First Week Of 2015 Excavations At Landsjö

2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H. 2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H.

Like Stensö, Landsjö Castle has half of a rare perimeter wall and is known to have been owned by a descendant of Folke Jarl – or rather, by his daughter-in-law, the widow of such a descendant. Last year we found that the high inner bailey has a previously unseen southern wall with a square tower at the east end, and we found five coins of AD 1250-75 in a deep layer that seem likely to date the castle's construction phase. But unlike Stensö, in three strategically placed trenches we found no trace of the missing bits of the perimeter wall.

This year we started a few days early with half the team at Landsjö, and I write this on Monday night of the second week with full staffing. We've opened four sizeable trenches this year, of which G showed conclusively that the steep outer bailey has never had the missing half of its perimeter wall. It seems that the castle started with an L-shaped perimeter wall defending only the west and south sides of the inner bailey, and the north and east sides left unwalled – which worked thanks to steep high drops there. But the outer bailey seems never to have reached a defensible state. With it the castle looked rather impressive from the lakeshore, but if you wanted to get into the outer bailey you could easily bypass the unfinished perimeter wall. All we found in trench G was an 18th century jacket button most likely belonging to the smallholder who lived on the islet at that time.

Trenches F and I (just SSE of F) are in the basement remains of stone buildings built in the inner bailey as part of its western perimeter wall. Both basements are full of rubble, which we are still removing, and both are yielding ample finds of bones and small iron objects. Trench F also shows clear signs of a major fire, with lots of cracked stone in the rubble, with the inside of the walls visibly flaked by the heat, and with a charcoal layer just emerging this afternoon. If we're lucky, then nobody's been poking around in that burnt layer since the fire went out.

Trench H has been both a disappointment and a boon. It has not yielded any of the walls we hoped for. No gatehouse. Rather it seems to be on an enormous spoil dump from the digging of the dry moat across the castle islet. But in this spoil we've found Early Red Ware, a High Medieval pottery type, and, intriguingly, a sherd of Late Neolithic pottery along with some knapped quartz. Neolithic pottery experts who have seen a photograph agree that this is Malmer type J ware from the final phase of the Battle Axe Culture about 2300 cal BC. Fun and unexpected!

Just inland of the swamp woods and rushes covering the shore of Lake Landsjön, the manor's overseer Roger Österqvist kindly helped us machine a 50-metre trench along the shore just where the distance to the islet is least. And there, under a metre of Carex peat, we found pointed stakes rammed into the clay at six spots. Most of these are probably from simple jetties and fish traps. But two are thick enough to belong to bridges over to the islet. Radiocarbon and maybe dendrochronology awaits. We also found a beautifully preserved iron ard tip, part of an agricultural implement of likely High Medieval date.

Lotta Feldt of the County Museum told me something extremely interesting Monday. A tight and reliable radiocarbon date for mortar can be had for €700 at the University of Turku. This would allow us to date every major construction event at these castles – because we have been taking mortar samples. I'm definitely looking into that!

Now we have three days of excavation left, plus half a day of backfilling before I return most of the tools to the museum and our team disperses. I say most of the tools, because I have had to buy eleven orange plastic scoops designed for bailing small boats. We use them to catch trowelled soil when we clean between stones. I've decided that this is a fine statement of wealth and status. I own more bail scoops than any private individual I know, and I don't mind telling all and sundry.

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Christian Loven's plan of Landsjö Islet with letters marking on-going fieldwork. Landsjö castle is on a high islet in the lake next to the modern manor house. Nobody ever goes there. The ruins are covered by vegetation and they're in bad shape: only along the western side of the islet do they…
2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H. I write these lines on the day after we backfilled the last two trenches at Landsjö, packed up our stuff, cleaned the manor house, hugged each other and went our separate ways. It's an odd feeling to take apart the excavation machine…
Balancing available labour and a pre-decided excavation agenda against each other is not easy, particularly when you're doing investigative peek-hole fieldwork on a site whose depth and complexity of stratification you don't know much about. At Stensö we had two of three trenches and all five test…
This year's first week of fieldwork at Stensö Castle went exceptionally well, even though I drove a camper van belonging to a team member into a ditch. We're a team of thirteen, four of whom took part in last year's fieldwork at the site. All except me and co-director Ethan Aines are Umeå…

Good job(s)! I would suggest that the E and N flanks at least had a sleeping timbered wall (not a palisade, those were rare and impractical). The large outer bailey at Åbo (Turku) castle was built this way in the 14th century.
On radiocarbon dates for mortar: they're not so tight and reliable.

By Christian Lovén (not verified) on 14 Jul 2015 #permalink

Thanks for the update; excellent stuff! Also appreciate the English version of "kreti och pleti" (new one for me).

Presuming that the thin gray curved lines are contours of constant elevation, what is the elevation change between neighboring contours? The east side of that site looks like it might be steep, and perhaps that was considered an adequate wall. I know I wouldn't want to attack that site from the east if I could find a more advantageous route.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Jul 2015 #permalink

Another option would have been throwing up a wooden or earthen wall in an emergency. But it seems to me that medieval monuments often had that kind of problem, where the owners laid out a big plan, went into a financial crisis and had to stop construction, expanded it a bit to get it in a usable state, got involved in a feud and had to stop again, started construction again on what they though the original plan was to celebrate their victory ...

"the owners laid out a big plan, went into a financial crisis and had to stop construction"
History repeating itself. And before this, we had Nero's "Golden house" and the Baalbek partly finished temple..
-When you pour soil back in, do you mark the lowest layer of the excavation (geologists might call this an unconformity) with differently colored dust or something, to mark the lower boundary for future diggers? Geotextil might be too expensive.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 16 Jul 2015 #permalink

So the battle axe culture pottery was placed by them to show where their excavation had stopped?

"the 18th century smallholder! He’s messing with our minds."

Spooky that he sensed you coming in the future. Was he from Arkham, New England?

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 17 Jul 2015 #permalink

Some fascinating insights into castle-building you've found! Very glad to learn.