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.
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.