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The last two decades of excavations in southwest Scania, Sweden, have given substantial new results regarding Early Neolithic society (4000–3300 cal. BC). The overall aim here is to discuss and synthesize these results, and a number of important excavations are also presented in detail. The results are both on a macro scale concerning overall settlement pattern, landscape use and the scale of monumental landscapes, and on a micro scale concerning, for example, houses and huts, monumental sites and their complexity, and pits and depositional practices on different types of sites. Also, the economy of the region as well as the socio-political organization are discussed based on interpretations of the material presented.
Early Neolithic Landscape And Society In South-West Scania – New Results And Perspectives
Magnus Andersson, Magnus Artursson and Kristian Brink
The last two decades of excavations in southwest Scania, Swe- den (Fig. 1), mainly conducted within developer-funded archaeolo- gy, have given substantial new results regarding society in the Early Neolithic (EN I 4000–3500 cal. BC, EN II 3500–3300 cal. BC). These re- sults are both on a macro scale concerning settlement pattern, land- scape use and the scale of monumental landscapes, and on a micro scale concerning, for example, houses and huts, monumental sites and their complexity, and pits and depositional practises on different types of sites. However, it remains to be discussed and synthesized on a regional level, which is the overall aim of this article. The EN is associated with the early Funnel Beaker culture (FBC) of southernmost Scandinavia, part of the vast area of the so-called ‘TRB North Group’.
This article is the result of a large-scale developer-funded excavation. It took place in the autumn of 2013 in Östra Odarslöv on the northeastern outskirts of Lund. Here the ESS (European Spallation Source) is being built as part of a collaboration of several European countries to create a powerful new neutron source (http://europeanspallationsource.se/). Remains of houses, huts, pits, a wooden façade with an inhumation burial, three free-standing wooden façades, a stone-built façade and three long dolmens from the EN were excavated, forming one of the largest and most complex sites of the period in southwest Scania (Brink/Larsson in press).
This article will present the Östra Odarslöv site and the results of the excavation. The excavation at Östra Odarslöv has changed the outlook on this particular part of southwest Scania as an area in between more intensely occupied zones of the region (cf. Lagergren 2012). In this respect, it is an important part of our view of EN sites, landscapes and society in the region as a whole (Fig. 2). New excavations reveal a steadily more complex and varied picture. Thus, in order to understand Östra Odarslöv as part of EN society, a wider regional outlook is necessary.
The article begins with a short background on Late Mesolithic society in southern Scandinavia before turning to the EN. A general overview of landscape use in the period will initiate the discussion. The perspective presented forms a background in the following discussions on EN sites and society in the region. After this the results from a selection of sites in southwest Scania are presented, starting with the Östra Odarslöv site. The chosen objects are of course only a selection among the many EN sites in the region. They have been chosen because they hold a wide range of remains of houses, huts, pit depositions and different types of monuments, thus clearly revealing the variation and complexity of the EN material. The section that follows discusses houses and huts, pits and pit depositions and monuments in various contexts in the region. The focus is on new results and perspectives regarding these phenomena. This section also considers the history of research, describing the main lines of thought in earlier interpretations as well as methodological aspects. In the final section EN society in southwest Scania is discussed as regards some aspects of Neolithization, economy and socio-political organization. Tables I–VI presenting basic information on excavated houses, huts and monuments in the region will be found in the Appendix.
The Late Mesolithic background 5500–4000 cal. BC
According to Brian Hayden (2014, 162–163) the introduction of agriculture cannot be considered as the major watershed in cultural evolution. Instead, the major step occurred with the appearance of transegalitarian complex hunter-gatherer societies; in general, all cultural innovations attributed to Neolithic societies actually first occurred before Neolithization. In southern Scandinavia, several traits that are usually connected with the Neolithic culture were introduced already during the Late Mesolithic Ertebølle culture.
