Three Days Digging in a Cave


Few Swedish caves contain any known archaeology, and those that do mainly feature Mesolithic and Neolithic habitation layers. The Pukberget ("Devil's Mountain") cave near Enköping is a rare exception. In the mid-20th century a fox hunter crawled into the cave and felt his way around. His questing hands encountered something on a ledge which he put in his coat pocket. When he came out into the open air, he saw that he'd found a bronze spearhead and a horse tooth. Both are now in the Museum of National Antiquities. The spearhead dates from the Late Bronze Age, about 700 BC.

I've spent the past three days at Pukberget in a joint bid with the Stockholm County Museum to find further archaeology there. With my hard-working colleagues Magdalena Forsgren and Margareta Boije, I dragged a lot of equipment up the hill and into the cave, which is a beautiful maze of cracks between huge gneiss blocks formed when the hill shattered in some ancient post-glacial earthquake. We opened two square-meter pits in the floor layer, dug them down to rock (c. 35 cm) and screened the layers in lamplight. Sadly we found no sign of any human presence beneath the late-20th century hiker's fireplaces with their tea-candle cups, broken bottles and pieces of smashed flashlights. Instead there was just a layer of clean beige sediment deposited before the ceiling rock started to flake. A half-metre square in the toss zone below the fine overhang outside one of the cave entrances proved similarly unenlightening. It was fun and exotic to dig in a cave, though.

As my fieldwork habits go, 2011 has been a good year from a variety perspective, with work at six different sites within one project. My luck has not been great though: hardly any relevant finds at all. This is not unexpected since I'm playing a much higher-risk game this time around. You can't miss the 1st millennium graves I wrote my thesis about. The coeval settlements that I've worked with in recent years are also pretty easy to pick up. Not so with the sacrificial sites of the Bronze Age.

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Well, dang it! So, is that the same root JRRT borrowed for the púkel-men?

I know he took it from the Old English pÅ«cel, and is a form of the stem (pÅ«kâ) that is found in the British Isles, Norway & Iceland, meaning "devil" or "sprite." It comes down as the character "Puck" in Shakespeare, and forms of it still survive. It's sometimes applied to a misshapen person. I don't know anything about the relationships or amount of borrowing among the Scandinavian languages, but it's got to be the same word!

Well, maybe your trench is to small, it all come down to open up large areas...

By Joakim Goldhahn (not verified) on 24 Aug 2011 #permalink

Strange, to me it seems a cave would be prime real estate back then, though to be sure we aren't exactly keen on living in them now so why would our ancestors be any different?

Joakim, you are right, but resources always limit an excavation.

Kevin, people in the area lived in sturdy long houses at the time and would not have been particularly interested in the cave as housing.