Tag Archives: Settlement archaeology

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 🙂

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.


Week 3 – brief summary

Much has happened on the site during this week. Most importantly, we started soil stripping with the machine and managed to uncover roughly half of the intended area on and around the longhouse structure as seen on the aerial photo. Many different features appeared and even more become visible through meticulous manual cleaning. However, it is also apparent that the site is disturbed and we can clearly distinguish the effect of the plow which often has cut through archaeological features… At this stage, it is hard to tell which features are to be related to the Iron Age use of the area and the hall building(s), but it will certainly become clearer as we investigate further. Some nice finds surfaced this week as well, but these will be presented at a later stage 😛

Also, at the end of this week we are sad to say good-bye to a number of excellent people who had to return to their everyday lives. Thank you Hannele (and what a wonderful piece of art!), Kåre, Linnéa, Markus and Thomas – you all made a fantastic effort and you all will be missed!

Rensning av ytan

It has not been just work though – the vikings from the Fornföreningen Fibula invited us to the kick-off dinner on Wednesday for this year’s Viking Market. Clothes were provided by Fibula and we looked spectacular with our mix of jeans, sneakers and linen tunics 😉 They (together with many visiting vikings) became our guests on Friday evening when the excavations were presented on the site.

Besöka vikingar o vikingar besöka oss

To the left: we are visiting the vikings and thanks to Michaela, almost dressed up as vikings as well 😀 (Anton photographed with Thomas phone). To the right: vikings visiting us (Peter photographed with his own phone)