Institution of archaeology & ancient history
A trip down grainy lane
socio-economic structures in Gamla Uppsala
Master’s thesis 45 hp archaeology VT 2020 Supervisor: Anneli Ekblom Campus Engelska Parken
Åhlin, Ida. 2020. A trip down grainy lane – Retracing socio-economic structures in Gamla
Archaeological records show radical changes in socio-economic structures during the Iron Age in Scandinavia. Some settlements were concentrated around centres that show social status and abundance in economic resources that differ significantly from the rest of the population in the area. By performing a metric analysis of barley-grains, the aim with this thesis is to contribute to research on proto-urban societies and the centralisation processes. As this is the first metric analysis of archaeobotanical material from Gamla Uppsala, the size-variations are compared to Mikael Larsson’s results of his metric analysis of barley-grains in Uppåkra.
Gamla Uppsala show a continuous human activity stretching over about a millennium, which makes it an important source of information when trying to understand the processes preceding our modern societies. Uppåkra is an accurate parallel to Gamla Uppsala as the two pre-historical settlements show similar contemporary socio-economic patterns. The archaeobotanical remains from both places are dominated by carbonised hulled barley with small proportions of weed seeds. Larsson’s (2015) metric analysis revealed that larger barley-grains were more frequent in the most central places in Uppåkra than in the vicinities. With the hypothesis that there would be a similar result in Gamla Uppsala, my analysis is based on both settlements’ roles as centralised places during the Iron Age, however with extra focus on Gamla Uppsala. Although the grains are generally smaller than in Uppåkra, large prime-grains seem concentrated to the very centre of Gamla Uppsala (The Royal Manor) and the average grain-size in the surrounding settlements is significantly smaller. Based on these results, the conclusion made here is that the plant-based economy was an important part of the urbanisation and centralisation of Gamla Uppsala during the Iron Age.
Keywords: Hulled barley, Iron Age, centralisation, Gamla Uppsala, proto-town, metric
analysis, archaeobotany, macrofossil, Hordeum vulgare, Hordeum vulgare sp., plant-based economy, socio-economics, agriculture
Master thesis in Archaeology 45 hp. Supervisor: Anneli Ekblom. Defended and passed 2020-06-15
© Ida Åhlin
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, Box 626, 75126 Uppsala, Sweden.
Åhlin, Ida. 2020. Att få korn på det förflutna – En återblick på socio-ekonomiska strukturer i
Arkeologiska undersökningar och dokumentationer visar på radikala socioekonomiska förändringar under järnåldern i Skandinavien. Vissa bosättningar koncentrerades kring ett centrum, som uppvisade en högre social status och verkade ha haft tillgång till ett ekonomiskt överflöd, till skillnad från den resterande befolkningen i samhället. Genom utförandet av en metrisk analys av korn, är syftet med denna uppsats att bidra till forskningen kring tidigurbana samhällen och centraliseringsprocesser. Eftersom detta är den första metriska analysen av arkeobotaniskt material från Gamla Uppsala, jämförs storleksvariationerna med Mikael Larssons resultat från hans metriska analys av korn från Uppåkra.
Gamla Uppsala visar en kontinuerlig mänsklig aktivitet som sträcker sig över ungefär ett millennium, vilket gör platsen till en viktig informationskälla när vi vill förstå de processer som ligger till grund för våra moderna samhällen. Uppåkra är en lämplig parallell till Gamla Uppsala då de båda förhistoriska bosättningarna uppvisar liknande, samtida socioekonomiska mönster. De arkeobotaniska lämningarna från järnåldern i både Gamla Uppsala och Uppåkra domineras av förkolnade skalkorn med små andelar ogräsfrön. Larssons (2015) metriska analys avslöjade att större korn förekom mer frekvent i de mest centrala delarna av Uppåkra, jämfört med bebyggelsens utkanter. Med hypotesen att ett liknande mönster återfinns i Gamla Uppsala, baseras min analys på de båda nämnda bosättningarnas Uppåkras roller som centraliserade platser under järnåldern, dock med särskilt fokus på Gamla Uppsala. Fastän kornen generellt är mindre än i Uppåkra, verkar det som att de större kornen i Gamla Uppsala är koncentrerade till de centrala delarna (Kungsgårdskomplexet) och de korn som återfunnits i omkringliggande gårdar är betydligt mindre i både längd och bredd. Baserat på detta resultat, dras slutsatsen att den växtbaserade ekonomin var en viktig del av urbaniseringen och centraliseringen av Gamla Uppsala under järnåldern.
Nyckelord: Skalkorn, järnålder, centralisering, Gamla Uppsala, tidigurban, metrisk analys,
arkeobotanik, makrofossil, Hordeum vulgare, Hordeum vulgare sp., växtbaserad ekonomi, socioekonomi, jordbruk
First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor Anneli Ekblom for giving me the opportunity to work practically with archaeobotanical material, for inspiring me as a researcher, and of course for the support throughout the writing-process. I also want to thank my mother and grandmother, for being sources of positive energy – and for their unlimited support in everything I do.
1. Introduction ... 1
1.1. Aims & questions ... 1
2. Gamla Uppsala and Mälardalen ... 4
2.1. Landscape history ... 4
2.2. Excavations in Mälardalen ... 7
2.3. Gamla Uppsala: a centre of attention ... 9
2.3.1. Berget and Bredåker ... 12
2.4. Iron Age settlements and farming landscapes ... 13
2.4.1. Settlement patterns ... 13
2.4.2. Pit-houses: functions and definitions ... 14
2.4.3. Agricultural change and land use... 16
2.5. Plant-based economy ... 18
2.5.1. Cultivating and using cereals ... 18
2.5.2. Crop cleaning ... 20
2.5.3. Horticulture ... 21
3. Uppåkra: a proto town ... 23
3.1. Excavations and archaeological background ... 24
3.2. Size-variation of barley-grains ... 26
4. Method ... 28
4.1. Species determination ... 28
4.2. Metric analysis ... 31
4.3. Sample treatment ... 32
4.4. Detailed presentation of sampling and excavations ... 32
4.4.1. OKB ... 32 4.4.2. Matsgården ... 35 4.4.3. Kungsgården ... 35 5. Results ... 37 5.1. Pit-houses ... 37 5.2. Posthole-houses ... 47 5.3. Graves ... 48
5.4. Other areas of activity ... 50
5.5. Summary of results ... 55
6. Discussion ... 59
6.1. Difference in grain-size ... 60
6.2. Gamla Uppsala vs Uppåkra ... 61
6.2.1. Comparing numbers ... 62
References ... 68 Figures ... 73 Tables ... 74
1.1. Aims & questions
Gamla Uppsala was probably the most important central place in Svealand during the Iron Age (1050–1100 AD), especially in the latter period (from circa 500 AD) (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015; Göthberg et al 2017; Lindkvist et al 2017: 105). The pre-historical settlement is situated in Mälardalen in the mid-east of Sweden (Fig. 2 & 3). The place has a reputation of being one of the more eminent pre-historical societies in Sweden, with great influential power over religion, economy and politics. This interpretation is strongly supported by many monumental graves, the large hall-buildings of the Royal Manor (Kungsgården) and the mid-12th century cathedral from (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018). These features are probably the first things that come to mind when thinking of Gamla Uppsala, whilst the rest of the settlement is forgotten. This is probably due to research focusing on aristocrats for a long time, up until this very decennium (Ljungkvist 2000:63). This means that the interpretations of the entire settlement (i.e. all sites in Gamla Uppsala, see Fig. 1) could potentially be based on just a fraction of the area (i.e. Kungsgården). Centralisation of Iron Age settlements became a new subject of interest in archaeological research in the 1990’s (Jørgensen 2001; Helgesson 2002; Näsman 2011; Göthberg et al 2017) and sheds new light on settlements like Gamla Uppsala. Research about centralisation largely means identifying and analysing patterns in the settlement structures based on findings related to functions (Fabech & Ringtved 1995; Fabech 2000; Skre 2010: Göthberg et al 2017:359;), and how these patterns have changed over time in terms of location and relations between and within populations (Fabech 1994a, 1994b; Lundqvist 2000; Gansum 2009; Göthberg et al 2017:359). One of the most important functions in Gamla Uppsala used to be the plant-based economy which, figuratively speaking, has left a trail of grains for us to follow when retracing the centralisation process of the settlement during the Iron Age.
