Tag Archives: Baltic Sea region

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 4)

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

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

The large number of young names on Åland, together with the fact that we still can detect a settlement and farming continuity from the high medieval period and backwards, strongly suggest that the submission of Åland into the Swedish realm was violent and involuntary. Exactly when this might have happened is of course very difficult to say, but it must have happened some time during the Crusades. According to a legend, the Swedish king Erik Jedvardsson, together with bishop Henrik, made a crusade to Finland in 1155. Later on, bishop Henrik became a saint and the apostle of Finland. However, it is certain that the Danes sent military expeditions to Finnish areas in 1191 and in 1202. The first mention of a bishop in Finland is in a letter, dated to the year 1209, written by the Pope Innocentius III to Archbishop Andreas Sunesen in Lund. Per Olof Sjöstrand has suggested that the Swedish king Sverker Karlsson, who was married to a daughter of Andreas brother Ebbe Sunesen, was involved in the Danish expedition in 1202, and that the Finnish bishopric was created at that occasion. This is highly likely. Sverker Karlsson, and the Sunesen brothers, had several common projects, both in Sweden and in the Baltic. Sverker’s successor on the throne, Knut Eriksson, conducted several war expeditions to Finland, and received the pope’s blessing for this in 1216, the same year he died. 1249 Birger jarl made a crusade to the eastern parts of Finland, and during the reign of Magnus Ladulås at the end of 13th century, a number of castles were built in Finland, and the Swedish control increased considerably over this new part of the country. He also placed his brother as the Duke of Finland. Perhaps it was after these events, that the majority of Swedish colonists came to Åland and Finland. “They possessed the country with Christian men”, as is said in Erikskrönikan from the 1320s, glorifying Birger jarl and his lineage. Anyhow, the time period between 1202 and the beginning of the 14th century, seems to me as the most probable period for the Swedish crown to attract or force people, from Öland, Hälsingland, Gästrikland and probably other parts of Sweden, to settle down in the archipelago of Åland. This must also have been the time period, when a large number of older settlement names disappeared, and the many place-names with –by as suffixes came to be.

When speaking about place-names with –by as suffixes, and villages, something short must be mentioned about the Swedish word and concept by. The Swedish word by has for a very long time, and in everyday speech denoted the opposite of a single farmstead, i.e. a village/hamlet. Etymologically, the word is derived from an Old Norse word that formed the stem of the verb bo (live/stay), with the meaning: ‘put in order’, ‘prepare to take possession of and cultivate’. Originally, the word was designed for either a farm or a village, but eventually the concept came to denote only larger settlements. This seems to have taken place during the Viking Age, at the latest, since there are several rune stones in Sweden, whose wording and content clearly shows that the word by was used to contemplate a village. Thus, all these Ålandic settlement names with a suffix –by must have designated villages/hamlets from the beginning. In historical times there were quite a large number of villages on Åland, and even some really large villages, which strongly indicate that there existed favourable topographical and ecological conditions for the occurrence of villages also from at least the end of prehistoric times (the Merovingian and Viking periods). This is also confirmed by the many large burial sites on Åland, for example at Saltvik/Kvarnbo, Lagmansby and Godby.

…to be continued 😉

Coming and going and coming and?

The events in the end of the Late Iron Age on Åland as portrayed by researchers provide a great deal of inspirational drama for the movie 🙂 – the plot might be centered around hypotheses about historical events or on fractions these cause(d) among scholars. It all started in 1980s….

movingIn 1980, Lars Hellberg published his research on place-names and the Swedish settlement on Åland (Ortnamnen och den svenska bosättningen på Åland). He concluded that Åland – having had an unusually dense (Swedish) population during LIA – was for some unknown reasons depopulated in the late 10th century. About 150 years later and initiated by the state of Sweden, there was a rapid (re-)colonization of the archipelago. And when the Swedes came, they pushed out or “swedified” the sparse Finnish population that had managed to establish itself on Åland during the intermediate period.

Less dramatically and mainly on the basis of the archaeological material, the idea about depopulation and (Swedish) re-colonization of Åland has actually been suggested already before 1980s. However, the idea was then found unlikely by archaeologists such as Ella Kivikoski. Using house foundations as a supporting source material, Kivikoski was firm on the continuity of settlement and culture on Åland. But when Hellberg stated the hiatus idea some 20 years later, it sparked heated debate.

