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Archaeo News 

5 April 2013
Unearthing ancient Sweden

With over 25,000 Iron Age graveyards and burial mounds, 1,140 megalithic structures of all sizes, and about 2,500 large rune stones, Sweden is an archaeologist's paradise.
     Dr Martin Rundkvist studies the province of Oestergoetland, as he says, mainly because little has been done about 1st millennium CE elite culture there. He is trying to locate a Geatish mead-hall. Oestergoetland, he says, has probably always been a political hot spot - a populous and wealthy area - because it is so rich in natural resources. It also has a rich archaeological record starting in the Scandinavian Mesolithic Era (circa 9300-4000 BCE).
     Rundkvist's book, 'Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats: Elite Settlements and Political Geography AD 375-1000 in Oestergoetland, Sweden', reveals that the province, the eastern heartland of the Geats, has historically been one of Scandinavia's "breadbaskets" - a place of great agricultural wealth.
     The mead-hall was an unusually grand long-house with a large room at its centre, containing a big fireplace and a high seat. Various imported luxury items are usually found in them. It was the main type of high-status residence in mid- to late-1st millennium CE Scandinavia. The first two-thirds of the Beowulf poem (circa 750 CE) is about the importance of such a hall to a sixth century Danish king, and how distressed he is when two ogres keep him from using his hall.
     The hall is where leaders perform their political, military, religious, and social roles. This is also where raids are planned, booty is divided and dynastic marriages sealed, where skalds sing the praises of the petty king, and where high-born ladies incite political violence or (less frequently) plead for peace.
     Rundkvist is also something of an expert on ancient Scandinavian metalwork. Some of the artefacts highlighted in his book - in particular, items from the Late Roman Period (150-400 CE), the Vendel Period (540-790 CE), and the Viking Period (790-1100 CE) - are not only beautiful, but of tremendous importance to archaeologists and historians.
     Finds made by his metal detector team and those he has studied in museum collections show that Oestergoetland's jewelery-makers were well-educated in the complex pan-Scandinavian animal art and other designs of the era, yet also cultivated a regional repertoire not found elsewhere. Some are so distinctive that connoisseurs would have been able to peg the owners as "Oestergoetland folk" on sight.
     Dr Rundkvist - author of the wildly popular Aardvarchaeology blog - has written on burials on the Swedish island province of Gotland, first millennium CE metalwork, a Neolithic settlement, Bronze Age burnt mounds and metalwork depositions, a Viking Period boat burial, and an Early Modern harbour. Since finishing his Oestergoetland book, he has been working on one about the Bronze Age (circa 1700-500 BCE).

Edited from Ancient History Encyclopedia (March 2013)

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