Having read yesterday’s entry about what I need to get hold of before I can dig a site, Apel Mjausson asked me on Facebook, “How do you decide where to dig? Sweden is lousy with unexplored sites. Are you following a specific story, looking at place names, take nominations…?”
Disregarding sites I’ve been paid to dig and sites I’ve only metal-detected,* my motivations have been as follows. To begin with, I only ever dig sites that I judge likely to produce something publishable and exciting. (And sometimes I lose on that gamble).
- At Barshalder in 1997 I dug two graves because at my advisor’s suggestion I was writing my thesis on a huge cemetery, and there were a few sections of it that nobody knew anything about.
- At Skamby in 2005 Howard Williams and I dug a boat grave because our friend local historian Arne Danielsson suggested it, because boat inhumations are famously rich in well-preserved artefacts, and because nobody had dug a boat grave in Götaland before.
- At Stora Tollstad in 2006 Howard and I trial-trenched a major barrow in order to date it and find out if it was relevant to my on-going work with the late 1st millennium. (It was.)
- At Sättuna in 2008 Petter Nyberg and I stripped 1047 sqm in a field because metal detector finds suggested that the postholes of a Vendel Period elite manor were sitting under it. I had metal-detected the site because it has another huge barrow and a name ending in -tuna, which signals the presence of power in the 1st millennium. Sadly the landowner wouldn’t let us at the most promising field because of a crop, so we dug in the second-best one next to it and found nothing to write home about.
- At Pukeberget in 2011 Margareta Backe and I dug a few test pits in a cave because a Bronze Age spearhead had been found inside, I was writing a book on Bronze Age deposition sites and I wanted to know if there was more evidence of ancient activity in the cave. We found only recent cub scout stuff.
- At Stensö and Landsjö in 2014 I dug a number of trenches in two castle ruins because I hadn’t worked with the High Middle Ages before, I wanted to study castles and Christian Lovén suggested these two sites. They are the only castles in Östergötland that have perimeter walls despite being owned by the nobility rather than by the Crown or Church. Neither had seen documented excavations before.
* For some reasoning around 1st millennium AD candidate sites for metal detecting, see pp. 16-17 in my 2011 book Mead-halls.