Tag Archives: Colonization

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (FINAL PART)

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

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

Finally, I’m going to make some comments on the area of Saltvik–Kvarnbo where the most recent settlement archaeological excavation on Åland was carried out 2016 under the direction of Kristin Ilves. These excavations, at fields belonging to Kvarnbo, have revealed traces of a high-status farm just to the north of Saltvik’s church, dated from the late 6th century to end of the Viking Period. This is also, to this date, the richest settlement found on Åland, presumably the residence of a local chief or even petty king. However, this farm was not alone at the site; it must have been part of a larger settlement, a village. Just 350 meters to the north, at Kohagen, there are still the remains of seven excavated early medieval houses, dated between the beginnings of the 9th century to the end of the 13th century. Some more exclusive finds were found at the excavation. Furthermore, finds of numerous arrowheads, and the fact that these houses were burnt down, makes it tempting to put this violent event in the context of the Swedish seizure of Åland, as suggested above, and also at the time of the founding of the royal curia Saltwiik at the place, as Per Olof Sjöstrand proposed earlier. Just 50 m to the south of the elite-residence at Kvarnbo lays the parish church, which was built in the late 1200s. It has been established, that the church was built on very thick cultural layers, containing among others, Viking Age pottery and several pole-holes, which reveal a settlement contemporary with the one on the field of Kvarnbo and the houses at Kohagen. Another area with cultural layers, also from the transition period between the Viking and the high medieval periods, can be found only about 25 m southeast of the church. A further 150 m southwest of this is also an area of cultural layers from the same time periods. Overall, this indicates that there has been a larger settlement at the place, which covered around 700 meters from north to south, and 500 meters from east to west, undoubtedly a village. This is also confirmed by the existence of several burial sites, one of which is the largest registered on Åland, which demarcate the settlement in different directions, just in the manner grave-fields usually delimit villages from other neighbouring villages during the early middle ages/pre-Christian periods.

When it comes to the name of this prehistoric village, it can, to my mind, have been Saltvik. There is a consensus that all other churches in Åland, except Saltvik, received its name from the village or farm where they were built. However, this cannot be right. Why should not the church of Saltvik been named from the settlement where it was erected? In 1375, Curia Saltwiik is mentioned as a former crown possession, earlier donated to the bishop in Åbo. It has been suggested that this happened when the cathedral chapter was established in 1276. It is well known that medieval royal estates, like curia Saltwiik, as a rule, was founded in association with conquests and confiscations of villages in the conquered areas, villages whose farms were evicted and the lands converted to larger farming units, not only in Scandinavia, but throughout the whole of Europe (one single farm could never have been the basis for an estate). All over Europe, royal estates were often in an early stage donated to churches and religious societies, as was also the case here. After being donated to the bishopric in Åbo, curia Saltwiik eventually came to be called Boo, like many bishop estates in other regions of Sweden and Denmark during the high and late medieval periods. Ludvig Rasmusson, the secretary of Gustav Vasa, identifies curia Salwiik as Boo (moreover, it is well documented in many other cases, that a common noun boo has replaced an original name of a farm or village with management function). In the 16th century the property was alternative called Boo and Kvarnbo. Today’s Kvarnbo is thus the same property, and in the same location as the high medieval royal estate Saltvik, which apparently was formed by evicting an already existing village at least since five hundred years. Since both stone church and the royal estate, probably almost contemporary, were called Saltvik, the name should therefore originate from that old village that existed on the site since long. If this is correct, we have an onomastic history at the place, which begins with a village named Saltvik, and then, due to changes in ownership and political conditions, the name changes to Curia Saltwiik, and as new ownership conditions were added again, the place came to be called Boo, and finally Kvarnbo. Thanks to fact that a church were built on the site, the original name Saltvik survived as the name of the church and the parish.


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 😉

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 3)

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

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

If we return to the question of discontinuity or continuity, and consider what place-names can say about this matter, it is obvious that the majority of the place-names of Åland are of younger types. Above all, the many –böle, –bo names, and the numerous –by names with a person name as the first element, which are considered to have been popular during the high medieval and late medieval periods (but still, there are also a few other names, topographic names, that might be of older origin). Thanks to new pollen investigations, supporting the older ones, and a few new excavations, it is equally obvious today that there were continuous cultivation and settlement in large parts of the archipelago, as well as an intensified clearing of the landscape and an increase in land use during the Viking Age and the high medieval period.  How can one understand this contradictory information? Is it possible to understand these conflicting data at all? Well, I actually think it may be possible.

