Rock art

Sites involved in the Rock Art Project

1. Northern Sweden
2. Norway
3. Southern Sweden
4. Bornholm Island, Denmark
5. Ireland
6. Wales, England
7. Bretagne, France
8. Portugal
9. Val Camonica, Italy and Monte Bego, France
10. Malta
11. Morocco
12. Iherir, Tassili n'Ajjer, Algeria
13. Wâdi Hammamât, Egypt
14. Arnhem Land, Australia
15. Queensland, Australia
16. Sonora Desert, Arizona, USA
17. New Mexico, USA
18. Hawai'I, USA
19. Easter Island, Chile


Megalithic sites involved in the Stones and Bones Project

1. Sweden
2. Denmark
3. The Netherlands
4. Orkney Islands, England
5. Ireland
6. England
7. Bretagne, France
8. Galicia, Spain
9. Portugal
10. Malta
11. Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
12. Sumba, Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia
13. Sawu, Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia
14. Nan Madol, Phonpei, Micronesia
15. Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
16. Vao, Malekula, Vanuatu
17. Fiji
18. Hawai'i, USA
19. Tonga
20. Tahiti, French Polynesia
21. Huahine, French Polynesia
22. Raiatea, French Polynesia
23. Easter Island, Chile
24. Sardinia, Italy

The Archaeology of the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea


Trobriand Islands Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

In November 1998, Gotland University College, Visby, Sweden, started a new archaeological research project on the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, and during August-November 1999 sixteen Swedish archaeologists and osteologists carried out excavations and osteological analyses at new-found sites on the northern part of Kiriwina Island. The aim of the project is to study the introduction and subsequent cultural development of the Trobriand culture. Central questions at issue include the time of initial colonization of the area; the existence or non-existence of long-term cultural continuity in the islands as revealed by the archaeological record; the identification of possible hiatuses in the cultural development which may be associated with e.g. the influx of intrusive populations (as revealed by ongoing genetic studies of the skeletal material). In the initial stage, radiocarbon dates (AMS) and post mortem DNA-analyses on skeletal remains will form a crucial fundament for the planning of the forthcoming investigations. See full excavation report and the preliminary results of the investigations in Burenhult, G. (ed.) 2002. The Archaeology of the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Excavation Report 1999. B.A.R. International Series 1080.


The Trobriand Islands form part of the Melanesian archipelago, and politically they belong to Papua New Guinea. The unique and colourful culture of the Trobrianders, including their famous system of ceremonial exchange, the Kula ring, was studied extensively by Bronislaw Malinowski in the early 20th century. However, nothing is known about the earliest occupation of the islands. Nor do we know why the Trobriand Islanders differ markedly from other Melanesian populations with respect to their social organization, cultural set-up, physical characteristics, and genetics, instead bearing some resemblance to Polynesian populations further east. The Trobriand Islanders have been subject to intense anthropological studies, but apart from a partial excavation of one of the megalithic tombs on the island of Kiriwina in the 1940's, no stratigraphic archaeological excavations have been carried out on the islands. However, extensive surface collections of potsherds have been made and analysed in the 1970's , both on Kiriwina, Vakuta and Kuyawa, and some burial caves have been mapped. Also, surface collections of potsherds have been made on the nearby Amphletts and Goodenough Islands. Recently, archaeological investigations on Woodlark have produced important data on the early settlement on the island. We do not know if the megalithic tradition in the Trobriands (represented by e.g. the Otuyam tomb on central Kiriwina), was carried by ancestors of today's population or by an earlier and culturally different group of people. Present-day Trobrianders have no cultural relation to the megalithic structures on their islands, an unusual situation for Melanesia, where the megalithic traditions in most places are still very much part of the present cultures or, at least, well remembered and ethnographically documented. 



Trepanated human skull from Budou burial cave, Labai, during the investigations in 1999. The cave burials have been dated to c. AD 1570.


