Category Archives: Project

Breaking the silence with an article

Two years ago, during the summer and autumn of 2015 I worked on an article. I set an intention to account for and contextualize the Kvarnbo Hall based on the results of the investigations in 2014. I discussed the site and the building at the state of knowledge at that time in its regional and historical context, in comparison to the full data set of coeval houses on Åland. I also examined the development of Iron Age settlement and explanatorily discussed the rapid and large-scale colonization to Åland evident in the middle of the first millennium AD. As a result, a new perspective for our understanding of the emerging importance of Late Iron Age Åland was provided.

As the text turned out pretty well (if I might say so 😉 ), with lots of new knowledge potentially relevant beyond the Fennoscandian region, I decided to submit it to The Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology, a well-renowned, peer-review journal rated high among archaeology journals worldwide. I was, of course, well aware of the fact that not only is it more difficult to get accepted in journals of such calibre, but that the wait time might turn out to be rather long. I submitted the manuscript on the 8th of December 2015. And I received positive reviews on the 1st of February 2016. My revisions were submitted on the 12th of February 2016. But then, the great silence spread its wings over the whole thing… (This silence was, however, apologetically explained by the editor during the summer). The processing of my manuscript was resumed in the beginning of 2017 and on the 7th of March 2017 it was finally published online. Why do I provide such a lengthy account on this process? To illustrate the anxiety the author is faced with?? Well, partially, yes, but also because things obviously changed during the excavation 2016 and certain aspects of this article written in 2015, the ones related to the building remains as seen from the infra-red aerial photo, should probably be reconsidered, at least, to a certain degree. In general though, I am very happy with this research being published and thereby providing some interesting stuff on the Late Iron Age settlement archaeology on Åland for a wide audience.

You can find the text following this link:  (the journal provides a number of free downloads of the full article, so first come – first served 😀 )

The life of a post-hole

with Kim Darmark


Digging post-holes can be rather tedious, non-rewarding work. Cut through, photograph, document the section, take samples and on to the next one. To a certain extent, this has been true at Kvarnbo as well, but a surprising number of the post-hole remains have, on the contrary, been challenging and exciting to investigate. This is due partly to the fact that so many of them have a life history which is possible to reconstruct. It is often possible to follow the events that have taken place through the different constructional elements making up the feature. In quite a few cases, it is possible to see the edges of the original pit, filled with a lighter primary fill, which was deposited in the pit at the moment of its construction. This fill is often lined with stones, creating a solid base for a beam to rest on. Both naturally rounded stones from the surrounding and rugged, fire-cracked blocks of stone have been chosen for this purpose. The primary fill contrasts markedly from a darker secondary fill, which enters into the pit at a considerably later date, when the old supporting beam is removed from the pit. The darkening of the fill represents many years of intensive use of the site, during which large amounts of organic remains have been tossed on site, creating refuse layers, usually referred to as cultural layers. This dark soil only infills the small chamber that is produced by the stones in the stone packing, and is often also rich in finds, which constitutes the other interesting aspect of post-hole investigation at Kvarnbo. Since we sift the soil through sieving net using water, we find every little find, even tiny ribs, scales and vertebrae from fish, which has ended up in the post-hole. The usual finds are bones and pottery, but a few less common items have been found as well, such as pearls, and small copper loops. Almost every feature that has been investigated this season has contained at least a few finds, some of them large amounts, and gives testimony to the richness of the cultural layer once present at the site.

Press this link to see the 3D model of feature 211 during investigation 😉

The Mighty Hole

Soil stripping is finished! We have a trench of about 1000 square meters, of which roughly half is already manually cleaned and hidden under the tarp. There are three large mounds of soil surrounding the (mighty) trench (which are pretty good for taking overview shots 😉 ). The subsoil in the trench is quite varied; from a smooth yellow and clayish silt in the south to a  difficult and stony moraine in the middle and diabolically hard clay in the north. But archaeological features are everywhere! These are especially visible against the yellow silt in the southern side of the trench, while revealing them in the other areas requires extensive manual cleaning. Furthermore, traces of plowing are constantly present, easy to follow and generally oriented to the north-south… We have hundreds of features marked out using yellow wooden pegs. Of these a good amount will probably turn out to be just natural depressions, but many are clearly related to prehistoric use of the area. Joining these together to an understandable pattern is a challenge in which a bird-eye-view is crucial. This will be obtained through photographic 3D modelling and is the reason why we are eagerly awaiting the clouds to hide the ever-shining shine above our site 😀  schaktning

Week 3 – brief summary

Much has happened on the site during this week. Most importantly, we started soil stripping with the machine and managed to uncover roughly half of the intended area on and around the longhouse structure as seen on the aerial photo. Many different features appeared and even more become visible through meticulous manual cleaning. However, it is also apparent that the site is disturbed and we can clearly distinguish the effect of the plow which often has cut through archaeological features… At this stage, it is hard to tell which features are to be related to the Iron Age use of the area and the hall building(s), but it will certainly become clearer as we investigate further. Some nice finds surfaced this week as well, but these will be presented at a later stage 😛

Also, at the end of this week we are sad to say good-bye to a number of excellent people who had to return to their everyday lives. Thank you Hannele (and what a wonderful piece of art!), Kåre, Linnéa, Markus and Thomas – you all made a fantastic effort and you all will be missed!

Rensning av ytan

It has not been just work though – the vikings from the Fornföreningen Fibula invited us to the kick-off dinner on Wednesday for this year’s Viking Market. Clothes were provided by Fibula and we looked spectacular with our mix of jeans, sneakers and linen tunics 😉 They (together with many visiting vikings) became our guests on Friday evening when the excavations were presented on the site.

