Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings

Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings

Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings

Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings


Scandinavia, a land mass comprising the modern countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, was the last part of Europe to be inhabited by humans. Not until the end of the last Ice Age when the melting of huge ice sheets left behind a fresh, barren land surface, about 13,000 BC, did the first humans arrive and settle in the region. The archaeological record of these prehistoric cultures, much of it remarkably preserved in Scandinavia's bogs, lakes, and fjords, has given us a detailed portrait of the evolution of human society at the edge of the inhabitable world. In this book, distinguished archaeologist T. Douglas Price provides a history of Scandinavia from the arrival of the first humans to the end of the Viking period, ca. AD 1050. The first book of its kind in English in many years, Ancient Scandinavia features overviews of each prehistoric epoch followed by illustrative examples from the region's rich archaeology. An engrossing and comprehensive picture of change across the millennia emerges, showing how human society evolved from small bands of hunter-gatherers to large farming communities to the complex warrior cultures of the Bronze and Iron Ages, cultures which culminated in the spectacular rise of the Vikings at the end of the prehistoric period. The material evidence of these past societies - arrowheads from reindeer hunts, megalithic tombs, rock art, beautifully wrought weaponry, Viking warships - give vivid testimony to the ancient peoples of Scandinavia and to their extensive contacts with the remote cultures of the Arctic Circle, Western Europe, and the Mediterranean


Why should an American archaeologist write a book on the prehistory of Scandinavia? It’s a fair question, but there’s a reasonable answer. I have been conducting archaeological research on the last hunters and the first farmers in Scandinavia since 1978, excavating at a number of different places in eastern Denmark. I have spent eight full years in Denmark since 2001 with my Danish wife and daughter. I now live much of the year in Copenhagen. I have traveled substantially in the larger region, visiting archaeological sites and touring different areas. The impressions left by these visits have been powerful, fostering a huge appreciation for the people of the past and their accomplishments. I am writing this book to share some of that Scandinavian prehistory, along with some impressions of the places and objects that have survived.

The archaeology of northern Europe provides a perspective on the human experience, of change and development in human society—from the initial colonists some 13,000 years ago through the arrival of the first farmers 6,000 years ago, the upheavals that accompanied the spread of bronze and iron, and the extraordinary diaspora of the Vikings shortly before AD 1000. The prehistory of Scandinavia has witnessed humans adapting to changes in the environment, both natural and cultural, that have fostered what is today a region of innovative technological, social, and political development.

For various reasons, many people—including a lot of archaeologists—are unaware of how extraordinary the past of Scandinavia really is. Much of the archaeological literature within Scandinavia is published in the native languages and frequently does not reach a wider audience. The region is often considered to be outside the mainstream of archaeological research, which tends to focus on the earliest, or the monumental, or the first civilizations of the Old and New Worlds.

But in fact, the archaeology of Scandinavia is extremely useful for understanding our human past. The occupants of Scandinavia’s prehistory left traces of their presence in many different ways, from the rock art of the Stone Age to the giant stone tombs of the first farmers, the earthen burial mounds that dot the skyline from the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the massive fortifications of the Viking period. It is hard to travel in Scandinavia without seeing the evidence of that past. Moreover, archaeologists have been working here for 200 years to expose the remains, catalog the finds, display the evidence, and inform the public. Archaeology is a popular topic in museums, schools, magazines, on television, the Internet, and other outlets. There are some 80 local museums in Denmark alone that provide access to the remnants of the past.

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