Central Transit Places. the Archaeology of Man-Made Navigable Waterways in Iron Age Scandinavia A.D. 400–800
Del Rio, Anthony B.
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CitationDel Rio, Anthony B. 2020. Central Transit Places. the Archaeology of Man-Made Navigable Waterways in Iron Age Scandinavia A.D. 400–800. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractMan-made navigable waterways within the Scandinavian homelands during the Migration Period (A.D. 400–550) and Late Germanic Iron Age (A.D. 550–800) are remarkably rare and represent significant investments of human capital comparable to other contemporary monumental construction projects such as the Danevirke fortifications in northern Germany. The Migration Period Spangereid Canal in southern Norway and the Late Germanic Iron Age Kanhave Canal on the Danish island of Samsø are the only two examples of native prehistoric Scandinavian canals known to exist. Previous studies consist of localized research confined to each canal site region and reflect compartmentalized investigations of the socio-political organizations of Migration Period Norway and Late Germanic Iron Age Denmark. The archaeological, artefactual, literary, and linguistic segregation of Spangereid and Kanhave canal site research hinders consideration of possible connections to the materialization of power concentration and central place formation in the broader cultural landscapes of southern Scandinavia.
This research consists of an examination of the Spangereid and Kanhave canals within the contexts of power concentration and central place formation while considering several hypotheses. The first is that power was linked to places where a large amount of resources were allocated to develop the physical landscape. The second considers whether massive undertakings such as canal sites required the leadership of a single unified central authority to exist. The third contemplates whether such a central authority used a strategy of ‘social mechanics’, whereby the canal sites were created as ‘mechanisms’ for the purposes of integration and control. Finally, it is hypothesized that the canal sites should be considered as ‘central transit places’ in the prehistoric Scandinavian landscape.
Employing a multidisciplinary theoretical framework which juxtaposes archaeology with Old Norse sources, historical documents, toponymy, and geology to gain a longue durée perspective, the thesis looks to account for methodological problems associated with traditional mono-theoretical frameworks, such as those used in previous site-specific studies. The interpretations in these studies are typically based on small-scale investigations which focus on singular types of evidence. By contrast, the present study’s framework includes a larger breadth of evidence than has previously been applied to the study of Scandinavian canal sites, and enables a multi-angled, long-term interpretation of their culture areas.
The application of this multidisciplinary theoretical framework demonstrates that the areas in which the canal sites of prehistoric Denmark and southern Norway were constructed were highly valued by both local and distant Scandinavian populations. Status grave sites, fortifications, building remains, textiles, prestige goods, and a continual usage and growth of the surrounding landscape in the following centuries mark the canal sites as social focal points within each region. The amount of labor and resources required to construct the canals during the 5th and 8th centuries, and their subsequent disuse in the following centuries, demonstrate not only that political change was rapid both in Denmark and southern Norway, but also that the canals were at points valuable enough to merit the continued investment of human capital. Danish territories in particular, influenced by their vicinity to neighboring continental states, internal and external conflict, and evolutions in international trade, exhibited the most comprehensive and accelerated political changes. The Spangereid Canal in southern Norway shows the most developed ground plan in the immediate vicinity of the canal site, with centuries of continual habitation and construction developments in the form of boathouses, homes, and status graves. The first five phases of the Danevirke were contemporary with the Spangereid Canal’s use and the Kanhave Canal’s construction, suggesting that central authorities were already wielding their power to create social, labor-intensive engineering works in the Scandinavian landscape.
This study supports and furthers the model in which authorities of greater and lesser Scandinavian regions used ‘social mechanisms’ to gradually coalesce polities through the domination of local and regional trade, the re-orienting of social focus, and a restructuring of their regional landscapes by way of investments in construction projects such as canals.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365014