Besöka vikingar o vikingar besöka oss

To the left: we are visiting the vikings and thanks to Michaela, almost dressed up as vikings as well 😀 (Anton photographed with Thomas phone). To the right: vikings visiting us (Peter photographed with his own phone)


Lecturing in the school of Strandnäs. Photos by Kjell Söderlund

Lecturing in the school of Strandnäs. Photo by Kjell Söderlund

Several months have passed by in silence on this channel – but it doesn’t mean that I have been silent otherwise and, especially, regarding the Kvarnbo Hall 😀 The thing is that I have actually talked a lot, and I mean a lot, as for the past 3 month I have had a serious “tour” in the primary schools of Åland talking about the Iron Age on the islands. The gist of my lecture was “walking through” the Iron Age on the Åland Islands, talking about archaeological interpretations and what are these based on, about how archaeologists work. The lecture was intended for the pupils that already have prehistory on their syllabus, and in these parts of the world, it meant mostly fourth graders (i.e. students are around 10 years old), but on some occasions even the 5th and 6th graders were participating. This was the first time for me officially holding lectures for children and I have to admit that it was actually a lot of fun. I never got tired of holding basically the same lecture over and over again as every lecture turned out to be different from previous ones. Reason for this was probably the fact that children ask a lot of and different kind of questions 🙂 It became obvious for me that their attitude towards lectures is so much different from adults as there is no question that children are afraid of asking. And, you know what, none of these questions was actually irrelevant to the topic in general – well, maybe except the questions about my age, which seemed to turn up several times 😀  All in all, it was a really positive experience for me and what I have heard from teachers afterwards, equally enjoyable for pupils. It made me especially happy to hear about a pupil who otherwise was so uninterested in anything that has with school to do, but was after my lecture afire with enthusiasm declaring that this was the best lecture ever. But at the same time, archaeology is very interesting (….it just makes a really bad main career…. but that is totally another story), and I am now certain that I don’t mind having lectures for children even in the future!

In addition to talking about archaeology, I have, of course, also been working with the preparations for the summer’s excavations in Kvarnbo, but more about that in my next post 😉

Two Abbasids

In regard to the age of my “little dragon” introduced some weeks ago it can be only said that it dates to prehistoric actions at the Kvarnbo Hall site. Much better dating, well, almost the best dating an archaeologist can wish for is offered by two Islamic coins I have discovered!

The very first Islamic coins recovered on Åland were documented in Finström 1846 and after that the number of Islamic coins registered on Åland started to grow. By far the most remarkable of finds within this category was made in 12th of June 1876 when a hoard of over 800 Arabic silver coins was discovered in Bertby, Saltvik. Islamic coin finds of types other than hoards are more seldom, but still known, also, from a few settlement sites.  And the Kvarnbo Hall site is now among the settlement sites where Islamic coins – two of them so far – have been discovered. Btw, at the very moment I discovered the first of these, which is just a tiny fragment measuring at most merely 1 centimeter, my first thought was that I must already be pretty mighty working with my metal detector if I manage to discover objects of such a modest dimension 😀


Gert Rispling from The Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm and Frida Ehrnsten from The Coin Cabinet at the Finnish National Board of Antiquities in Helsinki have both had a look at the Islamic coin fragments found from the Kvarnbo Hall site. According to their estimation, both coins are Abbasids i.e. coins from the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, and both have been struck before 833 AD. There is no other period in the history of the Islamic coin that exhibits greater diversity of types and variants than the first Abbasid period that lasted 132-218 AH / 750-833 AD. It was the time of the prosperity for the Caliphate and there were many coins with varying appearance minted – new types and variants of coins of that period are still being discovered.

For obvious reasons, the smaller fragment of a coin found at the Kvarnbo Hall site poses greater challenge in terms of closer identification, however, Gert Rispling suggests it to have been minted around 194-200 AH / 810-816 AD, somewhere in today’s Iraq or Iran. But the larger fragment found at the Kvarno Hall site enables closer identification. It was estimated to have been coined by the caliph al-Amin who reigned in 193-198 AH / 809-813 AD, and the coin was minted in Madinat al-Salam (today’s Bagdad) in 196 AH / 811-812 AD. Btw, al-Amin’s reign meant no good for the Caliphate, as he had a violent conflict – civil war – with his half-brother al-Ma’mun that in turn generated other spin-off conflicts weakening the dynasty. Al-Ma’mun come out as a winner from that conflict and reigned until 218 AH / 833 AD.

Two Abbasids discovered at the Kvarnbo Hall site make a really nice complement to the artefact-based dating of the site.

Little dragon (aka: melted brooch)

Different find categories registered during metal detector surveys at the Kvarnbo Hall site so far show no particular spatial concentration, except for the fragments of bronze (and/or possibly copper). Analysing find distribution, there is clearly an area at the site where most of the finds documented are pieces of bronze clips – the area is situated on the north-eastern side of the longhouse, some 50 m from the corner of the hall building. While I was working in that zone and documenting these fragments, it was, furthermore, pretty obvious that the soil is also hiding significant amounts of iron exactly in the same area. So, either there is a modern metal thingy ploughed apart at that spot, or we could speculate about a prehistoric craft area. On the basis of the metal findings, I am cautious in assigning this area to solely prehistoric activities without further investigations, because among the fragments documented, there is awful lot of pieces that are very thin and have sharp edges, looking fairly recent to me… But, at the same time, there are also fragments that are clearly old: thick droplets, melts and twisted rods of bronze coated with nice patina as well as clips with worn-out round edges. Furthermore, among the finds of this category, there is a melted brooch section definitely of prehistoric origin (it kind of looks like a little dragon 🙂 ). Thus, I am pretty sure that one has engaged in the art of metalcraft at the Kvarnbo Hall site, and assuming that, I would start looking for the craft area in this particular zone “infested” with iron and with a high concentration of the bronze fragments.