Hulled barley used to be the staple food in Scandinavia during the Iron Age and Gamla Uppsala was no exception. The maintenance of a plant-based economy over a long time-span and a relatively large population, leaves rich archaeobotanical remains, such as cereal grains or weed seeds. The long settlement-history of Gamla Uppsala therefore makes it an important
place to study shifts in resource-use and social organisation. However, organic material is easily decomposed, unless it is carbonized or deposited in anaerobic conditions (Bergman et al 2017: 132). Charred cereal grains are therefore one of the most relevant sources available for answering questions about pre-historical agriculture, exchange and organisation of resources. Recent excavations of Gamla Uppsala have revealed several Iron Age settlements, in which pit-houses (and other contexts) with large amounts of carbonised cereal grains were found (e.g. Bergman et al 2017). Assuming that cereals were handled in pit-houses, cereals (mostly barley) from mainly pit-houses could be helpful when trying to understand socio-economic structures in Gamla Uppsala.
The PhD thesis of Mikael Larsson (2015) is the main inspiration for this master’s thesis. Larsson carried out a metric analysis of the Iron Age hulled barley-grains in Uppåkra, Lund. He found that there is a size-variation and sorting pattern in the grain assemblages that is tied to certain contexts. Larger grain assemblages, relatively free from weed seeds, seem to appear more frequently at the smaller farms in the vicinities of Uppåkra. Larsson suggests that the pattern of sorting at large or prestigious farms is evidence for selection and trade in grain imported to Uppåkra, which he links to an economic and social centralisation. Considering the dating of the material at the larger settlements in Uppåkra, which stretches over circa a millennium (Larsson 2015:1), it seems that the handling of the grains has been a part of an organised and socially structured function. With the archaeological record of Uppåkra as a starting point it may be possible to detect a radical change in the societal structure during the Iron Age, especially in the latter part. The archaeological findings bear witness to an increasing trade market, urbanisation, changing religion and politics, all factors tied to centralisation (Larsson 2015). As a similar pattern is also found in Gamla Uppsala (e.g. Ekblom & Bergman 2018), these two settlements probably had a similar role as a so-called proto-town. The question is as important for Gamla Uppsala as for Uppåkra, as it is key for understanding the early formation of proto-urban or centralised settlements with some of the functions of later towns emerging in the late Iron Age. Like Larsson’s study, this thesis also relates to the broader question of the early urbanisation-process, and the definition of these emerging centres in terms of functions and role.
In Gamla Uppsala so far, the research has been focused on the proportions of weed seeds and cereal grains, but no metric analyses have been made before (Ekblom et al 2017; Bergman
et al 2017: 122). Since very few weeds are found in the material (idem), the preliminary
suggestions are that there will be a similar pattern in Gamla Uppsala as in Uppåkra, regarding size as well. With that said, I will in this thesis attempt to test this hypothesis using metric
analyses of cereal grains from a variety of contexts in Gamla Uppsala. Here I have not been able to do a comparison of other sites in the vicinities of Gamla Uppsala as in the study presented by Larsson. Therefore, I will use his measurements as a “standard” here, and his results will be a part of my analysis for comparative reasons. I will also look deeper into possible differences between different contexts in Gamla Uppsala. By identifying, measuring and comparing cereal grains, the intention of this survey is to contribute to the research about the socio-economic situation(s) of the locals in Gamla Uppsala, and to explore the relationship between central Gamla Uppsala, surrounding settlements and landscape during the Iron Age. In order to give this thesis a structure and to make my objective as clear as possible, I have narrowed my aims down to following questions:
1. How do the pre-historical settlements in Gamla Uppsala and Uppåkra compare in general, but also in terms of the centralisation-process during the Iron Age, based on what is already known about the two settlements?
2. What does the size-variation within and between certain contexts or sites look like in Gamla Uppsala, and how do they compare to the contexts in Uppåkra with surrounding area?
3. Based on grain-size, what can be said about the socio-economic situation in Gamla Uppsala in the Iron Age? Does the archaeobotanical material reflect a social organisation around the plant-based economy and if so, how was this function arranged?
2. Gamla Uppsala and Mälardalen
The primary material that will be analysed in this thesis comes from several different excavations in Gamla Uppsala. These are contract archaeology excavations that were carried out in 1994-1998 of Matsgården by John Ljungkvist and Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis (SAU) (Ljungkvist et al 2000), the research archaeology excavations carried out by Ljungkvist and the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History in 2012 (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018:91ff) and the excavations conducted in 2012-2013 in connection with the construction of the railway tunnel as a part of Ostkustbanan (OKB) (Jörpeland et al 2017). The excavations of Matsgården and the OKB-project were mainly focused on the old village and the others were focusing on the Royal Manor area.
In this thesis, I will compare this material with previous macrofossil studies (based on the relationship between weeds and cereals) carried out in the region of Mälardalen and with the metric study of archaeobotanical material from Uppåkra, carried out by Larsson (2015). Therefore, I will here begin with a landscape background to Mälardalen and the excavations carried out here. I will then zoom in to Gamla Uppsala and describe the site. Thereafter I will review the broader landscape changes in Gamla Uppsala based on the new findings. I will then go on and briefly introduce Uppåkra, the excavations and broader landscape changes as a background to the reader. I am also discussing the organisation of buildings and settlements in Scandinavia during the Iron Age and specifically how this applies to Gamla Uppsala and the archaeological contexts that have been analysed in this thesis. Lastly in this chapter, I will also review existing knowledge of the cultivation, the use of cereals and a brief introduction to horticulture in Scandinavia, mainly during the Viking Age–Medieval.
2.1. Landscape history
Mälardalen forms a circa 1000 km² hydrological basin that surrounds the Lake Mälaren. It presently lies circa 24 metres above the sea level. The landscape of Uppsala was shaped by geo-glacial processes, where eskers shaped by sand and gravel from the geo-glacial rivers were already exposed in the Neolithic (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018: 92). The plains were covered by glacial
clay and the lower parts of the landscape were additionally covered by post-glacial clay. Eventually, the area of Gamla Uppsala started to rise above the sea level in the Late Stone Age (Frölund et al 2017). As the land kept rising, the shoreline regressed, and what is today known as Gamla Uppsala was then situated in the inner part of an archipelago landscape. By the time of 1100–500 BC (Late Bronze Age), most of Gamla Uppsala was exposed, although the ridges in the western parts were still under the marine archipelago. The eastern parts were exposed and likely already inhabited by humans to some extent. In fact, there are several traces of Bronze Age settlements in the eastern and northern parts of Gamla Uppsala whereas in the western part there are basically no signs of habitation until the Iron Age. However, it is important to keep in mind that a lot of the archaeological remains from the Bronze Age probably are overshadowed by Iron Age settlements (Frölund 2009; Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018: 92).
