Situated in a large expanse of grazing land on the south-eastern coast of Gotland, exists an ancient stone-walled enclosure known as Gudings slott. The stone enclosure resides on a small height, near to several Bronze Age cairns, stones with sharpening grooves and a few other grave clusters. These ancient structures are commonly referred to as hill-forts, though their purpose is widely debated and evidence of their function or dating is rare. In some cases, these structures were used hundreds of years after they were built as burial grounds, as is the case at Gudings slott.
Our excavation of Gudings slott is part of an ongoing research project, "The Connecting Point", which seeks to investigate human activities along the Gotlandic coast during the Viking Age. Archaeology on Gotland has led to numerous discoveries regarding the Viking Age activities of settlements, farm steads and harbor sites, but much of the coastal area has yet to be investigated. The aim of the research program is to discover more coastal sites, figure out what activities took place there and to connect them.
The south-eastern coast of the island has had few excavations so what we know about the Viking Age in this region is limited. There had only been one previous excavation at Gudings slott in 1988. The team of archaeologists excavated a cairn in the south-western part of the enclosure and they found several Viking Age inhumation burials complete with grave goods. In addition to the burials, they also found a hearth that was dated to the 2nd century AD. Aside from the cairn excavated, there were only 14 more cairns registered at the site, though there appeared to be many more along and atop the walls of the structure.
In the historic map (see right), the stone-walled enclosure is quite clear, as is a long stone wall leading south-east. Also clearly visible in the map are a number of cairns. Today, the northern and western parts of the wall are still quite obvious, but the rest of the wall is severly destroyed and the extension cannot be seen through the dense woodland that now envelopes it. The land has been used for forestry and as grazing land, rather than for agriculture, so the ancient remains have not been too disturbed.
The goals of the 2018 excavation were to:
1) find evidence for the time period in which the stone structure was constructed and to investigate the original function of the site.
2) excavate more graves, both those previously registered and others not registered, to investigate further the time frame of the burials.
Overview of the structure of the wall.
Overview of the walls of one of the constructions.
The Stone Enclosure
The excavation of the stone-walled enclosure included several sections of the wall, three possible constructions within the structure, areas just outside and inside of the proposed entrance and a number of depressions located in the middle of the site. While there was an absence of artifacts connected to the wall, the inner structure, known as a shell wall (see top left), was clear and consistent in each trench. Unfortunately, the possible stone constructions inside the wall provided even less information, although one structure was also comprised of a similar shell wall (see bottom left).
The most notable evidence found in relation to the activities surrounding the enclosure was a hearth located just inside the entrance. Analysis of the charcoal dates the hearth to the 5th century AD, which, while a few hundred years younger than the hearth discovered in the 1988 excavation, is well within the time frame that these structures are thought to have been constructed.
Another important date comes from charcoal discovered inside a post hole, that dates to the Late Bronze Age. The post hole was discovered in one of the excavated depressions and could be connected to coastal activities (such as fishing) that took place at the site long before the construction of the structure.
Unfortunately, the limited evidence does not provide any concrete information as to the purpose or function of the structure, though this tends to be the situation for many excavations related to this type of site on Gotland.
Based on the findings from the 1988 excavation, the field school excavated eight more cairns located inside and outside of the structure's wall. The purpose was to confirm the existence of additional cairns, rather than just those that were registered, and to investigate their context in relation to one another.
Of the eight cairns excavated, there were a total of five inhumation burials (including male, female and child skeletons), four of which were accompanied by grave goods including knives, brooches, beads, and spindle whorls. The grave goods date to the Viking Age, as does the north-south orientation of the skeletons. The style of grave goods, particularly the box and animal head brooches, is highly typical of Gotland, suggesting that the individuals buried where not foreigners. The individual buried without any grave goods was carbon-dated to the early 13th century and the body was oriented east-west, which is more typical of a Christian burial.
The remaining cairns were presumably plundered, or the remains moved, based on the lack of complete skeletons and the presence of small or highly fragmented artifacts. One of the cairns was completely devoid of artifacts and is likely a cenotaph, or symbolic grave.
Overall, the findings from the 2018 excavation indicate that the Viking Age cemetery is larger than previously thought and could represent a transitional period between pagan and Christian burial practices.
One of the Viking Age inhumation burials. Note the box brooch located near the skull.