First, one must accept the idea that settlements could change their original names, and that this could affect villages/hamlets in an entire region. If we extend our gaze slightly further afield to other parts of Europe, this phenomenon appears to be much more common than one might first imagine. The British Isles can serve as a good example. Firstly, when the Anglo-Saxons invaded the eastern parts of Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries, they took over already existing settlements, villages and hamlets named with British or Roman names, and gave them new Anglo-Saxon names. Furthermore, they built a few completely new settlements. The same thing happened when Gaelic people or culture spread from western Scotland to the Pictish eastern and northern parts of Scotland, during the 9th century. The same happened when the Vikings from Norway conquered and settled in the northern and western parts of Scotland during the 9th and 10th centuries, and again when Danish Vikings invaded the eastern Anglo-Saxon regions, and renamed a large number of villages and hamlets. A large proportion of the latter were given names of the same type as the Ålandic –by names, that is by-names with a personal name as the first element! Then again, after the battle of Hasting 1066, it was time to rename a bunch of settlements again. Now, it was added a large number of Norman, Flemish and French names to the “British names flora”. It is possible to line up a lot of other examples from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula and others, but I shall confine myself with these examples. What is important with these examples is to show that the settlements that changed names, or had relatively young names, need not to have suffered a prolonged devastation and depopulation. Instead, the new younger names were caused by conquest, changed sovereignty, migration or cultural fusion. The majority of the settlements as such, and the farmlands, have in those examples survived several invasions, re-naming and changed lordship or sovereignty, even though in many instances the people living in the villages could have changed during these dramatic events. This is shown very illustratively in the case of Wharram Percy in Northumberland, England’s most excavated village. The settlement started as an Iron Age hamlet around 50 BC. It survived the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman conquests, but changed size and layout after most of them, and was finely abandoned in the 16th century.  It is also known that the name of the settlement was amended several times.

If we then return to Åland and consider when, and under what circumstances, the archipelago acquired its relatively young place-names, it is obvious that it must have happened between the end of the early medieval period and the middle of the high medieval period. This is exactly the period when the Baltic Crusading was taking place (this was also the time period suggested by Lars Hellberg, but he thought that the colonists arrived to a deserted group of islands). It is well known that both Danes and Swedes made several crusades/raids from the 1100’s onwards in the Finnish speaking areas. The political map in the Baltic region changed gradually from the year 1147, when Bernhard of Clairvaux proclaimed that the Christians in the region should pursue war against their ‘own heathens’, and thus the Baltic Sea would be ‘their Jerusalem’. Germans, Danes, different orders of knights and eventually Swedes, all representing the western Catholic Church, began to compete over land areas in the southern and eastern parts of the Baltic Sea, additionally encouraged by a religiously sanctioned ideology. From the east, the Novgorodians, representatives of the Orthodox Church also beset them. These where ruff times for the, not yet Christianized, eastern tribal societies and stateless kingdoms, that were not organized in larger political units with administrative structures, and therefore lacked access to any professional military apparatus. Furthermore, they were often in conflict with each other.

…to be continued 🙂

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 2)

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

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

Because of the nature of Åland as an archipelago, the settlements have always been very scattered, distributed on a variety of islands. Despite this, one can distinguish several contiguous smaller settlement and farmland areas (bygder), naturally demarcated by water, forest and rocky areas. These areas are clearly shown by the concentrations of ancient monuments from the early medieval period, such as graves, grave-fields, and stone foundation houses. These concentrations correlate well with where the best farmland where situated on Åland, and where most settlements can be found at the oldest maps from the 17th and 18th centuries. The archipelago’s six hill-forts are placed and built next to, or on the outskirts of, each larger contiguous farmland and settlement district within the island group.

Due to differences in the archaeological records within the archipelago, and the distribution of the hill-forts, it has been suggested by Jan Storå and others, that Åland consisted of two broad polities during the end of the pre-historic period; one north-eastern, with a strong connection to both eastern Sweden, and the coastal areas of present day Finland, and one south-western polity, exhibiting a more local or regional character. Both polities had a set of three hill-forts each. These sets of hill-forts have been interpreted as reflecting organized groups with social hierarchies and conventions of conduct differentiating themselves from other organized groups, i.e. as separate polities. This, I believe, is a highly probable interpretation in many ways. One might think that these six would be too small to constitute a political entity by themselves. The fact is that most Iron Age tribal political units and early medieval petty-kingdoms rarely were any larger than these. Usually they consisted of a single settlement district (bygd in Swedish, bygd and fylke in Norwegian, scir in Old English, mag and tuath in Old Irish, mag and howe in Gaelic Scottish, pays in French, gau in German, campus in Classical Latin, and regio in Medieval Latin), and sometimes two. These smaller units were usually also parts of, and the building blocks of, larger entities-kingdoms, where a hierarchy of kings was the normal situation.