According to pollen analyses from Sjödyn (Qviström 2007) and the Myrby (Ranheden 2007) marshlands, the landscape during the Bronze Age was covered in dense deciduous forest. The flora was dominated by alder, birch, oak and hazel. Elm, rowan, lime-tree, beech and pine also occurred in a smaller scale. Pollen from wheat, barley and plants that favour from grazing (i.e. Plantago lanceolate) were also discovered in the samples, which indicate cultivation and live-stock keeping. The land exploitation around Gamla Uppsala as suggested from the analysis of Sjödyn sediments, seems to have increased during 500–1 BC, as increasing amounts of charcoal particles are showing up in sediment samples from this period. At this time, the number of deciduous trees decreased, whereas light-loving herbs and juniper became more common elements in the landscape, as well as evergreen trees (Frölund 2019:58). Frölund (idem) suggests that the vegetation changed as a result of grazing, pollarding and clearing of forest. However, Ekblom (2018) argues that the vegetation changed mainly because of the climate change that occurred during said period. The colder climate might have forced the locals to adjust to the changing ecology and modified their way of exploiting the landscape (Birks 1986; Ekblom 2018:93). According to Frölund (2019), land use and vegetation in Sjödyn and Berget went through several alterations during the Bronze Age. Grazing lands and cultivation expanded heavily during the period of 499–1 BC. With the following period, 1–650 AD, came yet another expansion of cultivation (idem). Frölund (2019:58ff) further suggests that the changes regarding land use during this period, is connected to changes in settlement patterns and that the unique expansion of cultivation in Gamla Uppsala occurred due to the rapid regression in the area which constantly exposed new plains to colonise.
stones for different reasons seems to have been an activity already during the Bronze Age. Stones were collected from the landscape for cooking activities but also in order to build cairns of different kinds. Several hundred square metres of stone were collected in Gamla Uppsala during the Iron Age, in order to build grave cairns that in some cases needed hundreds of cubic metres of stones (e.g. Östhögen). The mounds and terraces built during the Vendel Period (circa 500-700 AD) in Gamla Uppsala are made of soil, gravel and other different materials that were moved from the surrounding landscape. As the settlements around the Royal Manor become more concentrated around this time, there is also a discussion about a large scale social and political reorganisation in the landscape starting around 500 AD (Ljungkvist 2008b; Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:9). Each of the royal mounds is made of more than 10 000 cubic metres of varying materials and were placed next to each other in a strategic way to make a grand appearance. Some of them, including some of the artificial terraces, show signs in the stratigraphy that they have been enlarged at some point (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:10). Large amounts of stones from the ridge that the graves are placed on top of, were collected as well, which is apparent up until this day in the form of pits in the sides of the ridge. The collected material was used not only to build burial mounds and artificial terraces but also for constructions of roads, streets and stone revetments and foundations for houses (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018:100ff).
Following the Iron Age, the Medieval took off with further landscape changes. The building of the Romanesque church required enormous amounts of stone which was probably collected from the elevations nearby or already existing stone constructions. The ridge continued to be exploited for building material during the Medieval, especially from the 1800’s. This meant a radical change of the valley in which the Fyris river flows. The people of Gamla Uppsala manipulated the hydrological elements in the landscape as well, by using the ditching technique. Some of the first ditches might have been dug out already in the 700’s and are found between and/or on courtyards. The most extensive ditching processes occurred during the 1700’s. The ditching were made to drain cultivation fields and is one of the most important technical changes in the farming landscape in the Medieval. The iron ferruled shovel, which was introduced to eastern mid-Sweden in the 1200’s, is thought to be related to this type of technique (Myrdal 1999; Ljungkvist & Kjellberg 2018:124ff). This means that the ditching probably started long before the 1700’s.
2.2. Excavations in Mälardalen
The first large-scale excavations in Mälardalen, Uppland, took place during 1986–1991 in conjunction with the construction of road E18 between Enköping and Bålsta. Several settlements were uncovered in these archaeological investigations, but very few of them have been researched, individually and in relation to each other and other elements in the cultural landscape they have been a part of. Until the 1990s, researching settlements used to be more of a secondary priority, and grave fields were stealing all focus (Göthberg 2007: 11). After 1991, the interest in pre-historical houses increased and the number of researched houses has been rapidly growing. However, Göthberg points out that the research often orbits around the larger houses (i.e. at the Royal Manor), whereas the smaller houses are still treated with neglect. This is an issue he is trying to amend in his dissertation, where smaller buildings are also included and further defined (Göthberg 2007:154f). As the number of excavated settlements have increased, the knowledge about functions of houses naturally extended. This led the way for further research of the settlements with socio-economic approaches (Göthberg 2007:12). In conjunction with the construction of road E4, between Uppsala and Mehedeby, further archaeological excavations begun in 1990. The rescue archaeological project was an extensive collaborative survey by The Swedish National Heritage Board(Riksantikvarieämbetet (RAÄ)), Societas Archaeologicas Upsaliensis (SAU) and Upplandsmuseet. Interesting archaeological records from excavations in the decades before showed that it could be worth to focus on settlements and buildings, which resulted in findings of settlement remains from the Stone Age to the Medieval. The final investigations of this project took place between 2000–2006 (Göthberg 2007:11). As a result of these excavations we now have a better understanding of the socio-economic structures and patterns in Gamla Uppsala.
Gamla Uppsala itself has been excavated several times, starting 1994–1998 when Matsgården was excavated, resulting in the identification of six pit-houses. The Royal Manor (Kungsgården) was excavated in 2010–2011 and the OKB-project is the name of the most extensive excavations in Gamla Uppsala, lasting from 2012–2017 (Göthberg et al 2017). Most of the material analysed in this thesis come from these excavations. The OKB-excavations were conducted because of Trafikverket’s decision to extend the already existing railway through Gamla Uppsala, called Ostkustbanan (short OKB), Swedish for the east-coast railway. The extensive survey was a collaboration between the companies Arkeologerna, Upplandsmuseet and SAU (Bergman et al 2017:120). The intention with the archaeobotanical analyses during the excavations was to find out more about the landscape transformation over time regarding
land use such as plant cultivation and animal husbandry. The results of the OKB-project are compared to average settlements and other expanding settlements similar to Gamla Uppsala in Scandinavia, in the timespan from Roman Iron Age to the 1500’s AD. The major part of the analysed material in this thesis come from these excavations. During the excavations a total of 46 pit-houses of varying size and design (Lindkvist 2017), which will be further discussed in this thesis. As these house categories have not been well explored previously to the same extent as longhouses, these contexts were prioritised during the OKB excavations. From an archaeobotanical perspective these pit-houses were of high interest as some of them contained large amounts of cereal grains (Lindkvist 2017). These deposits will be discussed below in more detail. Osteological and archaeobotanical remains from a continuous human activity over a long time enables analyses and therefore an understanding of the change in local/regional land-use from Early Iron Age to the Late Medieval (Bergman et al 2017:120f). Of relevance here is the nearby settlement Bredåker, which as Kungsgården has contexts with rich grain-depositions concentrated in pits. It has been suggested that the assemblages of grains could have been found in storages, rest products of rituals or roasting (Ranheden 2007; Bergman et al 2017:138). Although barley is generally dominant in Mälardalen (Eriksson 1997; Ranheden 2007; Bergman et al 2017:140) – and the rest of Scandinavia during the Iron Age – (Welinder 1998; Pedersen & Widgren 1998, 2012; Bergman et al 2017:140) the proportions of wheat discovered in eastern Gamla Uppsala are higher than other regions nearby. Interestingly, wheat has been suggested to be an indication of urbanisation and wealth during the Iron Age (von Hofsten 1957:53; Hansson 1997; Bergström 2007; Grabowski 2011:491; Bergman et al 2017:140).