Much controversy still surrounds the arrival of the Austronesian language family, which presently dominates most parts of the Pacific. The traditional view holds that Austronesian-speaking peoples entered the archipelago from Southeast Asia around 3000 BC, but there is no evidence for such a large-scale migration into Melanesia in the archaeological record. The evidence for this scenario is mainly linguistic, but not even the linguists agree. It is possible, instead, that people have been moving in successively during a very long period of time, and many archaeologists believe that local evolution accounts for much of the cultural development in the area. The Lapita culture, for example, has traditionally been considered to be associated with migrating Austronesians from Southeast Asia, but, following intensified archaeological work in the area, it has also been suggested that this in fact developed in the Bismarcks, as a result of intense exchange networks, from where it spread into the Pacific. Several archaeologists today claim that the Polynesian culture, an extension of the Lapita, originated in eastern Melanesia, not East/Southeast Asia.



An area on northern Kiriwina around the villages of Mwatawa and Labai was selected for investigation. Numerous stray finds of polished stone adzes and axes of various types and sizes in the surrounding gardens, combined with phosphate surveys, promised to facilitate the localization and identification of earlier settlements in this area. This area also contains a number of caves with burial remains. The area around the villages of Mwatawa and Labai may also be of some interest with regard to the local oral tradition, which holds that the first Trobriand woman was born out of one of the nearby caves and that Labai is considered to be the oldest village in the Trobriand Islands. As a part of the 1999 investigations, also the oral traditions of Labai and Mwatawa, with respect to prehistoric sites and burial caves, were recorded in detail.

Two of the burial caves were selected for a detailed study, Selai Cave and Budou Cave. The interior of the caves themselves has been provisionally mapped, and burial depositions registered. The archaeological investigation includes a documentation of the position of all bones within the depositions with the aim of making possible a reconstruction of e.g. deposition and reburial traditions. Documentation methodology includes drawing and photography, using both conventional and digital cameras, and the methodology used in the caves will be equal to conventional stratigraphic excavation during open air conditions. Bone samples were also collected from a third cave in Labai, Obuwaga Cave. As the bone depositions in this cave show clear signs of recent disturbances, and most bones obviously are displaced, no detailed analyses were carried out. A rock-shelter burial overlooking the sea was found and investigated at Labai Beach, Bwara Tudava.

The osteological analyses comprise the determination of death age, sex and length; the determination of the minimum number of individuals (MNI); and a study of possible diseases or other pathological changes including dental paleopathology, injuries, congenital abnormalities, discrete traits, stress or activity markers such as activity-induced pathology, as well as possible cut-marks or defleshing marks. Also, paleodemographic issues will be addressed. Most analyses have been conducted outside the entrances to the caves, and the bones have been put back in original position after the investigation. Samples for radiocarbon dating (AMS), stable isotope analyses (diet reconstruction), trace element analyses, and post mortem DNA analyses were collected, commonly a small part of a tooth is used for these purposes.

A total of 23 prehistoric sites have so far been located in the Labai and Mwatawa areas by means of stray finds of e.g. axes/adzes and pottery, and phosphate surveys were used in order to determine the extension of the defined activity areas. Test excavations were carried out in order to determine the depth and character of the stratification. All located sites have been mapped using both traditional mapping methods and GPS (Global Positioning System). The surveys include a topographic landscape analysis using aerial photography and ordnance survey maps, as well as the detailed mapping produced within the project. Local site grids and excavation plans have, together with the mapping data, been compiled in MapInfo GIS program for the final analyses and presentations. Two sites were chosen for larger excavations, Odubekoya in Labai and Oilobogwa in Mwatawa.

The extensive field surveys and preliminary mapping, including phosphate surveys, as well as a comprehensive registration of stray finds, was carried out as an MFS survey (Minor Field Study) in October-December 1998 by two students from Gotland University College. The MFS program was financed by the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA).

The MFS field project consisted of three major parts. The first part of the project was a registration of the numerous stray finds in the area, e.g. the artefacts found by the villagers in the gardens and other areas surrounding the villages. After the field-survey of stray finds, maps showing the distribution of findings were produced. GPS was used for the mapping. Thirdly, phosphate surveys were conducted on located settlements in order to determine their extension. The phosphate surveys were carried out by using the spot-test method.