Hellberg’s understanding was bound to irritate Matts Dreijer, who had from the beginning of his career stated that Åland was one of the earliest Christianized lands in this part of the Baltic Sea region, and had had an important role to play in the Christianization of the surrounding territories – no way that it was depopulated! But many other researchers took the floor as well. For example, Erik Bertell could be mentioned putting forward evidence against the settlement discontinuity theories; and the work of Birgitta Roeck Hansen must be introduced. Cultural-geographer Roeck Hansen’s research had its starting point in the question of continuity or discontinuity between LIA and early medieval period and resulted 1991 in the dissertation titled Township and Territory: A study of rural land-use and settlement patterns in Åland c AD 500-1550. Roeck Hansen studied patterns in the settlement development using old maps, shore displacement models and place-names; she also conducted minor archaeological excavations. As the result of her studies, Roeck Hansen dismissed the hiatus demonstrating, among other things, the LIA origin of many place-names. But she did argue for the partial abandonment of settlement due to the culturally peripheral position of Åland in the end of the LIA as well as because of the worsening climatic conditions and positive shore displacement that blocked many waterways.

moving_2Roeck Hansen’s statements on settlement continuity were, however, considered to be supported just by indicia and, therefore, not really reckoned with, which is clearly exemplified, for example, by the research of Lars Huldén, one of the leading figures in the place-name research in Finland. And when the Grand Old Man of the place-name research himself states that the oldest settlement names on Åland are undoubtedly and consistently of medieval character, which does not match with the idea of unbroken (Swedish) settlement at all, depopulation and later “invasion” must be the case (I’m sarcastic here). To be continued….

Fluctuating shorelines

Isobases for recent movements in the Baltic Sea region. From Ekman 2001.

Isobases for recent movements in the Baltic Sea region. From Ekman 2001.

Baltic Sea is the largest body of brackish water in the world. It occupies a basin formed by glacial erosion during the last few ice ages. As the Baltic Sea does not come from the collision of the earth plates but is a glacially scoured river valley, it is a shallow sea with an average of only 55 m of depth. And the reason for the very existence of this sea – the Ice Age is actually constantly present in the archaeology of the region, no matter of the time period of study. This is because of the Ice Age being the reason for the phenomenon called shore displacement that is constantly changing the shorelines of the Baltic Sea region. During the Ice Age, the earth’s crust was pressed down by the ice, and after the melting of the ice, the crust is striving to attain its former level. Thus, the shore displacement comprises changes of the earth crust but also changes of the world sea (isostatic resp. eostatic changes of the shoreline), which result in transgressions and regressions of the water level – in fluctuating shorelines. The ice-sheet was thickest and thereby heaviest on the territories of the central and northern Baltic Sea region and the land still rises in these areas; while on the southern territories of the Baltic Sea, eustatic changes, i.e. the rise of the water level has been and still is characteristic leading to the submerged shorelines.

Åland around 5000 BC. From Stenbäck 2003

Åland around 5000 BC. From Stenbäck 2003

Most of the coastal landscapes of the Baltic Sea region were ice-free from around 13.500 BC. But as large parts of Åland are very low – the highest point, Orrdalsklint, being only about 130 m above sea level – we can talk about first people on Åland only from the end of the Mesolithic period, from around 5500-5000 BC, when there was a land to dwell on and the sea stood about 55 m higher than today. From the cognitive point of view, it is quite so fascinating that one just has to go to the outer archipelago of the central or northern Baltic Sea region to meet a newborn landscape very similar to that of thousands of years ago met by first inhabitants of, among others, the Åland Islands…

Newborn landscape in the eastern archipelago of Sweden

Newborn landscape in the outer archipelago of eastern Sweden

The data for recent movements in the earth’s crust are known fairly exactly. It is on this basis, the reconstructions of the shorelines at different times are generated. For example, Åland is today experiencing isostatic rebound of approx. 5 mm per year meaning that 100 years ago the water level was about 50 cm higher and 1000 years ago it was about 5 m higher. However, the process of shore displacement through time has not been linear and steady, it varies between different places and the crust has moved irregularly. Furthermore, it has slowed down considerably if compared with the beginning of this process. Therefore, a certain level, say 5 m above sea level, isn’t characteristic for the whole of Åland at some point of time, there are local differences. And case-to-case approach must be applied in the archaeological studies on a more specific level (say, when you happen to be interested in finding out how close a certain longhouse-like feature in Saltvik really was to a site-contemporary shoreline).