2.3. Gamla Uppsala: a centre of attention
Gamla Uppsala is well known as a place of pre-historical and cultural significance in Sweden. It was already in the Viking Age perceived as a mythical place according to Norse tales from this period (Gräslund 1993; Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015). The physical landscape where Gamla Uppsala is situated started to rise above the sea level in the Late Stone Age, however, there are traces from human activity from the Bronze Age (Frölund et al 2017:8). Fertile plains were gradually exposed from the sea and acted as a cradle for a growing population, and for the changes that would eventually create what is now called a central place. A central place denotes
Figure 1. Map over the excavated pit-houses at different sites in Gamla Uppsala (Lindkvist 2017:110), until 2014. Norra and Östra gärdet are not included in the analysis of this thesis.
an area with many functions such as politics, religion, military, specialised production and trading (Näsman 1998; Jørgensen 2002; Söderberg 2005; cf. Göthberg et al 2017:360). The human activity expands and intensifies especially during the Early Iron Age. In the middle of the first millennium AD (circa 1500 years ago), the sea level was about eight metres. Lake Mälaren was much larger and connected to the sea at this time, and a long time forward. As the river mouth of the Fyris river is not far from Gamla Uppsala, the locals had easy access to the Baltic Sea, i.e. a world-wide contact network. The river mouth of the Fyris river (which is located about one hour of walking from Gamla Uppsala) used to be the final destination for large ships that were sailing the Baltic Sea. The ships were too large to travel any further, however, boats with a dimension of 13 metres seem to have been “small” enough to travel deeper into the land, according to archaeological records from both Valsgärde and Gamla Uppsala. Findings from the Viking Age, such as Arabic coins and Asian pearls, support the assumption that Gamla Uppsala had a well-established trading network, stretching overseas far beyond Sweden (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018: 98f). The Fyris river that is running right through Gamla Uppsala was, naturally, broader during the Iron Age as well. A delta of seven valleys which branches into – except routes to Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea – travelling routes, were connected to Gästrikland, Västmanland and Dalarna. The physical landscape of Gamla Uppsala would, in other words, have been very beneficial for a growing population (Ekblom & Ljungkvist 2018: 98f).
Kungsgården is thought to have been the very centre of Gamla Uppsala at some point or period. This place consists of several different farms and features that together make a complex, placed on top of a ridge. Three of these features are artificial terraces built that served as a monumental house foundation, which all have been partly excavated. All of them are thought to have been constructed around the time of 500 AD, when major changes in the political landscape was happening (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:9f; Göthberg et al 2017:363). There is a fourth terrace recently discovered that is dated to the Migration Period (circa 400-450 AD) (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:9f). There is also a construction looking like a wall or a road with terraces, which seem to be built around the centre to some extent (Beronius et al 2011; Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:10). It is located north of the manor. Behind the wall we have the Southern and Northern terraces. The Southern terrace is placed on the highest ground in the area and the hall-building was built on top, whereas the Northern terrace is placed much lower and presumably held the ground for workshops. One of the workshop buildings dated to 500-600 AD show signs of bead production, smith- and antler-work. A total of 500-600 garnets were found as well and interpreted as waste from production. Furthermore, the large royal mounds
are placed in the south of the manor and the Thing mound [Tingshögen] in the east (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:11; Ljungkvist, Frölund & Sarén-Lundahl 2015). All of these constructions were not built at the same time; however, they were all built within a relatively short time-span (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015). The population of Gamla Uppsala shows a pattern of an emerging gap in the Late Iron Age in terms of socio-economy (Frölund et al 2017:10). The kind of monumentalising the people of Kungsgården made, created a physical difference within the population which was a way of manifesting power. These types of relics have been the focal point in research, however, there were of course other types of settlements surrounding this great gathering of monuments. Twelve areas that are interpreted as more average settlements have been discovered in the OKB-project and dated to the Late Iron Age (Göthberg et al 2017:350f).
The people at Kungsgården is thought to have had certain relations with some of the farms in the area surrounding the complex, before the Medieval came with new boundary systems that fragmented the entire settlement (Frölund et al 2017:8). Helgesson (2003:327) suggested that instead of prestige objects, land became the new “currency” as the Iron Age came to its end
Figure 3. (Gamla) Uppsala is situated in the middle of the red
circle. Data from SL & SGU. Map produced by the author,
Figure 2. (Gamla) Uppsala is situated in the middle of the red
circle. Data from SLU & SGU. Map produced by the author.
Figure 3. (Gamla) Uppsala is situated in the middle of the red
circle. Data from SLU & SGU. Map produced by the author.
Figure 2. (Gamla) Uppsala is situated in the middle of the
red circle. Data from SLU & SGU. Map produced by the
author, 2020. .
2.3.1. Berget and Bredåker
Two sites in the vicinity of Gamla Uppsala that are important to consider are Berget and Bredåker, because the two sites could potentially have had important roles for the development of the centre that was emerging during the Iron Age. The settlement is found circa 400 metres southwest of the historical known farm and a stone’s throw from Gamla Uppsala. The landscape used to be made up by arable fields of glacial and postglacial clay with woodlands and moraine in the eastern part, with Samnan and the Fyris-river flowing right through (Frölund 2019:91). Bredåker is one of the more thoroughly studied areas in Gamla Uppsala. Frölund (2019) has in his dissertation Bosättningar och jordbruk i Gamla Uppsala treated issues related to settlements and agriculture within a limited period during the Iron Age, focusing on Berget and Bredåker. According to Frölund’s research, both settlements were active throughout 200 BC–600 AD, but with fluctuating supporting systems. The settlements were expanding in Bredåker during 200 BC up until 200 AD, when it started to wane for circa 200 years. The expansion in Berget took place around 200 BC-400 AD. However, in the 400–600s AD, the settlement in Bredåker started to expand again, whereas Berget’s population and settlement extent rapidly decreased. The retention and cultivation follow the same patterns at both settlement-areas, according to the osteological and botanical record. Wheat (Triticum spp.), barley (Hordeum spp.) and oat (Avena sativa) were cultivated in both Bredåker and Berget, with a clear dominance of barley in Bredåker. During the periods when the settlements were at their largest, all three of the different cereal species were grown simultaneously (Frölund 2019:133). Berget and Bredåker seem to have had similar prerequisites in terms of economy, but it is found that the people of Bredåker were keeping a broader variety of species of both live-stock and cereals throughout the entire active period of the settlements. Frölund therefore suggests that the dynamic supporting systems of Berget and Bredåker depended on social rather than economic resources (Frölund 2019:136). Furthermore, Frölund argues that Berget was managing excess production (meat and tar) whereas Bredåker focused on cereal production (mostly barley) throughout the entire active time. Several researchers have suggestions as to why excess production would be necessary. Two motivations could have been trade and to provide an elite with produce that would have been redistributed at feasts held wherever the elite had their centre, which was a way of reinforcing social status and power (deFrance 2009:124; Groot & Lentjes 2013:11f; Frölund 2019:137). As Berget show strong signs of specialisation and production, Frölund suggests a relation with the central place, i.e. Gamla Uppsala. In the light of Myhre’s (1978) redistribution system and Jørgensen’s (1996, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2011) tributary system,
Frölund argues that Berget most likely had been a part of a tributary system for a long time. As for Bredåker, prestige items were found at the settlement for the first time in about 1000 years, somewhere between 450–600 AD, which are most likely not produced locally. This might be a potential sign of Bredåker forming a relation to Gamla Uppsala, like the one Berget already had established (Frölund 2019:139ff). These localities would have been good as a reference point here in terms of grain-size; however, I have not been able to measure any material from either Berget or Bredåker.