The investigations of August-November 1999

Based on the results from the MFS surveys, a team of sixteen archaeologist and osteologists from Gotland University College, Visby, the Archaeoosteological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University and the Department of Archaeology, Stockholm University, made a series of test excavations of stone age settlements identified around the villages of Labai and Mwatawa on northern Kiriwina under the direction of Maria Davidsson. Also, a preliminary osteological study of the human bone material found in two of the burial caves in the Labai area, Selai and Budou, was carried out. One of the located settlements in Labai, Odubekoya, revealed a well preserved burial ground, and so far five graves containing at least eighteen individuals have been excavated. The bone material is very well preserved, in the burial caves as well as in the settlements and burial ground, due to the calcareous environment, and a series of samples have been collected for C14 dating and also for post mortem DNA and stable isotope analyses. Also, rich quantities of charcoal from the excavated settlements will allow for additional radiocarbon dates. Rich quantites of pot-sherds and stone artefacts, including obsidian, have been recorded.

Selai Cave

The entrance to Selai Cave is located 10.62 metres above the sea level, and the lowest part 3.75 metres above the sea level. The total depth so far explored is about 50 metres. Eight halls have been investigated, named Hall A-H, and altogether twenty-two depositions of human bones have been recorded, containing males, females and children. A number of the crania were trepanated. No grave-goods accompanied the buried individuals.
A striking feature in Selai Cave is that most of the bones are covered in calcitic speleothems, in some cases in the form of stalagmites. Samples from this speleothem growth have been collected for uranium dating and stable isotope analyses. The fact that the human bones and crania are often completely "cemented" onto the rock, and consequently not possible to move without causing damage, is an important taphonomic indication that their position has not been disturbed in modern times. This makes the bone depositions in Selai Cave especially important in the forthcoming studies of the burial traditions.

Radiocarbon date from Selai Cave:
Ua-15487 (Sample 1/99, dens, ID 60001) 315±55 BP / c. AD 1570 CAL.

Budou Cave

The entrance to Budou Cave is located 12 metres above the sea level, and the lowest parts are situated below the present sea level. The total depth so far explored is about 60 metres. Five halls have been investigated, named Hall A-E. An assemblage of fresh-water at the bottom of the cave constitutes a separate section of the cave, Hall B. Altogether, twenty-one depositions of human bones have been recorded, containing males, females and children. A number of the crania were trepanated. Several of the depositions have been placed in large sea-shells (Tridacna gigas). No grave-goods accompanied the buried individuals. 

Obuwaga Caves 1 and 2

The Obuwaga cave is fairly easily accessible and situated close to Labai village, and frequent visits to the cave in recent times have displaced the bone depositions. Photographic documentation from 1984 shows that the depositions of human bones appeared then to be more or less intact. Also two large ornamented clay vessels, containing human bones, were almost intact. During the investigation in 1999, both pots were found broken into pieces.
Samples of pottery and bone were collected for analyses.

Radiocarbon date from Obuwaga Cave 1:
Ua-15985 (Sample 2/99, dens, ID 60002) 445±75 BP / c. AD 1450 CAL.
Bwara Tudava Rock Shelter, Labai
At Labai Beach, overlooking the sea, a rock shelter burial was located about six metres above the beach, containing bones from several individuals. Three pointed limesticks made of human bones (radius) were associated with the burials. Samples were taken for radiocarbon dating and DNA analyses.

Radiocarbon date from Bwara Tudava Rock Shelter:
Ua-15990 (Sample 10/99, dens, ID 60010) 200±85 BP / c. AD 1650-1850 CAL.
Oilobogwa Site, Mwatawa
The Oilobogwa site is situated north-west of Mwatawa village. Twenty-seven square metres were excavated. Most excavated sections proved to be very thin, providing a total depth from topsoil to limestone rock of about 20-30 centimetres. Nine post-holes were documented in the excavated areas. The find material consists of pottery, tools and flakes of lithics and charcoal. The excavations at Oilobogwa revealed approximately six kilograms of pottery, about 21% of these were decorated. Among the lithic material, a large number of obsidian flakes were recorded. Dated charcoal samples are most likely associated with recent gardening.

