Test Pitting at Djurhamn

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I spent Thursday and Friday digging test pits with a group of energetic volunteers at Djurhamn, the first two of seven planned days in the field. The great Ehrsson brothers are now joined by an equally solid Ehrsson nephew, among other hard-working people. We’re looking for archaeological evidence for historically attested land activity around a harbour whose seafloor is covered with 17th and 18th century refuse dumped from ships. Written sources collected by Katarina Schoerner mention “the big quay” and “the military camp” including an “ale hut”, but we have no idea where they were, really.

Last year I picked up one big whopper of a find — an early-16th century sword with fresh battle damage — but so far there’s nothing else that certainly takes us down to the harbour’s heyday c. 1450-1700. We’ve sunk several pits into the boggy eastern edges of the old harbour basin and struck a thick spongy layer of reed-root peat, and under it we’ve picked up bits of sunken driftwood and small stones (thrown by people?) sitting on top of pristine glacial clay. (It’s been a lot like digging in crème caramel). But no landlocked early extension of the submarine dump layer.

Our earliest metal detector find after the sword is a coin struck in the final painful years of the conquering madman Carolus XII’s reign, 1715-18. It’s in a field that was cleared for the plough some time between 1630 and 1704 according to extant maps. This is one of the few level surfaces near the harbour on which a military camp might be pitched, so I had some hope that we would find a lot of harbour-era metalwork there. Friday we dug and sieved a square metre at the coin’s find spot to check what non-metal objects the plough layer contains. The turnout was impressive, but it’s 18-19th century household refuse, not the sort of thing we’re looking for. Wrong pottery types, and we haven’t got a single harbour-era coin in the whole field. There’s always a lot of modern refuse in the ploughzone, as household garbage used to be put on the manure stack and carted out onto the fields as fertiliser.

My soon 5-y-o daughter and I cleaned the finds last night using her old toothbrushes. Here’s the tally, all from sieving just a few decimetres of a square metre of ploughsoil.

  • Clay pipe stem
  • Bottle glass
  • Drinking glass
  • Relief-decorated glass saucer
  • Window glass
  • Iron nails
  • Flint chips (likely débitage from from knapping for rifle locks)
  • China sherds (some with printed and moulded decoration)
  • Brown salt-glazed earthenware
  • White-glazed earthenware
  • Flower pot sherds
  • Roof tile
  • Brick frags
  • Bitumen
  • Limestone
  • Burnt bone
  • Charcoal

In the following week, we’re gonna sink a line of test pits into the western edge of the basin, and then look for early activity around the site of a seaman’s tavern established in the 1780s. I wish one of those pits would strike a 16th century midden!

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5 thoughts on “Test Pitting at Djurhamn

  1. Sigh, I study that time period here in the Great Lakes of the US/Canada. I love seeng what’s going on in other parts of the world at the same time. Where were all those ships going?

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