At the moment I am working on a couple of small surveys in Vastergotland County, in the southwest part of Sweden. This time of year is perfect, it’s not too hot and not too cold, which makes it easy to walk long distances, and the grass hasn’t really begun to grow yet and therefore do not cover the remains. During this time of year the forest is never quiet; birds are singing and animals moving about, tress twitching and whining. Everywhere nature’s waking up from its long winter slumber.
Sometimes when you’re out you get the feeling that you might be the first person walking in this parts –to boldly go where no man has gone before - and then you’re reminded that nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all parts of our woods have been and are being used in some way or the other. Today it’s mainly forestry and hunting. In past times small crofts and cottages has been placed in what today is forests; in here they farmed small acres, held animals, made tar and coal, hunted etc. If we go further back in time we find traces of settlements, graves and grave fields, from iron production, small acres etc. What is forest now has been affected by man since the first time he or she sat foot on what became Sweden until today and the traces can be seen everywhere.
The remains of a hunting tower
From the forestry machines and tractors small roads or wheel tracks can be seen, clearings or trees planted in straight lines, traces after soil preparation, hunting towers, ditches etc are clearly visible.
Wheel tracks from a forestry machine
Historic traces are tar ditches and pits, fossil acres most often identified by small cairns, foundations of crofts etc. Prehistoric remains include some of the above mentioned, graves, settlements of different kinds etc. Clearing cairns can be remains from agriculture but also from clearings for a settlement or an activity, the historic ones that we connect with crofts are often a bit bigger, 3-5 meters in diameter and 0,5-1,5 m high and often relatively close by the remains of a croft, a hut or a farmstead, while the prehistoric ones are more shallow and often quite difficult to see.
A croft type clearing cairn
Crofts and such can often be identified by studying historic maps and sometimes modern as well as place names often has lived on and therefore can reveal the locations. While prehistoric settlements are searched for in certain types of environment, height above the ocean, close to lakes, on slopes etc. When we find clearing cairns one looks for fire cracked stones etc. Other things that can be a giveaway are small surfaces cleared of stones, terraces on slopes, flat areas.
During these surveys the usual finds are from historic times and connected to crofts or different activities in the forests as mentioned before. When I come up on the ruins of a croft where you often can the foundation of one or a few buildings; the croft, a barn, an earth cellar etc I can’t help but to think on the people who once built their lives there. When we’re out on these jobs we regularly live at hostels and such and there really isn’t all that much to do during the evenings but to read, blog or watch DVD’s. This time around I’m watching the Waltons (season 3) and I can’t help but comparing the show to what we find. The Waltons is played out during the great depression in the US during the 30’s. Many of the remains we found are from the second half of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century. The situation for the Waltons is probably not that apart from those who lived far out in the country side in Sweden, they lived on the land under hard and pressing times. Many of these remains are from crofts that where abandoned in search for a better life during what could be called a form a depression in Sweden and many other European countries at that time leading up to great waves of emigration to the USA and other countries. When you walk around the remains of croft and see the amount of work that has been done clearing the ground you relies what a big step leap of desperation it must have to pack your bags, abandon your home, your friends, part of your family and your life to seek fortune in the unknown. At that point it feels valuable to document the traces of their history – or rather our history as it is part of what shaped the history my land as well many other lands.
A well preserved earth cellar at croft abandoned ca 1890