Radiocarbon dates from Oilobogwa:
Ua-15988 (Sample 8/99, charcoal, ID 60008) 134±1 BP / c. AD 1740-1930 CAL.
Ua-15989 (Sample 9/99, charcoal, ID 60009) 105±70 BP / c. AD 1740-1930 CAL.
Odubekoya Site, Labai

The Odubekoya site is situated on a hill north-west of Labai village. Thirty-six square metres were excavated. As at Oilobogwa, the total depth of the stratigraphy was 20-30 centimetres. Ten deep holes in the solid coral rock were documented, all with a diameter of 30-40 centimetres, and a depth of as much as 2,5 metres. The holes may have been dug for planting prestige yam (kuvi).

During the excavation of Odubekoya five burial depositions were found, containing at least seventeen individuals, males, females and children. None of the crania were trepanated. Various grave-goods accompanied the skeletons in most of the graves, including obsidian (memetu), magical stones (bina-bina), axes/adzes (utukema) and pottery. The excavations at Odubekoya revealed approximately fifteen kilograms of pottery, about 28% of these were decorated. Test pits outside the main excavation area were excavated with the aim to demarcate the site, and the settlement and burial ground can be provisionally estimated at sixty-one by forty-five metres, or c. 2.745 square metres.

Radiocarbon dates from the Odubekoya burial ground:
Ua-15467 (Grave 1, Sample 4/99, dens, ID 60004) 930±80 BP / c. AD 1100 CAL.
Ua-15468 (Grave 2 / Individual 5, Sample 5/99, dens, ID 60005) 1100±70 BP / c. AD 950 CAL.
Ua-15986 (Grave 3, Sample 6/99, dens, ID 60006) 755±70 BP / c. AD 1250 CAL.
Ua-15987 (Grave 5, Sample 7/99, dens, ID 60007) 1045±80 BP / c. AD 1000 CAL.

Preliminary conclusions

The archaeological and osteological investigations in 1999 have revealed a series of data that may indicate significant cultural change on the Trobriand Islands between AD 1250 and AD 1450. This applies to both bone deposition traditions, the manipulation of the bones, ceremonial features, and grave goods. The radiocarbon dates so far available from the Odubekoya burial ground show that the individuals were interred between c. AD 950 and AD 1250, while dated samples from individuals in two of the burial caves center around c. AD 1500. Also, the inhumations at Odubekoya are final interments with skeletons in anatomical positions, as opposed to the cave burials, the bone depositions of which can be shown to be secondary burials, e.g displaying defleshing marks, with the bones in non-anatomical positions. Furthermore, a large number of the crania in the caves have been trepanated, while none of the individuals so far excavated at Odubekoya display this feature. The dates from the Odubekoya burial ground corresponds well to Bickler's first phase on Woodlark, which has been dated to c. AD 800-1200.

Looking at the pottery associated with the burials at Odubekoya, and the sherds documented in the Obuwaga burial cave, again distinct differences can be shown. A detailed presentation and analysis of the ceramics will be presented elsewhere. It is reasonable to believe that the megalithic tradition developed on the Trobriand Islands during this intermediate period (Austen 1940). Such a date would correspond well to the appearance and subsequent development of most other megalithic traditions in the Pacific area.

If the cultural change suggested here between AD 1250 and AD 1450 is the result of a continuous local development, or an appearance of new people, cannot be archaeologically determined without further excavations. However, the results from recent mitochondrial DNA, HLA and Y-chromosome polymorphism analyses on today's Trobriand population have indicated strong Polynesian markers. The mtDNA data are highly suggestive of a recent migration of Polynesian maternal lineages to the Trobriand islands, and the results argue for a considerable back migration from Polynesia to island Melanesia and coastal New Guinea in recent times. The forthcoming DNA-analyses of the human bones from the Odubekoya burial ground and the burial caves may prove to be of great importance in this context.


Burenhult, G. 2000a. The Trobriand Islanders – Original Settlers or Later Migrants? I: Migrations and Exchange in a Historical Perspective. No Barriers Seminar Papers, Vol. 3, 2000. The Kon-Tiki Museum, Institute for Pacific Archaeology and Cultural History. Oslo.

