Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Danish Bronze Age Site

On Thursday there was rain, and we were given a tour of an ongoing archaeological dig. This is a bronze age house complex with an associated burial mound. I remain a bit unclear about the exact ownership of the land, and the means of discovery. The ground was being farmed, but unlike most farmers in the Thy / Heltborg region, the farmer was NOT using modern deep plowing methods. For this reason the ground was only disturbed (ie tore up and mixed) down to maybe 15 - 20 cm from the surface. The actual organic rich layer on the hill top location of the find was no more than 30 cm deep, with the ever present sand below.
Deep plowing is proving a disaster for Danish archaeology. The Thy region especially has been heavily occupied well back into the stone age. As the land is windswept, with a sand base, there is not much soil cover over the hill tops. Most of the occupations are located on the low hills, for reasons of defence and observation. Many locations show more or less continuous occupation. In Thy is is especially true of both bronze and iron age settlements. These tend to larger farm complexes of a group of houses surrounded by the outlaying hills. Iron smelting was common, and appears to have been undertaken as a 'for cash' extra activity. There are low burial mounds absolutely all over the place, many more that have been virtually plowed flat over the centuries.
At the excavation site, this was certainly the case. The 'mound' was not raised up off the surface any more than maybe a meter at its highest, the diameter of the feature maybe 25 - 30 meters. I certainly would never have spotted it. This mound turns out to be a wee bit unusual, as there are signs of there being an associated small building (originally dug into the side of the mound). These have been found on some other mounds, but not in most cases. The mound (as most are) contains a larger primary burial, the reason the mound was made in the first place. This consists of a series of stones containing the actual remains. To this point the large stones covering the burial have not been removed, the presiding archaeologist has hopes that some significant objects may be found when that is finally opened. (A special event is planned with the landowners present. They have been funding the excavation.)
Another excellent aspect of this find, at least from the archaeologists point of view, is that the complex appears to be 'single use'. Although there are a number of buildings, one being unusually large, there are no signs of re-building over the same ground. This leaves a clear imprint of the complex as it was used at a single point in time. The main hall has proved to be one of the largest from the bronze age found in the region. It is laid out as a T shape, with the main line running more or less north south and considerably longer than the 'bar'. The main room is constructed with two lines of support pillars, the bar portion with three lines. Two aisle buildings are uncommon, there are only a couple of other three aisle structures from the bronze age that have been found.
All these execellent features not withstanding, there has not been a single artifact found. Remains of fire pits and the defining post holes - but not even a piece of burned bone or shard of pottery. I was quite surprised at this, but was told that actually, this is often the case for this type of settlement. The original builders had abandonded the site, there are no signs of burned buildings or any other kind of disaster. Like our own L'Anse aux Meadows, when they left they simply took everything with them. The sandy soil means water running constantly through the ground, which in turn quickly destroys any kind of organic materials. Although the weather was pretty foul for our visit, we were actually pretty fortunate. The damp ground brought the contrast of the slightly darker post holes into sharper focus.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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