Tag Archives: Volunteers

Reflections of a volunteer – part 6

by Anton Larsson

Anton as a front page teaser in the newspaper

Originally from the town of Uddevalla on the Swedish West Coast, I moved a few miles south to the “big city” Gothenburg three years ago to study archaeology. I recently took my Bachelor’s Degree there, so it seems to have gone quite well, and I’m just about to begin working towards my Master’s Degree. History and prehistory have always been my passion, and while my primary research interests have been quite different in the last few years, it was in fact the Baltic Iron Age which first caught my attention. At age four, I went with my family to Gotland, and was very excited by all the old Viking tombs, mainly beautifully preserved ship burials… and my parents bought me a wooden Dane axe-style toy. Big mistake. I kept running around screaming with it. Now, this summer, I returned to the Baltic Iron Age, although further to the north and with no axe.

I spent four full weeks at the Kvarnbo excavation, although it seemed almost like a lifetime – that’s probably because of the lack of WiFi and battery charging possibilities, though. I spent the four weeks at a campsite in Mariehamn, sleeping in a tent, which certainly took its toll. If it wasn’t for the magnificence of the project, if you pardon my hyperbole, I would have been complaining far more than I was doing. But a work experience so fulfilling and exciting can drive away the bothers of any living conditions, no matter how frugal. Although I have worked on prehistoric sites before, including one dating to the Vendel / Merovingian Era, there’s certainly no excavation in my short career so far that can match the one in Kvarnbo. Not only is it a fantastically fascinating place, with beautiful finds and ample knowledge to be uncovered, it has also been an excellent exercise in archaeological fieldwork. Although I did nothing during the four weeks that I technically haven’t done before, the work process has certainly opened my eyes to the uses and benefits of many strategies and technologies I have just barely considered before, including 3D-modelling, georeferencing, drone-based aerial photography, metal detecting, and plough layer digging. As I left the Åland Isles, that summery paradise (to tell you the truth, it was almost too summery sometimes, what with the nearly constant sunshine), I was filled with inspiration and new ideas for my future work.

Finally, something really must be said regarding the people of the excavation and of the Ålanders in general. Rarely have I ever been received as warmly as I was on Åland, or with such hospitality. Especially, the staff at the Kvarnbo dig – Kristin, Kim, Frands and Henke – were wonderful to work with, as were my fellow volunteers. No man can live on archaeology alone; such a lifestyle can only be sustained by the companionship of good colleagues.

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.

Reflections of a volunteer – part 4

by Peter Kollin

The blacksmith Peter with his leather hat :)

The blacksmith Peter with his leather hat 🙂

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!

Reflections of a volunteer – part 3

by Linnéa Hernqvist

Linnéa during a hard day of sieving - dirty but happy :)

Linnéa during a hard day of sieving – dirty but happy 🙂

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!

Fishing for knowledge (Reflections of a volunteer – part 2)

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!

Reflections of a volunteer – part 1

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.


Volunteers and headgear

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 – AntonLinnéa 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 😀

Pasi and Hannele from Finland, Michaela from Åland, Peter, Thomas, Linnea, Anton and Markus from Sweden