Uppland, Sweden, 2350 BC

My buddy Niklas Ytterberg recently sent me an impressive excavation report in Swedish. Constrained by the field-archaeological paradox, he dug a really nondescript Neolithic settlement site at Djurstugan near Tierp, Uppland in 2003. Then he somehow found funding to subject the measly finds to a battery of innovative scientific analyses, extracting loads of interesting information.

For one thing, Niklas got the province's earliest ever radiocarbon dates for grain: 2400-2200 cal BC (barley) and 2470-2340 cal BC (wheat). The Funnel Beaker ("TRB") culture, known for its farming, arrives in Uppland already around 3950 cal BC, but we have no dated grain from that time.

The excellent Greasy Sven, Dr Sven Isaksson, extracted lipids from tiny bits of pottery found at the site, and showed that the pots had been used both for storage and to cook non-fatty lake fish and vegetables. Animal bones support these results: there were mostly non-fatty lake and coastal fish species.

Wood anatomy on charcoal, plant macrofossil analyses, petrographical studies and use-wear analyses of the lithics and soil chemistry also contributed to the interpretations.

As a small-finds guy, I was particularly interested to read about the pottery styles at the site. The finds are really, really meagre, but the style is clearly transitional and belongs to no common group. The 24th century BC sees a cultural shift over most of agricultural Scandinavia. In Uppland, the Middle Neolithic cultural dualism between sedentary Corded Ware farmers in-land and mobile Pitted Ware seal hunters on the coast is replaced by a more homogeneous sedentary Late Neolithic culture with pressure-flaked lithics, the area's first megalithic tombs and new pottery styles. Djurstugan sits smack bang on the period shift and is, to my knowledge, the first such transitional site identified.

Dear Reader, if you're ever saddled with digging a site that makes you wonder if you should sit down and cry or just fall asleep, then get this report for inspiration. Contract archaeology rarely allows you to dig what you really want, but Niklas Ytterberg shows that if you stay updated about your field of research and keep yourself informed about the latest lab methods, then you can sometimes get the funding to apply them and coax interesting knowledge out of whatever backwoods place you end up at with your crew. Not many other contemporary contract archaeologists would have been able to do anything worthwhile with the Djurstugan site.

Ytterberg, Niklas et al. 2006. Djurstugan. Upplands första bönder? Väg E4, Uppsala-Mehedeby. Uppland, Tierps socken, Fors 1:6, Raä 346. Arkeologisk förundersökning och undersökning. UV GAL, Rapport 2005:8. Riksantikvarieämbetet. Uppsala.
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