There are 6 hill-forts on Åland that are placed and built next to, or on the outskirts of, each larger contiguous farmland and settlement district within the island group. Shoreline on the map: 10 m a.s.l that is roughly corresponding to the situation in the beginning of Late Iron Age

The hill-forts were always the biggest, the most potent expression, and often the most complex constructions within a territory in the regions of Europe where hill-forts were erected and built during the Iron Age and the early medieval period. No doubt they were collective structures, at regular intervals maintained, repaired or expanded collectively by the people living in the area. In those cases where the original name of the forts is known, and is not containing a god’s name as prefix, they were often named by the people, tribe, gens or kingdom where they were erected.  A kingdom could be named after a hill-fort, or the cliff or mountain where it was erected. There are also several known early medieval examples of a special kingship, a High kingship, named after a hill-fort, the fort where these kings where inaugurated. These High kingships always included several petty kingships, where the different petty kings were competing to gain the higher office, or where the High kingship was itinerant between some or all of the included petty kingdoms, or was itinerant between a few of the royal lineages in the region. All this, together with the fact that hill-forts often exhibit proof of communal feasting and plenty of ritual activities when excavated, demonstrates that hill-forts probably always had a primary communal symbolic and ritual function for those who used and built it. During martial context they could also be used as a last refuge.

Therefore, each of the Ålandic hill-forts can be regarded as symbolic manifestations for each of the six different cohesive settlement districts within the archipelago, representing six different polities/regions divided into two larger political units with three lesser in each. Perhaps they all had a common meeting point, gathering- or assembly place at the small island of Tingön, at the inlet to Kastelholm and Sund parish, as the name of the island certainly would indicate. In addition to the name itself, the island is located almost at the geographical centre point of the archipelago, which would fit extremely well into what we know about those kinds of places from other regions of Europe during the Iron Age and the early middle ages, for example Roma on Gotland, Uisneach on Ireland, and Carnutes in Gaul. This kind of gathering places were looked upon as the sacred centre, or navel of the earth, and constituted the axis mundi for the people gathering here.

…to be continued 🙂

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 1)

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

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

There are some major unresolved and frustrating problems when it comes to Åland’s Iron Age, and the early historical periods. In particular, whether or not there has been continuity between the Viking Age settlement and the settlement known from the earliest written sources. There is today, and has been for some time, various opinions concerning this subject. However, since Lars Hellberg’s classical study of the place-names on Åland from 1980, many researchers believe that the archipelago was deserted between c. AD 1000 to at least the 12th century. Others have pointed out that at least some of the settlements show continuity from the Viking Age to the end of 13th century. The fact that no coins are found on Åland from the end of the Viking Age, has also been put forward as an important argument for the former opinion, or at least showed that the Ålanders suffered economically from a serious loss from the geopolitical map, due to the collapse of the earlier important east-western trade route during this century.

Lots of islamic coins have been found on Åland – all dating before AD 950. No coins* are found on prehistoric Åland from the end of the Viking Age.  *with one certain exeption of a fragmentary Anglo-Saxon penny of King Athelstan (924-939) (there are “rumours” of more).

Strangely enough, also the speedy shore displacement during the late Iron Age/Medieval Period has sometimes been mentioned in connection with the presumed desolation, or as one of the causes of population decline. This is really odd. In other geographical contexts, for instance the Mälaren Valley, a speedy shore displacement has always been regarded as something positive and beneficial for the contemporary agrarian economy and for the growth of the population. Both osteological and paloebotanical analyses reveal that the agrarian Viking Age economy on Åland was based on the same kind of farming practise as everywhere else in north-western Europe during this time period; that is an agricultural system based on cattle breeding, alongside with crop growing on a minor scale. Therefore, this land elevation must have been similarly beneficial to the agrarian economy of Åland, as rightly pointed out previously by Birgitta Roeck Hansen, Johan Callmer and Kristin Ilves.

