by Peter Kollin
I live in Sweden and I’m a blacksmith, but I also have a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology. I use to attend the annual Viking market in Kvarnbo, Saltvik, and during the market last year I learned from a friend about the upcoming investigations at the Kvarnbo hall site. I got in touch with Kristin and made arrangements for the accommodation, so that I could participate as a volunteer.
I spent four weeks at the excavation. It was a fantastic experience and I’ve met so many nice people and made new friends during the time spent on Åland. The archaeologists in the crew were all highly skilled and very generous with sharing their knowledge. I have participated in a number of excavations before, but this one was by far the one that gave me most in terms of experience and knowledge. The one thing I had never done before, but got to work with in Kvarnbo, was to assist in the process of stripping of the plough soil with an excavator. It was really exciting to work next to the excavator, cleaning up after the machine, and watching the archaeological features appear. This is really what makes archaeology – to see the traces of more than thousand years’ old houses, hearths and cooking pits emerge in front of your eyes. After the soil stripping, there was a massive effort put into cleaning the entire surface of the 1000 m2 large trench using just trowels. This made the archaeological features uncovered with the help of the machine even more visible and many more new features were discovered. The investigation of every single feature followed. Unfortunately, I only had the time to investigate a few, as I had to leave before the end of the investigation… One of my personal best finds was a nice segmented blue glass bead with parallels to a find in Birka´s black earth.
I will always carry in my heart the warmth of all the people I met at the investigation and all the good laughter we shared and I wish you all good luck with the rest of the investigation. I really hope there will be further investigations at this exciting site so that I can participate once again. I also want to thank Saltvik B&B for a very nice accommodation and treatment. Last but not least, many thanks to Kristin Ilves who made it all happen!
by Linnéa Hernqvist
It was in the middle of writing my bachelor thesis this spring that I stumbled upon an internet post in the student association of archaeology in Gothenburg (GAST) and it captured my interest immediately. It said that Kristin needed volunteers in Åland and I sent away an e-mail right away. Up until then unaware that the post was shared by GAST and thereby found its way that far south, Kristin expressed that she finally understood why two people, with one more to come, all the way from Sweden’s west coast wanted to join in! The wonders of the internet, indeed.
The excavation project at the Iron Age hall in Kvarnbo seemed like a perfect way for me to gather more fieldwork experience after my in June finished bachelor’s degree in cultural heritage with archaeology as main subject. During the studies I’ve dug in Karleby – a new Stone Age site – outside Falköping in Sweden through the university. So, to be a part of the uncovering of an Iron Age context was indeed tempting!
And how happy I am that I decided to participate! Two weeks went (unfortunately) by fast in a steady methodological work mode with the test pit digging and the soil stripping with manual troweling afterwards, the latter which I got to experience on my last day at the dig. To manually clean the surface after the machine had done its work was as tough physically (dense clayish soil at times!), as it was amazing to see the archaeological features appear. To uncover and expose the different features such as presumable postholes, ditches and wall structures was a new experience for me, practically. The constant attention to differences and anomalies – indeed, attention to details – which is, as always, crucial within the archaeological sphere, is not an exception during this stage!
The choice to examine the plough layer when digging the test pits resulted in finds including e.g. prehistoric glass and beads which are important for the understanding of the site. It was great to witness those interesting high status finds suddenly showing themselves and adding some variety in the constant flow of burnt and unburnt bone and burnt clay 🙂
I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of fun these two weeks while meeting and working together with this amazing group of people made up by archaeologists, fellow archaeology students and people from other backgrounds, with as much interest in the subject as myself. I think I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that one felt very welcomed and in good pedagogical hands. Thanks again for this opportunity!
by Hannele Parviala
A bit over a year ago I was sitting in the auditorium of Alandica conference centre in Mariehamn being blown away with new and interesting knowledge about Vikings, Fimbulwinter and paw symbols. It was no wonder then, that when at the end of her performance Kristin threw out her invitation to the audience to participate as a volunteer in the next year’s excavation, I was instantly hooked.
