Landsjö Castle 2015 Fieldwork Report

Myself, Ethan Aines and Mats G. Eriksson are proud to present our report on last year’s fieldwork at Landsjö Castle, Kimstad parish, Östergötland. Lots of goodies there! Construction on the castle seems to have begun between 1250 and 1275, and the site was abandoned halfway through an extension project some 50-75 years later. We also found a Middle Neolithic fishing site and an Early Modern smallholding among the ruins.

Here on Sb: Landsjo 2015 Report (single-sided print-web, high res)

And on

See also the report for 2014, the first documented excavations at the site.



2015 Osteology Report For Stensö Castle

As with the bones from the 2014 fieldwork at Stensö Castle, Rudolf Gustavsson of SAU in Uppsala has again analysed the bones we found this year (report in Swedish here). And as expected, there are no human bones: this too is mostly food waste. The body parts represented indicate that trench D just inside the perimeter wall contained meal remains while trench F inside the south tower contained more butchery refuse.

The material is dominated by youngish pigs, a tell-tale marker of aristocratic housekeeping, followed by cattle and finally sheep/goat to a lesser proportion than in the 2014 trenches. Chicken, goose, duck and hare were also eaten. Most of the fish species identified would have been available just downhill in the Bråviken inlet.

Turning to other uses for animals than as food, bones of squirrel, cat and dog suggest the production of furs, as do the aforementioned hares. Some cat and squirrel bones have cut marks characteristic of flaying, while some dog bones show signs of butchery.

Weekend Fun

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says "possibly a kitchen mortar". Neither function seems likely.

One of four grotesque male faces on a 17th century object in the Tre Kronor castle museum. The piece looks like a little baptismal font, but the label says “possibly a kitchen mortar”. Neither function seems likely.

Had some quality fun this past weekend.

  • Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
  • Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
  • Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
  • Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
  • First semla of 2016. Mmm…
  • Bach’s Mass in B minor at Nacka Church, the last major work he completed, played on period-style instruments by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. Silver trumpets!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the weekend? It’s an important issue: fun is after all the meaning of life.

Call For Papers: Lifestyles At Medieval Castles

Together with Dorthe Wille-Jørgensen, Curator at the Danish Castle Centre in Vordingborg, I’m organising a paper session on Medieval castles at the 22nd annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. This is in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, 31 August to 4 September 2016. Here’s our session abstract:

Lifestyles At Medieval Castles: Current Methodological Approaches
This session gather researchers working with the way people lived in Medieval castles. It aims to showcase the best current methodology to excavate, sample and study the culture layers in and around castles. This also includes work with museum collections from earlier excavations, laboratory methods for extracting information, and strategies for placing the data in a fruitful dialogue with written sources. Important questions are how to identify the functions of buildings and rooms (possibly changing over time), daily activities, diet and the performances of the courtly/chivalric lifestyle, all in relation to the various social and gendered groups who inhabited a castle. The session looks at castles from the viewpoint of their inhabitants, not of their architects, their military commanders or besieging armies.

The session lasts half a day and consists of 15-minute presentations, including discussion.

Dorthe and I hope to have many interesting contributions! Apply here.

Danish Castle Road Trip

I spent last week in Denmark at a friendly, informative and rather unusual conference. The thirteenth Castella Maris Baltici conference (“castles of the Baltic Sea”) was a moveable feast. In five days we slept in three different towns on Zealand and Funen and spent a sum of only two days presenting our research indoors. The rest of the time we rode a bus around the area and looked at castle sites and at fortifications, secular buildings, churches and a monastery in four towns. Our Danish hosts had planned all of this so well that the schedule never broke down. Add to this that the food and accommodation were excellent, and the price very humane, and you will understand that I was very happy with the conference.

This was my second CMB. Last year in May I attended the twelfth one in Lodz, Poland. It’s an excellent education for me as I delve into High Medieval castle studies with my ongoing project about castles in Östergötland.

You might think that within such a specialised field there would be lots of debate at the conference, but actually participants present work that is mainly of local or national relevance. Your audience takes a polite interest in what you’re doing, but nobody presents any results or methods that change the game for everybody else. I imagine that this has to do with written history’s specificity. These scholars aren’t dealing with large generalised prehistoric cultural categories. They’re dealing with specific people and events at specific castle sites. If someone has found out new stuff about the architectural phasing of a certain castle in Lithuania, then this will not change the way someone in south Jutland thinks about her subject much. But every specific case presented, and every site visited, offers a wealth of details that add up to help castle scholars contextualise their work at home.

