i-1b01f4bebce5911952ec7a7010a166cf-svennilsson.jpgA very early classic of Swedish archaeology is the zoologist Sven Nilsson‘s 1838-1843 book Skandinaviska nordens urinvånare. The work is a seminal exercise in ethnoarchaeology, where Nilsson used contemporary ethographic accounts of lo-tech societies to interpret Stone Age finds. Nilsson opens the first chapter as follows (and I translate, as the 1866 English edition doesn’t appear to be available on-line):

“Everyone knows that in Scandinavia, as in many other countries, one often finds in the earth artificially shaped stone objects that have clearly been wrought by human hands and made for some particular purpose. Studying a collection of such antiquities closer, it is impossible not to recognise shapes similar to certain implements that are still in use among fishers and farmers, though made of worse materials and more rudely fashioned. The most common shapes are similar to the chisel, axe, adze, harpoon, arrowhead i.a., and it would hardly be possible for anyone familiar with these iron implements, and capable of envisioning how they might look if made of stone, to mistake them.

Having thus sufficiently convinced oneself, it should also be an easy realisation that people who used stone for such everyday tools must have been ignorant of the use of metals, and that they must thus have occupied the lowest grade of human education, being what is commonly called Savages. If this is accepted, and it can hardly be argued against, then it also appears obvious that the only method to gain certain and complete knowledge of all these implements, of how they have been shafted and used, and of the various tasks performed with them etc., is to investigate whether such stone implements are still in use among the savages of today, and to observe how they are used there.”

Skandinaviska nordens urinvånare has been scanned by Google Book Search and entered into Projekt Runeberg’s on-line library. Anyone interested in proof-reading bits of the e-text is welcome to sign up for duty.

Update 19 June: Dear Reader Ahcuah tells me that the third English-language edition of Nilsson’s book from 1868 is available for free as a 9 MB pdf file from Google Book Search. Select “Full View”, and put in “nilsson” for the author. I can’t seem to get at the full text there, but I did get an edition in German from 1863. Love Google!

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Comments

  1. #1 Tim Jones
    June 19, 2007

    “Studying a collection of such antiquities closer, it is impossible not to recognise shapes similar to certain implements that are still in use among fishers and farmers, though made of worse materials and more rudely fashioned.”

    -does this imply that the modern farmers and fishers made the ‘more rudely fashioned’ tools, or their ancestors – there appear to have been numerous palaeolithic stone tool makers and knappers who were in a class apart from their descendants

  2. #2 Savon
    June 19, 2007

    En sägen har talat
    En saga har sjungit:
    Bortom nordstjärnan
    I väster om sol och måne
    Av guld och silver klippor
    Arran, krabbstenar.
    Guld som glöder, silver blänker,
    Fjällen i havet sig spegla,
    Le mot sina glänsande bilder.

    Krabbstenar kanske (bands vid näten)?
    (Gammal samisk “sång”)

  3. #3 Martin R
    June 20, 2007

    Tim, Nilsson was not aware of Neolithisation, he was speaking of the Stone Age in general. There were a lot of Palaeolithic fishers.

    And of course much of prehistoric material culture is anything but rude!

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