Burenhult, G. (ed.) 2002b. The Archaeology of the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Excavation Report 1999. B.A.R International Series 1080.

Burenhult, G. 2011. Begravningsgrottorna på Trobrianderna. I: Traveller's Club Malmö Jubileumsbok 1936-2011. Malmö.

Burenhult, G., Davidsson, M., Larsson, A.-C., Svensson, S. & Venturi, G. 2000. Bland grottor och gravar i Söderhavet. Populär Arkeologi Nr 1, 2000.

Ajvide-projektet 1983-2012 (english version)



Ajvide-projektet startades som ett resultat av de framgångsrika prospekteringar som på 1970-talet genomfördes i anslutning till undersökningarna av megalitgravfältet Carrowmore i Irland i projektet The Swedish Archaeological Excavations at Carrowmore, Co. Sligo, Ireland, med omfattande analyser med bland annat flygfotograferingar med konventionella och infraröda filmmaterial, fosfatkarteringar och konventionell inventering. Avsikten med det svenska projektet var att undersöka möjligheten att kunna lokalisera ovan jord ej synliga fornlämningar med hjälp av dessa och andra tekniker på en rad gotländska lokaler från skilda tidsperioder, mesolitisk tid, neolitisk tid, bronsålder och järnålder. Huvudprojektets rubricering är Remote Sensing. Applied techniques for the study of cultural resources and the localization, identification and documentation of sub-surface prehistoric remains in Swedish archaeology. Två av de gotländska lokalerna kom att bli föremål för mera omfattande arkeologiska undersökningar, den vikingatida bosättningen och hamnen i Bandlundviken i Burs och den gropkeramiska stenålderslokalen Ajvide i Eksta socken. Resultaten är publicerade i två volymer, Remote Sensing I och II (Burenhult (ed.) 1997a, 2002).



Infraröd flygbild över Ajvidelokalen med omgivning i Eksta socken, Gotland. Den ca 200 000 kvadratmeter stora boplatsen och gravfältet ses till höger om mitten på bilden som en ljusare landtunga, som sticker ut i den forntida lagunen för omkring 4700 år sedan, då kustlinjen låg omkring 12 meter högre än dagens.







Ajvide-lokalen kom att bli utbildningsstation för fältkurserna i arkeologi vid Stockholms universitet från 1983 och för Högskolan på Gotland när arkeologiutbildningarna där inleddes 1986. Boplatsen/gravfältet är på många sätt idealisk för grundutbildning med sitt mycket rika och varierade fyndmaterial med keramik, stenredskap, benredskap, djurben och gravar med välbevarade skelett, liksom andra anläggningar. Genom att en omfattande forskning på fyndmaterialen tidigt inleddes, framför allt avseende de humana och animala benmaterialen, kom studenterna att bli direkt involverade i forskningsprocessen. Högskolan har från starten markerat betydelsen av just kombinationen undervisning och forskning. Ett stort antal studenter har under årens lopp valt att behandla olika material från Ajvide i sina C och D-uppsatser. 

