Sunday, 6 October 2013

Pompeii of the North? Perhaps not

It is quite common to hear sweeping comparisons of townscapes or archaeological finds to Rome or Pompeii. Most are probably familiar with the Athens of the North – Jyväskylä due to its University architecture designed by Alvar Aalto and placed on a hill overlooking the town – and the Venice of the North – St Petersburg or Stockholm depending on your preference of watery surroundings. The latest Pompeii comparison is in Öland. An island less known for its volcanoes.

However, this time it is not only the Nordic newspapers telling me that, but also the constantly surprising archaeologically active Daily Mail. On the closer inspection this find is hugely interesting and important – not the least because it reminds us about the existence of ancient warfare and the violent end that waited many. As the newspaper tells us has been a site of large massacre that encountered men, women and children c. 1300 years ago. So far five bodies have been uncovered and they had clearly been slaughtered in their house. The house was inside a fort that was never used again. As Daily Mail quotes Helene Wilhelmson, an archaeologist from Lund University:“It's like Pompeii: Something terrible happened, and everything just stopped.”

A skeleton being excavated (photo: Daily Mail)

This is part of the reason for the comparison, but not the only one. As the Populär Historia tells us the site in the Rosendal Iron Age village has been studied and excavated for four years. What has stricken the archaeologists is the variety of the remains and the unusually good preservation of wood material. There are also well-preserved stone foundations. This unusually good preservation is another reason the Pompeii comparison.

This find that Populär Historia calls ‘agrarian Pompeii’ is however more like some hill fort sites elsewhere in Europe that show signs of the ‘last battle’. The nine skeletons discovered in a section of ditch around the fort at Fin Cop in the Peak District tell of the similar situation as that in Sweden, even if the bodies were not inside the houses. And these were not men, but women, children and teenagers as the Daily Mail. At Ham Hill the evidence suggests that hundreds of dead bodies were stripped of flesh and chopped up as The Independent told us. Thus, even if the Swedish Migration Period site is a few hundred years younger than the British Iron Age forts that fought the Romans, they still are the better, if not less glamorous and internationally recognisable than Pompeii.

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