Friday, March 24, 2006

Migration Period House Terrace

I've spent the day at a really good seminar about the recent excavations along the projected Norrortsleden highway outside of Stockholm.

In 2002 I worked for a few months at contract archaeology unit Arkeologikonsult, writing about some nice Migration Period grave finds from Åby in Västerhaninge parish in the spring and heading pre-investigations for Norrortsleden at Sylta in Fresta parish during the summer. It was just me with two colleagues, an excavator operator cum pub musician and two or three young guys employed mainly to clear away impenetrable sloe bushes from spots we needed to see. After the close of the dig I got a grant, quit my job at the unit and went back to full-time research. Which is where I still am, 3½ years down the road.

My involvement in the road project was enjoyable and very well paid. But there was one detail that bugged me afterwards.

Before I got on board, a colleague of mine had started to look at the site and written a bit about it. There was a lone rectangular structure of huge stone blocks visible through the turf near the edge of a hilltop, and she suggested that it was the foundation of a 19th century barn. During the summer, me and the others cleaned it a bit and found that the tops of the blocks weren't on a level, so I decided it couldn't be a house foundation. I guessed it might be a mid-1st millennium BC grave superstructure, and that's what I put in my report manuscript before submitting it and leaving the unit.

But the report was edited for publication by my colleague, and she turned my Early Iron Age grave back into her barn foundation! Aaaarrr! I could just hear the sniggers once somebody excavated the thing, thinking "silly Rundkvist, all he knows is finds, can't tell a grave from a barn foundation". The shame!

The shame. Well, as it turns out, we were both wrong. It was something much cooler.

The full excavations for the road project took place in 2003 and 2004. I followed them at a distance, visiting the site a number of times with my baby daughter when I was on paternal leave. Almost all of the prehistoric remains were from the Migration and Vendel Periods (one of my favourite bits of the time line): great big house foundations and lots of graves, including a few chambered ones. John Hamilton directed the excavation of the bit with the stone block thingy.

And John's team showed it to be the end of a house terrace. They're sort of the diagnostic visible-monument type to find high status settlements of the mid- to late 1st millennium AD in the Lake Mälaren area. The reason that we didn't recognise it was that most of the house had been built on flat ground, with only one end extending a bit onto the slope where terracing was needed. So the proportions of the thing weren't long-housy at all.

This aerial photo, taken after de-turfing, is copied from the recently completed site report (UV Mitt Daff 2005:6). The stone block thingy is at the lower edge, with the outline of a 5th century long house extending upward from it. The two smaller outlines shown on the spot represent buildings erected in the 8th century.

Here's a ground plan of the house on the terrace. John and his co-authors cautiously suggest that as it had a dominant placement at the top of the slope it may have been the farmstead's feasting hall, although no high-status small finds were made in it.

I guess what this all shows is really that you gotta dig it to really grok it.

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Anonymous tor said...

Archaeological editors seem, on the whole, to be rather relaxed about authors' intentions.

27 March, 2006 09:58  
Blogger Martin said...

Thou whining circumpolar philosopher! The reason us archaeological editors are so mean is that we know better. My colleague editing me was fundamentally wrong, like two sadists getting in bed together.

27 March, 2006 10:04  

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