age as the oldest burial mounds.

Thus, very rapidly, in the beginning of LIA, distinct agrarian culture evolved on Åland with the types of burial mounds and house foundations that had no preliminary stages why exogenous population groups are argued to have been responsible. Colonization is explained with the geographical position of the archipelago becoming valuable for different reasons.

Secondly, how come has colonization been indicated for the beginning of medieval times? In comparison to the rest of the Baltic Sea region, suddenly, around the year 1000 AD, the traditional archaeological material just disappears on the Åland islands for some number of years. The early Christian graves usual in the LIA cemeteries in the Baltic Sea region are absent on Åland. Most of the houses adjacent to LIA cemeteries on Åland have been abandoned. There are no late Viking Age and early medieval finds that are documented in the surrounding areas of the Baltic Sea region (such as rune stones or continental coins) found on Åland. And many place names on Åland are of medieval character. Thus, settlement discontinuity has been suggested by some and settlement regression by many scholars, with the reasons to be found in Åland not being relevant from the geographical point anymore. Re-colonization or exogenous increase in population has been indicated (as a result of Swedish Crusades and resulting population movement from the west) for the beginning of medieval times.

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