Perspectives from a human-centred archaeology: Iron Age people and society on Öland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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The objective of this study was to develop, test and evaluate a specifically defined interdisciplinary approach—the human-centred approach—as applied to a case study, Iron Age Öland. Four themes were selected to highlight different aspects of particular interest in Öland: taphonomy, diet, migration, and social organization. The uncremated human skeletal remains from Öland are the basis for this study. Different aspects of the bones, such as spatial distribution and chemical and physical properties, were investigated. The methods used include osteological methods, image-based modelling, isotopic analysis of bone (δ13C and δ15N; 14C) and enamel (87Sr/86Sr, δ18O), statistical modelling, and graph-based network analysis.
The great impact of the choice of methodology in the different papers was apparent in evaluating how the human-centred approach could be practiced.
The concept developed in Paper I, Virtual Taphonomy, provided deeper insight into the specific case study of Öland but also showed the potential of this methodology for archaeology and osteology in general.
The approach to migration in Paper II gave results differing from those in Paper IV. The use of a second isotope (δ18O) in Paper IV showed how some individuals were clearly not from an area close by enough to fit within the proposed areas in Paper II. Paper IV also questioned the definitions of 87Sr/86Sr baseline and the interpretation process for deciding whether an individual is determined as a migrant. While the population level approach to migration in Paper II allowed for a discussion on the mechanisms behind migration, the approach in Paper IV instead gave insight into the nature and expression of migration within Öland’s society.
In Paper III, it was demonstrated that a shift in diet (isotope variation) did not coincide with the relative typological chronology but instead should be studied by more independent chronology (such as 14C). The isotope results for Öland could also be interpreted completely differently today due to new standards for understanding how isotope values relate to human diet.
Paper V showed how a transparent analysis of isotope results, osteological analysis, and archaeological parameters could be used to discuss societal development using graph-based network analysis.
Using the human-centred approach to Iron Age Öland resulted in some new insights and a rethinking of society, particularly regarding diet and migration. The interpretation of the diet isotopes means that the pastoralist subsistence likely transformed the Ölandic landscape much earlier than previously thought. The dietary shift places the start of this in the final two centuries BC, not AD 200. In the Late Iron Age, the migration levels doubled, especially as women were immigrating. The people settling Öland were coming from diverse geographical areas in both periods, with the addition of more distant migrants in the Late period. I argue this is part of a creolization process in Öland in the Late Iron Age, detectable in burial practice and diet. The starting point of this great immigration is difficult to define as uncremated human remains are largely lacking in the period AD 200–700. Around AD 200, there is also a change in social organization indicated through the perceptible use of violence. I interpret this as a society where elders had diminished social power compared to earlier times, and when the increasing military focus throughout Scandinavia was also established in Öland.
In conclusion, the exploration of a human-centred archaeology gave new insights of relevance to archaeology at large, not just Iron Age Öland. In particular, the strong interpretational aspects of isotopes could be demonstrated, as well as the great advantages of applying digital archaeological theory and method to human skeletal remains.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Archaeology and Ancient History
  • Ahlström, Torbjörn, Supervisor
  • Dell'Unto, Nicolo, Supervisor
  • Jörkov, Marie-Louise, Supervisor, External person
Award date2017 Apr 12
ISBN (Print)978-91-88473-33-2
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-88473-34-9
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 15

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Archaeology


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