The presentation that I found the most interesting was Christofer Herrmann’s and Felix Biermann’s about recent fieldwork at Barczewko / Alt-Wartenburg in northern Poland. This wooded area, Warmia, saw a planned colonisation effort sponsored by German lords in the 14th century. Written sources document that a settlement was founded at Barczewko in 1326 and razed to the ground by Lithuanian raiders in 1354. Attracted by a long-known but undated defensive bank-and-moat, my colleagues have now mapped the site with geophys and excavated key buildings. The geophys showed a neatly planned mini-town, with a main street, a town square and a town hall. The cellars are still full of the debris from the fires set by the attackers, on top of the goods stored in the cellars, and a few bodies of murdered inhabitants. Almost a little Pompeii, and very painstakingly excavated. The pottery is dominated by Silesian designs (from the south-west part of modern Poland), giving an idea of whence the colonists came.

Scanty Copper Alloy From Landsjö

Late Iron Age settlements are full of copper alloy objects, making them the preferred site category of metal detectorists. High Medieval castle sites, on the other hand, are quite poor in these often distinctive and informative finds.

The picture above shows all the copper alloy and lead that my team of ~15 found in over two weeks of excavations at Landsjö castle this past July, screening the dirt and using a metal detector in our trenches. Only seven objects! We collected 133 pieces of iron in that time, of which 77% are sadly nails in various states of completeness and thus not terribly informative.

  • 172 is a piece of folded sheet lead. I’m going to ask the conservator to unfold it, because sometimes they hide magic spells inscribed with runes.
  • 173 is a piece of thin embossed foil that broke after we lifted it. It just might be a really debased bracteate coin. Conservation will tell.
  • 174 is a half-pipe fitting that has been riveted onto something, maybe a strap. Hoping for some decoration to show up.
  • 175 is a rose-shaped embossed-sheet dress spangle, a ströning. Love it!
  • 176 is a thick domed sherd, probably from a tripod cooking pot.
  • 177 is an 18th century jacket button.
  • 178 is a cylindrical cap made of thin sheet, probably also from the 18th century. I don’t know what this may have been part of.

Second Week Of 2015 Excavations At Landsjö

2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H.

2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H.

I write these lines on the day after we backfilled the last two trenches at Landsjö, packed up our stuff, cleaned the manor house, hugged each other and went our separate ways. It’s an odd feeling to take apart the excavation machine while it still runs. It’s been four fun and successful weeks!

Since my previous entry, written on Monday evening, we’ve done only three days of further excavation. Our main findings, to the extent that I have any comprehensive overview of them at the moment, relate to the culture layers sitting between the natural subsoil and the rubble in trenches F and I. The latter in particular yielded some interesting bits: a spur (yay chivalry), a copper alloy decorative mount shaped like a rose, a large iron key, two knives of which one has a beautifully preserved bone handle, and a single lovingly shaped and smoothed limestone flag that had ended up upside down and cracked on the floor of the basement in trench I. Both trenches also finally gave the pottery I’ve been waiting for, Medieval red wares.

Having dug just inside the perimeter wall we got a good look at it at two points. The northern reach in trench F is 120 cm thick, standing on a base that is 160 cm thick, sturdy work. But in trench I there is barely a perimeter wall at all. It has no widened base and sits partly on yellow sand, partly on sloping bedrock, quite flimsy. This wall along the western edge of trench I (on a stretch between a crevasse and a big glacial erratic boulder) is clearly just part of a building and has not been laid out as part of the sturdy perimeter wall encountered in trenches C and F. This reinforces the picture we’re getting of an unfinished stage set of a castle.

Trench H ended up giving a beautiful posthole packed with re-used mortar-stained rubble. This post-castle feature suggests that much of what we’ve been looking at in the trench has to do with the 18th century smallholder’s activities on the island. A shed or barn is drawn just west of trench H on the 1730 map. We’ve also identified the foundation of his home, just east of trench F at the islet’s highest point: a flat rectangular surface with foundation frame stones visible above the turf at two points in the western and southern walls, and a typical rubble mound from the stove and chimney at the northern wall.

Now I’m going to take a few weeks off, and then post-ex work begins. Stay tuned!

First Week Of 2015 Excavations At Landsjö

2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H.

2014 trenches A-E and rough locations of 2015 trenches F-H.

Like Stensö, Landsjö Castle has half of a rare perimeter wall and is known to have been owned by a descendant of Folke Jarl – or rather, by his daughter-in-law, the widow of such a descendant. Last year we found that the high inner bailey has a previously unseen southern wall with a square tower at the east end, and we found five coins of AD 1250-75 in a deep layer that seem likely to date the castle’s construction phase. But unlike Stensö, in three strategically placed trenches we found no trace of the missing bits of the perimeter wall.

