Tag Archives: Numbers


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.


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.).

New skills at work

Last year, with the help of archaeologist Mats Blohmé, metal-detector survey of about 1 hectare was conducted at the Kvarnbo Hall site. The objective then was to identify the areas with the presence of prehistoric metal objects and, thereby, gain an understanding of both the character and date of the site as well as of the horizontal distribution of finds. And, as the result, well, some pretty nice objects were discovered dating from the late 6th century AD to the end of the Viking Age, pointing towards the existence of an elite settlement at the site. However, as these finds were distributed all over the area studied, no potential hot-spots were located. Furthermore, as the survey did not include the whole field, the site was not delimited. Thus, with my newly acquired skills, I have decided to continue metal detecting surveys at the site and the field as a whole.

While working at the site, same as last year, iron is discriminated, i.e. I have chosen to set the machine to ignore (small) ferrous objects, such as nails. But even though the machine allows me to discriminate an audio signal from a ferrous object, in case the remote control is actively used, it is still visually showing if there are iron targets in the area of search. Thus, I would say that my discrimination is not so strong, and I actually get a pretty good picture about the amount of metal in the area. At the same time, as the field is scattered with iron objects, I am afraid that there are quite a few cases when valid signals have been masked by iron targets as iron kind of tends to do that… not to mention that I am just a beginner in the highly addictive world of metal detecting. Well, eventually, I will work out a setting that would be optimal for my purposes! And I am fine with the idea that I will probably have to search through the site for several times anyways.

So far, I have dug about 150 targets at the Kvarnbo Hall site. Together with the work done last year, you would think that the total amount of metal objects documented in the field would be around 200. However, as all of the finds without direct archaeological relevance to the Iron Age and Early Medieval times were redeposited at their find-spots during the survey last year – after the find circumstances were documented with GPS and photographs – this year, I have had an opportunity to rediscover exactly the same objects 😀 To document exactly the same objects is obviously not so exiting, but, from the bright side, this fact enables observations about the movement and displacement of the objects during the time in-between their disclosures. And this is actually quite fascinating, as the field has been ploughed and harrowed in-between the surveys. Interestingly, three different kinds of object that I chose for closer examination from that point of view show minimum movement (see also picture below):

  • the 2015 find-spot of a button is only 1,3 meters SE from the spot it was discovered in 2014,
  • the 2015 find-spot of a spoon is 1,3 meters NNW from the spot it was discovered in 2014,
  • the 2015 find-spot of a big junk of modern iron is 1,4 meters N from the spot it was discovered in 2014.

This data makes me wonder if there has been any significant movement at all during the year and a half that has passed in between the surveys. Maybe, it is mostly the margin of error with the GPS that I have used?


Continuing soil-travels

soiltravelsSoil from the longhouse site in Kvarnbo continues to travel abroad 🙂 Comparing to the first batch of soil sent to travel, in much smaller amounts in terms of weight, but in much larger amounts in terms of numbers. 10 samples, ca 20 gram each, with their own special and necessary permit to leave Åland, are at the present moment already travelling (by ordinary mail service) to Umeå, Sweden, in order to be analyzed in the Environmental Archaeology Laboratory at Umeå University for the geochemical properties. I decided for soil chemistry as this method of analysis can help me to interpret, among other things, which post-holes have been affected by fire and which post-holes have not been affected by fire. As there was quite a number of post-holes documented in the trench of rather modest size, it is reasonable to suggest that several phases of building are represented in the archaeological material. By determining which post-holes have been affected by fire and which haven’t, I am much closer to separating these different phases of construction and determining which post-holes might be related to each other. Another question I am trying to find answer to by means of soil chemistry is, if there are traces that might indicate of metal object(s) having been deposited in the post-holes. Theoretically, the method is suitable for answering this question; however, the possibility of unclear patterns is very real as well….

Travelling soil

10 soil-samples for plant-macrofossil analysis were collected from 9 features related to the longhouse at Kvarnbo; and 5 samples – 4 from different post-holes and 1 from the wall construction – will this weekend travel to Uppsala in Sweden, where these will be analysed for plant-macrofossils at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University.

