Sättuna Fieldwork Report On-Line

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I’ve filed the Sättuna excavation report with the State Board of National Antiquities, the County Archaeologist’s office and the County Museum. And I’ve put it on-line at archive.org. Check it out if you’re into the Late Mesolithic! We didn’t get much data on the 6th century elite settlement.

Sättuna Fieldwork Report Nearing Completion

I’m almost done with the report from my excavations at Sättuna in Kaga last September. Here’s an excerpt.


Finds and radiocarbon dates allow us to identify five phases on-site, two of them corresponding to the dates of the metal detector finds that occasioned the excavations.

  1. Late Mesolithic: finds and features with one radiocarbon date.
  2. Middle/Late Neolithic: one hearth with a radiocarbon date, no finds.
  3. Mid-1st Millennium AD: a pit and a hearth with two radiocarbon dates, no finds.
  4. Viking Period: one posthole with a radiocarbon date, no finds.
  5. Modern rubbish pits.

Late Mesolithic

This phase is identified by a radiocarbon date and a collection of lithics, mainly knapped quartz with some leptite, ultramylonite and basalt, but no pottery and no flint. The only well-defined tool is a ground-surface asymmetrical basalt adze (F220) with a quasi-rectangular cross-section, found on the surface of the field during stripping. After separate first-hand study, Stone Age specialists Fredrik Molin and Roger Wikell unanimously placed the assemblage in the Late Mesolithic (5500-4000 cal BC), noting that the adze would look entirely at home among the abundant finds from the Strandvägen settlement site in Motala (cf. Tom Carlsson 2008, Where the River Bends, pp. 232-245, 374-379). This date is consistent with the level above the sea and the absence of Neolithic pottery. None of the finds can certainly be determined as shore-abraded after knapping.

Most of the Stone Age finds occurred singly in the fills of sunken features that looked no different than usual. Only pits 124, 128 and 154 yielded more than one piece of knapped stone each, suggesting that they may have been Stone Age features. Radiocarbon-dating 128 and 154 would have been problematic as both showed signs of modern disturbance. This left only 124, but it yielded no charcoal. Hearth 45 however, which contained no other artefacts, yielded charcoal of rotten oakwood that was dated to 4460-4340 cal BC with 95% probability (Ua-37499, 5560±40 BP).

We found raw material in the form of unmodified quartz seashore pebbles in some features and collected them when they co-occurred with knapped stone. They are very unlike the typical gravel mixed in the fills and natural on site. In several cases, very small quartz pebbles have been used for knapping or simply broken open and then discarded.

In an appendix, Fredrik Molin analyses the lithics and summarises his impressions as follows (and I translate):

“The adze, the signs of micro-blade production, and possibly the use of leptite and ultramylonite all suggest a Late Mesolithic date. Nothing however excludes an Early Neolithic date except the absence of pottery.

Most of the quartz cannot be dated. But to my mind it appears too coarsely knapped for the Early or Middle Mesolithic – and such a date can be ruled out anyway because of shoreline displacement. Quartz knapping [in Östergötland] becomes progressively coarser and uglier with time.”

Middle/Late Neolithic

Feature 123, whose functional interpretation as a hearth was uncertain, yielded hazel charcoal that was dated to 2460-2270 cal BC at 79% probability (Ua-37500, 3855±35 BP). The interval straddles the Middle/Late Neolithic period shift at 2350 cal BC. A shore site from this era might be expected to yield some Late Pitted Ware decorated pottery, of which we found none. Fredrik Svanberg (web log comment, 20 March 2009) has suggested that the sample may have been contaminated, possibly combining material from the site’s Mesolithic and Iron Age components.

Mid-1st Millennium AD

The Early Vendel Period, the later 6th century, is the site’s heyday in terms of the metal detector finds. We made no datable finds of this era during the excavations. Two sherds of black coarse svartgods pottery are most parsimoniously allocated to this phase, though they may well be somewhat earlier or later. Pit 170 and hearth 135 yielded one radiocarbon date each, 170 on spruce-trunk charcoal in 320-440 cal AD (86% probability) and 135 on maple charcoal in 410-550 cal AD (95% probability). As none of the samples had a confirmed low intrinsic age, and as the site has not yielded a single piece of metalwork dating before the Migration Period, it seems safe to place the beginning of this activity phase in the 5th century AD. All pits and hearths on site that yielded no dating evidence are most parsimoniously placed here.

The excavated surface yielded several datable pieces of metalwork from the ploughsoil but none from the sunken features, and there were no remains of building foundations. This suggests that in the 6th century, this particular part of the site saw some metalworking carried out in flimsy structures or outdoors. Any refuse pits and postholes resulting from this activity were apparently less deep than the modern ploughing.

Viking Period

After an apparent hiatus of a century or more in the Late Vendel Period, there are at least six metal detector finds that can be dated to the Viking Period, AD 790-1100. This phase also shows up in a radiocarbon date from one of the excavation’s few postholes, feature 8, where charcoal of rotten Scots pine was dated to 760-900 cal AD at 81% probability (Ua-37498, 1205±35 BP).

Modern Rubbish Pits

This phase gathers sunken features yielding modern artefacts, well-preserved bone (as soil conditions were very poor for such preservation), dynamited rock and/or a curious fine white sand. For unknown reasons, the sand had apparently been carted to site and used to fill four pits, two of which also contained modern finds. The artefact types found in the modern features were iron nails, iron wire, glass, pottery/china, roof tile, brick, fired clay and fresh wood. Modern activities that these features document are the burial of waste, the digging of a drainage ditch and the dynamiting of a few large boulders.

Mesolithic Seal Hunters On a Hilltop Near You

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Today I joined my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell for a day of digging on an Early Mesolithic seal hunting station in the landlocked former archipelago of Tyresta. The Urskogsstigen 4 site is currently on a wooded hilltop at about 77 meters above sea level, and thus likely to date from about 8000 cal BC, shortly after deglaciation. It’s not in the area denuded by the 1999 forest fore. What’s really striking about this particular site (Mattias & Roger have found hundreds) is that it’s very early, it has enormous amounts of quartz débitage and it has a tent-sized cleared area surrounded by large boulders (similar to the one that blew Mattias’s mind last summer).

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I found a lot of unusually finely knapped quartz — bipolar cores and blade-like things, thin, semi-translucent — and Roger picked up a really nice little hammer stone with unmistakable use wear. It’s probably the oldest one collected in the entire county. The guys already have a piece of hazelnut shell for dating. Pretty amazing to find all this insanely old material in a tract of completely nondescript woodland just like I’ve been hiking in since I was a kid.

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We heard cuckoos and ravens calling as we worked, and toward the end of the day, the jingle of a distant ice-cream truck. All the while, a few hundred meters downhill a small television crew was shooting a kiddie TV program about a cartoonish Stone Age where people were grimy and wore chicken bones in their hair.

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Mesolithic Scholar Happy to Get High

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My old buddy from undergrad days, hard-core Mesolithic scholar, painter and woodsman Mattias Pettersson, sent me a pair of wonderful breathless letters on 19 and 21 July about new high-end discoveries. This is all about ancient seal-hunting camps in an area with dramatic shore displacement, which is why Mattias is so happy to get high — 75 meters above current sea level! High means early here, so early that the top sites are pushing the chronological limit set by the last Ice Age. (More context & pix here). I quote (and translate) with Mattias’s permission:
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A Forest Fire on the Outermost Isles

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Spent Friday working for my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell, digging on one of their Mesolithic sites in the Tyresta nature reserve south of Stockholm. It’s an incredible place. Imagine:
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