Tag Archives: Metal detecting

Soil stripping has begun

The subsoil landscape that is dotted with archaeological features is being revealed by a cooperation of four gentlemen: Isak is manoeuvring the 25 ton excavator, while Kim D and Peter are frantically cleaning the area behind him; Kim G is working the silent magic of metal detector in the background 🙂 And below you can see the very first moves this work entails!

Soil stripping

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.

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 😀

Dirhamfyndplats

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.

Bronsbleckillu

Buttons

Now, I’m no expert on buttons, but you’d be amazed how much research there has been done on this subject! As an example for the Nordic areas, there is a book by Otto Helander “Något om knappens historia i Sverige” (Something about the history of button in Sweden). The following knowledge I am about to share comes from this book and some diverse places in the Internet.

During prehistoric times, buttons were rare in the North. Well, there are button-like things known from Bronze Age, but then they disappear. During Late Iron Age, Viking Age in particular, buttons reappear in the North, but these are pretty much exclusively connected to the oriental connections. It is only starting from medieval times and from the 14th century when the real history of buttons starts. This coming of button was connected to the change in clothing – from long and flowing to tight. However, at first, buttons were just something for the clothes of wealthy people and these were, furthermore, mainly used as decoration and not as methods of closing clothing (for which lacing or hooks were used). From the end of the 16th century buttons became more common, but it is still only from the 18th century when buttons really did appear on the clothing of workers and peasants – at first, on male attire and from the mid 19th century also on female attire.

Buttons

Unfortunately, among ca 30 buttons that I have documented during metal detector surveys at the Kvarnbo Hall site (from all over the field without any particular area of concentration), there isn’t a single one that I would dare to state to be older than the 18th century. But from the typological point of view, it can be stated that cast brass buttons with concave panel clearly dominate the material. Very similar to these are cast brass buttons with the flower motive in the middle that I have also discovered from my site. These kinds of buttons were one of the more prevalent types used by common people. There were many vests and pants with exactly these kinds of buttons during the late 18th and, especially, 19th century. Btw, in Finnish, the type with the flower motive in the middle has even its own name – Kansanpuvun nappi (folk costume button).

The most common type of button today, the 4-hole button was adopted only in the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. At first, by men, but after the WW I, when more masculine female fashion became popular, also by women. Such buttons are very boring as these don’t allow any pattern on the button; I would also deem the two 4-hole buttons discovered at the Kvarnbo Hall site as the most mundane of buttons at the site. At the same time, the most interesting button from Kvarnbo has to be the very large and crudely made 2-hole button. Mostly because I haven’t seen anything alike before 🙂 (Actually, I’m not even sure if it is a button.).

Back to metal – modern “junk” (?)

junkIf you thought that I am done sharing about my new actuality of metal detecting, you are wrong – I intend to continue taking up aspects this new vocation of mine has inspired me to (and -yes- at some point, there will be some newly discovered Late Iron age findings presented as well 😉 ).

When I started to work with metal detector, I expected to find and dig a lot of what is considered to be junk. And, at first, looking at the growing amount of my finds, I thought that I am, indeed, finding a lot of junk. I do dig what I am sure most of people consider rubbish, such as foil and bottle caps. I also dig bullets and cartridge cases, which I consider as a junk, but I do know that there are people (including archaeologists) who are interested in such finds. But then, there is a number of finds that I considered as a junk, but I am about to reconsider – to some degree. The thing is that while presenting detector findings by just laying these on the table, many people often reach to look at things they recognise. And among the findings that I have made – in addition to coins – thimbles, keys and buckles have great popularity 🙂

Thimbles, keys and buckles

From the Kvarnbo Hall site I have discovered one thimble in the form of a ring and two customary thimbles, but I have no good idea about their age. The problem with the thimbles that were used simply solely for pushing a needle through fabric or leather as it is sewn and not as collectibles is that they look very alike throughout centuries. However, in rough terms, analysing the small dimples on the thimble might help with dating – before the middle of the 18th century dimples were done by hand and, thus, a thimble with an irregular pattern of dimples dates likely before the mid 18th century. Furthermore, from the mid 18th century, the shape of thimbles is much less domed than before, and the metal is thinner. From the three thimbles found at the Kvarnbo Hall site, one has clearly handmade dimples and seems to be older than the other two.

When it comes to keys it is probably easier to determine their age. In case of the two keys discovered in Kvarnbo, however, I can only say that none of these is from the Late Iron Age, because Iron Age keys just look different. Both keys are quite so small and the better preserved one looks more like a key used for a clock… for a table clock?… Just as the keys, buckles are also easier to date than thimbles and browsing through the Internet, you can find quite a lot of information about buckles – for example, following this link. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that I can say anything sensible about the buckles I have dug so far 😛

People are and have always loosing things. While losing a thimble or a buckle wasn’t probably such a big loss, losing a key must have been quite annoying. But losing a ring might be emotionally devastating – I have found a simple finger ring of silver from the Kvarnbo Hall site and I do think that the loss of it made someone sad back in the history. But again, I have no good idea about how far back in the history we should put this item. From my “Late Iron age point of view” it is a non-diagnostic item (and thereby fairly junkish 😉 ).