LS: What is the most remarkable thing — physical, historical or otherwise – about Ales Stenar?
MR: Its excellent state of preservation and restoration. These large stone ships form a common category of monuments, but few are currently as nice-looking as this one. (Ales stenar is not one of the largest ones we’re aware of.) Also it sits in a scenic spot in one of Sweden’s main tourist regions.
LS: When was Ales Stenar constructed, and what lines of evidence point to that/those date(s)? How reliable or refutable is that information?
MR: A number of radiocarbon dates all point to the later 1st millennium AD, most likely the 7th century. This period is known as the Late Iron Age in Sweden. Specifically, the chronological phase is known as the Vendel Period and precedes the Viking Period. The date coincides with that of all large stone ships we have dated. The analyses at Ales stenar dated charcoal retrieved from under the huge stones and inside a central posthole for a post apparently used to secure the measuring rope when plotting the design onto the ground.
LS: Who built it? (e.g., Which community or group of people planned it, and what type of workers would have actually done the construction?)
MR: The local slave-owning aristocracy.
LS: In general, what would their society have been like? (e.g., Did they live in organized settlements? How far did they travel to trade? Where did they get their food? Etc.)
MR: Pre-urban. Decentralised. Agrarian. Hierarchical. Largely illiterate. Cosmopolitan. Warlike. Mercantile. Nautical. This is the world of Beowulf.
LS: What tools and technology did they use (or presumably had access to) to build Ales Stenar?
MR: Oxen, slaves, rope, sleds, wooden spades and simple steel tools. No gun powder.
LS: Why was Ales Stenar built? Have buried human remains ever been found at the site?
MR: Probably as an ostentatious grave monument, judging from excavated examples of the monument category. An urn burial found at the site pre-dates the stone ship judging from radiocarbon. Ales stenar was rather brusquely freed from drift sand using a bulldozer after WWII, and it has only seen small test-pit excavations. We do not know if its primary burial survives. It is not likely to be (have been) an inhumation or richly furnished judging from excavated examples elsewhere.
LS: What are some of the more notable theories (both plausible and outlandish) you’ve heard regarding its construction?
MR: I have heard nothing outlandish regarding the methods of construction. Regarding the motive for construction, local amateur scholar B.G. Lind put forward the idea 15 years ago that the ship might have been an astronomical calendar. This idea has no supporters among academic archaeologists.
LS: What is it about this site that inspires such speculation? Can you think of other sites from this region or period of time that inspire similar, or even more, speculation?
New Age mystics like standing stones. It is an international movement. And as I said, Ales stenar is in an excellent state of preservation and restoration. Also it sits in a scenic spot in one of Sweden’s main tourist regions.