The events in the end of the Late Iron Age on Åland as portrayed by researchers provide a great deal of inspirational drama for the movie 🙂 – the plot might be centered around hypotheses about historical events or on fractions these cause(d) among scholars. It all started in 1980s….
In 1980, Lars Hellberg published his research on place-names and the Swedish settlement on Åland (Ortnamnen och den svenska bosättningen på Åland). He concluded that Åland – having had an unusually dense (Swedish) population during LIA – was for some unknown reasons depopulated in the late 10th century. About 150 years later and initiated by the state of Sweden, there was a rapid (re-)colonization of the archipelago. And when the Swedes came, they pushed out or “swedified” the sparse Finnish population that had managed to establish itself on Åland during the intermediate period.
Less dramatically and mainly on the basis of the archaeological material, the idea about depopulation and (Swedish) re-colonization of Åland has actually been suggested already before 1980s. However, the idea was then found unlikely by archaeologists such as Ella Kivikoski. Using house foundations as a supporting source material, Kivikoski was firm on the continuity of settlement and culture on Åland. But when Hellberg stated the hiatus idea some 20 years later, it sparked heated debate.
Hellberg’s understanding was bound to irritate Matts Dreijer, who had from the beginning of his career stated that Åland was one of the earliest Christianized lands in this part of the Baltic Sea region, and had had an important role to play in the Christianization of the surrounding territories – no way that it was depopulated! But many other researchers took the floor as well. For example, Erik Bertell could be mentioned putting forward evidence against the settlement discontinuity theories; and the work of Birgitta Roeck Hansen must be introduced. Cultural-geographer Roeck Hansen’s research had its starting point in the question of continuity or discontinuity between LIA and early medieval period and resulted 1991 in the dissertation titled Township and Territory: A study of rural land-use and settlement patterns in Åland c AD 500-1550. Roeck Hansen studied patterns in the settlement development using old maps, shore displacement models and place-names; she also conducted minor archaeological excavations. As the result of her studies, Roeck Hansen dismissed the hiatus demonstrating, among other things, the LIA origin of many place-names. But she did argue for the partial abandonment of settlement due to the culturally peripheral position of Åland in the end of the LIA as well as because of the worsening climatic conditions and positive shore displacement that blocked many waterways.
Roeck Hansen’s statements on settlement continuity were, however, considered to be supported just by indicia and, therefore, not really reckoned with, which is clearly exemplified, for example, by the research of Lars Huldén, one of the leading figures in the place-name research in Finland. And when the Grand Old Man of the place-name research himself states that the oldest settlement names on Åland are undoubtedly and consistently of medieval character, which does not match with the idea of unbroken (Swedish) settlement at all, depopulation and later “invasion” must be the case (I’m sarcastic here). To be continued….