A Day Spent With Diggers

Spent most of the day in Stockholm County Council’s building in town, where our new County Archaeologist Maria Malmlöf had convened a seminar for the region’s excavation units. The agenda was for everybody to present some highlights from last contract archaeology season in Stockholm County. These seminars have apparently been going on for years, but since I don’t work in contract archaeology I haven’t been invited before. This time a friend told me about the event, I asked the organisers if I might come, and they bid me welcome.

I really like events like these: it’s so rare for me to meet my local colleagues in any numbers. The last time I can recall was a rock art seminar in Enköping last May. But it’s starting to show that I haven’t been in the business for more than eight years: I didn’t recognise any of the younger just-graduated archaeologists at the seminar. But it was great to say hi to so many old friends, some actually going back all the way to my first undergrad term. And over lunch I made some new friends from the Archaeological Research Lab.

As for what was presented, I must say that if anything really cool turned up in the county last year (on a par with, say, the Mesolithic sites in Motala two counties over), they didn’t talk about it until I had left at half past two. A fragment of a Migration Period picture stone from a cemetery at Arninge in Täby is very nice, but not exactly unheard of, and nothing can really be said about what the image on the poor vandalised stone was.

So what interested me most was not what people had found but their methodology. Jim Hansson’s talk about how the Museum of Maritime History does underwater field evaluations and trial digs in Lake Mälaren taught me a lot. Underwater contract archaeology has really become an established part of the development process of late.

And Wivianne Bondesson, Cecilia Grusmark and quaternary geologist Jonas Bergman from the National Heritage Board’s Stockholm unit had my full attention when they described an evaluation in a bog scheduled for commercial peat extraction, Kvarnsjön at Tullinge in Botkyrka. Their work there was similar to some that I directed in a bog on Djurö in 2008, only unlike my team they actually found something interesting: well-preserved wooden structures.

And that leaves us with a heritage-management conundrum. Statistically speaking, judging from the small percentage excavated of the total area, and from the number of wooden structures found, the bottom of the Kvarnsjön bog must harbour hundreds of such structures. But we can’t machine off the peat and dig under it, because the peat extractors want the peat and can’t afford to have archaeologists extract it for them. So by rights, an archaeologist should be there all the time just doing an endless watching brief while the company digs the peat. Which might (I don’t know) make the operation unprofitable. Anyway, I plan to dig a lot of test pits in bogs this summer, so this unusual contract dig was of great interest to me.

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3 thoughts on “A Day Spent With Diggers

  1. I just found your blog. I did anthropology (with archaeology emphasis) in college and went on a few digs in US and England before settling into family life and other things. I’ve always regretted just a bit that I didn’t pursue my love of archaeology, so now I shall live vicariously through this (and some other) blogs!

    Your bog sounds amazing. I can’t wait to see what your test pits reveal. Where can I read more about the archaeology of Sweden?


  2. The density of the wood structures is probably so similar to the peat that ground radar is useless, is there any other remote sensing technique that might spot the structures? If you detonated a charge, would the structures show up on sensors after the seismic pulse was processed by a computer?
    What about tiny trace amounts of elements not normally found in peat marking the spot?


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