My background is in art education, so when it comes to archaeology I’m a total amateur. Now after spending two weeks at Kvarnbohall’s site I’m ready to state that to some extent at least archaeology reminds me of fishing. Fishing for knowledge in the stream of time to put it bit more poetically perhaps. 😀
The atmosphere of yet unknown possibilities and expectation lingers in the air while the crew digs, scrapes, hauls and sieves the dirt in the hope of coming across of something interesting and relevant. And when that happens and someone finds some bit or piece of value, everybody gets exited and dig their own spots with added enthusiasm. Wondering maybe what will be the next catch and if perhaps that might be theirs to make. Hours turn to days in peaceful and steady work and mind roams free to ponder the secrets of time. It is simply just mind boggling to think that some small items have been silently rolling around in that same small field for a thousand years!
During my stay I had the possibility to see different stages of the project. When I arrived the field was green and fresh, there were couple of squares already worked on but otherwise clover and grass still ruled their peaceful kingdom. When I left two weeks later, the field had undergone a total change, squares had multiplied many times over, paths of yellowed grass worn by boots criss-crossed the green and the excavator had stripped half of the field open. As the project advanced from one step to the next it was very interesting to witness how things get done. The amount and meticulousness of the thinking and planning in advance to the actual hard physical human work on the field made a truly lasting impression.
I’ve always had deep interest in history and respect for archaeology but after this experience those feelings have amplified. To plan out, execute and finally analyse such vast projects as the Kvarnbohall you truly have to be strong both in mind and body.
I feel very privileged to have been able to take part in this particular project. Thank you for the opportunity and also for the warm and welcoming camaraderie within the crew!
by Pasi Välkkynen
I heard about this excavation in Archipelacon (a science fiction/fantasy event in Mariehamn at 2015) in which Kristin had a wonderful presentation about viking age Åland. I was so impressed that when she told about the chance of participating in the excavations as a volunteer, I knew immediately that this is what I want to do next summer if I can arrange my holidays to match with the schedule.
I have an engineering and computer science background and absolutely no experience of archaeological excavations. I have always been interested in history, but like most people, I knew very little about archaeology. My “knowledge” of arcaeology was a kind of mix of knowing that sometimes someone finds magnificent treasures like ancient Egyptian graves, or legendary lost cities like Troy, with a hunch that maybe those are not common occurrences and it is not as glamorous as those famous finds let the public perceive archaeology. But someone must have found the artefacts in the museums and uncovered those ancient sites, right? So, my expectations on the other hand were very mixed, and on the other hand I didn’t have any real expectations. I was prepared to come to the excavation site and do what I was told to do, and to see what is going on on the site.
Archaeology as I have experienced it at this excavation has been surprisingly physical work. I was expecting to be digging with small, delicate tools and carefully measuring the location of each thing I might find, by millimetre precision. During this week we have been examining the plough layer through 1 m by 1 m sample squares and cataloguing the amount of different things we find from each square. Since all the material at the plough layer has been moving around for more than a thousand years, the millimetre-precision location of a single bone fragment is not very significant as we are more interested in the distribution and number of objects inside the sample volume. Pick and spade have been some of my best friends this week. Digging through the dry, tightly packed soil and the occassional even more tightly packed clay has been hard work and sieving has been quite physical work as well. In fact, my activity meter scored between 165 and 180 percent of my daily activity recommendation every day (I reach something like 50 percent during a normal day at the office). I bet the machine was really confused when I was shaking the sieve box. 🙂
Sieving was so exciting (at least during the first week of doing it) as you never knew what treasures the water would uncover. Even though I didn’t find anything significant, I was quite surprised at the joy of finding and recognising even fragments of bone or iron age pottery. Speaking of recognising things, I was expecting it to be easier. I mean, anyone should be able to tell the gold coin from a rock, right? Too bad there were no gold coins in my pit, but plenty of things looking like stones. Especially anything made of clay is quite hard for an amateur like me to tell apart from rocks, so I have been collecting loads of pebbles and small stones just in case they turned out to be something interesting when I would examine them more carefully in the cataloging phase. Many of them turned out to be just stones, but I still found a nice pile of burnt clay, bone (both burned and unburned variety), and even some iron age ceramics pieces among other things. I also learned about identifying finds by knocking them on my teeth, tasting them, etc. I still have sand in my mouth. 🙂
In summary, this excavation turned out to be nothing like I expected (mostly because I had no idea what to expect) but extremely interesting in any case. It was really great to get to know real archaeological procedures and methods and to be able to talk with these professors, researchers, students and other hobbyists about our finds and their meaning. I was not at all surprised to find out that it was not very glamorous work (no complete golden necklaces), but just really about paying attention to details, finding — or sometimes as importantly not finding — small, insignificant things that would not necessarily be important as themselves but that would contribute as a sample to a bigger picture about the site. Just like any research, and just my cup of tea. Getting to spend a part of my summer holidays increasing the amount of knowledge about our common history was awesome.
