Swedish archaeologist/osteologist currently working at Östergötland County Administrative Board, Sweden, blogging at Testimony of the spade. Twitter handle @Reuterdahl

ABC of Swedish planning archaeology and an archaeological paradox

There are many kinds of archaeologist – some are specialized in a region or on a period others do contract archaeology, surveys, work at museums, laboratories or work with planning issues etc etc. We do many many things. We do archaeology!I’ve done it all – more or less: I’m an osteolgist so I do the odd osteolgical analysis. I’m an archaeologist so I’ve done surveys, contract archaeology, research archaeology and currently I work at the County board of Östergöland in Sweden doing what could be called planning archaeology.

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

So what is planning archaeology? Well lets say it’s a form of archaeological desk-based assessments – what kind of archaeology is needed in a certain situation – for example when someone wants to build a road or house. In Sweden the County boards are responsible for this part, we also order the archaeology and then let the developer pay for it – sounds sweet, it has its ups and downs. Of course I can’t just decide from the top of my head, the decisions are made according to law and praxis.

This is how it works in Sweden, in three easy (or not) steps!

Step one. Person A, the developer, submitting a notification that he or she is planning a development of some sorts. The County Board will make an assessment concerning if there are archaeological needs, based on archaeological records, previous digs, historical maps and other studies. If we find that we don’t have enough knowledge to make a decision or if the data points to the likelihood that one may encounter ancient remains – then we order a preliminary archaeological investigation.

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

During a preliminary archaeological investigation an archaeological contractor, a museum or other arhaeological institution of the County board’s choice is choosen. They do a review of historical sources, archaeological material as well as a survey (field walking) and, if necessary, do search trenches.

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Based on the information from the preliminary archaeological investigation we then either say that archaeology in some form is needed or not.

Step two. If needed the next step in the process is an archaeological investigation. During this the ancient monument is to be defined geographically, decide its function, be dated and its scientific potential should be described. For this a limited archaeological excavation is needed. The result should give us the information needed to decide if the final step is needed, a full archaeological excavation, but also facts enough for others to be able to make an excavation plan and a cost estimate.

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Step three. The final step, if needed, is a full excavation, meaning the ancient monument is to be removed and documented. If this cost is under 890 000 Swedish crowns, ca: 104000 Euro, the County Board can decide who will do the archaeology, if it costs more it needs to be procured.

In most cases the developer has to pay for all archaeology. Among the various steps in the process the developer can of course choose to cancel the archaeological process (and stop the development), they also aim to give the developer the opportunity to look at other opportunities or changes to lower thier costs. In the end the less archaeology being made the better we do our jobs – as the intention is to preserve monuments rather than make them disappear – a kind of archaeological paradox, wouldn’t you say.

A lot of what I do is this – is that boring?

– No, it actually is quite interesting and in many cases complex, and you get to learn new things along the way. I never thought I’d be doing make procurements when I studied archaeology, and by the way I wasn’t taught how to either!

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Is this all that we do? No we do lots of other things concerning cultural heritage, such as signs at ancient monuments, small surveys, projects, meeting land owners, forest owners, looking into environments and landscapes etc. But when the sun shines outside I can feel the trowel luring me, but then again when its rainy/snowy, cold and/or wet it’s quite good to be sitting inside – looking out 🙂

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Magnus Reuterdahl, an archaeologist at the County Adminstrative board Östergötland, Sweden and blogging at Testimony of the spade.


Who is an Archaeologist?

Who is an archeologist? – This might seem an easy question and in some cases it might be, for example if you work as an archaeologist or if you have a degree in archaeology. Then again there are several trades that deal somewhat with archaeology, for example a guide at museum, an author or an journalist that write about archaeology, that doesn’t require an archaeological degree or that you’ve worked as an archaeologist. Others might have a degree in archaeology but has worked or intended to work as an archaeologist. The last six months I’ve been part of a work group for the Swedish Union DIK ( Link in Swedish) to set down ethical guidelines for archaeology. The work is not done but it’s been interesting to read other ethical guidelines, for example the EAA and the AAA and sit down and discuss ethical issues as well as issues’ concerning what is archaeology and who is an archaeologist.


A different kind of digging

My name is Magnus Reuterdahl, I’m a Swedish archaeologist and osteologist currently working at Kalmar County Museum. I’ve been blogging on archaeology since 2007 at Testimony of the spade, in English, and blog on occasion for the museum blog in Swedish.

 Archaeology is a strange thing, you’d think I would be out digging in the dirt all summer long, but no. Currently I’m doing in-door stuff – not due to lack of work but due to the fact the land owners and or building contractors either have vacation or have lots of people on vacation and can’t organize wood cutting needed etc. Well, I’ll be digging again soon enough 🙂

 Then what do you do – well lets dig into old digs and finds from old digs – some have not been catalogued or needs to be recatalouged, reports that hasn’t been finished needs a little TLC etc. So this is what I currently do.

This work is a bit of detective work, as you often haven’t participated in the dig and you’ll have to read up, try to find the original notes and get into the methods of registration done then etc. A couple of these digs have been laying about for more than just a few years.

When doing something like that this you’ll bound to stumble on some interesting artefacts such as this bronze tool, found at a excavation just next to Hossmo church, Kalmar County.

 A bronze lucet, probably from the late Viking Age or the early Middle Ages (ca 600-1200 AD), used for twinning cords in the same way as bone lucet or as they are called in Swedish tinbl bein. The lucet is made of a folded thin bronze plate, and has had two points at the end, the object is about 3 inches long.

Another find that caught my interest was found on the island Öland, just east of Kalmar, at Övra Vannborga, is 18 teeth beads. The beads are made out of front tooth from several deer, the roots are pierced, and they probably have been sitting on a garment. The beads were found in a grave originally believed to be of Neolithic origin though the 14C-analsys proved the grave and the beads to be older than that, they are from the Mesolithic, ca 7000 BC.

By working with finds you learn a lot, not just about the finds themselves but also about the context they been found, how they been made, where other finds alike them has been found and not but not least you come very close to the common man or woman, to the prehistoric individual – you find objects from which you can eventually can build a story, their story, so that both you and I might understand their and perhaps our time better.

That’s all for now

Magnus Reuterdahl