This year we started a few days early with half the team at Landsjö, and I write this on Monday night of the second week with full staffing. We’ve opened four sizeable trenches this year, of which G showed conclusively that the steep outer bailey has never had the missing half of its perimeter wall. It seems that the castle started with an L-shaped perimeter wall defending only the west and south sides of the inner bailey, and the north and east sides left unwalled – which worked thanks to steep high drops there. But the outer bailey seems never to have reached a defensible state. With it the castle looked rather impressive from the lakeshore, but if you wanted to get into the outer bailey you could easily bypass the unfinished perimeter wall. All we found in trench G was an 18th century jacket button most likely belonging to the smallholder who lived on the islet at that time.

Trenches F and I (just SSE of F) are in the basement remains of stone buildings built in the inner bailey as part of its western perimeter wall. Both basements are full of rubble, which we are still removing, and both are yielding ample finds of bones and small iron objects. Trench F also shows clear signs of a major fire, with lots of cracked stone in the rubble, with the inside of the walls visibly flaked by the heat, and with a charcoal layer just emerging this afternoon. If we’re lucky, then nobody’s been poking around in that burnt layer since the fire went out.

Trench H has been both a disappointment and a boon. It has not yielded any of the walls we hoped for. No gatehouse. Rather it seems to be on an enormous spoil dump from the digging of the dry moat across the castle islet. But in this spoil we’ve found Early Red Ware, a High Medieval pottery type, and, intriguingly, a sherd of Late Neolithic pottery along with some knapped quartz. Neolithic pottery experts who have seen a photograph agree that this is Malmer type J ware from the final phase of the Battle Axe Culture about 2300 cal BC. Fun and unexpected!

Just inland of the swamp woods and rushes covering the shore of Lake Landsjön, the manor’s overseer Roger Österqvist kindly helped us machine a 50-metre trench along the shore just where the distance to the islet is least. And there, under a metre of Carex peat, we found pointed stakes rammed into the clay at six spots. Most of these are probably from simple jetties and fish traps. But two are thick enough to belong to bridges over to the islet. Radiocarbon and maybe dendrochronology awaits. We also found a beautifully preserved iron ard tip, part of an agricultural implement of likely High Medieval date.

Lotta Feldt of the County Museum told me something extremely interesting Monday. A tight and reliable radiocarbon date for mortar can be had for €700 at the University of Turku. This would allow us to date every major construction event at these castles – because we have been taking mortar samples. I’m definitely looking into that!

Now we have three days of excavation left, plus half a day of backfilling before I return most of the tools to the museum and our team disperses. I say most of the tools, because I have had to buy eleven orange plastic scoops designed for bailing small boats. We use them to catch trowelled soil when we clean between stones. I’ve decided that this is a fine statement of wealth and status. I own more bail scoops than any private individual I know, and I don’t mind telling all and sundry.

Second Week of 2015 Excavations at Stensö Castle

Balancing available labour and a pre-decided excavation agenda against each other is not easy, particularly when you’re doing investigative peek-hole fieldwork on a site whose depth and complexity of stratification you don’t know much about. At Stensö we had two of three trenches and all five test pits backfilled in time for Wednesday lunch’s on-site hot dog barbecue. Ethan Aines, Terese Liberg and three students stayed on to finish trench F, while myself, Mats Eriksson and six students moved to our new base at Landsjö Manor.

Trenches D and E and the test pits produced no big news after my last report. Trench F inside the tower yielded a neat midden of bones and abundant large potsherds just below the stairwell. Ethan suggests that there may have been a few wooden steps here, providing a convenient spot under them to sweep trash. I’m itching to get the pottery cleaned, classified and dated. In fact, I’m itching to learn Medieval pottery in more detail. We also got a funny domed sheet copper lid that looks like it might belong to a pitcher or beer stein. It was partly encased in stalagmite, so we can’t see all of it yet.

Domed sheet copper lid, inside view, Stensö Castle

Domed sheet copper lid, inside view, Stensö Castle

I think I’ve finally figured out where the west reach of Stensö’s perimeter wall is, and why we found it in trench A but not in trenches B or E. Now that I’ve seen it I don’t know how I missed it. There’s a low but very wide strip of rubble all around the NW, W and SW sides of the southern tower, clearly separate from the tower and at such a distance (5-10 m) that the rubble can’t have originated with the tower itself. In parts this rubble strip has quite a high and steep outer face. I’m pretty sure this is the robbed-out remains of the perimeter wall. I’ve planned it now but I didn’t have the foresight to apply for a permit to section it.

On Thursday the Trench F Five worked two hours’ overtime backfilling while getting fried by the sun inside the roofless tower. They must have been exhausted. I told them by phone to hit the pizza place afterwards, have a sleep-in and get their stuff packed up in a leisurely good time. When they arrived at Landsjö on Friday afternoon they were in good shape. By this time we had also been joined again by our excellent friend from the Kimstad Historical Society, Curt Andersson. On Monday I expect another friend to join, so there will be fifteen of us.

