Wednesday, October 25, 2006

They're Digging In Sigtuna

This afternoon I drove up to Sigtuna to check out the excavations there. A treatment centre for MS sufferers are building an extension to their premises, which has given my colleagues an opportunity to dig a big whopping trench a stone's throw from the town museum. Anders Wikström heads the dig and he's got quite a team, including a number of archaeology PhDs waiting for the Boomers to retire from the universities. They've been digging since late May, and yesterday they were all absolutely drenched by rain.

The town of Sigtuna was founded in the late 10th century as a successor to Birka. Unlike Birka, it was a Christian centre and soon received a great number of stone churches, one of which was the first brick building in the Lake Mälaren area. But Sigtuna's heyday was brief and power moved on to Uppsala and Stockholm. Since about AD 1200, the town has been a quiet little place. American tourists always find it entertaining that its name sounds like "sick tuna".

The site under excavation has been farmland since the Late Middle Ages, so the team came down into 11th century urban layers really quickly. The stratigraphy is only one to two meters deep with a lot of subsoil contour. Part of the trench holds the edge of a Medieval churchyard with over 200 burials excavated so far. Interestingly, this is the first time in Sigtuna that a churchyard is found dug into earlier urban strata. This would indicate that the churchyard post-dates a re-planning event, possibly having to do with a processional street established to take celebrants around every church in town. This street has been clearly identified in the current dig. Before that, the area held unusually large and unusually orientated buildings, bringing to mind the high-status long houses on earthen platforms along the northern edge of the dense proto-urbanisation at Birka. So far, though, there are no strong indications of any wealthy inhabitants of the houses.

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