Målsättningar och metodik

Ajvide-projektets huvudmålsättning är att fastställa bosättningsmönstret och levnadsförhållandena på Gotland under stenåldern genom analys av ekonomiska (näringsfång), sociala, demografiska och religiösa system. Metodiken har fokuserat på användandet av tvärvetenskaplig, ämnesöverskridande, forskning och användning av digital teknik för prospektering, dokumentation, registrering, analys, tolkning och presentation av fyndmaterialet. Medverkande experter och analysgrupper i projektet representerar bland annat osteologi (humana och animala benmaterial), kvartärbiologi (landskap och vegetation; vedämnes- och pollenanalyser), geologi (landskapsförändringar), genetik (ancient DNA, släktskap, kön, etc.), evolutionsmedicin (födointag, hälsa och sjukdomsutveckling i ett evolutionärt perspektiv), humanetologi (mänskligt beteende i ett evolutionärt perspektiv), jonfysik/isotopanalyser (dateringar; 14C och termoluminiscens) och datoranimation (visualisering, simulering och presentation). Den digitala tekniken har varit central i projektet när det gäller dokumentation och fyndhantering, landskapsanalys och –rekonstruktion, GIS, med bruket av totalstation, digital fotografi med skärmvektorisering av bland annat skelettgravarna, analys i tolkningsprocessen med simulerade tolkningsmetoder och alternativa scenarier, liksom presentation/visualisering av forskningsresultaten. Förutom användandet av flygfotografi med konventionella och infraröda filmmaterial och fosfatkarteringar i prospekteringsarbetet introducerades 1983 användningen av georadar på Ajvide för första gången i ett arkeologiskt projekt i Sverige, vilket resulterade i att de första gravarna på gravfältet kunde lokaliseras. Ajvide-projektets hittills vunna resultat finns publicerade i 102 vetenskapliga arbeten, artiklar och monografier (se litteraturlista). Över 50 forskare arbetar fn aktivt med material från Ajvide. Projektet har vidare producerat en rad populärvetenskapliga arbeten och utgör också en central del av en 6-timmars TV-dokumentärserie som sändes i svensk television i slutet av 1980-talet, Speglingar av det förflutna. 

Sammanställning av dagsläget

• Nära 3000 kvadratmeter (2827 m²) detaljundersökt yta (fingrävd), vilket gör Ajvide-lokalen till ett av världens största och mest omfattande arkeologiska forskningsprojekt från stenåldern

• 10 414 fynd finns detaljregistrerade i fynddatabasen

• 83 gravläggningar är undersökta, flertalet med ett eller flera välbevarade skelett

• 3336 kg keramik är dokumenterat i strata per kvadratmeter

• 2313 kg djurben är dokumenterat i strata per kvadratmeter

• Över 2000 arkeologistuderande har genomgått sin första fältkurs på Ajvide (1983-1986 från Stockholms Universitet; 1986-2010 Gotlands egna arkeologistuderande, från 1998 Högskolan på Gotland)

• 102 tryckta vetenskapliga arbeten relaterade till Ajvide-projektet är publicerade (se litteraturlista)

• 5 doktorsavhandlingar relaterade till Ajvide-projektet är hittills framlagda (Österholm 1989; Storå 2001; Malmström 2007; Molnar 2008; Olson 2008)

• 34 C+D-uppsatser 

Den kommande fyndhanteringen i ett närperspektiv

Som framgår av ovanstående är omfånget av det framgrävda arkeologiska fyndmaterialet mycket omfattande. Merparten av de litiska och keramiska materialen, liksom djurbensmaterialen, finns deponerade på regionmuséet i Visby (Gotlands museum). Det skrymmande och ömtåliga humana skelettmaterialet finns för närvarande deponerat på Osteologiska Forskningslaboratoriet (OFL) vid Stockholms universitet, där det analyserats och blivit föremål för en doktorsavhandling (Molnar 2008). Samplade volymer av djurbensmaterialen är också tillfälligt deponerade på OFL och andra universitetsinstitutioner i samband med analyser för fullföljda resp. ännu ej avslutade avhandlingarbeten, aDNA-analyser eller andra forskningsprojekt, som fiskben på OFL (Olson 2008, Olson m fl 2002, 2007), sälben på OFL (Storå 2001, 2002), humana benmaterial för aDNA i Uppsala (Götherström 1997, Götherström m fl 1997, Malmström 2007, Malmström m fl 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010), fågelben i Helsingfors (Mannermaa & Storå 2006, Mannermaa 2008), liksom svin- och hundben på Durham University i England (Rowley-Conwy & Dobney 2007). 

De hittills framgrävda och dokumenterade, ännu ej analyserade fyndmaterialen har en enastående forskningspotential och trots den omfattande forskning som hittills publicerats är ännu endast en bråkdel bearbetat, detta gäller inte minst de keramiska och litiska materialen. De välbevarade benmaterialen skapar globalt sett unika möjligheter för aDNA-analyser på människoben, vilket för närvarande löpande sker vid Avd. för Evolutionär biologi vid Uppsala universitet och Biologisk Institut vid Köpenhamns universitet. aDNA-analyser av djurben främst från husdjur som svin, får och nöt har också påbörjats vid Högskolans eget aDNA-laboratorium.