As mentioned above, the Iron Age and Viking Age agrarian economy on Åland appears to have been exactly of the same type as in other parts of north-western Europe during the early medieval period, i.e. farming based mainly on animal husbandry together with small-scale cultivation of essentially barley, on few and very small fields. Actually, this was characteristic for all north-western early medieval kin-based, tribal societies, stateless petty kingdoms, ranked societies, traditional societies, or whatever you would like to call them, before what has been labelled the “cerialization” and “manoralization” of Europe occurred, when the feudal estate-system was born.  These transformations started in the western parts of Europe (Frankish) during the 8th century, but accelerated strongly only when the reformed Catholic Church from the 10th century onwards got a firmer grip on the political and ideological situation in Europe and thus could incorporate several larger kingdoms and regions in their economic and administrative system. However, these momentous changes did not arrive to our part of the world until the 13th and 14th centuries.

Before these radical economical and agrarian changes during the early medieval period, all social contracts, bonds and agreements within kin-based, tribal societies and petty kingdoms with their gift-giving economies, was confirmed and sealed by the receiving or giving of basically three different types of media; ale, livestock and women (neither pre-feudal nobility or kings built their wealth or social positions by some major land ownership or estates, instead it was food-rent and hospitality from free clients, and these clients obligations to participate in war and plundering, that gave pre-feudal lords and kings their social positions and economical resources). And of course, if there were access to exotic objects, like glass vessels, silver or other precious metals in the form of foreign coins, or melted down and remoulded coins to prestige objects; these were also part of such socio-economic transactions and situations, such as tribute, payment or fiefs by lords or kings to clients. However, absence or lack of coins or precious metals in those kinds of societies was not a problem or a catastrophe, and, above all, it would never have made people to abandon their fields and farms, and it did not lead to starvation. They did not live in a market economy. So any drop off from the geopolitical map, or the fact that the silver trade was interrupted for the people on Åland during the 11th century, could hardly have caused any serious crisis in the agrarian economy or society at large (except, perhaps to a few individuals). Above all, it would not have been the cause of any possible depopulation of the islands.

…to be continued 🙂

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: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/9k2H9XfnYqtS7MjTdQAD/full  (the journal provides a number of free downloads of the full article, so first come – first served 😀 )

Colonization, decolonization, re-colonization

HistoriedagWhen I started to study Iron Age on Åland, I soon realized that substantial part of our understanding about the settlement development in this archipelago lies in the concepts of colonization, decolonization and re-colonization. Colonization has been suggested for the beginning of the Late Iron Age, sudden population movement to the islands is argued to have happened in the middle of the 6th century. Decolonization – total depopulation of the Åland Islands – has been suggested to have happened during the 11th century. And after 150 years, in the beginning of 13th century, rapid re-colonization of Åland is stated to have taken place. The ideas of the colonization in the middle of the first millennium are based on the combination of empirical material, but the ideas of decolonization and re-colonization in the beginning of the medieval times are pretty much solely based on the domination of medieval place names on Åland.

The idea of total depopulation and rapid re-colonization after 150 years of nothingness is one of the most well-known statements made in regard to prehistoric Åland, and has been without any major alterations and repeatedly expressed. In my experience, the statements of depopulation emanating from place-name research are just assumed to be true and even though increasingly questioned, still generated all over and over again. I do not question the medieval character of the major part of the place-names on Åland. But I do wonder why the change in place-names needs to entail a discontinuity of settlement?? And let me be very clear that there is absolutely nothing from the archaeological point of view that would support the idea of decolonization of the Åland Island.

This Saturday, on 3rd of October, I will discuss the claim of the early medieval depopulation from the archaeological perspective in the Mariehamn City Library. My presentation is a part of an event dedicated to the debate on the subject. Presentations will be also given by art-historian Åsa Ringbom, linguist Erik Andersson, plant biologist Carl-Adam Haeggström and historian Olle Sjöstrand. And the event will have its final in the panel discussion. The city of Mariehamn will treat you with free coffee and buns in case you intend to come to listen 😉 The academic part of the event starts at 14:30 and I am the last one to have a presentation (at 16:50) before the panel discussion that is scheduled to start at 17:30.

All our faith in… what?

One of the most recent works related to the question of settlement continuity on Åland between Late Iron Age and early medieval times was published in 2007, by Paula Wilson, and was yet again using place-names as the source material (Röster från forntiden – gamla ortnamn berättar). Unlike the established elite of place-name researchers, Wilson questioned the dominating interpretation on the medieval origin of Finnish-Swedish place-names in Finland suggesting much older origin in the Iron Age Germanic-Scandinavian migrations; thereby, she argued for the settlement continuity on Åland. Wilson’s book received a disastrous critique as her interpretations were based on quite so arbitrary speculations. And the idea of depopulation and later re-colonization of Åland is still the one that is being in circulation. “Swedish” and “Finnish” on Åland are depicted exclusive one another, while “Ålandic” is not even in consideration.

