Yesterday I began my return to the Bronze Age. For most of my career I’ve mainly worked with the Late Iron Age, a period that dominates the landscape of agrarian Sweden completely through its cemeteries and place names. But my first published piece of research, indeed the first research I ever did, concerned the Late Bronze Age. And now I’m thinking of going back there once my current book project in Östergötland is done.
My old Bronze Age studies, I’m ashamed to admit, involved no field trips and hardly any artefact studies, but lots of archive work. I had no driver’s license, hardly any thesis supervision, and I was 19. Also, the sites I worked with were old contract digs that had been obliterated by suburban land development, so there wasn’t much left to see there.
Yesterday, for the first time, I sought out a piece of the Bronze Age landscape I looked at back then, getting the coordinates for some burnt-stone mounds and cupmark sites at Älvesta in Botkyrka parish out of the on-line site register and plugging them into my GPS. My objective was to see the visible monuments and do some fieldwalking, in the hopes of finding some flint and pottery and possible even an axe.
A cupmark, a simple Bronze Age rock art type, diameter a few centimeters.
It was a perfect day for a field trip. Sunshine, vegetation at its absolute annual minimum, naked ploughed fields where rain had washed all stones clean, yet still slightly frozen so that it wasn’t all mushy. A naked field is something deeply unnatural, cultivated if you will, a vast expanse of earth without a straw growing on top. Ploughing damages sites, but it’s been going on since prehistory, and it also makes sites uniquely accessible to archaeology.
I am not a very good fieldwalker, though I hope to learn. Through many hours of metal detecting in ploughed fields, I have found very little by sight, concentrating instead on the drone and grunting of the detector’s headphones. Some people, like Niklas Krantz who found the gold foil figure die last spring, can see and metal-detect at the same time, filling their pockets with flint and pottery. I cannot. But yesterday I practiced, hands on my back, stooping slightly, placing my concentration in my eyes, trying to disregard the input from my ears.
And what did I find? At first, mainly a lot of brick fragments. A little non-knapped quartz. Half a meter of iron chain. A piece of plastic pipe. A few bones. Part of the iron “tyre” of a wagon. A piece of a white clay pipe stem. Sherds of glazed China. A thrashed aluminium soda can. These are all obvious things whose colour and shape differ dramatically from the ploughsoil, and I kept none of them: they wouldn’t be informative to any scholar I know of, and I am no pack rat.
Then I found something worthwhile, not far from a registered site with a cupmarked outcrop and a drove of burnt stone. From the ploughsoil I picked up a grind stone, like a smooth distinctly faceted rock tennis ball, and three pieces of knapped quartz. No museum is likely to want these finds when I offer to hand them in, but they’re definitely worth describing and reporting. They’re evidence of a ploughed-out settlement site of respectable dimensions. Situated at 20 meters above sea level, the site most likely dates from the early-to-mid-1st Millennium BC.
My future project, as I imagine it now, will treat the landscape situation of Bronze Age wetland sacrificial deposits in relationship to a coeval settlement pattern. My idea is to identify common landscape characteristics of such wetland sites as are known to date, and then apply that knowledge to hopefully make some interesting new finds under controlled conditions. Wetland archaeology is a huge underexploited field offering preservation conditions and modes of prehistoric behaviour unknown elsewhere. But I’m not averse to some more fieldwalking either. It’s fun!