Göran Burenhult
Professor emeritus i arkeologi
Högskolan på Gotland


The Ajvide/Remote Sensing Project (swedish version)


Ajvide, Eksta Parish, Gotland, Sweden  
The study of prehistoric economies, settlement patterns, social organisation and cultural change requires comprehensive data from large-scale archaeological field investigations. The necessity of localizing all existing remains of settlements, graves and other prehistoric activities within an area, with the aim to reconstruct seasonal movements or hunting strategies, for example, emphasizes the need and use of advanced prospecting methods for the localization of sub-surface remains together with the more traditional inventory procedures. These methods of remote sensing can be roughly divided into three main groups: airborne photography and satellite imagery, geophysical and digital methods and phosphate surveys. Furthermore, sampling, test excavations and topographical analyses for the reconstruction of the paleolandscape of large regions is requisite in order to make possible a coherent reconstruction of the scattered prehistoric remains that are visible above ground.


Infrared colour photograph of the Ajvide site with surroundings, Eksta Parish, Gotland. The c. 200 000 square meter large dwelling site and grave field can be seen just right of the middle part of the picture as a lighter piece of land stretching out in the ancient lagoon, about 4700 years ago, when the coastline was about 12 meters higher than today.   







In much the same way, high demands must be put on advanced documentation at archaeological investigations. No interpretation or reconstruction of any prehistoric activity can be better than the documentation on which it is based. Since an overwhelming majority of our interpretations of archaeological materials are based on the documentation of excavations carried out several decades ago, or even earlier, it is not surprising that modern, large-scale excavations often fundamentally change existing theories concerning prehistoric ways of life. The need of new, far-reaching and interdisciplinary archaeological investigations, together with laboratory analyses and the use of modern technology aimed at extracting a maximum of information from the archaeological record and its context, is immense. Similarly, interdisciplinary interpretations are necessary in our efforts to create a reliable reconstruction of prehistoric ways of life, including ehnoarchaeology, evolutionary medicine and evolutionary biology, using human ethological methodology.

With such a wide analytical approach, archaeology provides a more solid foundation for the subsequent interpretation of the archaeological source material and the role of this source material in its prehistoric social context. Simultaneously, this facilititates the explanation of the research results and brings to life the environment, economy, religious and ceremonial life and, not least, social relations and gender roles of prehistoric humans. 


This was the background to the project Arkeologiska prospekteringsmetoder 
('Archaeological prospecting methods') that was started in 1983 with the main aim to test the applicability of a series of remote sensing techniques on various prehistoric remains in a variety of geological and topographical settings, as well as to develop digital techniques for archaeological documentation, classification, analyses, simulation, interpretation and visualization, as well as landscape reconstruction. GIS (Geographical Information System), linked to the archaeological databases, including CAD applications, is used to explore relationships within archaeological and survey data, and between these data and landscape indices, create predictive modelling, and to present and visualize the results. Large-scale prospecting has been carried out on the island of Gotland in the Baltic since 1983, including the use of satellite imagery, aerial photography with infrared and conventional film materials, geophysical methods, including survey imaging radar (ground probing radar), resistivity, magnetometry and magnetic susceptibility, and phosphate surveys, as well as extensive test excavations of indications received. Test excavations and interpretations of remote sensing data have been carried out at Ansarve, Tofta Parish (megalithic tomb); Kambs, Lummelunda parish (Stone Age settlement and Mesolithic burial ground); Bjers, Stenkyrka parish (Mesolithic burials); Ire, Hangvar parish (Stone Age settlement and burial ground); Lilla Ire, Hellvi parish (Iron Age grave field) and Stora Domerarve, Hablingbo parish.

