Archaeological surroundings of Kvarnbohall – Sa 14.1

IK 115Just about 100 m southeast from the longhouse site, there is one of the largest Late Iron Age graveyards on Åland – Sa 14.1. During landscape surveys in 1930, E.W. Drake and C. Ramsdahl counted 134 grave mounds at this grave field and the only overview map of this site – IK 115 – still in use, is compiled by them at that time. Thus, this map is missing information on the exact number of visible grave mounds as after the landscape surveys in 1970s, there were already around 170 mounds estimated, but even more graves hypothesized at the site; and according to the official information today, there are about 180 visible grave mounds at this site. In comparison to the existing overview map, the majority of the un-mapped and “newly discovered” graves are on the northern side of the site, but, also, on the areas bordering the fields on the southern side of the site.

The grave field of Sa 14.1 has been studied on a number of occasions, f.ex. 14 mounds were excavated during 1970-74 and 1981; unfortunately, the documentation of these excavations is pretty poor as most of the feature reports were written years after the excavations relaying on the diary entries. While the excavations in 1981 were conducted in the northern part of the site and in connection to the house construction in the vicinity, the excavations during 1970s were a part of the summer course in archaeology and the graves excavated are located in the southeastern part of the cemetery. In my opinion, the most noteworthy outcome of the excavations at Sa 14.1 was not the number and/or the character of the artifacts found, but the observations made in regard to one of the grave mounds studied – grave mound nr 1. Grave mound nr 1 is about 12 m in diameter and, thereby, the largest of the ones excavated (but not the largest mound at the site). There were traces of plowing in three-four different directions documented under the mound. So, either the grave(s) was situated in the area used for agricultural purposes before it became a graveyard territory or these traces have come as a result of ritual activities immediately before the burial. In either case, the choice to build a burial mound on an older agricultural area or through ritual activities kind of creating an agricultural area under the intended burial mound, it might be interpreted as a way to connect the person to be buried in the mound to the ancestors and their agricultural activities – and, thereby, manifesting the surviving family’s entitlement to the land.

The Late Iron Age grave fields on Åland are generally interpreted as single farm cemeteries and no villages are suggested for the prehistoric Åland. But the grave field of Sa 14.1 seems in my opinion far too large to belong just to one farm. I do dare to suggest that it is a village cemetery 😉 Furthermore, Sa 14.1 is not the only large graveyard on Åland; especially, in the municipality of Saltvik there are number of large Late Iron Age grave fields. Thus, the question of single farms and villages is far from being clear in regard to Iron Age Åland.

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