A land in between

Scandinavia and the World: http://satwcomic.com/how-the-north-works

Scandinavia and the World: http://satwcomic.com/how-the-north-works

I think it is only justified to start with a brief overview of what is Åland about. First and foremost, today, it’s an archipelago of 6757 islands between Sweden and Finland. The archipelago is made up of rock slopes, heather moorland and pine forests with only about 9% (!) of land area being arable land. And there are additional 20,000 islands sized less than 0.25 hectares that are also part of the archipelago. However, those numbers are not static because of the ongoing shore displacement resulting in raised shorelines on Åland (shore displacement is an important phenomenon for the archaeology in the Baltic Sea region and I will clarify some aspects connected to it in my next post).

The population of Åland is about 28,000 – one third lives in Mariehamn, founded in 1851. Only c. 60 islands are inhabited, and the population density is approx. 18 people per km². Confusingly enough, although Åland is a part of Finland, the people of Åland speak Swedish that is an official language and there are, seriously, some people on Åland who throw a temper tantrum every time they see or hear the Finnish language… . Åland is also autonomous with its own devolved parliament and with its own flag of blue with a red Scandinavian cross fimbriated yellow.  Åland is demilitarized and neutralized, and has staggering 16 municipalities and 6 or so political parties. Åland is like “a country of its own”.

– How did it come to all of that? Well, for a long time, Åland was, along with Finland, a part of Sweden. But Sweden was forced to relinquish Finland and Åland to the Russian Empire in 1809. In 1917, when Finland gained its independence, the people of Åland wanted reunion with Sweden, but Finland rejected these demands, which led to the fact that an open conflict between Finland and Sweden was in the air. The question was solved by the newly formed League of Nations who granted Finland sovereignty over Åland in 1921, with an obligation to guarantee the people of Åland their use of Swedish language, their very Swedish culture as well as the system of self-government. In any case, becoming autonomous pretty much just fell into the arms of Åland.

Thus, Åland is also like “Sweden Light”; however, there is no question which ice-hockey team the people of Åland support when Finland and Sweden (or any other country for that matter) play against each other 😉 (Leijonat!)

You’ll find more numbers on Åland (in Swedish) at: http://www.asub.ax/files/alsiff13sv.pdf

Just another project blog?

– In some respects, yes. Except it’s about settlement archaeology on the Åland Islands. Thus, it is a little different than other projects and blogs!

A number of interesting anomalies in the fields north of the church of Saltvik

A number of interesting anomalies in the fields north of the church of Saltvik

It all started with an infra-red photography showing a number of interesting anomalies in the fields north of the medieval church of Saltvik. In addition to a pair of circular imprints in the vegetation, there is an approximately 40 m long and 12 m wide impression that bears very strong similarities with the outlines of large longhouse structures known from Scandinavia. The dimensions of the presumed longhouse and the position by the church situated in the middle of the richest Late Iron Age settlement area and at the crossroads of Iron Age fairway indicate the importance of the site. Historical sources mention a royal estate in the area, the location of which is unknown.

The development of infrastructure and social organisation in Åland during Iron Age has been explained in reference to graves and mortuary practices. Change is justified with interaction between geographical and agro-technical aspects. There is a strong need for research based on settlement archaeology. With the newly discovered site in Saltvik as an outset, my project aims to account for and contextualize settlement development and change on Åland Islands during the Iron Age. Due to the rapid landscape transformation in these territories, the site is hypothesized to be rather short-lived and, therefore, the structures in the area similar to that of a central place would be easier to see and reconstruct, potentially also providing information in understanding the sites of a more extensive nature known from Scandinavia (see closer under THE PROJECT).

In this blog, I will keep you posted on the investigations I am doing into the Iron Age settlement development and change on Åland. It is my goal to open up my research, publicize academic work and disseminate my ideas. I also want to document my own learning process. I hope it will be as interesting for you as I hope it will be for me 🙂