Thus far, major excavations have followed the prospecting in two of the prospected regions on Gotland: the Viking period complex at Bandlundviken, Burs parish, and the Stone Age settlement and burial ground at Ajvide, Eksta parish. The Ajvide excavations are still ongoing. The results of the remote sensing project, as well as the excavation results from Bandlundviken, Hablingbo and the Ajvide excavation seasons 1983-1997, are published in two volumes (Burenhult (ed.) 1997a, 2002).

The extensive archaeological investigations of the Ajvide site have shed light on the importance of large-scale remote sensing surveys and excavations and the development of new and advanced, computer-based technology for documentation and interpretation of archaeological materials. The settlement pattern and possible seasonality of the Stone Age on Gotland, not least within the pitted-ware tradition, as well as the relation between coastal and inland sites, have been largely unknown. Also, the relationship between the coastal burial grounds and the settlements from the pitted-ware tradition have, by and large, remained obscure. The lack of modern, interdisciplinary investigations has conserved the notion of static cultural groupings on the island during the Stone Age.

The area of the Ajvide site is about 200 000 square meters and it has been used more or less continuously from the Late Mesolithic until the mid Bronze Age, a period of around 4000 years. The main period of use, however, is the Late Middle Neolithic period, between 3000 BC and 2300 BC, with a settlement occupation between 3100 BC and 2700 BC. The coastline and paleolandscape has changed considerably during the period of use, as can be shown through the totalstation-based topographical mapping. A major transgression during the Early Middle-Neolithic period has been recorded at c. 2900 BC, and most parts of the main Middle-Neolithic activity area were submerged during a short period of time.

The burial ground at Ajvide was located by ground penetrating radar in 1983, and so far (2012) 83 graves have been excavated, containing well- preserved skeletons of individuals of both sexes and all ages. Several of the graves consist of double or triple graves, and in some cases an adult individual has been interred together with one or more children. The individuals in the graves seem to represent a complete society. About one third of the graves proved to be cenotaphs, containing no interred human remains but often extensive grave goods.

The burial ground, shown to have been used slightly later than the main pitted-ware occupation phase, c. 2700 BC – 2300 BC, was evidently designed as a ritual landscape with a strictly planned layout in which the graves form a half-circle, or possibly an oval, that surrounds an open area containing a very dark activity layer with a considerable concentration of finds, both ceramics and artifacts, and depositions of animal bones. Bones of seal are predominant, often found in more or less intact position, indicating that the area in some way was protected from dogs and pigs during its period of use. Chemical analyses of the soil have shown very high concentrations of seal train, and it is likely that the area served as a ceremonial spot within the grave field, possibly used for ritual defleshing of seal (see Österholm, S., this volume). Such places, so called käutaltare, have been ethnographically recorded on Gotland as late as during the 19th century.

The burials at Ajvide are arranged in two distinctive groups, one with the graves placed in an east-west direction, and one in a north-south direction. It has been stratigraphically shown, that the graves with an east-west direction belong to a later phase of use, several of the north-south graves have been dug through by the later ones, but the time-gap between the two traditions is apparently very short. So far, 8 of the excavated graves have proved to be cenotaphs, containing grave-goods and offerings, but no skeletons. Another 9 graves completely lack skulls or any cranial parts, and in most cases it is likely that the skulls have been deliberately removed before the burial.

The archaeological investigation at Ajvide is one of the most extensive and methodologically most advanced excavations of any European Stone Age sites in modern times. So far, about 3000 square meters, with a stratigraphic depth of about one meter, have been excavated and documented. All phases in the documentation and find handling procedure have been subject to automatic computerized treatment from the project start in 1983, and from the 1994 season and onwards, all documentation and registration of finds is digitalized, using totalstations, digital photography and portable computers for field registration of data.The find material in the database consists of more than 1.414 in detail registered artifacts and more than one million other finds, including about 3,4 tonnes of pottery and about 2,3 tonnes of animal bones, mainly of seal, pig, fish and fowl.

Judging from the computer analyses, extensive systems of more than 300 post-holes of different size and form in and around the grave field appear to be the remains of structures pre-dating the grave-field, as well as sacrificial platforms, houses of the dead and palisades that are contemporary with the burials.

Göran Burenhult
Professor emeritus of Archaeology
Gotland University