2.4. Iron Age settlements and farming landscapes
As mentioned before, the Iron Age is associated with great changes in both cultural and ecological aspects of the landscape in Mälardalen. Studying not only the settlement patterns, but also the dynamic agriculture during the Iron Age is therefore fundamental if we are to try and understand the role of Gamla Uppsala during this time and forward. Since I will discuss the results from particular contexts, primarily pit-houses, but also longhouses, it is important to introduce briefly the settlement and building patterns during the Iron Age as well.
2.4.1. Settlement patterns
During the Early Iron Age, the differences from one farm to another varied greatly. A common structure at average Iron Age farms was a large wooden house with three sections, usually there was also another parallel house, a smaller three-section house, and sometimes there was an additional post-house in a bit further away on the farm. In front of the houses there would be a courtyard with hearths in the outskirt, a well and a tumulus field about 500 meters from the houses (Göthberg 2007:155f). The three-section houses were at least 15 meters long and the most fundamental houses on a property around 200 AD. The houses were held up by posts and divided in at least three sections, as suggested by the name. With the help of macrofossil remains such as weeds, it is possible to figure out the function of each section. The general idea is that bigger proportions of weed seeds in the archaeobotanical material indicate the presence of live-stock, as weeds would have been used as fodder. With that in consideration, it seems that the longhouses used to be a home for not only people, but also their live-stock. The third section might have been used as space for storage. However, it is unclear whether people shared living space with cattle in Mälardalen or not, since the remains of weeds are relatively absent compared to Iron Age buildings in northern Sweden. The postholes are sometimes found
irregularly placed, which could mean that the buildings had more than three rooms and therefore have been even more multifunctional than assumed. Larger properties seem to have had more buildings – possibly to avoid sharing space with animals (Frölund 2019:140).
In the 600–800s AD, the trend was several shorter houses, possibly to organise and let each house have its own function. The longhouses were no longer the head buildings of the farms but were used as feast locals at larger courtyards instead. Storby Backe is one of the settlements that had more and larger houses than some of the other farms. The buildings from Late Iron Age are significantly smaller than those from the Early Iron Age. Houses in Gamla Uppsala during the Viking Age, however, were many in numbers, but much smaller than at farms in the surrounding area. Even though the Viking Age settlements in Gamla Uppsala might have kept some features from an earlier era (Frölund 2019:140), the farms seem to have been smaller in area and more concentrated during this time (Ljungkvist & Frölund 2015:9). The farmyards of both GUSK and Veterinärvillan were however larger than the ones at Storgården. The Viking Age did not only come with new building-structures, but it seems that the farms had separate functions and purposes. It is suggested that smaller so-called economy-buildings (which will be discussed in the following section) on a farm would have been a new way of claiming a property without having to be present, as a consequence of the changing ideological ideas during the 400-600s (Herschend 2015; Frölund 2019:140). This might have been the case in Berget (see 2.3.1.), where the owner of the settlement seems to have left but the farm continued producing. However, Frölund suggests that it also could mean that the farm was changing area of specialisation (2019:140).
2.4.2. Pit-houses: functions and definitions
Pit-houses are frequently found at Iron Age settlements in Sweden. These buildings seem to have begun appearing on farms during the transition from Roman Iron Age (0–400 AD) to the Migration Period (circa 400–550 AD). The number of pit-houses peaked during the Viking Age (circa 700–1100 AD) and thereafter decreased rapidly. There are now about 100+ defined pit-houses in Mälardalen area, but the established definitions of pit-pit-houses are based on those from Skåne and a few other European countries, as the pit-houses in Mälardalen are lacking analogy. The function(s) of pit-houses in general is still debated (Göthberg 2007; Milek 2012: 85; Lindkvist et al 2017). Some researchers argue that the pit-houses have served as seasonal residences given that there has been a hearth in the building. Others suggest that they were used as food storages, drying houses or smokeries – as drying houses where low-temperature kilns
were used for drying the cereal grains (which was also part of the brewing process for mead) (Larsson et al 2019). Either way, pit-houses are generally interpreted as buildings of financial significance (Göthberg 2007:158). Furthermore, there are suggestions that pit-houses might have been workshops belonging to farms that are connected to trade and royal power (Norr 1997:16; Ljungkvist 2000: 82). For instance, a pit-house area was found in Själland, situated right next to a large farm with a hall-building (Christensen 1991; Ljungkvist 2000). However, Ljungkvist (2000) argues that many pit-houses are found in areas that are not associated with any type of elite, so a more accurate interpretation would be that pit-houses might have been workshops belonging to farms in general – not necessarily large farms.
Another parallel to the interpretation of pit-houses in Sweden is the Icelandic variation of the pit-house which is called jarðhús (earth house). The most common shape of these pit-houses is square or rectangular and are usually equipped with an oven or hearth of stone, placed in one of the corners (Milek 2012: 85). The pit-houses are dated to the 10th-11th century and were probably abandoned in the 12th century. Interpretations of these houses have been disputed, much like the definitions concerning pit-houses in general as discussed here. However, Milek suggests, based on her multimethod approach, that the pit-houses in Iceland were non-temporary and of social and economic significance, like the ones found on the mainland in Scandinavia based on material evidence. Milek further suggests that the pit-houses in Iceland were used for textile production, considering frequent textile findings and artefacts such as stones that are thought to have been used for heating liquids1 used in textile production. Remains from textile crafts and tools are found in many of the pit-houses in Skåne in southern Sweden as well, which indicates that those buildings might have been textile workshops (Andersson 1996, 1999, 2000; Lindkvist et al 2017). Sometimes material or artefacts of foreign influence appear in pit-houses, why it has been suggested that foreign specialists have been hired to work in the pit-houses (Lindqvist 2017:06). Sewing tools have been found in 20 of the pit-houses in the OKB-project, but most of the textile-related artefacts are found in other contexts than pit-houses, at Groaplan and Storgården for instance. At Veterinärvillan however, most of the textile-artefacts are found in the pit-houses. A large amount of the textile-findings is found at GUSK as well. Although Groaplan and Storgården seem to have been populated more intensively and during a longer time than Veterinärvillan and GUSK, the two latter sites seem to have been producing more textile than the other sites (Lindkvist et al 2017:118f).
1Although the pit-houses may have been buildings of economic significance, they might have had a symbolic
value too.Milek is, in her article about gender-roles of Icelandic pit-houses, discussing how recent research is pointing to practices within textile management, being connected to “women-magic” (Milek 2012).
