Tag Archives: Numbers

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 😀 )

Traditional Strategy and New Techniques

by Frands Herschend

Strip (off the plough soil), map (the patterns you see) and sample (material from mapped structures) – is an archaeological field strategy applied to settlement remains in agricultural land, where crops have been growing for centuries. Ultimately, the method has become prolific, because of the gradual shift in the use of the cultural landscape. This shift made arable land more important and organized not least by means of roads. Consequently, farms were moved out of the farmland when possible. In Iron Age, on the other hand, arable land was less important, while grassland and meadows contributed substantially to subsistence. Not surprisingly, a rational Iron Age farm situation was in the centre of the farm’s agricultural area. Few roads were needed.

In Kvarnbo, change has been model, and today, the farms at Johannisberg are situated next to and above the arable land in which the Iron Age Kvarnbo hall stood on its small drained hillock.

When the excavations were planned, the strip, map and sample method was the obvious choice. But there are different way of stripping, mapping and sampling, and at Kvarnbo we have introduced a new mapping method in order to develop the general method. The testbed was successful during the test excavations in 2014, and in 2016, this mapping method was developed to become a routine.

Except for a handful of GPS reference points defining some of the test pits before the excavations started (see here), nine main reference points were defined after the top soil was stripped off in the area of over 1000 m2, and complemented with 183 reference points inside of that area. Supported by these, all (georeferenced) exact measurements, plans and sections are based on photographic 3D models. Also, a large scale plan was made with a drone during a 10 minute photo session and its orthographic projection, printed as an overview, has enabled the team to orientate itself on the site.

New techniques

Archaeological documentation goes hand in hand with interpretation. Description dominate fieldwork without excluding interpretation, and in the field, ocular observation is the general mode of perception: either you see something of you don’t. Later on, during the report writing process, interpretation and lab results dominate in order to answer the question: what cultural phenomena have we excavated? The problem in field archaeology is not what one observes, the problem is that which cannot be seen.

Overlapping features in the trench of 2014

In this section from the trial excavations of 2014, one can see archaeological features from Late Iron Age (A12 and A13) been transected by more modern plough furrow (A18).

For instance, looking at plough layer and plough furrows or any other depression, the point is to describe some sort of “ploughing biography” of the field as a part of the its involvement in history. It is easy to see the dark furrows when they cut into the yellow underground, but difficult to detect them at the bottom of the plough layer, and impossible higher up, although they may well exist in soil 20 centimeters or more below the surface. In fact, only by means of close observation of soil sections can one distinguish between ploughed and not ploughed soil.

Since we want to sample the contents of the different fills in postholes, we make a preliminary section of the first centimeters of the soil until, based on this section, we can dig away the plough soil, that is, the contamination of the prehistoric fill. As a result, we can, for example, conclude that the burnt clay, which represents burnt walls and was abound in the test pits, doesn’t exist in the postholes of the hall (because it was never burnt down).

So far, we have sectioned, described and interpreted c. 230 features of 273 on the c. 1000 m2 of our site. This is time consuming, but the ensuing 3D documentation is fast. On average, therefore, a team of four professional archaeologists and 2-3 amateurs can section, describe, interpret, sift and model 20-25 features per day, and sample soil for chemical and macrofossil analyses. 3D-modelling brings a new better and cheaper standard to strip, map and sample methods.


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 🙂


Brand new archaeology stuff

The Åland Islands are special in many respects, but the one thing especially relevant for people living here is the fact that Internet shopping is more difficult than in the surrounding countries… Everything must go through the customs and in many cases you end up paying much, much more than you should. Åland is namely excluded from the application of tax systems according to EU directives. Despite the fact that Åland, like the rest of Finland, is part of the customs territory of the European Community, it is not included in the fiscal territory meaning that there is a tax border between Åland and mainland Finland as well as between Åland and other EU countries. Why? Well, basically, in order to sell booze on ships 😀 A tax free sale in the ship traffic is the reason why Åland is excluded from the excise EU tax directives – the ships stopping on Åland even for just 10 minutes can sell tax free. And considering how many people are taking the special cruise to Åland without actually stepping out of the ship to visit the islands, and are on the cruise just for buying booze, there are clearly many who like that kind of agreement. But when you as a person living on Åland buy stuff through Internet and forget to inform the seller that your price must not include VAT, you end up paying double VAT and probably hate the exclusion from the application of tax systems according to EU directives. And even if you do remember to inform the seller and get the right price, so to say, it is still annoying that your purchase is not coming to your doorsteps or the nearest post office just for pick up, but you have to fill the forms and deal with declaring your goods. And it is not only when you buy stuff – on several occasions, I have been forced to declare normal letters only because these were sent to me as registered letters (!!!). I am not fan of this exclusion even though I buy booze on the boats more often I buy other stuff through Internet 😉

Anyways, after I made a mistake once of not informing about this VAT thing and paying much more than I intended to, I am pretty careful in that sense. Thus, all the brand new digging and documentation equipment I recently purchased for the excavations (including some more grip seal bags… well… about 2000 more to be honest 😀 ) found its way into my apartment without any major headaches (except then these usual ones that are related to Internet  shopping on Åland… that were somewhat enforced by the fact that declaring things bought from one and the same seller and billed as a unit, but sent in different packages whereat you do not know what is in which package and thereby you do not know the value of each separate package, is even more complicated requiring personal visit to customs office…).


Archaeology stuff from years ago

Yesterday, I went through my excavation equipment that has accumulated throughout the years. Generally speaking, I knew what I have, because the things you need for archaeological fieldwork are pretty much the same for any site. You always need your trowel, measuring tools, compass, grip seal bags, pens and pencils, etc. And then there is stuff that is always good to have, such as tape and rope and line level, some drafting film, clipboard, etc. But exactly because you always need such stuff (and these do wear off), these things tend to accumulate. I think it is pretty common that instead of inspecting first what you have, you’ll just make a purchase. My inspection made it pretty clear that, among other things, I already have a serious stack of grip seal bags – I could probably put every piece of wattle-and-daub and bone that we’ll likely find at the Kvarnbo Hall site into a separate bag 😀 I mean, I have grip seal bags that still have price label witnessing a purchase at the time when Estonia had kroon as the currency (i.e. before 2011) and I have apparently also saved bags that are labeled with an intended sample number, but never gotten to be used. I was also mildly surprised by the amount of rope I have – different kind and several unopened rolls. Even among folding rulers there were 3 that have been never used! And I seriously do not know how come I have two 50 meter tapes… but I was struck that when it comes to pocket tapes I have all the possible sizes (?) represented as I own a 10, 8, 5 and 3 meter tape. I clearly miss some 30 meter tapes (Am I a hoarder? 😀 ).


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 😀


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.