The Iron Age Ritual Building at Uppakra, Southern Sweden

Article excerpt


In Iron Age Scandinavia (500 BC-AD 1000), research priority has been given to in-depth analyses of societal conditions during the last decades. There has been lively discussion of topics such as the concentration of political power and socio-economic relations as well as the composition of religious belief including the introduction of Christianity (Graslund 2001; Price 2002; Nordberg 2003). Research has focused on studies of the significance of certain places as centres in political, economic and religious spheres of interest (Hedeager 2001; 2002; Sundqvist 2002; 2004; Nasman & Roesdahl 2003; Zachrisson 2004b). In Denmark, research has shown how regional political groupings made themselves felt in the middle part of the Roman Iron Age and then become fully distinct in the Migration period (Mortensen & Rasmussen 1988; 1991; Hedeager 1990; 2000; Nasman 1998). From this period we should thus be able to speak of an incipient establishment of what would later, following continental European models, develop into large, coherent states. The magnate and his retinue expressed a new political force in which the initiative for change was to a large extent transferred from the kindred to leading persons or families. In the Migration period and the Merovingian period (AD 400-800) we notice increasingly strong influence from emerging central powers (Nasman 2000). A radical transformation of society is reflected in increased trade, the beginnings of urbanisation, and a change of world view.

While research had been done in both Denmark and central Sweden (Arrhenius & Eriksson 1997; Herschend 1997; Price 2002; Fabech 1994; 1999), the intermediate area, that is southern Sweden, had not been credited with the role or attracted the interest that the area must have enjoyed by virtue of its location and its contacts. But in 1996 the research project entitled 'The Social Structure of Southern Sweden during the Iron Age' was initiated. The aim of the project was an investigation of the concepts of central place and power, using, on the one hand, the material expressions of power, such as large farms or the control of highly skilled craftsmen and, on the other hand, the effects of power in steering the exchange of goods (Helgesson 2002). Research into ideology was not emphasised in the initial planning as it was hardly expected that much more could be added to the intensive debate that was going on. Ideological expressions were frequent in the find material, such as the decoration on brooches, but true structures of major importance for religious practice had been ruled out as implausible for decades (Olsen 1966).

Investigations at Uppakra

The Uppakra site, situated approximately 5km south of Lund, served as a focus because of its special structure and find material (Figure 1).The site was first recognised in 1934 during building works. A minor excavation revealed occupation layers with a thickness of more than 2m (Vifot 1936; Stjernquist 1996). Small rescue excavations in connection with development work in the form of road widening, house building, or digging for pipelines, along with field surveys, have revealed occupation remains dating from the entire Iron Age. They cover an area of approximately 1.1 x 0.6km--the largest occupation site known so far in southern Sweden (Hardh 2000, Figure 3). When the 1996 project started, the remains from Uppakra were felt to have significant potential.


Metal-detector surveys and small excavations were undertaken in the initial phase of the project in 1997-2000, showing the extent and complexity of the Uppakra site to be even greater than initially expected. The metal detector surveys yielded almost 20 000 finds, suggesting a settlement sequence that starts in the late part of the Pre-Roman Iron Age and continues until the Viking Age (Hardh 2000; 2003). The occupation zone now extends over 40ha. The largest variety of metal finds, chronologically and technically, was found in an area to the south of the church of Stora Uppakra. …