The Gothenburg Nasty

Most archaeologists work with rescue excavations for land development, “contract archaeology”. And because of the Field-Archaeological Paradox, operative in all Western countries with strong legal protection for archaeological sites, they get to dig a lot of really nondescript things. It’s not Tut-ankh-amen’s tomb every day, kids. This is one of the reasons that I do my best to stay out of contract archaeology.

One of the types of ancient monument that Swedish contract archaeologists get to dig quite a lot, but which is seen by many pretty much with heartfelt loathing, is colloquially known as the Gothenburg Nasty: Göteborgsäckel.

The Gothenburg Nasty was originally identified near the proud city of Gothenburg and is mainly known from Sweden’s short west coast along the southern third of the country. It is a grave type of sorts, to my knowledge dating mainly from the Early Iron Age (500 BC to AD 400). Structurally, it consists of a shallow cleft or basin in the bedrock, haphazardly filled with stones that sometimes spill out around the basin to form an untidy pavement. Among these stones, if you are very lucky, is scattered a handful of cremated bone looking a lot like muesli. In rare cases, there may even be a few corroded remnants of small unidentifiable iron objects. But the typical Gothenburg Nasty contains nothing anyone would want to bring home. The structure is clearly human-made, and that’s about all it tells us. It hasn’t even got the humble decency of a clearance cairn, that is equally boring to dig but which tells us something about the economy of its time.

Dear Reader, have a heart. When an aged loved one of yours expires, send a thought to future archaeologists. Bury your dead in style with ample grave furnishings. Don’t put Grandma in a Gothenburg Nasty!

[More blog entries about , , ; , , .]


  1. #1 J-Dog
    January 25, 2007

    What ever happened to the Funeral Pyre tradition? That is my goal at this time

  2. #2 MartinR
    January 25, 2007

    Pyres are grand, though they do tend to mess up the bones and furnishings rather badly. The question here is what to do with the remains afterwards.

  3. #3 Vix Hq
    January 25, 2007

    Oh, the Gothenburg Nasty (what a lovely translation, by the way)! That brings back fond memories of our first field trip when I studied archaeology in Gothenburg: Our teacher standing on a very slippery rock in the pouring rain, giving us a heartfelt lecture about the horrors of excavating the Gothenburg Nasty…

  4. #4 Martin R
    January 25, 2007

    Luckily I’ve been spared so far, but I gather you have to document layer after layer of small stones although you know perfectly well that there will be no reward at the bottom.

  5. #5 paddy
    January 26, 2007

    You should maybe start doing a little geocaching in those Gothenburg Nasties…that should liven things up a bit!

  6. #6 Martin R
    January 26, 2007

    Sometimes geocachers do hide caches in ancient monuments. Under a stone, in a hole in a wall, in a tree on the site. Then they publish coordinates for the cache with a 5 metre margin of error.

    Along come other geocachers, trying to find the cache. Their hand navigators also have a 5 metre margin of error. This means that they turn every stone within a 10 metre radius from the cache while they search, gradually forming a friggin’ cratre in the site.

    I always encourage people to hide caches near cool archaeological sites so people get to see them. But I advise them to use a 50 metre safety distance from anything breakable.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.