Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Maritime Landscapes: introduction/Merenduslikud Maastikud: Sissejuhatus

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Maritime Landscapes: introduction/Merenduslikud Maastikud: Sissejuhatus

Article excerpt

This is a thematic issue of the Estonian Journal of Archaeology, dedicated to the settlement archaeology of coastal areas, one-time harbour sites and early urban centres, and to the activities of prehistoric and medieval people on the sea, coasts and riverbanks. Although the main focus will be on the Estonian coast and islands, the coast of present-day Poland on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea has also been taken into consideration. This is the first collection of articles in the framework of the project "Coastal Settlements on Prehistoric and Medieval Saaremaa" (Grant No 5432 of the Estonian Science Foundation), and the settlement archaeology research group of the target-financed project Land, Sea and People: Estonia on its way from the Iron Age to the Medieval period. North-Estonia, West-Estonia and Estonian islands 600-1600 AD in the Institute of History in Tallinn.

It is difficult to overestimate the role of maritime activities in the everyday life of people inhabiting coastal areas. In prehistoric times, the activities comprised fishing and seal-hunting, barter and trade, as well as piracy. Nevertheless, agriculture remained the main source of subsistence, and the presence of arable land in the vicinity was vital. In archaeological terms, such lands are marked by dwelling sites, prehistoric graves and cult places, as well as field remains, hill-forts and early stone churches. Maritime activities are primarily indicated by harbour sites and shipwrecks. All these remains mark human impact on the landscape--the cultural landscape. When agrarian activities forming the landscape are complemented with maritime ones, the result can be defined as a maritime cultural landscape. The articles in this issue consider different types of the latter.

In Pomerania, the southern coast of the Baltic Sea inhabited by West-Slavic people, a state-like society was formed earlier than in the countries further North. One of the earliest signs of the forthcoming social processes was the appearance of trading ports, emporia, at the end of the 8th century. The latter are described in an article by Polish archaeologist Mateusz Bogucki. His attention is concentrated on the reasons why the trading ports emerged, on the background to their appearance, on the essential role that international trade and social circumstances played in their development. A somewhat surprising circumstance for Estonian archaeologists that appears in Bogucki's research is the direct connection he makes between the emergence of trading ports and ethnic aspects, more particularly, the spread of the western Slavic population to the shores of the Baltic Sea. In any case, the main criteria for choosing a place for a trading port seem to be universal; on the northern coast of Poland, similarly to other areas, naturally well-protected places on the estuary of a river or on a small bay, or at the crossroads of trade routes, were selected for this purpose. Several ports of trade that had started to function in the Viking Age developed into towns in later periods, and still exist today.

Whether early urban centres also existed in pre-conquest Estonia, is a matter for debate. It is primarily the development of our larger towns--Tallinn and Tartu--that have been discussed in this respect. A Viking Age or even earlier predecessor of present-day Tallinn was probably the Iru hill-fort with several surrounding settlements. The location of the Iru site complex in a bend of the Pirita River, at the distance of 4 km from the estuary, was clearly a more suitable location for a Viking Age harbour and market place than the place 9 km westwards where the later medieval town was founded and still stands.

The move of harbour sites and trading ports from their former locations to places closer to the coast, where later medieval towns often developed, has been noted in several neighbouring countries. In Bogucki's article, this pattern of development is expressively illustrated by the abandoning of Truso at the end of the 10th century, while international trade concentrated in Gdansk instead. …

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