Tag Archives: Archaeological features

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 5)

Some reflections on the Early Medieval Åland – settlement reduction or continuity

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

The distribution of Late Iron age settlement layers and house foundations on the Åland Islands. The house foundations have been divided into four size categories, each subdivided into groups of investigated and uninvestigated structures. The shoreline roughly consistent with that of Iron Age (from Ilves 2017).

The reason why the early medieval settlement on Åland usually has been seen as solely consisting of single farms, is first and foremost due to the lack of knowledge of the early medieval (pre-manor) villages; their appearance, organisation, structure and layout, and the way they came to being. Instead, it has been the image of the high medieval and late medieval planned, regular shaped village with sub-divided fields, that has been used as a master sample of villages as a phenomenon. This becomes of course totally wrong, because Iron Age and early medieval kin-based villages (pre-manor) in Europe had as a rule quite different layouts and structures. Usually, but not always, they had a more dispersed layout, where the farms in the same village where set apart from each other, and connected to each other and the commons outside the fenced lands through cattle paths. Further, common fields did not exist within these villages in those time periods. This is also evident from all early medieval Germanic and Celtic laws. Instead, each farm had its own separately fenced field and meadowland, directly connected to the farmyard of each farm, why a distance of between 50–200 m often was created between the farms in the same village.

Another reason why various researchers have thought that the settlement consisted only of single farms is that no one has made any calculation about how much the destruction by cultivation has affected the preservation of the Viking Age settlement in the archipelago. Instead, they have usually only made calculations using the small number of houses left today at each separate location. Considering the fact that possible areas to cultivate in the archipelago only are available in limited smaller pockets between larger rocky areas, the destruction by cultivation of settlements remains on Åland must therefore have been very extensive.

Before the feudalisation, partible heritage was dominating as inheritance principle among the people in northwestern Europe. This is also reflected in the most known early Germanic, and Celtic laws, as well as in high medieval Nordic laws. In some of the oldest laws it appears that the eldest son usually inherits the paternal farm, while the younger build new farms in the vicinity. As long as there was space in the landscape, these kin-based illages and hamlets where thus growing into larger units. This course of events is also supported by several archaeological excavations of burial grounds nearby villages in many different parts of Europe, as well as some types of place-names such as the –ingas and –inge names. The glue that held those early medieval villages and hamlets together was thus kinship, and it was kinship and partible inheritance that created them!

In these parts of Scandinavia where intensive (feudal) lordship never was introduced, and where free farmers still dominated, it is well known, from post-medieval periods up to modern times, that they consisted of a bunch of related. Moreover, the layout of these villages had more in common with the pre-historic and early medieval villages and hamlets, than contemporary geometrically shaped villages with common and sub-divided fields.

…to be continued 🙂

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 😉

A real visitors’ day!

Today was the day of a grant feast in Viking style in the Kvarnbo Viking village that was launched by Ömsen together with Fornföreningen Fibula to celebrate Ömsen’s 150 years of activity. And what a feast it was! 🙂 Good food and excellent ale, many wonderful and happy people. At the site, we were also prepeared for the visitors – I even created an “extra” trench marking out all of our 252 archaeological features so that we could explain everything without stepping into the real trench. We were happy to see that our project sparks interest in a lot of people 🙂 – many found their way from the Kvarnbo Viking village to us and there were lot of questions asked. It is stimulating and encouraging to meet so many enthusiastic visitors and we thank everybody that found their way to our site!

Trench on the paper


One by one, archaeological features at the Kvarnbo Hall site, mainly post-holes, are being investigated. And there is a number of really pretty ones among these post-holes – several are preserved much better than I expected (about 0,4 m in depth), and every so often, there is a stone packing evident. In at least three cases so far we have post-holes that have been filled with the material from a hearth and thereby filled with finds of bones from many different creatures (including fishes and birds) as well as pieces of pottery. Every  post-hole not yet investigated is therefore like an unopened package, whose contents are still unknown and it is up to us to unwrap the mystery 😀


Week 5 – brief summary

Anläggningar undersöksThis week we had Daniel flying the drone over the cleaned surface, barely beating the rain, and giving us the much needed overview picture of the site. The overview picture confirms what we suspected – features are scattered over a large part of the trench and beyond the boundaries of our investigation. The majority seems to be circular post-hole like features very varying in size. A couple of centrally located features excite us with both their size, placement and relation to each other 😉 Some features can already at this stage be viewed as hearths and are mostly situated in the southernmost part of the trench. Otherwise, the surface is quite obviously dominated by plough furrows, hundreds of them, as well as a couple of long ditches transecting the entire site. We have numbered and individually photographed 246 archaeological features defined so far and have also started to make cross-sections through some of them. Investigating the features will dominate the rest of the excavation. Sadly, that will be done without help from Anton and Peter, both of whom have been with us 4 weeks and have proven themselves to be true troopers of archaeology – their effort was highly appreciated and will be missed. They left together with Jonathan and the remaining, diminished team thus has the fortune to investigate all the features no matter the weather 😀


250? 300? 350? archaeological features

There was an end to the endless manual cleaning of the trench 😀 and everyone involved in this job must be considered as heros!! This endeavor was by far the physically most demanding phase of our investigations. It was also quite boring. As a result, we have a swarm of archaeological features (criss-crossed by hundreds of furrows….). To my frustration, almost every time I wanted/started to photograph the cleaned parts of the trench, the sun made its appearance and there was my shadow again. Luckily, Daniel is on his way bringing the drone that will give us the much needed overview of the trench. It will be alright, you’ll see 🙂


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