Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Aspects of Change in the Bronze Age Eastern Baltic. the Settlements of the Asva Group in Estonia

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Aspects of Change in the Bronze Age Eastern Baltic. the Settlements of the Asva Group in Estonia

Article excerpt

Summary

Bronze Age research in the eastern Baltic was actually initiated with the very first archaeological settlement excavations at Asva and Iru in Estonia and Klangukalns in Latvia in the 1930s. Before the discovery of these hill fort sites the material culture remains were so minimal that researchers even expressed doubt concerning the existence of a proper Bronze Age or any remarkable settlement activity in this region. The quantity and quality of finds from these hill forts resulted in completely new insights into a fairly unknown cultural past of the eastern Baltic region. Quite soon the Estonian prehistorian Harry Moora reached the conclusion that the cultural life in the Early Metal Ages was against all expectations a very active and developed one, and vividly benefitting from intercultural contacts. Interestingly, Moora also stated that the rich archaeological material from these newly discovered sites indicated that the scarceness of grave and hoard finds (containing metals) need not necessarily correspond to the social and cultural reality of the past and that local deposition processes and customs should be considered. Consequently, there was no reason to believe that eastern Baltic societies suffered metal-poor or low-level economic conditions and cultural developments (see Chapter 1).

Unfortunately, this was just a promising start of Bronze Age research that, as the entire methodology and working practice in eastern Baltic archaeology, could not be developed further. This was mainly due to the political conditions and circumstances throughout the post-World War II period and the times of the Iron Curtain. After the continuation of excavations at Asva on the Island of Saaremaa in the late 1940s and mid-1960s and other archaeological campaigns in the newly discovered site of Ridala (with palisade structures; excavated 1961-1963) in western Estonia preliminary results only and a few minor articles have been published. In his dissertation in 1970 Vello Lougas gave a detailed overview of the current state of research into the Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Estonia, also introducing the main results from earlier and his own archaeological investigations at Asva (years 1965-1966). The comprehensive account of facts leading to his chronological system and periodisation, particularly his interpretation and discussion of socio-economic processes and developments, were all grounded on archaeological objects, types and groups from Bronze Ages settlement sites. Because of remaining unpublished and the general isolation of Estonian archaeology in Soviet time Lougas' work could never be received or reviewed by any international research platform. The Bronze Age research of other Baltic Sea regions was simply denied access to the archaeological progress of the Baltic countries, also during the next decades. Lougas had a sort of autonomous position in the field of Bronze and Iron Age research in the Soviet republic of Estonia. Being practically the only academic authority specialising in and permitted to study and investigate the heritage from these prehistoric time periods, he also had to cover a large scope of other duties in salvation and heritage management. Accordingly, there was not much room and spirit left for theoretically reflective research, not to mention the danger of being steadily confronted with political-ideological doctrines in Soviet archaeology and history sciences. When reflecting his (not always fully reproducible) applied methods in archaeological work and the missing data and documentations of significant archaeological sites and contexts, this background of political and economic circumstances needs to be reconsidered (Chapter 6). This concerns in particular the meteorite crater area of Kaali on Saaremaa and the archaeological excavations and the reporting under his direction (in 1976-1979), which have left some confusion and many open questions behind.

In the late 1980s Valter Lang initiated a proper landscape and settlement archaeology in Estonia with emphasis on palaeogeography and palaeoecology, mainly in the course of studies and fieldworks in coastal areas of north Estonia (including Iru hill fort). …

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