All our faith in… what?

One of the most recent works related to the question of settlement continuity on Åland between Late Iron Age and early medieval times was published in 2007, by Paula Wilson, and was yet again using place-names as the source material (Röster från forntiden – gamla ortnamn berättar). Unlike the established elite of place-name researchers, Wilson questioned the dominating interpretation on the medieval origin of Finnish-Swedish place-names in Finland suggesting much older origin in the Iron Age Germanic-Scandinavian migrations; thereby, she argued for the settlement continuity on Åland. Wilson’s book received a disastrous critique as her interpretations were based on quite so arbitrary speculations. And the idea of depopulation and later re-colonization of Åland is still the one that is being in circulation. “Swedish” and “Finnish” on Åland are depicted exclusive one another, while “Ålandic” is not even in consideration.

It is not only the repeated political dimension of the whole debate on discontinuity versus continuity of settlement between LIA and early medieval times that disturbs me, more than that, I am stricken by the firm belief among many place-name researchers that place-names do not change trough time. But -hello- New York was not named New York from the beginning and there was no depopulation of the place when the name of the settlement was changed to New York! I do not see any source-critical discussion going on in regard to place-names on Åland as the statements emanating from place-name research are just assumed to be true and generated all over and over again. Furthermore, the fact that the whole idea of depopulation in the late 10th century is basically based on place-names only is very alarming. Because, sure, there is this gap in the traditional archaeological material, but this gap can also be explained other than by all people suddenly leaving the whole archipelago. Moreover, there exists material that definitely refutes (or strongly challenges) settlement discontinuity. Ella Kivikoski emphasized house foundations being diagnostically the same from the beginning of LIA well into the medieval times. There is pollen data in favor of settlement continuity. But most importantly, one of the backbones of modern archaeology – radiocarbon dating (C14) – suggests settlement continuity on Åland during the contested time period. Now, there are only 64… 😦 …archaeological C14 dates from the whole Iron Age on Åland and I am painfully aware that this constitutes an enormous methodological issue in using summed probability plot in my argument. Still, summing the probability curves of all the calibrated dates related to Iron Age, there is no settlement discontinuity to infer; furthermore, this information correlates with raw data as well.

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

In terms of our understanding of the Iron Age on Åland, no question that there is an immense need for more archaeological investigations on Åland, and there is urgency for more data to be published. But most of all, there is a need for syntheses of the data collected so far. In this regard, compared to the neighboring regions, Åland has fallen behind gravely. And this might be the reason why statements that are quite so obsolete still dominate despite the growing evidence against.

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