As an undergrad and PhD student in the 90s I heard a lot of rumours about the 1988-93 excavation of Gullhögen, a barrow in Husby-Långhundra parish between Stockholm and Uppsala. These rumours held that the barrow was pretty weird: built out of charcoal (!), unusually rich, and sitting on top of unusually rich Roman Period graves. Supposedly, someone was out here re-sieving spoil dumps to collect individual gold filigree grains.
Few really knew much about Gullhögen. In a 2001 Fornvännen paper, Kent Andersson could make only the briefest of mentions of some Roman glass and a gold ring found at the site. (More about Kent below.) But that’s changed now: a full 127-page report in Swedish (10 MB pdf file) is on-line! Gunilla Eriksson of the Archaeological Research Laboratory has edited it and it’s full to the brim of specialist reports.
As it turns out, the barrow (diameter 31 m, height 4.8 m) was actually mostly built out of turf, which is a common barrow material, with a central cairn. But under the barrow were three concentric ring ditches filled with charcoal that had apparently been charred in situ, and there was also a charcoal layer on part of the central cairn. Must have been quite a spectacle when it burned!
The barrow (in itself a huge labour investment) was erected in the Viking Period (c. AD 900) like the Sjögestad barrow I took part in dating a few months ago. Its date is given by a damascened sword with a silver-sheeted, brass-encrusted type H hilt stuck into the top of the central cairn. The burial deposit was all cremation and not very rich: three ugly local pots, a young woman with a whetstone, and a man with a horse, a dog, some beef and mutton and unburnt poultry.
Appropriating the apex of the cemetery hill, the Viking Period folks at Vackerberga farm built the barrow on top of two small cremation graves of the Early Iron Age. One turns out to be among the richest Late Roman burials known from Uppland, dating from phase C2 in the late 3rd century. Its furnishings were fragmented: a chopped-off piece of a golden snakehead ring, Sweden’s first circus glass beaker, one or two Schlangenfäden glass beakers, a ruined silver object, a bone comb, an amber bead, at least two glass beads, a knife with a bronze-trimmed handle, phalanges from a bear skin and potsherds. No bone-sex data.
The oldest burial under the barrow dates from the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age, probably the 1st century BC. It harboured an adult individual with two iron spiral-head pins, a bone toggle (?), a resin-caulked bark box and and some mutton. A fourth burial down the slope from the barrow has a similar date and gave two lance heads, a bridle bit, and some pottery.
Nice dig, good report, I’m glad it’s on-line now.
In other news, my buddy Iron Age scholar Kent Andersson of the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm has announced that he will replace Neolithic scholar Jan Apel as head of the SAU contract archaeology unit in late 2007. As for Jan, he only mumbles mysteriously about believing that “something will probably chrystallise”. I wish him the best of luck and I hope (vainly) that he doesn’t chrystallise into any job I’ll apply for!