Contract museum archaeology in Sweden

Hello and greetings from Sweden’s west coast! My name is Delia Ní Chíobháin Enqvist and I am an archaeologist working in the Contract Archaeology department at Bohusläns museum, Uddevalla.

Bohusläns museum_Ytterby AU

#FieldworkFace. Photo: Niklas Ytterberg, Bohusläns museum.


At the contract archaeology department we work mostly with projects that are development-led and mainly within Västra Götaland county, but at times travel to other parts of the country. I could explain in detail the bureaucratic process behind project contracts and the laws involved but this post is supposed to be fun to read! Basically, if someone is developing an area of land or water the County Administrative Board decides on whether there is a need for archaeological work, they then decide on a company carry out the archaeological work (there are a number of competitive companies in Sweden), and in general it is the contractor who pays for the work. That was the nutshell explanation, here is a more detailed explanation.

In total we are 20 archaeologists at the department, including maritime archaeologists. We have a blog and we tweet, the majority of the content is in Swedish so don’t worry about trying to pronounce any of the words, it took me a few years. I am Irish and am originally from the Dingle peninsula. Right after beginning my studies in archaeology I took up scuba diving with the plan of becoming a maritime archaeologist. And my plan worked! Today I am one of four maritime archaeologists at the department and we work on archaeological projects along the coast, in rivers and in lakes all over Sweden. We dive according to the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s regulations but in essence the archaeological work we conduct is similar to that on land. Save for occasionally not being able to see things. Below is an image showing good visibility underwater:

An archaeologist working on a wreck site off Resö island, Sweden. Photo: Delia Ni Chiobhain Enqvist, Bohusläns museum.

An archaeologist working on a wreck site off Resö island, Sweden. Photo: Delia Ni Chiobhain Enqvist, Bohusläns museum.

Here is an image of from an area with less visibility:

Delia on an archaeological investigation at Lindholmen, lake Vänern, Sweden. Photo: Staffan von Arbin, Bohusläns museum.

Delia on an archaeological investigation at Lindholmen, lake Vänern, Sweden. Photo: Staffan von Arbin, Bohusläns museum.

While all of the archaeologists at the department partake in fieldwork, we also work as project managers for the department’s archaeological investigations and excavations. This involves taking projects from the initial enquiry, researching the archaeology of the area, posing research questions, developing a project and fieldwork plan, creating a budget, arranging logistics, participating in the fieldwork, documentation and analysis and finally report writing. The majority of this work is desk based and likely not the first image of an archaeologist that comes to mind, but it is what I find both interesting and important about our work. No day is really ever the same and we work closely with developers on a professional level to ensure that archaeological interests are considered during developments.

Ongoing excavations at Gothenburg's Old Town. Photo: Markus Andersson.

Ongoing excavations at Gothenburg’s Old Town, Staden Nya Lödöse. Photo: Markus Andersson.

On this Day of Archaeology I happen to be in the office. In July many companies and industries take holiday so there are not many archaeologists in the office right now. As the Swedish summer typically happens on one day, which was in late June, it is quite ok to be indoors. My colleague Clara and I are spending our time writing reports from previous excavations in the field. Clara is writing a report on an excavation of a settlement site not far from Gothenburg and that dates from the Stone Age to the Vendel Period, here’s the initial investigation report. I am working on a report from a maritime archaeology investigation that we carried out in May prior to development of a lake shore near Alingsås. Reporting our investigations and excavations is not only a requirement from the County Administrative Board but is also our duty as archaeologists, otherwise by keeping the information to ourselves we do not fulfil one of our main goals which is to present the past to society. Our department’s reports can be found here (shameless plugging).

Many of us have a number of projects of varying sizes ongoing at any time. Apart from writing a report I am also making maps for a report of an excavation of a late Iron Age burial ground on Tjörn island. Clara, an osteologist, spent last week analysing bone finds from various parts of Sweden. Some archaeologists in the unit are currently working on the largest urban excavation to ever have been carried out in western Sweden, the city of Nya Lödöse and where I have borrowed a number of images from:

NyaLodose_150521_Markus Andersson

Ongoing excavations at Gothenburg’s Old Town, Staden Nya Lödöse. Photo: Markus Andersson.

As a final note, Clara and I will soon embark on an exciting new path as PhD students, exciting not just for us but for contract archaeology as a whole. While still working as contract archaeologists we will study as part of the Graduate School of Contract Archaeology at Linnaeus University. Our department has embarked on this unique cooperation between contract museum archaeology and academia to investigate and develop archaeology’s contemporary societal relevance. We plan to study and develop methods which will further engage the public with their past, and by the time Day of Archaeology 2016 arrives we will have much more to write on the subject.

Delia and Clara taking time for a selfie during fieldwork at Jörlanda Berg.

Delia and Clara taking time for a selfie during fieldwork at Jörlanda Berg.


Until then thanks for taking the time to read about our work!


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.


Old Uppsala and Beyond

Kerstin Westrin and Jonas Wikborg, assist projectleader, excavating a pit house at Old Uppsala. Olle Heimer is looking through the contents of the floor layer. Photo: Asa M Larsson

Rescue excavations – the curse and boon of our profession. We may bleed for the heritage sites that are lost forever, but without the expansion of modern society we would get very little chance to peek into prehistory on a grand scale. This summer there are a lot of archaeologists crawling around Gamla (Old) Uppsala in Sweden, the idyllic suburb north of present day Uppsala, where the impressive great burial mounds of some undisclosed Iron Age VIPs still stand.