Recent excavations of Middle and Late Mesolithic (6800–4000 cal. BC) settlements and cemeteries in the Baltic Sea region and the Öresund Strait area have shown much greater social, ideological and religious complexity than earlier models proposed. During the Late Mesolithic (5500–4000 cal. BC) a clear change in settlement organization can be seen in southern Scandinavia; the base settlements were concentrated on the coast and they got larger and more complex in structure. At the same time there was a specialization in fishing and hunting of sea mammals, which probably could support much larger, permanent concentrations of people on a yearly basis. To supplement this specialization in sea-based resources, small settlements in the inland for hunting and foraging were in use during shorter periods of the year (Brinch Petersen/Meiklejohn 2003; Karsten/Knarrström 2003; Andersson et al. 2004; Nilsson Stutz/Larsson/Zagorska 2013).
The establishment of large cemeteries placed close by the base settlements on the coast can be seen as markers of territory and as statements of long-established hereditary rights to certain regions. In the cemeteries some graves show signs of social stratification; differences in investment in burial construction and burial gifts imply the existence of an age-based hierarchy, probably based on a bigman political system. In some cases remains of standing wooden poles and small specialized buildings for ritual activities have been identified in the cemeteries, implying the existence of quite complex rituals and religious/ideological concepts (Albrethsen/Brinch Petersen 1977; Klassen 2002; Brinch Petersen/Meiklejohn 2003; Larsson, L. 1984; 1988; Karsten/Knarrström 2003; Hallgren 2011; Nilsson Stutz/ Larsson/Zagorska 2013).
A regionalization of the Ertebølle culture in southern Scandinavia can be identified, probably due to a rise in population density and consequent increased competition for resources. The increasing importance of territorial aspects can be seen in a more obvious regional division in material culture, especially between the western and eastern part of southern Scandinavia, but also between local groups in the Baltic and Öresund region (Tilley 1996, 52–57; Andersen 2002, 228–229; Sørensen 2014, 110–117).
An important aspect is also the first more substantial signs of long-distance contacts: the import of shoe-last axes (‘Schuhleistenkeilen’), axes made of exotic materials like jade and also some copper objects from continental Europe. The existence of these long-distance networks for the import of exotic objects could have supported an evolving prestige goods economy that formed the base for an increase in hierarchical level and the beginning of social stratification in the region, clearly seen when reaching the EN. These networks could also be the background to the first appearance of domesticates and the introduction of agriculture in southern Scandinavia, supplying people with essential know-how and the material base to change the economy as well as society (Klassen 2000; 2002; 2004; Fischer 2002; Sørensen 2014).
The Early Neolithic landscape of southwest Scania
The EN sees a dramatic rise in the number of sites compared to the Late Mesolithic, above all in the inland, although the coast is continuously used as well. On a supra-regional scale this can possibly be seen as the result of an increase in population and exploitation of resources visible at least from 4100 cal. BC in northern Germany and from 4000 cal. BC in southern Scandinavia (Hinz et al. 2012; Sørensen 2014; Hinz 2015).
The farm inhabited by a household is a social unit found throughout the 4th millennium BC in several regions – including southwest Scania – of the large area of the FBC North Group (e.g. Larsson, M. 1992, 78–82; Andersson 2004a, 130–141; Björhem/Magnusson Staaf 2006, 117–121; Larsson/Brink 2013, 331; Müller et al. 2013, 64). Households are generally considered to have been based on multigenerational families (e.g. Larsson, M. 1992, 83, families of 8–10 people; Ebbesen 2011, 516, families of 6–7 people; see also Artursson et al. 2003, 125–126 and Ahlström 2009, 135 for a critical discussion regarding family and household). Stig Welinder (1998, 127) has defined the Neolithic farm as a group of people living in a house, relying on agriculture as a substantial part of their economy.