This week, the excavation warmly welcomes 8 new participants. Pasi and Hannele from Finland, both of whom heard about the project through Archipelacon 2015 (The Nordic SF & Fantasy Convention) held in Mariehamn. Michaela from Åland, a viking warrior from Fibula, who has supported the project with her enthusiasm from early on. The blacksmith Peter from Sweden, who brings a touch of Indiana Jones to the excavation with the most stylish leather hat. Thomas from Sweden, who found his way to Åland through a long-time interest in archaeology. A very important addition to the team are the archaeology students from Gothenburg university – Anton, Linnéa and Markus – who are on Åland to get a more varied and extensive fieldwork experience. A number of these great people will stay an entire month or even longer and will probably appear in this blog again in the weeks to come 🙂
The pictures clearly show, that all the volunteers wisely use headgear of different type in the scorching sun as I recommended in my pre-excavation communication, whereas the so-called professionals (Kim and Henke 😛 ) seem to think that they can manage without 😀
Finally, the results of the soil analyses are tripping in! In autumn, I sent quite a lot of soil from the longhouse site in Kvarnbo to Sweden to be analysed for plant macrofossils as well as for different geochemical properties of the soil; and, now, I have received the report from Samuel Eriksson from the Environmental Archaeology Laboratory at Umeå University. Samuel analysed 10 samples, ca 20 gram each, for parameters such as MS, MS550, CitP, CitPOI and LOI 😀 (you just got to love the abbreviations instead of lengthy explanations, don’t you!) – In any case, MS stands for magnetic susceptibility of soil, which reflects the presence of magnetic iron-oxide minerals resulting by burning, meaning that fire increases the magnetic susceptibility of soil. MS values are for the “natural” magnetic susceptibility of the soil in the original sample, while MS5500 values stand for the results after heating the original samples at 550 °C in the laboratory. Laboratory-induced heating is executed since the magnetic susceptibility of soil may be naturally high or low without connection to anthropogenic processes and laboratory ignition is kind of reference to the original samples. Simply put – this analysis tries to find out if the site/feature has been affected by fire. CitP and CitPOI are related to phosphates – both the organic and inorganic fractions, where CitPOI gives a reading of the sum of inorganic and organic phosphate. LOI stands for the amount of soil organic matter. Basically, these analyses try to find out if lots of organic waste has been deposited on the site or in a certain feature. And, below, you can see the results:
What does these “pillars” say? Well, one of my main questions while sending in the soil for the geochemical analysis was to find out which features have been affected by fire and which haven’t, in order to, among other things, separate different features from one another and find out if the longhouse has been burned or not. And the answer is in the MS values – features connected to the structure of the house interpreted as a feasting hall do not show traces of being burned! However, as you can see, two features deviate from the general MS pattern and can be seen affected by fire and at least in case of one of these features, I do wonder if it represents the bottom of a hearth? These and LOI values will be interesting to relate to plant macrofossile analysis results when I get hold on that report as well.