Viking Hoards Around Stockholm

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Being a prehistorian, I tend to see Stockholm as a cancerous growth. It has expanded for the past seven or eight centuries from small beginnings on an island right where Lake Mälaren debouches into the Baltic. In this process, the city and its suburbs have ruined or covered up great swaths of a pristine rural landscape and archaeology. Sitting on the border between the Medieval provinces Uppland and Södermanland, Stockholm has even managed to rearrange the country’s provincial borders. A new-fangled Stockholm county now covers large chunks of the two older provinces.

An expanding city is, in the long term, an archaeological catastrophe. But Stockholm’s expansion has also thrown up quite a number of sites and finds that would not have been known hadn’t it been for the tumour. So in the short-term perspective, the city is both a blessing and a curse: it giveth and it taketh away archaeological data.

The other day Torun Zachrisson at the University of Stockholm kindly gave a me a good term paper written by one of her students, Caroline Nordquist. It’s about the five known Viking Period silver hoards in and near urban Stockholm, that came to light in 1735 (Finnboda), ~1779 (Bägersta/Enskede), 1829 (Långholmen), 1892 (Inedalsgatan, Kungsholmen) and 1913 (Royal Inst Tech). Nordquist focuses on the Finnboda hoard which was found in my home municipality of Nacka.

There are several interesting points in the paper. One is that these hoards concentrate at the Mälaren / Baltic narrows, much like the ones along the Stångån-Åsunden waterway south of Linköping that I write about in my forthcoming Östergötland book. Another is that hoards turned up near central Stockholm with some regularity until 1913, shortly before mechanical excavators replaced spades. In all likelihood we’re still ruining hoards, it’s just that we can’t see them come out of the ground any more.

And then Nordquist offers two actual pieces of solid news in the paper. She has rediscovered an obscure published reference to the near-exact location of the 1913 hoard from the Royal Institute of Technology: near the rear right-hand corner of the main brick building, where the observation tower is. And she’s solved the conundrum of the Finnboda hoard’s weight introduced by Henrik Ahnlund in a 1966 paper.

Like most hoards found in the 1700s and early 1800s, the Finnboda hoard is not preserved in its entirety. And there has been some confusion as to how much silver it originally contained: either 0.8 kg or 7.6 kg. If the latter were true, the hoard would have been extremely large for the area. Ahnlund says that in a 1735 manuscript, one Johan Helin reports the weight as 1 skålpund and 25½ lod. In 1736, says Ahnlund, Helin then gives the weight as 572 lod. Ahnlund notes with pleasure that these weight figures are identical, which means that Helin must have been talking about a single hoard. But they’re not identical. 1 skålpund and 25½ lod is 57½ lod, not 572 lod. What was Ahnlund thinking?

Turns out it’s a typo. 57½ and 572 are suspiciously similar. And, notes Caroline Nordquist, on mid-20th century Swedish type writers, “½” and “2″ are on the same key. So the Finnboda hoard weighed 57½ lod, that is, 0.8 kg.

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    February 18, 2011

    In defence of cities, it’s also very much the main source for far future archaeological findings.

  2. #2 Steve Blowney
    February 18, 2011

    A. Nordquist paper sounds interesting–I’d like to read it.

    B. Your forth-coming book also sounds interesting. Please tell us the publication information when ready. Thank you.

    C. The expansion of cities–called “sprawl” in the US–is considered a curse exactly how by the people of your profession? Certainly, you can not against such an expansion, since many of your colleagues have spent a considerable amount of time examining the establishment of “population centers” (cities) and their affect on culture, etc. My problem with sprawl is the notable lack of any sort of aesthetics; strip malls and cookie cutter McMansions are boring and unattractive. More importantly, this expansion is an attempt at an eliteism based upon the false pretense of imitation wealth.

  3. #3 Martin R
    February 18, 2011

    The expansion of cities–called “sprawl” in the US–is considered a curse exactly how by the people of your profession?

    Urbanisation changes a landscape dramatically and irrevocably, making it much harder to find out what it was like before. And though urban expansion in the modern West does entail to a lot of archaeological data generation, nobody believes that everything of archaeological interest that is destroyed by cities gets documented by archaeologists.

    Barring civilisation collapse or the abandonment of archaeology, my future colleagues will one day dig the remains of 21th century Stockholm. But some of them will be frustrated because they, like myself, want to study what went on in the area before Stockholm. And the city has obliterated most of the evidence.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    February 18, 2011

    The expansion of cities–called “sprawl” in the US–is considered a curse exactly how by the people of your profession?

    Try a Google search on “st louis mounds”. National Geographic had a story on the subject in the January issue. Around the 12th century there was a flourishing urban civilization in the area, and they built several cities. The most famous of these today is Cahokia, for the simple reason that by some lucky accident it survived. There used to be similar mounds within the city limits of St. Louis, but they were destroyed for use as fill, the last one being obliterated by 1869 (Americans of the 19th century assumed that there was no civilization north of Mexico prior to their own, unlike Europeans, who knew full well that they were descended from earlier civilizations in Europe).

    It’s not just mechanized equipment which has made matters worse since then. Modern highways, especially motorways, radically reshape the terrain. Cahokia itself narrowly avoided being swallowed by a motorway (I-55/I-70, which links St. Louis to Chicago and Indianapolis). Shopping malls and big box stores, with their ginormous parking lots, also radically reshape the terrain. In most places in the US, unless there is a specific indication for an archeological survey, nobody documents what was on the site before.

  5. #5 Martin R
    February 18, 2011

    Yes, US heritage protection is sad and deeply confused.

  6. #6 Birger Johansson
    February 18, 2011

    “But some of them will be frustrated because they, like myself, want to study what went on in the area before Stockholm. And the city has obliterated most of the evidence.”

    The same problem applies to prehistoric cities. When the first palace of Knossos was built, the site of pre-Minoan Knossos was flattened, leaving us without a clue of the evolution of the civilization in the centuries leading up to the peak. It is as if we had Akropolis, but no remains from the archaic era.

  7. #7 Birger Johansson
    February 18, 2011

    I need to quit for tonight -I read the headline as “Viking hordes around Stockholm” :)

  8. #8 Lassi Hippeläinen
    February 19, 2011

    The destruction of former culture is going on inside cities as well. Many things of my childhood are gone. It feels like newcomers want to prove themselves by razing down anything that was here before they came…

  9. #9 kai
    February 20, 2011

    I presume this is not the Caroline Nordquist who used to have her office near that rear right-hand corner of the main brick building?

  10. #10 Martin R
    February 20, 2011

    I believe it may be. She is not a professional archaeologist and I don’t know how old she is.

  11. #11 kai
    February 20, 2011

    Hm. She would know all about old keyboards. I’ll have to ask next time I pass the old dept.

  12. #12 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 21, 2011

    Vikings!

    … ehrm, yes. Fascinating.

    Another is that hoards turned up near central Stockholm with some regularity until 1913, shortly before mechanical excavators replaced spades. In all likelihood we’re still ruining hoards, it’s just that we can’t see them come out of the ground any more.

    I don’t doubt that “ruining hoards” is a good hypothesis, and that the data tests it well, i.e. doesn’t reject it. However, the argument supporting it, as presented here, seems flawed. Without taking time to actually do the hypothesis test for that, a simple plot shows that there is not yet a break with regularity. A few more decades without find would make a visible deviation though.

    A better data question may be, why the regularity? It seems to be a fine tuned balance between increasing urbanization and decreasing density of remaining hoards, but why should that be?