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I’m posting this from a Helsinki basement café after a day’s excursion by bus and boat in the countryside west of town. We mainly looked at cairns of various form, date and function, including a group of very fine large mountaintop ones of the typical Bronze Age variety.

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Toward the end of the day we saw a preserved little bit of an excavated cemetery to which had been added a memorial stone in the 1930s. On the plaque the site is dated to about AD 100 and proclaimed as burial place of the first Finns! The reasoning went like this.

“We have a gap in the archaeological record during the Last Millennium BC. And the linguists believe that the Finnish language arrived here from Estonia about AD 1. And the grave type here has its closest parallels in Estonia. So this must be the grave of early Finnish-speaking colonists who arrived in the country when it was empty about AD 1!”

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In the decades since, we have learned that there is no gap in the Finnish settlement record in the Last Millennium, and the grave type has been shown to be native to the coasts all around the south-eastern Baltic Sea. And the linguists have changed their mind about the date of the arrival of the Finnish language. So all that remains of the ideas celebrated on that stone is that yes, we still date the grave goods to about AD 100.

But as I told my colleagues, this is not by far the silliest memorial stone erected on an archaeological site. A strong candidate is found at Vendel church in Uppland where rich boat-burials have been excavated. It reads,

VENDEL PERIOD
PERIOD OF STATE-BUILDING
PERIOD OF MEN

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Comments

  1. #1 Timo S.
    October 31, 2009

    Hi, I have found your blog and find it nice that you have already summarized the essential of our excursion here. I do recognize it as the same trip I took part of. :-)

  2. #2 Martin R
    November 1, 2009

    Tervetuloa, Timo!

  3. #3 Johan
    November 5, 2009

    By the way, what does the name “Vendel” mean?

  4. #4 Martin R
    November 5, 2009

    It’s originally the name of the local lake and/or river, which means that it belongs to a very early stratum of names. Hydronymy is a separate field in onomastic research. Sv. ortn. lex. says that “Vendel” may mean something about “winding” or “curved”.

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