Tag Archives: Iron Age

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 🙂

Diagnostic digging

with Frands Herschend

One of the things we ask ourselves at Kvarnbo is if there were any other Late Iron Age hall farms like Kvarnbo on Åland, and how many more Late Iron Age settlement sites there could be in today’s agriculturally exploited areas. The reason is simple: if we had had a not too expensive way of finding the remains of such sites, we would get a much better grip on an important formative period in the history of modern Åland, prior to its becoming a part of the Medieval Swedish realm.

Fieldwork at Kvarnbo is meant to – actually, it is designed to proceed in well-defined steps that allow us to understand what a given archaeological step in the field will lead to. We test, investigate and proceed with new tests and new evaluations in order not to go astray, but to proceed in a rational way building up our knowledge base and predict the outcome of our actions.

This stepwise method teaches us a lot about Kvarnbo as well as a good deal about Late Iron Age hall farms and their halls in general. We have of course made a mistake or two – nothing irreparable – but most often our predictions have been quite correct. Today we would not be entirely surprised if we came across the remains of yet another Ålandic hall, next to a church in a well-drained, slightly elevated position. Most probably, test pits on such a site will reveal that farming during hundreds of years has taken away all the cultural layers above the site and moved plough soil in such a way that it will partly cover (and indeed protect) low laying prehistoric layers. Already now, with the help of metal detectors and amateur archaeologists, students and volunteers methodically digging 1 m2 test pits during 2 or 3 weeks, supervised by an experienced archaeologist, we could in all probability confirm or reject the existence of a hall farm. In the coming weeks we will become even better at defining a hall site without actually excavating it because our checklist will become longer and more specific.

Diagnostic diggingIt is probably not possible and perhaps not even sensible to excavate a complete farm site that has not suffered the ravages of the plough. However, there is a great point in finding these Ålandic farms and, why not, another Ålandic hall in today’s farmland, since doing it will reveal the first truly political geography on Åland. Indeed, to the visiting archaeologist sitting in the morning at Marie Bar in the sunshine drinking his coffee reading the daily newspapers eating one of the exquisite sandwiches waiting for his ride to Kvarnbo, the political geography of Åland seems still to be a significant subject and a more ambitious metal detecting project in cooperation with professional archaeologists and interested amateurs could be highly productive in this regard.

Test pits deliver!

I am very happy to end the first week of excavation with noting that the digging of test pits in the plow layer has already resulted in finds clearly connected to the Iron Age phase. Besides pottery (including ornate pieces), the two glass beads found, are clearly among my personal favourites 🙂 This in combination with good signs of underlying features in a number of pits, bode well for the weeks to come. Stay tuned for more thorough presentations!

pärlor

Talking

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 😉

Feature sections’ overkill

I’m a bit sorry for posting this picture, but, these sections, the digitalized versions of these do look kind of nice (?) 🙂 and digitalizing these arcaeological features from 3D models (and not from the photos on this picture) is what has occupied me for the past few days. But, now, this work is done (wohoo!) and I am determined to get my site report largely finished by the end of this week.