Although valid on a general level, this view of the farm and household runs the risk of giving a one-dimensional picture of social relations as well as of our understanding of land use in the Neolithic. The basic pattern of single farms or households is in some cases challenged by indications of more than one household living at the sites. Also, as suggested by Niels H. Andersen (2013, 119), rather than understanding a settlement or a farm as a single site – holding all activities within an easily delimited area – it means recognizing that many different activities or functions located within a larger area can be related to what we can perceive as part of a settlement or a farm. This is not to be equated with the classical economic territory of site-catchment analysis, neatly circled around a settlement. Instead it is to be perceived as an area of both economic and social importance to people, and an area of partly overlapping functions and relations of several households or farms.
The traditional categorization of sites into different functions – settlements of different temporalities, burial grounds, depositions – have also divided the landscape into functionally and spatially clearly differentiated sites. Perhaps most commonly a division into sites of domestic or ritual function has been applied. More recent discussions – in southern Scandinavia and beyond – have instead underlined the fluid or merged picture regarding use and meanings within local Neolithic sites as well as landscapes, bridging earlier more clear-cut site dichotomies (e.g. Björhem/Magnusson Staaf 2006; Hallgren 2008; Berggren 2010; Berggren/Brink 2012; Thomas 2013; Jorge 2014; Smyth 2014; Brink in press).
The merged picture regarding functions and meanings within a settled area should also be applied to aspects of social constellations, that is who participates in different activities. Current discussions on FBC use of the landscape within Scandinavian archaeology have stressed collective accessibility and movement. Groups of varying social constellations – from individual or several farms, during different periods of the year or at special events – may have used certain sites, whether seasonally used herding, hunting or fishing sites or large assembly or burial sites of importance within a wider community (e.g. Andersson 2004a; Björhem/Magnusson Staaf 2006; Rudebeck 2010; Brink in press; see also Hallgren 2008; 2013 and Carlsson 2014).
The Late Mesolithic–EN landscape seen in fig. 3 can exemplify the above perspective. This was a landscape of different and mixed activities and temporalities – a landscape of temporary, small-scale activities, a landscape of farmsteads where at least some lived and worked all year round and a landscape of large-scale burial and assembly activities of social importance far beyond the area seen in the figure. Some of the sites will be presented in more detail.
EN sites in southwest Scania – a few examples
At Östra Odarslöv topsoil was removed from about 104,000 m2 divided between four areas. The main area with Neolithic remains, Object 1, was about 37,000 m2. Object 1 was dominated by remains from the EN (Andersson/Artursson in press a). This site was located on sandy, gentle western slopes and strips of land, extending towards areas which in prehistoric times were wetlands. On a larger regional scale the site is located on the western tip of the Romele ridge, a large ridge stretching for about 30 km towards the southeast, and with the present-day coast line roughly 13 kilometres to the west. During the EN, the sea level was 4 m above the present level, and the site was only 8 km from the sea at this time.
Remains of fourteen huts, two longhouses, cultural layers, ovens, and various types of pits were found in the settlement area. In the southeastern part of the site the excavation documented a ritual area. Here, one wooden façade, an inhumation burial with a wooden façade, an inhumation burial without any markings above ground, a stone-built façade and three long dolmens were excavated (Fig. 4). All structures have been dated to the EN based on finds, context and 14C analyses (Fig. 5). The whole existing settlement, from the EN phase, was probably located within the excavated area – encircled by the wetlands to the west and south, and the heavier clay soils to the north and east. About 500 metres east of Object 1 another site, Object 2, was excavated. This settlement was located on a terrace and on a gentle southern and southeastern slope towards wetlands. Four huts and a number of pits with EN material were found. This site probably extended beyond the excavated area.
The huts from the EN at Östra Odarslöv can be divided into two types (see Appendix, Tabs. II and III) and there is a striking homogeneity in the design within each type:
- Round or oval huts with sunken floor/trodden surface, hearths and postholes for roof and/or walls (Figs. 6 and 7).
- Simple huts with U-shaped wall trenches with postholes and sometimes roof-postholes and hearth (Fig. 8).