The pit-houses in Gamla Uppsala, from the OKB-project, are found in many different designs and constructions (Lindkvist et al 2017). The sizes of the houses vary between 3,2–21,4 square metres. Thirty-four of the houses were placed within 4–8,2 metres from each other and most of them have a rectangular or square shape, except from a few rounded ones. Many of the roofs were interpreted as saddle-roofs and some of them have had two or more posts holding it up. The roof has probably been resting directly on the ground in many of the cases, except house 1126, which seems to have had a plank wall supporting the roof. There are also some houses that have been supported by posts placed outside the construction under the ground, or with posts placed in three of the corners. Most of the houses do not have any walls left but circa a third of them had wattle walls. Some walls have been insulated with material such as peat or clay. Some floor-layers were covering the foundation constructions of the houses, but in some cases, there was nothing left, which could mean that the floors were made of wood and built directly on the foundations. Nine of the pit-houses included in the OKB-project were equipped with hearths and/or ovens, which were also of different designs. House 1126 is interpreted as a metal-workshop, with two stone furnaces. Some of the hearths are not interpreted yet and some of them are interpreted as cooking hearths. In some of the houses, stone blocks were found in the corners, interpreted as door-steps. In four of the houses, benches made of soil were found, whereas one of them are thought to be a bed or bench (house 4075), and one as a working bench (house 1126) (Lindkvist et al 2017:106ff). There is also one house (A227) with benches made of clay at Matsgården (Ljungkvist et al 2000). In Gamla Uppsala many of the pit-houses seem to have been actively closed in some way (Ekblom and Bergman 2018; Bergman et al 2017). Closing of the pit-houses sometimes included filling them up with soil and/or burning them down, which is assumed to be a kind of pagan ritual (Milek 2012: 122f). Remains from these types of rituals are also found at other sites than Gamla Uppsala in Mälardalen (Lindkvist et al 2017).
2.4.3. Agricultural change and land use
During 200–600 AD the Swedish agriculture consisted of cultivation and live-stock farming. At least half of the human population’s diet consisted of crops (Welinder 1998:270). Agriculture was developing regionally all over the country depending on the varying soil quality which was crucial for crop farming and settling (Welinder 1998:273, 276f). During 300– 400 AD, a protecting system [hägnadssystem] was prevailing in Uppland. The purpose of the enclosure system was to keep live-stock from the crops by building fences around the
cultivation areas (Welinder 1998:276). The farming landscape in Sweden was changing locally during the transition from Early to Late Iron Age and the manifestations of power started to become more prominent and obvious (restructured settlements, prestige items in graves, monumental graves and other constructions etc.). Welinder further argues that archaeological records from around 500 AD indicate that Öland, Gotland, Östergötland, North Hälsingland/Medelpad and Uppland developed into smaller central places. Power would be expressed through control over people and production, rather than large land estates. To maintain the status, a special trading-system between these separate regions was established. (Welinder 1998:312). By the time of the Late Iron Age (500–1050 AD), features such as tumulus fields were emerging and placed in distinct correlations to the farms and villages that were expanding. This would be the new way of expressing ownership of land and the previous farming boundary system was no longer needed (Welinder 1998:328ff).
Increasing cultivation and gradual deforestation led the way for an open landscape in Gamla Uppsala and Uppåkra during the Roman Iron Age. Osteological material from the vicinities of Gamla Uppsala show a lower proportion of pigs than other animals, whereas the pigs seem to have dominated the livestock farming in Gamla Uppsala. Pigs can eat waste from processing cereals, so Bergman et al suggest that pigs would have been more frequent on farms that focus mainly on cultivation (Granstedt et al 1998:133; Bergman et al 2017:149). Both the number of pigs and cultivation were increasing during 400–650 AD, which Bergman et al suggest could be a consequence of increasing focus on local cultivation (Bergman et al 2018:149). There are increasing remains from cattle and horses and a decreasing proportion of weed seeds among cereal grains in eastern Gamla Uppsala during 400–900 AD. In the same period, western Gamla Uppsala seem to have been focusing on cultivation, as pollen samples from Myrby swamp contain both barley and wheat. Grazing animals like horses require large areas because of the damage they inflict on the ground. This could mean that there was no space for cultivation in the east, so the locals might have imported grain from the western Gamla Uppsala. The overall cultivation patterns in Mälardalen seem stable until the Medieval, as mostly barley and wheat was cultivated in a two-field system (Bergman et al 2017:149ff).
The readjustment to animal husbandry, that was most likely taking place during the Migration Age, is traceable thanks to the increasing concentration of pollen culture visible in the pollen analyses from Myrby marshlands around Uppsala. Even though an accurate chronology is not possible to determine, it seems that an increasing monumentalising in Gamla Uppsala was taking place during early Vendel, which is later than the animal husbandry
transformation. There is a possibility that the increasing crop cultivation was one of the direct factors that acted as a basis for the expansion of the population of Gamla Uppsala and its status development. However, it is also possible that Gamla Uppsala was restructured during the Migration Age, which could have been caused by the urbanisation of the smaller communities from the outskirts. As said, an exact chronology is not possible to calculate due to the lack of
14C-dating at the moment, but changes in land use and settlement-rearrangements, for instance,
seem to be related in some respects. When it comes to the transition from cultivation to animal husbandry, factors such as increasing population, dropping groundwater levels, competition, social networks, climate changes, and a growing stratified society, could be some of the underlying causes (Göthberg & Sundkvist 2017).
2.5. Plant-based economy
2.5.1. Cultivating and using cereals
Cereal cultivation in southern Scandinavia has, as far as we know, been practiced since the early Neolithic (about 3900 B.C.) (Welinder 1998). Most of the cultivated plants used to be emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), einkorn (Triticum monococcum), naked barley (Hordeum vulgare
nudum) and in the later Neolithic (circa 2200 B.C.), spelt (Triticum spelta) was introduced
(Grabowski 2011:480f). A new type of agriculture emerged in southern Sweden the second half of the Bronze Age (Welinder 1998:61), where fields were permanently used, and the crops were grown with the help of intensive use of manure (Engelmark 1992, 1993; Gustafsson 1995; Grabowski 2011:481). This seems to have resulted in a reduction of the number of crop species and instead favoured nitrophilous weeds, goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) for instance. This transition seems to have been completed by the time of Pre-Roman Iron Age (circa 400 B.C.– 1 AD). Hulled barley became the main crop, which may be explained by the plant’s ability to resist cold. However, Grabowski (2011) suggests based on recent research, that hulled barley could have become the staple crop because of its positive response to manure. Hulled barley and its by-products can also be used as food for live-stock and stays relatively intact after harvesting (Grabowski 2011:480f).
Flax and rye have been discovered in archaeobotanical records, from Pre-Roman Iron Age, respectively Roman Iron Age (circa 1–400 AD). Grabowski argues that neither of these crops are suitable for the kind of agriculture system that was occurring, since flax is sensitive to competition from weeds and rye cannot handle the amount of nutrition that the manure would
give. However, referring to Engelmark (1992), Grabowski suggests that the Iron Age farmers could have sowed flax on fresh fields free from weeds, and rye was sowed lastly, on fields that had almost no nutrition left after the harvest of the season. Hulled barley stayed fundamental in the later Iron Age however, even when rye and oat (Avena sativa) also started to become more important. The rye seems to have gained importance in Skåne, where larger depositions have been found in relation to winter weeds (Grabowski 2011: 481). Engelmark suggests that it indicates another type of cultivation system, that is more significant for the Medieval Age in Scandinavia. According to Grabowski’s research, the type of agriculture that was practiced in southern Sweden over time (Skåne, Halland, etc.), was most likely a local adaption to the occurring ecology and other circumstances (Grabowski 2011:491).
