First Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga

Aska 3 lores
Friday afternoon, trench across the hall seen from above looking west. The stone layer marks the indoors. To the right are two visible postholes from the widely spaced buttress posts, Trelleborg style. Drone photo by Cheyenne Olander.

The platform mound at Aska in Hagebyhöga is a 3 metres high raised foundation for an almost 50 metres long mead-hall. Think King Hrodgar’s hall Heorot. Think King Théoden’s hall Meduseld (= mead-hall = Sw. mjöd-sal).

Ragnhild Fernholm and Carin Claréus test trenched the mound in 1985-86 and found an articulated rear leg of a horse under it, with a radiocarbon date most probably in the AD 700s. Andreas Viberg and I surveyed the top platform with ground-penetrating radar in 2013, and Andreas swiftly mapped every posthole in the structure. In the past week my crew of 15 hard-working people, mostly students from my old department at U Stockholm, has opened a 100 sqm trench across the central room in the mead-hall. Here are some highlights.

  • There is no thick stratigraphy on top of the hall foundation. The uppermost packing stones of the postholes are only 10-25 cm below the turf.
  • Everything we have found in the topsoil may date from after AD 1800. The only exception is a single 1630s fyrk coin. The many pre-WW1 coins tally well with information given by old people in the 1980s, that there had once been annual mid-summer celebrations on the mound.
  • After the hall was torn down, a layer of smallish stones was laid down over its indoors. Feel free to interpret this in a symbolic and/or practical way.
  • Thanks to the simple stratigraphy, we will be able to open up the full 200 sqm that our permit allows.
  • I look forward to sectioning and soil-sampling the central hearth, a few of the great roof-bearing postholes and the wall trenches.
  • It is liberating not to have to excavate every sunken feature like you do on a highway dig where the site will be bulldozed when you’re done.
  • I love geophys, skilled metal detectorists and drone photography!

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

7 thoughts on “First Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga”

  1. In case of a further collapse of civilization, is your new trans-Baltic kingdom looking for any scribes and / or chroniclers? Asking for a friend.

    My understanding is that post-holes need to be measured in size and depth to figure out which belong to the same phase of construction, and how much weight they could have supported (big deep hole = main support beam for a big building, small shallow hole = light fence or non-load-bearing timber in a shack). Do you still have to excavate them to get the details about depth?

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    1. Could measure depth w GPR but the composition of the fill is also indicative of phasing. And we want the artefacts & plant remains inside the postholes.

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  2. Keep a safely water-proof tent nearby 🙂
    Business opportunity: Find plates inscribed by the prophet Moronai. Have followers pay tithe (the knowledge of the OT-era jews in Scandinavia has been suppressed by the [insert name]).

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  3. A more serious comment; is the terrain very flat? I was thinking of structures in the nearby fields that might be hinted at when the sun is very low.
    If the old site was important there must have been associated buildings and ditches, some big enough for traces to survive medieval farming.

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  4. The period’s wooden architecture never survives as surface features in ploughed fields. Only as truncated postholes under the plough layer. And occasionally as cropmarks or parkmarks.

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  5. I forget. I still find it hard to wrap my mind around a time without deeper foundations beyond wooden posts.
    Are there any nearby waterways or geographic features where there is a good chance of finding remains from the period? I ask, because a big house implies a supporting community/village. Yes, I know, wooden structures…

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  6. There’s sites everywhere around Vadstena. To begin with, we have two ploughed out 9-10th century cemeteries just outside Aska’s High Medieval village plots.

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