Tag Archives: Tools

Reflections of a volunteer – part 5

by Kåre Lund


Kåre at the sieving station, at which he found a really exquisite bead that looks black, but actually has the colour of an aubergine 🙂

My name is Kåre, and I had the pleasure of being a volunteer at the Kvarnbo Hall dig site. My background is not from archeology, but as a teacher in Norway.

I first heard about this project during a convention in Mariehamn, Åland, last year, where Kristin talked about the project and the local islands during the Viking age. I`ve always been interested in history, so when she informed about the possibility to volunteer, I thought this might be an interesting experience.

The excavation had already been going on for a few weeks before I arrived, but I was given a good introduction to the basic tools of the trade (trowel, bucket, hand shovel, measuring tape), and shown where and how to dig a proper hole in the ground, and how to wash, sift and sort the soil. It was also a new and interesting experience to learn what to look for. Especially, the fact that you could taste things, to feel the texture and hardness against your teeth. I haven’t put this many rocks in my mouth since kindergarten. Usually, I have to tell pupils in first grade not to put things from the ground in their mouth 🙂 To see and experience how much work that lies behind finding and sorting objects in the ground was an eye opener.

It was also very nice to work with the people who share a lot of the same interests. I don`t always get the opportunity to do this, since teachers are a very diverse group. I also found the tasks I was given interesting when I was told why it was done. Talking to, learning new things and getting to know the other people at the site made the work even more rewarding. I learned quite a lot from all of this.

The thing I found I had to work most with was to overcome my feeling of inexperience in the field, and my “Oh God, I`m going to destroy something if I do this wrong” – reflex. I think this made me a little hesitant at first, until I got my feet wet. Despite my inexperience in the field I felt I was included among the others at the site and made to feel welcome among everyone.

All in all I`m happy I volunteered for this, and hope to do it again sometime.

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

Cinematographic ambitions


I have been contemplating making a short documentary since the project, especially through Rasmus Olin, who was participating in the test-excavation in 2014, has gathered a lot of footage. Therefore, we continually make small time-lapses and plan further on even making videos about the progress during the excavation. Today we attempted a time-lapse while digging a test-pit. The quite nice panning effect that you see in the short film below is totally involuntary and due to the low quality of the supporting structure, consisting of a ladder, a piece of wood and yellow duct tape. Archaeologists can meddle in engineering, but obviously with poor results 😀

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? 😀 ).


Ace of Spades

Let me start by being completely clear about the fact that this entry is not supported by Fiskars – I just happened to choose all of the spades bought for the archaeological excavations at the Kvarnbo Hall site from that brand.

Fiskars spades

Which one will be the “Ace of Spades” at the Kvarnbo Hall site?

Shopping spades was partly very delightful, partly extremely frustrating. The thing is that there is a too wide of a range of spades to choose from. But I did walk out of the store with the number of spades representing three different series that will be put to test this summer!

First, walking into the store, my attention was immediately drawn to the spade that literally shone through the dimness of the store clearly emerging from the mass of shovels and spades: Fiskars Light – the light (and white) digging spade. It seriously weights like nothing (ok, according to the specifications it still weights 1.1 kg) and, therefore, it feels a bit funny holding in the hands as you kind of expect a spade to weight more. Well, because I am a strong supporter of lightweight when it comes to the areas of travel and tools, I obviously could not resist purchasing a representative from this series to my line of spades that will put into practice this summer 🙂 However, I am pretty certain that the spade will not be the winning spade as when it comes to the soil at the Kvarnbo Hall site, it is clay and moraine – Fiskars Light is probably way too light for working in such a ground, which is also clearly stated in the product description…

Judging from the product descriptions, the most likely winner of upcoming real-life archaeological test of spades will be Fiskars Xact digging spade that is apparently best tool for digging in hard and rocky soil cutting easily through soil layers and roots. This spade is marketed with a slogan “Makes it easy to get carried away” (i.e. once you start digging you cannot stop digging) and it feels actually very good just holding in the hands, it does not weight so much either: 1.8 kg. Furthermore, it comes with 25 year warranty (!!!). Yep, sales pitch on that one was difficult to resist 😀

The third model I acquired for the excavation – because otherwise it would not to be a real-life archaeological testing of spades – Fiskars Prima, might be labeled a classic choice as it is one of the models most frequently bought by anyone in need of a spade. Why I bought this model? It just looked right for the job. It looks like a spade I could trust 🙂