Cereals are found as whole grains but also in modified forms such as porridge and bread from Late Iron Age. Grains have been used to make bread of many different shapes and forms and with varying ingredients depending on region and culture. Bread has been a basic part of peoples’ diet over a long period of time (Brothwell 1969:95; Hansson 1995:38; Schierman 2005/2006:4); however, the oldest archaeological remains of carbonized bread in Scandinavia are dated to Roman Iron Age. The largest concentration of burnt bread-finds from other contexts than graves in Sweden are found in Helgö (context hgr 2: IV). These bread-finds are dated to Late Roman Iron Age. Most likely, this is where and when baking bread started to become a part of the culture in the region of Mälardalen (Bergström 2007:69). Most of the pre-historic bread finds in Sweden are encountered in Birka, Uppsala. Barley seems to be a very frequent main ingredient, though bread made of wheat, oat and peas are occurring as well (Hjelmqvist 1984:271; Viklund 1998:144f; Schierman 2005/2006:5).
Burial customs of cremation graves in Mälardalen appear to change during the transition from Early to Late Iron Age. The number of personal belongings and animal bones in graves increase, along with gifts such as bread. This is a practice that is thought to have begun in Helgö during the Late Migration Age. Bread in graves is during the Vendel Period increasing in number and area of dispersion. Bread with influences from Mälardalen is found even in a few graves in Åland, Russia and Balticum during this time. Finally, during the Viking Age, grave bread was concentrated to Birka (Bergström 2007:70). It is thought that bread was given to the deceased as a grave gift or sacrifice (Näsström 2002:178; Schierman 2005/2006:6). Another interpretation is that bread was given to the deceased as food for the journey to the afterlife, or that it was a way of showing reverence to deceased people of higher social status (Hansson 1997:27; Schierman 2005/2006:6). Rituals connected to sacrificing bread to the dead are suggested to be a symbolic action representing fertility and rebirth (Viklund 1997:123; Hansson
& Bergström 2002:54; Schierman 2005/2006:6). The interpretation varies depending on the bread’s ingredients, shape and other symbolic items in the grave, but also where in the grave the bread is placed. Flour was a valuable resource, so it is suggested that bread was most likely deposited in graves for wealthier people of the contemporary society. Bread is more frequent in graves of women than those of men (Hansson 1996b:66; Hansson 1996c:9; Hansson 1997:58; Schierman 2005/2006:6f). Bread finds are less frequent in settlement contexts as bread easily degrade unless it is burnt, so the bread is usually interpreted as a baking failure (burnt) or that the house burned down (Gräslund 1967:258; Schierman 2005/2006: 7).
Bread found in Vendel, Uppland, are found except in cremation graves, in a hearth and a waste pit. Bread was also found in 48 cremation graves in Birka. Amorphous material that can possibly be burnt bread is found in two cremation graves in Gamla Uppsala. In one of the cases (grave 6017) the six bread-like fragments are found along with a few cereals, one flax seed and a relatively large amount of seeds from goose foot (Chenopodium). The assemblage of the goose foot in this grave is interpreted as an active deposition, considering the amount, the other finds and the fact that goose foot have long been used as an ingredient in bread and porridge-like meals (Ekblom & Bergman 2017:12). In grave 6027, nine fragments of potential bread are found and are also interpreted as actively deposited (Ekblom & Bergman 2017:14).
2.5.2. Crop cleaning
To be able to understand the material and the results of the survey, it is necessary to understand how the material has been handled, from harvesting to contamination. The harvesting of grain in the pre-industrial agriculture included threshing, raking, winnowing, pouring, flinging, sieving and hand-picking. The handling of the grain may have affected the size, fragmentation and the amounts of weeds that come with the final harvest. Cereals were probably separated from by-products and sorted in assemblages based on size and depending on purpose. Understanding these steps also makes it possible to identify in which stadium of the process the grains were deposited. That knowledge can help with further interpretation about whether the grain was locally produced, or if it was found in a consumer’s household, for instance. If the grains are found in a household, weeds should be relatively absent, as the harvest gets sorted before it is distributed. The producer, on the other hand, handles the sorting and crop cleaning. Therefore, it is more likely that all the by-products such as chaffs and weeds are found among the cereal grains (Larsson 2015:3f).
When it comes to interpreting grain assemblages, there are several different theories to consider. Larsson brings a few of these to a short discussion, although some of them are rather
old (2015:4). Jones (1985) is suggesting that grain assemblages at a producer-site would be rich, since grains would be abundant and could be wasted with less severe consequences. At non-production sites, grains should then be found in low quantities, with a larger number of weeds and other by-products. However, Campbell (2000) argues that the absence of weeds and chaff in large grain assemblages could indicate that the by-products were sorted out and used as fodder for livestock. This was also how the material in Gamla Uppsala was interpreted, having only a small amount of weed seeds in comparison to other sites (Bergman et al 2017). Stevens (2003) proposes that the variation between grain assemblages could be depending on which stage of the cleaning process the grains were stored, and whether the grains were kept in communal or private storages. However, chaff is rarely found in any larger proportions at any Swedish archaeological site as discussed by Larsson (2015). Larsson means that we must keep the taphonomical issues in mind, when interpreting archaeobotanical assemblages. The preservation of seeds and chaff differs from grains, especially counting with carbonisation, which means that the proportions of grains, weed seeds and chaff should not be the only reliable source when interpreting post-harvest processing (Larsson 2015:4).
As far as known, cultivation of garden plants has been a common activity since the Stone Age and seems to have been a widespread practice during the Viking Age. As operating of field crops has been the focus in Scandinavian research, garden activities and horticulture history have been generally overlooked and not included in the agrarian history (Rodhe et al 2012), despite the undeniable civilisation symbol horticulture is (Heimdahl 2010:265).
Horticulture is cultivation of plants within a defined space, popularly called a garden. Hedgerows, stonewalls, roads, terraces, buildings, banks and wooden fences are examples of elements that can identify a garden at an archaeological site, as they may have been used as delimitation in order to protect and claim the small-scale cultivation. The definition of a garden can be different depending on culture, however, several species in smaller numbers are cultivated in a garden and some of them needs a more intensive and customized care than a large-scale cultivation of a single crop – cereals for instance. Vegetables, spices, herbs, medicinal plants and fruits are usually considered to be garden plants. Although oil and fibre plants usually grow on fields, there are evidence of cultivation of flax and gold of pleasure in the Early Iron Age in Skåne. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all these garden plants have necessarily been cultivated. Some plants were gathered from their natural habitat. Furthermore, Rodhe et al (2012) mentions early written sources that tells us about how gardens
with sweet gale, naturally growing in heathlands or bogs, might have served as a manifestation of claiming wild-growing plants that were not necessarily growing close to the settlement area (Rodhe et al 2012: 27f).
The horticulture prevailing in Sweden and the rest of Europe during the Iron Age, seems to be rooted in the Roman and Pre-Roman traditions and was a common part of agrarian societies. For a long time, horticulture was thought to have been heavily influenced, or even introduced by monks in conjunction with the Medieval. Heimdahl (2010) suggests that the overrepresented urban archaeobotanical material from the Medieval could be one reason for this interpretation. However, contract archaeology from the last decennium has uncovered new material such as fossils and stratigraphic remains that show indications of much older roots in the Nordic European civilisation than previously anticipated, connected to the roman occupation. Rather than the monasteries, Lindeblad (2006) and Tollin (2005) suggest that the horticultural trends and dispersion of new garden crops were stimulated by the city centres, due to the excess of manure production. However, gardening was not exclusive for the centres, but was practiced in the country sides as well (Heimdahl 2010: 265ff).
