Scientists from Kiel investigate the Meso- to Neolitihic transition in southern Norway. Wiebke Kirleis explains why a coring operation was conducted in stone-cold January and which first results were achieved.
The coring site on Skaugsjenna lake, Southern Norway.
Southern Norway is a marginal area if crop growing is considered. In 1985, only 0,5 % (=2260 km²) of the Norwegian land was under cereal cultivation. Arable land is limited to the South and there to particular regions, like the Oslo fjord area and one area in the Telemark district with cabrio-silurian bedrock, which offers best arable soils rich in alkaline.
Going back in time, we expect the beginning of agriculture and crop production to take place at the onset of the Neolithic. From an archaeological point of view, the Early Neolithic in Norway starts pretty late, around 3800 cal. BC. The starting point is marked by the absence of microblade technology and the introduction of thin-butted and point-butted axes of flint and local rocks, as well as a wide range of flint arrowheads and ceramic pots. Economy at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition however did not change dramatically. Judging from the archaeological artefacts, at the initial stage of the Neolithic, hunting and gathering still has played an important role. Site locations show the same settings as before: Settlements were situated at the shore to the fjords and oriented to the sea. It is not at all surprising that fishing and hunting of sea mammals has contributed much to subsistence.
Hot water served well for defrosting the coring equipment.
New pollen analytical investigations will now be carried out by the GS HDL alumni Dr. Magda Wieckowska to shed light on the beginning of cereal cultivation in the Telemark district. The palynological studies are part of a big archaeological linear project which is carried out in preparation of a railway construction in the southern Norwegian Vestfold area (http://blogg.uio.no/khm/vestfoldbaneprosjektet/). In close collaboration with archaeologists from the cultural Heritage Museum at the University of Oslo, in January a group of archaeobotanists and archaeologists from the Institute for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at CAU went out for a coring expedition to Skaugsjenna. The modern lake formerly was a fjord reaching the Skagerrak. The eldest sediments thus show marine impact and are supposed to date back to more then 7000 yrs before present.
For the coring expedition, we chose the coldest period of the year to get hold of the lake sediments by coring from the lakes’ ice-cover. Early morning air temperatures reached -18°C at the start, but bright sunshine and blue sky helped much in putting our minds in good humour. The 50-cm-ice cover was successfully penetrated to get the coring devices installed. The coring equipment regularly had to be defrosted. Here, hot water did a good service, which was heated on a camping stove which turned out to be the most important part of the equipment. The funniest experience for sure was the freezing of the wet gloves to the coring rods. After hard work, two parallel sediment cores of up to seven meter lengths were recovered from the natural archive and brought with sledges to the lake shore. There the cores quickly were pressed out of the coring tubes before freezing in the cold air, wrapped and saved in the warm car. Back in Kiel the cores were opened and to our great surprise we gained a complete sequence of four m depth for the Holocene which is completely laminated, plus three m of Pleistocene greyish clay. The lamination allows for precise temporal resolution and in Norway was hardly found in sediment cores so far!
The sediment cores are prepared now for microfossil analyses with high temporal resolution, in particular for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. These investigations compliment ongoing studies at Kiel in the frame of the DFG priority programme SPP 1400 on “Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation” which explores the origin and development of Neolithic large-scale buildings and the emergence of early complex societies in Northern Central Europe (www.monument.ufg.uni-kiel.de/en/)
Core III from Skaugsjenna shows the laminated Holocene sequence and the Pleistocene greyish clay.
Text: Wiebke Kirleis; Photos: Wiebke Kirleis, Walter Dörfler