In general, plant macrofossil analysis (i.e. looking at the parts of plants preserved in the soil) is used in order to build up a picture of past environments, reconstruct past vegetation and, thereby, gain insight into past landscapes and their development; but this method can also provide important information about the use of structures in archaeology. The purpose of the plant-macrofossil analysis of Kvarnbo material is, however, first and foremost, to find datable material with low own age (for radiocarbon dating) such as, charred seeds – these can remain preserved in soil for a considerable time span and can sometimes be found in the absence of all other organic remains. Yet, using macrofossils for dating of features such as post-holes, it is important that the sample would come from the secondary fill of the post-hole, because only then there is a hope for the fill containing residues from the floor level of the construction and, thereby, be contemporary to the construction. The primary fill is the material that surrounds and supports the post once it has been installed, i.e. it is the backfilled earth connected to the installation of the post, and this fill is therefore not containing structure-contemporary plant-macrofossils (but might contain older material). In any case, post-holes are pretty good traps for macrofossils – after the post is removed from the construction, the hole is normally filled pretty fast again with the material from the surrounding. Inside a house, this fill-after-removing-the-post is often consisting of the floor; therefore, the analysis of the material from the post-hole might provide not only datable material, but also insight into the activities that have been going on in the vicinity of the post-holes.

Although only the very bottom of the post-hole features are preserved at the longhouse site in Kvarnbo, the samples sent to Sweden are all representative in terms of the amount of soil needed in order to run the analysis (every sample contains ca 2 liters of soil), also, all the samples were collected from the uncontaminated contexts meaning that these should not be corrupted by younger material from the subsequent use of the area. Now, it is only to hope that these will contain at least some plant-macrofossils, too (because, you know, these could be empty of such material as well………). macrofossile sampling hole feature 11

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.

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.

From cairns to people

Big cairn

EIA cairns may be rather grand like this one at Le 19.7/2

While houses of the Early Iron Age Åland remain lost, there are some 150 sites with over 1400 features on Åland that are registered as traces of graves belonging to EIA. During EIA, dead were cremated and buried in stone settings and cairns with only few grave goods. In contrast to the Bronze Age tradition of burials in large cairns that were built directly on bedrock and located on high grounds close to water (and, occasionally, revisited during EIA), EIA cairns on Åland are smaller and burials individual. Also, although there are EIA cemeteries close to coast, the majority of EIA graves have been located in some distance from water, being built on low sandy ridges. Therefore, it is mainly the setting and the height above sea level that has been and still is considered decisive during landscape surveys and inventories while assigning an archaeological period of either Bronze Age or EIA to cairns and stone settings.

Only about 4% of the registered EIA cairns and stone settings on Åland have been investigated and wide-scale, contextualising analyses of this material are few. Therefore, the value and importance of Helena Edgren’s work must be emphasized as her research in the beginning of 1980s is still the best and practically the only analysis on the subject. Edgren analysed the geographical and topographical location of EIA cairns on Åland pointing out 3 different groups of loci:

  1.        inland, around forested mires
  2.        inland, by arable land
  3.        on the coast
Little cairn

EIA cairns may also look (and usually do look) quite so inconspicuous like this newly found and not yet registered little cairn in Lemland

According to Edgren, the municipalities of Eckerö, Jomala and Sund (?) had most of the located cairns and were thus most densely populated areas during EIA. Today, the situation is somewhat different – the highest number of registered EIA cairns is in Eckerö and Lemland as in both municipalities there are about 400 cairns located, but also Jomala and Hammarland have around 200 registered EIA cairns each (I count 224 resp. 188). In Lemland and Hammarland, cairns are almost exclusively located inland, around forested mires, while in Eckerö and Jomala these are found all over the municipalities’ territory displaying all three types of loci. Edgren argues that EIA cairns were built by three populations with different economic structures as indicated by the geographical and topographical locations: first group was involved in inland fishing and cattle rising, second in farming, and third in seal hunting and open sea fishing. Edgren also points out that, in some cases, the tradition to bury in cairns extended into the Late Iron Age making the boundary between ‘old’ and ‘new’ ambiguous and clearly signifying settlement continuity between these two periods.

Although Edgren’s discussion on EIA Åland is simple, her research extended beyond the diagnostic features of EIA monuments and brought the behaviour of people in the past closer to the fore. But there is no question that EIA is one of the least studied periods of Åland. And it worries me gravely since this constitutes background for our understanding of the Late Iron Age…….