Second Week Of 2016 Excavations At Skällvik Castle

Our second week at Skällvik Castle proved a continued small-finds bonanza, and we also documented some pretty interesting stratigraphy.

  • More of everything in Building IV. In addition to more coins of Magnus Eriksson, dice and stoneware drinking vessels, we also found a lot of points for crossbow bolts. It's starting to look like the castle guards' day room! As for why we found crossbow bolts only inside one building and none outdoors in the bailey, I figure that they had been amassed there for re-fletching. The dark indoors find context and the undamaged sharp points show that the bolts did not end up in the floor layer of Building IV because people were shooting there.
  • Building IX has a lovely floor sequence. First a terracing layer with few finds, probably pre-dating the entire building. Then a culture layer. Then a stone cobble floor. Then clay full of magical fairy stones. Then mortar. Then large square unglazed brick tiles, only a few of which survived. Then a demolition layer mixed with household refuse. Such attention paid over time to the floor of a low-ceilinged cellar-like ground-floor room demonstrates the resources available to the castle's owner.
  • Building X has had a nice ribbed brick portal, as evidenced by broken decorative bricks left by the quarrymen.
  • The gate house is still very rich in bones, as remarked on by the 1902 excavator. And his coffee-loving workmen or their contemporaries left a small midden in it after the end of fieldwork.
  • Two finds in particular document the presence of the social elite, which is hardly surprising at a royal castle where both King Magnus and the Bishop of Linköping dated letters. One is part of a wheel-turned ivory ear scoop, the Q-Tip of the era's nobility from the NW building. The other is a seal matrix with a simple coat of arms, found near the castle dock. I'm optimistic that specialists will be able to read the inscription and identify the owner.
  • We have enough coins to be able to draw chronological conclusions not only from which types are there, but from which ones are missing. All but one of the coins we have identified so far were struck for Magnus Eriksson, most during his final minting period about 1360. His successor and nephew Albrecht was crowned King of Sweden in February of 1364, and this ruler is represented by only one coin, a frontal crowned-face bracteate.
  • We can see the quarrying of the castle for building material, targeted largely towards bricks, preferentially towards specialised decorative ones and floor bricks. These were in all likelihood taken by boat the two kilometres to Stegeborg Castle when it was re-erected, probably in the 1360s. And when Stegeborg was partly torn down about 1700, the bricks travelled on to the royal castle in my home town Stockholm!
  • It would be great to learn what's under the rubble that fills the castle keep. But excavating this building would be an enormous undertaking, with regard both to the sheer volume of rubble with large heavy boulders, and to the long-term conservation commitment once you've emptied the structure. It is not a job for one precariously employed university lecturer and his students, working for a few weeks on small grants. The organisation that excavates Skällvik Castle's keep will have to have solid long-term funding. And it must be willing to put a roof on the structure, restore the masonry and return the keep to daily use as a museum space with offices. Any responsible intervention into a ruin must be done with an eye to the far future, not just to the next tourist season.

More like this

The famous royal castle of Stegeborg sits on its island like a cork in the bottleneck of the Slätbaken inlet (see map here). This waterway leads straight to Söderköping, a major Medieval town, and to the mouth of River Storån which would allow an invader to penetrate far into Östergötland Province'…
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…
A fun thing about historical archaeology, the archaeological study of areas and periods with abundant indigenous written documentation, is when the archaeology challenges the written record. According to the patchily preserved historical sources, Landsjö hamlet was a seat of the high nobility in…
Earthquake engineer Kit Miyamoto has posted a journal of his trip to Sichuan. If you don't mind a little bit of construction jargon it's a good discussion of the details of what kinds of buildings collapse, and what kinds are safe, as well as the logistical difficulties of the immediate post-…

The floor of the treasury at Persepolis was littered with arrows which Alexander's men left behind as they looted it. Its not hard to imagine the soldiers in a hurry watching a bundle of arrows come undone and say "eh, I am not picking those up one by one; we have three palaces to burn tomorrow!"

I have seen a solid gold earspoon from a Spanish wreck in the Caribbean.

In 15th c. Poland and Prussia they imported Dutch brickworkers to build fancy things. Any idea if the 14th century Swedes did the same?

Skällvik Castle was demolished by its owner, not sacked.

Sweden had indigenous brickmakers for at least half a century before Skällvik Castle was built. But of course in Hanseatic times people were highly mobile.

Yes, but Persepolis was stripped before it was burned too. The excavators found almost no gold and silver (except in the foundation deposits) and very few complete weapons, just a scattering of arrowheads and loose scales, and the damage was concentrated on a few buildings associated with Darius and Xerxes. So the things which ended up in the destruction layer are either things which they wanted to destroy, or things which they could not be bothered to carry away, or things which they overlooked.

Schmidt's book Persepolis II: The Contents of the Treasury and Other Discoveries is available for free from the Oriental Institute website.

Trappstegsgavlar = stepped gables on a castle?. Is that normal in that area? Looks quite a lot like Glimmingehus but this castle is 200 years older.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 26 Jul 2016 #permalink

Stepped gables were common in all kinds of Medieval buildings. What sort of gables would you expect at Skällvik?

I would never expect something as close to Glimmingehus in Scania, in that area, and 200 years before Glimmingehus was built.. German and Danish influence was greater than I would have thought of.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 26 Jul 2016 #permalink

I think you're kind of getting this backward. Skällvik is from the main period for this kind of architecture. Glimmingehus is a weird, backward-looking, archaic design that looks nothing like other castles from c. 1500.

You confirm my personal thoughts. Glimmingehus is a strange construction that do not fit in with technology around 1500 A.D..

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 26 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Martin: Could I test Wikipedia's accuracy with you? By "magical fairy stones", do you mean calcium carbonate concretions? Wikipedia (…) says these things are several cm across, and "particularly common ... in Östergötland county, Sweden." The latter is apparently (thank Wikipedia again!) where you're excavating.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 26 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Martin #11: Really! In the words of Americans far, far younger than myself, "awesome sauce"!

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 28 Jul 2016 #permalink

Excuse my lack of knowlege but are there any medieval churches around lake Mälaren with stepped gables towers?

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 30 Jul 2016 #permalink

If there are any, then they are exceptionally rare. We mostly have spires, ranging from simple pointy wood-shingled things to elaborate copper-clad sculptures.

Are you looking to spend your dotage stalking the parapet of the restored keep, just up a narrow reconstructed spiral staircase from your spacious administrative offices?

Enjoying this summer's castle series!

Glad you like it! I envision a dotage spent eating cup noodles, haunting libraries and being the funny old man in ragged clothing who shows up randomly at seminars in prehistoric archaeology and asks outdated questions.