Dogs around the longhouse site – Sa 14.4

Continuing my review of the immediate archaeological surroundings of Kvarnbohall, besides the large cemetery of Sa 14.1 that I discussed in my last post, there is another Late Iron Age cemetery to be found in the 400 m radius from the longhouse site – the site that is officially named Sa 14.4 and unofficially known as the southern cemetery of Kvarnbo Kohagen. However, if I would have chosen the radius of 500 m instead of 400 m, in addition to the mentioned two, three more Late Iron Age cemeteries would have made the cut into the description of the archaeological background of the region!

Sa 14.4 dog

The central part of the burial mound nr 36 with an almost complete skeleton of a large dog and two clay pots at its head end. While going through the bone material from the grave, jawbones of a smaller dog were documented as well. From: Dreijer 1958.

The grave field of Sa 14.4 is situated north from the longhouse site, on the other shore of what was once a low bay north of Kvarnbohall. During landscape surveys in 1930, E.W. Drake and C. Ramsdahl counted 33 grave mounds at this cemetery, but 4 more mounds were documented at the site in the end of 1950s. Matts Dreijer has investigated 4 structures at Sa 14.4 and it is remarkable that in one of the investigated mounds (mound nr 36) he found an almost whole skeleton of a large dog lying on its left side with head to the east and two clay pots at its head end. Actually, there were two dogs buried in the mound as jawbones of a smaller dog were discovered as well. At the same time, there were no human bones in this grave.

From the period known as Late Iron Age in the northern Europe, i.e. 550-1050 AD, there is a large corpus of dog bones from graves, cremations as well as inhumations.  Dogs are found both in men’s and in women’s graves, in high status and in low status burials, and are often interpreted in the context of being faithful and loyal companions or as a token of social status, but, also, ascribed an important symbolic-mythological meaning with relation to the transformation from life to death. But separate dog graves are quite rare in the northern Europe. Separate dog graves are found on the Continent and England, but in northern Europe graves of only dogs are very uncommon: in the synthesis article from 1992, Wietske Prummel* mentions only one separate dog grave from the northern Europe – from Kjuloholm inhumation cemetery in Finland.

Thus, the separate dog grave documented at the grave field of Sa 14.4 is indeed remarkable. But what makes the whole thing even more notable is the fact that this is not the only separate dog burial known from the Late Iron Age Åland! In 1937, among others, a separate dog grave was investigated in Pålsböle and in Svartsmara, both in the municipality of Finström. Now, while the dog burial in Svartsmara might be a secondary burial into the Late Iron Age burial mound, the burials in Kvarnbo Kohagen and Pålsböle are from the Late Iron Age. It is just to admit that the Iron Age on the Åland islands is something Pretty Darn Interesting 😀

Prummel , W. 1992. Early Medieval dog burials among the Germaic tribes. Helinium, XXXII/1-2, 132-194. The article is also readily available online –


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