Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Open Access, Nodal Points, and Central Places: Maritime Communication and Locational Principles for Coastal Sites in South Scandinavia, C. AD 400-1200/avatud Ligipaas, Solmpunktid Ja Keskused: Veeteed Ja Louna-Skandinaavia Rannaasulate Paiknemisloogika Aastail 400-1200 pKr

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Open Access, Nodal Points, and Central Places: Maritime Communication and Locational Principles for Coastal Sites in South Scandinavia, C. AD 400-1200/avatud Ligipaas, Solmpunktid Ja Keskused: Veeteed Ja Louna-Skandinaavia Rannaasulate Paiknemisloogika Aastail 400-1200 pKr

Article excerpt

Introduction

The sea was treasured by Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Scandinavians for many reasons.

In addition to supplying fishery and other coastal resources, it was the principal conduit of regional and long-distance communication. Through the period c. AD 400-1200 various sites emerge or disappear as centres of communication and exchange. The fate of individual sites is often explained as an effect of the changing fortunes of political centres. Communication, however, is a reality of its own. This paper argues that over the centuries, the choice of location for sites concerned with long-distance traffic follows a pattern, which is closely related to changing modes of communication and social relations, rather than mere political shifts. Analysing the location of three evidently important sites, it asks what form of communication made just these positions particularly attractive at a particular period of time.

Coastal settlements

In recent years, many investigations have shown that settlements at the coast became common in south Scandinavia in the middle of the first millennium AD (Fig. 1). Well-studied examples include Selso--Vestby in Roskilde Fjord and Vester Egesborg in southern Zealand (Ulriksen 1998; 2006), Strandby Gammeltoft in south-west Fyn (Henriksen 1997) and Naes in southern Zealand (Christensen 2006). Comparable sites are also known from earlier excavations (e.g. Stromberg 1978), and from investigations in other parts of south Scandinavia (Carlsson 1991; Callmer 1994; Birkedahl & Johansen 2000; Dobat 2005; Ulriksen 2006).

The coastal sites are often characterized by large numbers of sunken-featured buildings, rather than the large multi-purpose longhouses of agrarian villages in the inland. The find-material is marked out, unsurprisingly, by tools for fishing, boat-repair and other maritime activities, and sometimes by a more varied assemblage related to crafts and exchange. Sailing, exchange and communication are the main issues discussed in connection with these sites. But the coast held many other attractions. Among the many sites located on the coast, several were not concerned with trade or travel, but with a basic economy of fishing or grazing in the coastal meadows.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The most common maritime activity was undoubtedly fishing. Judging by the species identified in bone-samples from many sites, Viking Age North Europeans were not yet accustomed to deep-sea fishing (cf. Barrett et al. 2004). Rather, fishing took place on shallow water near the coast. Albeit a maritime activity, it scarcely implied navigation beyond the local surroundings, and did not in itself lead to more distant communication.

The forests and meadows of the coastal forelands were another valuable resource, certainly exploited for permanent or seasonal grassing. Whether the herds were sent out from nearby villages or belonged to separate communities, the groups settled here had very different needs than people in inland villages. Settled perhaps only seasonally at the sea, and with no need to stall cattle, as farmers did to collect manure for their fields, people lived mainly in the lightly built, easily heated sunken-featured huts. As the sunken-featured buildings preserve more varied finds than ploughed-out sites with post-built houses, we might be led to consider such coastal sites as more significant than they really were.

The majority of coastal sites, then, belonged to fishers and herdsmen, rather than sailors and merchants. They were essentially rural sites in a maritime setting, located to take advantage of resources in the immediate environment of the site, either on land or in the waters just beyond.

The problem of 'central places'

A fishing community may use their location and facilities to engage in contacts by sea. But only a small group of sites in south Scandinavia appear to have fulfilled a more specific function in maritime communication. …

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