It is not only the repeated political dimension of the whole debate on discontinuity versus continuity of settlement between LIA and early medieval times that disturbs me, more than that, I am stricken by the firm belief among many place-name researchers that place-names do not change trough time. But -hello- New York was not named New York from the beginning and there was no depopulation of the place when the name of the settlement was changed to New York! I do not see any source-critical discussion going on in regard to place-names on Åland as the statements emanating from place-name research are just assumed to be true and generated all over and over again. Furthermore, the fact that the whole idea of depopulation in the late 10th century is basically based on place-names only is very alarming. Because, sure, there is this gap in the traditional archaeological material, but this gap can also be explained other than by all people suddenly leaving the whole archipelago. Moreover, there exists material that definitely refutes (or strongly challenges) settlement discontinuity. Ella Kivikoski emphasized house foundations being diagnostically the same from the beginning of LIA well into the medieval times. There is pollen data in favor of settlement continuity. But most importantly, one of the backbones of modern archaeology – radiocarbon dating (C14) – suggests settlement continuity on Åland during the contested time period. Now, there are only 64… 😦 …archaeological C14 dates from the whole Iron Age on Åland and I am painfully aware that this constitutes an enormous methodological issue in using summed probability plot in my argument. Still, summing the probability curves of all the calibrated dates related to Iron Age, there is no settlement discontinuity to infer; furthermore, this information correlates with raw data as well.

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

In terms of our understanding of the Iron Age on Åland, no question that there is an immense need for more archaeological investigations on Åland, and there is urgency for more data to be published. But most of all, there is a need for syntheses of the data collected so far. In this regard, compared to the neighboring regions, Åland has fallen behind gravely. And this might be the reason why statements that are quite so obsolete still dominate despite the growing evidence against.

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….

About the colonization

One way or the other, colonization relevant to the study of the Iron Age on Åland will be the topic of my next few posts. And in this case, we are actually talking about two separate phases of colonization. Because colonization as a driving force in settlement development has not only been suggested for the beginning of the Late Iron Age, but also indicated for the end of the period, for the beginning of medieval times.

LIA burial mounds

Late Iron Age burial mounds in Saltvik, Sa 14.4.

First, why has colonization been suggested for the beginning of LIA? Because when compared to the previous period poor in finds, suddenly, there are over 400 sites visible on the Åland islands with almost 10 700 features interpreted as graves from the LIA. During LIA, dead were cremated and buried in barrows. These burial mounds, clearly concentrated around the arable lands, are documented in all sizes from 1 m to 20 m in diameter; these are constructed of soil piled over the central cairn or layer of stones and often surrounded by a ring of stones. Mounds are dated from the end of the 6th century AD to around the year 1000, and at least large cemeteries seem to have been continuously used throughout this period. Adjacent to many LIA cemeteries, there are often house foundations. Big (many houses have been over 20 m long and 5 m wide), rectangular, stone framed foundations are frequently documented in groups and dated to the same period as the burial mounds; oldest houses being of the same age as the oldest burial mounds.

Thus, very rapidly, in the beginning of LIA, distinct agrarian culture evolved on Åland with the types of burial mounds and house foundations that had no preliminary stages why exogenous population groups are argued to have been responsible. Colonization is explained with the geographical position of the archipelago becoming valuable for different reasons.

Secondly, how come has colonization been indicated for the beginning of medieval times? In comparison to the rest of the Baltic Sea region, suddenly, around the year 1000 AD, the traditional archaeological material just disappears on the Åland islands for some number of years. The early Christian graves usual in the LIA cemeteries in the Baltic Sea region are absent on Åland. Most of the houses adjacent to LIA cemeteries on Åland have been abandoned. There are no late Viking Age and early medieval finds that are documented in the surrounding areas of the Baltic Sea region (such as rune stones or continental coins) found on Åland. And many place names on Åland are of medieval character. Thus, settlement discontinuity has been suggested by some and settlement regression by many scholars, with the reasons to be found in Åland not being relevant from the geographical point anymore. Re-colonization or exogenous increase in population has been indicated (as a result of Swedish Crusades and resulting population movement from the west) for the beginning of medieval times.