We need another boat! Because that’s how Landsjö Castle on its semi-landlocked islet is most conveniently reached. We’re digging three trenches at Landsjö: trench F inside the NW tower, trench G across the assumed line of the missing SE reach of perimeter wall (I have a new-found appreciation for why Victorian antiquarians always had their workmen follow walls around), and trench H on the odd rubble mound separated from the castle by a dry moat. Superficially it shows a quarry pit and the remains of a big badger sett, but I reckon there’s probably a gate tower under there as well.

Misty summer evening lit by the full moon at our lodgings at Smedstorp

Misty summer evening lit by the full moon at our lodgings at Smedstorp

First Week of 2015 Excavations at Stensö Castle

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 archaeology students. We’re excavating the ruin of a castle that flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. This year we have a very nice base at Smedstad, let to us by the genial B&B host Hans-Ola. But we cook our own meals, each day having its designated cooks and dishwashers, and in the evenings we play boardgames.

The most outstanding result of the first five days’ work is that we found a runic inscription in the mortar on the outside wall of the castle’s south tower in trench E. There are five runes: three complete, one almost complete and one almost obliterated, enough to allow us to read helk(i), the male name spelled Helge in modern Swedish.

Helk(i): a runic inscription found on Stensö's south tower.

Helk(i): a runic inscription found on Stensö’s south tower.

This particular part of the tower wall was obscured by a pile of what we thought might be rubble from the torn-down western range of the perimeter wall. That occasioned the placement of the trench. Last year we found a stump of that wall sticking out of the north tower, and now we wanted to see it join the south one. The pile in trench E, however, turned out to be salvaged building material from when the castle was being quarried, apparently piled up here for removal but then left. There are several such piles in the bailey. We know that this quarrying happened a very long time ago, because the pile was full of neatly stacked re-used Medieval bricks that had crumbled in place. They are poor quality and can’t stand the annual dry-moist-freeze-moist cycle for very long. Since the brick pile was very old, we know that the inscription is even older. My good friend and colleague Christian Lovén judges that the quality of mortar from about AD 1200 is high enough that the inscription may be from the original erection of the south tower as a free-standing kastal structure.

Otherwise trench E has given lots of animal bones and a layer of stones just like in nearby trench B from last year. The stone layer looks like it was put there to raise and level the bailey after the perimeter wall was added. We hoped to get down to the base of the south tower to see what its footing on the bedrock looks like, but to our surprise we found that a deep part of the levelling layer to be sort of cast in concrete: a yellowish, finely laminated yet extremely hard calcareous material that looks like stalagmite. Apparently rainwater is leaching lime out of the south tower’s huge volume of mortar and redepositing it in the ground around the structure, effectively cementing stones together.


We placed trench D along the perimeter wall just north of the east gate because there are depressions there that may have functioned as rainwater basins. I was curious about what this wet environment may have preserved. Wise from last year’s experience of trench C, I laid the trench some ways out from the wall in order to avoid the thickest accumulation of rubble. And though the damp depression hasn’t yielded any macroscopic organics, a culture layer under the rubble has been quite generous with small finds: Hight Medieval Grey Stoneware, Late Medieval Red Ware with orange/green outside glaze, a knife, a whetstone, a strike-a-light, and best of all, a beautifully preserved copper alloy annular brooch. This last piece has a good parallel in the huge and securely dated Tingby in Dörby hoard from c. AD 1200 (thanks to my good friend and Fornvännen colleague Elisabet Regner for this).

Trench F is the badassest one of them all in terms of where it is: we’re digging half of the ground floor layer inside the south tower. Digging a kastal tower is an exclusive pleasure, and Ethan is making sure it’s being done well. Sadly we haven’t found any floor layer earlier than the one we stood on when we came to the site, but the rubble demonstrates clearly how the vaulting has come crashing down and is still in situ. The pottery here is the same Late Medieval ware as in trenches C and D, in addition to which we have two quite different crossbow bolts, a fish hook and other sundries. We’re of course searching eagerly for coins by means of metal detector and soil screening, but so far no luck.

At the foot of the castle hill outside the east gate is a rather flat, gently sloping surface that would be the natural place to land boats if you lived in the castle 700 years ago. Test pits there have so far given very recent waste, but more interestingly, also lots of flaked low-quality brick and mortar lumps. This looks like evidence for how building material was removed from the site during the post-aristocratic quarrying period. No reason to ship in used mortar.

I post this entry on Sunday night, eager for another week of fieldwork at Stensö. Stay tuned!

Turns out early-70s diesel trucks remodelled into camper vans don't have power steering.

Turns out early-70s diesel trucks remodelled into camper vans don’t have power steering.