Some of the earliest finds in Sweden are peas and beans from the Early Neolithic and one opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed from Late Neolithic. Henbane seems to have been spread during the Pre-Roman Iron Age. In what extension the crops were cultivated cannot be known unless actual garden constructions can be found. Common crops in the Scandinavian horticulture used to be opium poppy, bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), henbane
(Hyoscyamus niger) and hop (Humulus lupulus). In the Late Iron Age kale (Brassica sp.) and mustard (Sinapis sp.) became more widespread.
The plant material from almost any archaeological excavation in Sweden consists of mainly cereals. However, one single seed of mallow (Malva neglecta) was found in a well during the OKB-excavations (context 5207), which is also one of the earliest finds of mallow in Sweden, with a dating to 640–770 AD. Mallow was used as a medicinal plant all over Europe. Although there is only one seed, it could be an indication that mallow was grown and used by Nordic pre-monastic medics in Gamla Uppsala during the Iron Age. Pollen from kale (Brassica spp.) are found in eleven cases, which indicate operating of kale gardens. However, there are no other signs of garden activities, which can be found in contemporary central societies in Scandinavia (Ekblom & Bergman 2017:32ff).
Uppåkra: a proto town
Uppåkra is known as a place of political, religious and administrative significance with a strong local-based economy and a well-established craftmanship, much like Gamla Uppsala (Larsson 2015:21f). The site of Uppåkra is located in the south of Sweden, about six kilometres south of Lund (see Fig. 4 and 5). During the Iron Age, the settlement of Uppåkra was situated seven kilometres from the coast on an elevation of the plain, covering about 40 hectares. As far as known, it is the largest Iron Age settlement site in the south of Sweden. The settlement is placed strategically considering the easy access to the Sege river via the Öresund Strait in the south direction and a travelling route on land between Trelleborg and Helsingborg in the north-south (Larsson 2015:21).
Figure 4. Map of Uppåkra’s position in Sweden. Data from
SLU and Lantmäteriet. Map produced by the author in 2020.
Figure 5. Zoomed. Uppåkra is located within the red circle.
Data from SLU and Lantmäteriet. Map produced by the
3.1. Excavations and archaeological background
The very first archaeological finds in Uppåkra was discovered due to the construction of a farmhouse in 1934. Sooty organic layers identified as floor-layers were uncovered, containing pottery, daub, metal objects, rich amounts of charred cereal-grains and bone. The construction of a mortuary building (Bårhuset) in 1968 about 100 metres from the farmhouse construction revealed further similar archaeological remains. Both areas are dated to the Migration Period (circa 400 AD), which is around the time when luxury-items start appearing in the archaeological record (Helgesson 2002:45 pp; Helgesson 2003:324; Hårdh 2003). Small-scale archaeological excavations started in 1996 as a part of a research programme, and with the help of metal-detecting, finds from 100 B.C. to Late Viking Period (circa 1000 AD) were uncovered (Larsson 2015:20).
In 2000, archaeological investigations begun as part of research projects but also field school programmes held by the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University. The excavations were focused on the central part of the site, which resulted in discovering several structures such as hall-buildings and houses connected to ceremonial practices, as well as burial mounds and workshop-areas. Investigations concerning the landscape of the site started in 2010 (Larsson 2015:21).
The extensive finds from archaeological excavations suggest an occupational history stretching over about a millennium (circa 100 BC-1000 AD). The finds represent a wealthy settlement with connections to far reaching origins which makes Uppåkra distinct from other Iron Age settlements in Skåne. The locals of Uppåkra seem to have been specialised in productions of bone and antler work, metallurgy, ceramics and textile. The amounts of by-products found give an indication of an abundant production intended not only for supplying the locals of the settlement, but also a well-established trading network. Long distance trade is suggested, especially considering finds of gold foil figures discovered in different locations in Denmark, (Zealand, Bornholm and Funen) identical to those thought to have been produced in Uppåkra (Helgesson 2003, Larsson 2015). Additionally, large amounts of weight scales, hacksilver, artworks made of bronze, silver and gold together with imported objects such as Roman coins, glasswork, board game pieces, Arabic silver coins and glass from south-eastern Europe attest to a socially stratified society with arms reaching across long distances (Larsson 2015:22). Around 600 AD however, the archaeological record is changing. The prestige items are decreasing, and it seems that more effort is put into domestic production, especially bronze fibulae. The same type of production is found at three other settlements not too far from
Uppåkra. Helgesson (2003) suggests that this might be an indication that all production-sites had the same craftsmen, and that they were supplied with bronze from the customers. He also presents a theory that Uppåkra was trying to establish a monopoly on both the material supply and the production, however, they might have not succeeded as three of these producers were not situated in Uppåkra itself – unless Uppåkra was controlling the production from distance. Furthermore, he connects this pattern to a possible transition to the management of estates that signifies the Viking Age and Early Medieval (Randsborg 1980:25 pp. and 126 pp; Harrison 1999:443; Helgesson 2003:327).
As mentioned before, Larsson (2015) carried out a metric analysis of barley-grains in Uppåkra as a part of his dissertation Agrarian plant economy at Uppåkra and the surrounding
area. The material consisted of whole hulled barley-grains sampled at Uppåkra and six other
settlements in the vicinities (in Fig. 6 we can see the areas in which these settlements are located). Archaeobotanical samples were collected in Uppåkra during archaeological excavations taking place in 2010–2013. One of the focal points during the excavations was a house-sequence in the middle of the site that showed a stratigraphy that spans over one millennium of activity (Larsson 2003). Four profiles of this sequence were sampled at first in order to study the handling of plants over time. Three other samples were collected from layers in three different houses (house 23, 24 and 22, referred to as the “hall-buildings”) included in the same sequence. Other sampled contexts are a house layer (context 9), a hearth area (context 14) and a stratigraphic profile at another house-sequence (context 11). All these are outside the central area but still in Uppåkra. The surrounding sites are interpreted as farm-based settlements of no particular status and were excavated during 2010-2013 as well. The samples from those sites were taken from mostly post-holes of longhouses, pits and hearth-areas. Larsson included four other samples in his analysis as well, which come from an oven (context 8) and house-layers from Bårhuset (context 10), Pit-house 1 (context 12) and House 11 (context 13) (Larsson, paper II, 2015:4ff). The archaeobotanical material from Uppåkra and the surrounding settlements is dominated by hulled barley with low proportions of emmer-wheat, bread-wheat, oat, rye, naked barley and broomcorn millet. Almost no weed seeds and/or by-products of cereal plants are found amongst the grain-populations at all sites (Larsson 2015:10)
3.2. Size-variation of barley-grains
To answer questions about the plant economy in Uppåkra and the surrounding areas during the Iron Age, Larsson (2015) measured barley-grains from the different sites and contexts. The results show that similar size-ranges appear in both Uppåkra and the settlements in the vicinities. A few contexts, however, in central Uppåkra, contained much larger grains than the others. The contexts with larger grains are the hall-buildings and house-contexts 10, 12 and 13.
Figure 6. Map over sampled sites included in Larsson’s Paper II. The Uppåkra regional
centre is located within the rectangle. The circles represent the sites in the surrounding area. Data from SLU and Lantmäteriet. Map produced by the author in 2020.