Västerås in the Stone-Age
Excavations in Eriksborg
Motivated through a feature in the local TV, I decided to make a journey, which would take me back about 4000 years in time. One of the city's projects is to build a connection-road between Norrleden and Fagerstavägen. Because this road will lead through an area containing relics of the past, there must be given a possibility to make the necessary excavations there, before the building-work starts. Equipped with this knowledge and a lot of questions, I got onto my bicycle and rode northwards.
You shouldn't think that such excavations are anything like a festival, with lots of spectators, so that you just have to follow the crowd, if you don't know your way - like visiting an away-match of soccer.
Not at all. I got to know all the promenade-paths near Västra Sjukhuset, without any hint of being near my goal. Only when I hit the road to Fagersta, I finally was lucky, following the first caterpillar-track into the woods. A couple of hundred yards further along I saw a pile of earth and some people. Going there meant passing through a cornfield, but you just have to make some sacrifice to science, don't you?
I frankly admit, that an excavation from the Stone Age really isn't that exciting. Due to natural reasons there are not any bronze-statues around yet and the buildings don't resemble those in Pompeji. What you can see is just a piece of farm-land, stripped of its top-soil, with some dug-out holes on it. Near each of those holes, there is a wooden sticker stuck into the ground, with a number on it - some of them even lying flat on the ground, pointing. Anyhow! Just the thought, that the findings here are (almost) as old as the pyramids at Gizah, that they are older than the temples on the Akropolis, not to talk about such "modern" things like the Forum Romanum - just this is worth being thought. Then you might even be able to feel some kind of humbleness, looking at these holes and stickers.
I am sent to Leif Karlenby, who is in charge of the excavations here. We have a seat in the shadow of the barracks and I am told that I am lucky, having come today, as the work here will be finished tomorrow.
We start talking about the background to excavations in general, and I get to know more about the laws concerning relics of the past. Principally it says that those findings are protected and may not be removed. But it is the decision of the county-government, to weigh the worth of a project in favour of society against that of the loss of a historical site, and it may give the permission to build new roads or buildings. Though if this is going to be in a place where you can assume findings, the building party must pay an examination of the site. This is done in different stages, starting with examination of the surface, and if necessary, followed by primary excavations and finally a real one.
In our case, they had got two months time for the excavations. I oppose that this must lead to a conflict between archeologists and those who pay, concerning the time given for excavations - and Leif nods. But there are other aspects as well, he says. Ist is important that the excavations get started in time, so that they don't delay the building-project. It is also important to be able to show a good result and that the excavations are mentioned in the media, because there you can popularize your findings.
I ask about the time after the outdoor-work. Leif tells me, that there will be a written report about what was found. The items will be sent to the Historical Museum in Stockholm, where decisions about their future will be made. Anything that is interesting for the entire country, will be kept there, others may be sent to the county-museums.
On my question if there are going to be any mobile expositions, in order to bring it closer to people, the answer is: yes and no. There are ambitions, but no money....
After having talked about excavations in general, my questions center on this particular one. And yes, it is true, these findings are almost 4000 years old, C14-probes point to an age between 1700 and 2000 BC, which coincides with the typological dating of the artefacts. My raised eyebrows make Leif explain more. Typological means, that you compare the manufacturing, the ornamentation, etc. with other findings, from which you already have an exact dating. Concerning the C14, applicable on all organic material, one measures how much there is left, to get the age. Of course there are difficulties as well. Take a huge trunk, of which you want to know how old it is. In that case you must not forget that the tree has a considerable age of its own, before the trunk was used as an item in a former civilisation. Leif tells me that they were lucky in this case, because they found unburnt shells of hazel-nut in a well - and those most certainly don't have an age of their own, because they were eaten in the same year as they grew. But one always must look at the context of each finding, the more you can find out, the better the dating will be. In this case we can be sure, that we deal with late Stone Age, on the brink to the Bronze Age.
I ask, how long people have been living in this spot, from where they came and why they choose to settle right here.
The earliest settlements in this area are probably from between 3000 - 3500 BC. The people followed the ice, when it withdrew after the latest glacial period. It is up to discussion, if the social and cultural changes at that time were due to new settlers, or if the residents changed their habits on their own, influenced by their neighbours. As this is a Scandinavian settlement, influences most certainly came from the Southwest, not at least through trading. But there is no doubt of influences coming from the East as well, maybe even the bronze was introduced that way. It is not surprising, that this settlement was situated right here, the area of the Västerås of our time was still beneath the surface of the water. At that time there was no Lake Mälaren yet, it was just a bay of the Baltic Sea, its waterlevel being 25 meters higher than today. Here, in Eriksborg, we are at a height of 31 meters, that is only about 5 meters above the sealevel of that time. This means that there were probably nice pastures here for the domestic animals and the advantage of the sea being right out of the front door. This area ought to have had quite a lot of settlements.
My follow-up question, if there are many funeral sites here, is answered negatively, though - only near Bjurhovda a stone coffin was found.
How could one possibly know if it is worth to excavate at a certain place? There are so many alternatives....
Most excavations are done in an area, where something will be built, the site is primarily determined through the building-project. Examining such a place, one starts with the surface. If there are splinters of quartz and flint, caused through toolmaking, it can be worth to start a more thorough examination. Then you remove the top-soil, about 10 inches. The interesting layer differs from site to site. Maybe there are only a couple of inches, in which findings can be made, sometimes it could be two feet ore more, and in certain places, for instance near wells, it is still more. At one of the wells on this site the findings came about 8 feet down.
The question about digging devices is always difficult. Sometimes you can use machines, until you reach the important layers, then you go on with trowels. With those you can dig out most things without destroying them. Most of them are broken anyhow, and all you get are fragments. But again, it is really a question about money - you can't do all of the digging manually, that would cost far too much.
My last question naturally concerns the findings in this place.
Leif shows the way into one of the barracks and points to a table. There are lots and lots of small bags, containing something and with a written number on them. Those numbers are identical with those on the sticks outside, and point out the place of the finding. Most of the artefacts are splinters from quarz and flint, but there are also bones from sheep or cattle, the earlier mentioned hazel-nut shells, well formed and polished stone axes, like the one on the picture, a very beautiful arrow-head and a short "ladder", that is a log with carved foot-holds. There were also some findings of pretty large pieces of pottery.
Leif shows some parts of a pot, which could have been about 15 - 20 inches high and 12 in diameter. On one of the parts you can see the brim with engravings of a pattern of spruce-twigs, which was a typical ornamentation of this time. Another piece of the same pot's lower parts was found as well.
In summing up, one can take different attitudes to the work of two months. One could, just like that certain youth, when he was suggested to go to Athens, to see the temples of the Acropolis, say: "What for? They are all just ruins!"
Or one could be thankful, that yet another part of our cultural heritage has been found, which, together with many, many other pieces, fill the puzzle of our background and are the cause of our existence today.
Bernhard Kauntz, Västerås, October 1997
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last update: 13.10.1997 by