Urbanisation came late to this part of Northern Europe, but Uppsala was probably one of the first places in Sweden where this happened, sometime in the Early Middle Ages (or Late Iron Age as the period is still called here in Scandinavia). Exactly when – and how – is a matter of fierce debate, so you can imagine the gleeful joy with which archaeologists here greeted the fact that the railroad drawn straight through Gamla Uppsala needed to be expanded. It’s a massive project involving thousands of square meters of Iron Age and Medieval settlement sites as well as an Iron Age cemetery. It is also one of the most protected heritage areas in Sweden, so the project is a collaborative effort involving our own firm SAU, the Uppland County Museum, as well as the archaeological unit of the National Heritage Board. The more the merrier!

Sofia Prata, osteologist at SAU, is excavating a burial urn with a cremation from the Viking Age cemetery at Old Uppsala. Photo: Asa M Larsson

Not that I get to stick my fingers into the rich, dark culture layers with amulet rings and bear claw clasps, stuck behind a desk as I am doing administrative work as usual. But I manage to sneek out now and then and visit my colleagues in the field. So far the SAU team have found parts of a smithy and several pit houses, as well as long houses from the Vendel and Viking periods (c. 550-750 CE and 750-1050 CE respectively). The cremation cemetery that was identified in a field during last year’s test excavations has turned out to be much larger and more well preserved that we had expected – which is fun but, as we all know, also a bit of a headache for the County Museum that oversees the excavation. The osteologists from SAU will have their hands full, analysing all the cremated human and animal bones.

Celebrating with ice coffee and cherries – ’cause we earned it!

Still, contrary to popular opinion not all archaeologists are out in the field during the summer. Some  have been chained to their desk to finish up a report on sites in that we excavated a few years ago. These Bronze and Early Iron Age sites and burials in Northeastern Uppland were established during a perod where the region changed from archipleago, to coast, to inland due to the shore displacement going on since the end of the Ice Age. Today we were frantically double and triple checking the text and illustrations before handing in the manuscript to the Uppsala County Board, who will decide if it can be published.

Afterwards we celebrated. On Monday we continue with other projects at hand, or in a few cases, actually take a vacation…

If you find yourselves in the vicinity of Uppsala this summer and autumn, be sure to visit us – we have guided tours in English as well.

A day off – Faunal Team Catalhoyuk 2012

Friday is our day of rest, so we are at the pool! This week the excavations at the famous Neolithic settlement opened for the season. We are a joint team from Cardiff University UK, Stony Brook, US and Poznan, Poland looking at the faunal remains to understand the human:animal relationship at the site. This week we began the season by examining the bones from building 80 (late in the site but still about 7-8000 years ago). So far we have recorded domestic sheep and dogs, wild aurochs, boar, deer and horses as well as tortoise, stork and jackal. We have a worked aurochs scapula, maybe used as a shovel, a possible bone ‘flute’ and bone gouges.

Excavation is focusing on removing backfill from the previous years ready to start excavation in ernest next week. The focus this year is on a number of houses, some of which have already produced cattle horncore installations, wall paintings and human burials beneath the floors.

Hand prints from Building 77. Two of a long series of handprints. Photo by Ashley Lingle, Catalhoyuk Research Project


The team is building with 60ish of us so far, and increasing to about 150 by the end of next week.  There are labs for human and animal bones, pots, stones, plants, conservation and finds as well as two separate excavation areas.  It is hard to keep track of everyone, so we have posted our photos and names on our lab door so folk can ID us. The excavation is truly international with folk from Sweden, Poland, US, Canada, Turkey, Greece and of course Wales.

Our first day off is being spent at the lovely Dedeman Hotel by the pool using their internet (thanks!). There is extremely restricted internet access at the site.  A highlight this week was the Tarkan concert – a Turkish singing sensation who performed to about 20k people in a mall carpark.

We are looking forward to the rest of the seasons excavations – and working with all the different specialists on-site.   Rather than material being analysed months, or years after it is dug up, in different labs around the world we are all here together.    Roll on the excavations – well, after just one more dip in the pool…..


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.


Managing the Monster

I’m Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, in London. The collection was founded back in 1937, and has over 80,000 objects from all around the world, with a sum total of two staff to manage the monster. Mine is an academic post, so I’m expected to combine teaching duties with museum work. My day is often an eclectic mix of activities – with my lecturer’s hat on I might be writing or giving lectures, marking, meeting with students, reviewing chapters my doctoral students have drafted, revising course handbooks, attending meetings or writing papers. But with my museum hat on I might be getting objects ready for other people’s handling sessions, cataloguing backlog material in the collections, updating our databases, writing a blog post for the collections, fielding research queries, supervising visiting researchers or finding jobs for my volunteers. I never really know what the day is going to throw at me, and when I do make plans I often find they get overturned the minute I get to my desk.

Today I have four researchers booked to visit the collections, so I’m hoping this will give me some free time to work on other things. But we shall see … (more…)

A rare summer lull for us gatherers

Boxes with bones from the Medieval cemetery at Sala silver mine, Sweden. These were excavated as part of a research project led by one of our osteologists, Ylva Bäckström. (Photo: Åsa M Larsson)

Usually this time of year, most of us at SAU should be knee deep in a trench or stumbling through brush doing a survey. But this is a somewhat unusual July for us. For once, most of my co-workers are experiencing something incredibly rare for archaeologists: a long summer vacation! There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we moved our office to a new building last week, and the chaos before, during and after was not deemed conducive to an effective work environment.  So it was mainly me, Britta (our administrator), and Anneli (one of our project leaders) who stayed on as movers carried the staggering amount of office stuff, books, and assorted prehistoric stuff we have littering our workplaces. Really brought home the insight that we have gone from being mobile hunter-gatherers to being virtually immobile gatherers…


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