Burnt Mound Near the Sea

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Small mounds consisting of burnt stone are a signature feature of Bronze Age settlement sites along the coasts of southern Sweden. They were the subject of my first academic publication in 1994, though I’d hardly even seen one, let alone dug one. This I have finally begun remedying today, when I did another day of volunteer digging with my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell.

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Mattias and Roger started out as pioneer investigators of the Mesolithic archipelago that is now a bunch of hill tops in the southern part of inland Stockholm county. Their emphasis has shifted though: it’s still the archipelago and shore-bound sites on the edge of the open sea, but last month when I reported on their work they were way downhill in the Middle Neolithic. (Shore-displacement means that downhill equals later.) And now they’re in the Late Bronze Age!

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I joined them on Ornö island today. The fact that the place is still an island means that it was way, way out 2600 years ago. Kjell Linnér found the Bronze Age sites of Ornö in 1978, and he worked with us today. There are two clusters of visible structures on the island, all just above the 20 m a.s.l. curves, and probably in use when the shoreline was at 15 m, c. 600 BC. Both clusters were at the inner ends of long sheltered inlets at the time. Most are little burial cairns, but there are also two burnt mounds.

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M & R had found three grind stones in the mound, just like the one I picked up at Älvesta in Botkyrka in March ’08. I found a fourth one today, and some pottery, burnt bone and charcoal. Strangely, there isn’t any certainly knapped stone on the site. These people most likely did not have access to enough bronze to use it for all their cutting tools. But they didn’t knap quartz or flint on Ornö. The guys have found a Pitted Ware site (pre-metal) a few hundred meters off, and it’s full of knapped quartz. I wonder what Late Bronze Age seal harpoons looked like.

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Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    October 8, 2009

    Ha did you hit your thumb with a bronze age mallet?

    Completely unrelated: Does -ell, as in your friend’s last name, mean anything in Swedish? I see a lot of Swedish surnames ending in -ell; is it a suffix of some kind? Mine is Wasell, which is why I am asking.

  2. #2 Martin R
    October 8, 2009

    It is a common suffix in not very old surnames, though I don’t know the etymology. My guess is that it’s a worn-down version of the Latin “-elius”, which was tacked onto place-names by priests who didn’t want to go with the old peasant patronymic. Nobel, for instance, comes from Nöbbele.

  3. #3 BioinfoTools
    October 8, 2009

    [off-topic]

    Thought I’d pass this on to you:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/2945730/Educated-wives-can-mean-a-longer-life-for-men

    “Men wanting to enjoy a long life should marry a well educated woman, according to a Swedish study.”

    I’m guessing you’ve got yourself covered :-)

  4. #4 Martin R
    October 9, 2009

    Yep, she’s as bright as she is pretty. (-;

  5. #5 Kevin
    October 9, 2009

    Cool, and thanks! That makes perfect sense, I’m sure you’re right.

  6. #6 Mattias P
    October 11, 2009

    We found more fine bone on Friday, and unearthed the foundation stones which encircles the mound. A slight comment: In fact, we have a few finds of undisputably knapped quartz from this particular Bronze Age site on Ornö. Both among the fire-cracked stone and from the dwelling site. We are not sure whether these artifacts are synchronous with the mound and belong to the late Bronze Age (which they could very well do) or if they are from the late Middle Neolithic. The latter dating would be possible since the height is around 25 m asl and if you imagine a shore line immediately below the finds. But it would not be an ideal locality. We have no pitted ware pottery so far. One thing supporting the Bronze Age dating of the quartz is the absence so far of large crude flake tools (of granite and other coarse rocks). This is an artifact type which we have frequently encountered on nearby Middle Neolithic sites (PWC) and which we believe are associated with the slaughtering of seals.