A dolmen is a simple megalithic burial chamber with three or more uprights and one or more capstones, these are normally dated to the Stone Age but in Sweden we have one type that is dated to the Pre-Roman Iron Age or the Roman Iron Age (ca 500 B.C. – 400 A.D.). These are a lot smaller than the Stone Age ones, most often built by three or four upright stones and sometimes with a capstone. In Swedish these are called “Järnålders dös” or in older texts they sometimes are referred to as graves of the Fröböke type.
This burial type is almost only found on grave fields, in FMIS (the national database of ancient monuments) there are 33 hits on Iron Age dolmens, all but one are found at a grave field. The finds are geographically concentrated to the south west part of Sweden in west parts of Småland, Halland and south west part of Västra Götaland.
The Iron Age dolmens are quite small and often build by three flat blocks standing up and one used as a roof. The measurements of the blocks are ca 85-95 cm in height, 55-75 cm in breadth and ac 20-30 cm in thickness, leaving a small open space within. One side is left open, of the ones I’ve seen and read about the open side is the south side.
In the Swedish archaeological journal Fornvännen from 1919:127ff one can read an article [Stendösar från järnålder av T.J. Arne/ Dolmes fron the Iron Age by T.J. Arne] (in Swedish) about the excavation of three of these graves in Kronobergs county at the gravfield Nöttja 21:1. In 1918 Dr. Knut Kjellmark had made an excavation in a dolmen and found that they were not from the Stone Age but probably from the Iron Age. Due to this information T.J. Arne went to Kronoberg to investigate the matter, to do so he excavated two dolmens at the same grave field. In the first, examined by Kjellmark, there were only finds of some pieces of cremated bones within a context of sand. In the second one, excavated by Arne, they found a piece of bronze with a few rivets, a small iron ring, about 130 small pieces of white quarts, some cremated bones and at the bottom the foundation a layer of charcoal. Other finds were small pieces of iron, bronze and a piece of a comb made of antlers. The small collection of bones was determined to be of human origin and was mixed with the coal. In the third one, also excavated by Arne, they found no traces of bones, coal or artefacts. T.J Arne used the artefacts to date the graves. He used comparative materials from Denmark and Gotland that was and is dated to the Roman Iron Age. As this grave type is unusual in Sweden T.J. Arne searched for analogies otherwise in Europe, the only ones he found where in Crimea where N. Rjepnikoff excavated 15 dolmen like graves in 1907 near the village Skelja.
In 1935 Claes Claesson excavated one dolmen in the village grave filed at Pukaryd, Tofteryd parish, Småland. The dolmen was placed in the north corner of a square stone setting.
In 1992 excavations where made at the Iron Age grave field of Byarum in Småland, the excavation is presented in the article “Ett järnåldersgravfält i Byarum (An Iron Age grave field at Byraum)” by Ann Marie Nordman in the book “Det nära förflutna – om arkeologi I Jönköpings län (The nearby past – about archaeology in Jonkoping county)” from 1997. On the grave field, dated to ca. 400-550 B.C. (the migration period), there were several grave types represented such as round covered stone settings, stone circles and Iron Age dolmens. The dolmens found at this grave field were placed within square stone settings. All openings were fronted towards south, within the dolmens a small “bone-chamber” was found, besides cremated bone a few finds of bronze and iron was also found.
In 2006 during a rescue excavation in Odensjö, Kronoberg County, one dolmen was excavated by Arkeologicentrum. During the excavation cremated bones from a infant was identified and pieces of resin, probably from a small box of birch bark wherein the bones where buried. Some samples were sent for dating, I am eagerly awaiting the report (more info in Swedish in their newsletter).
This summer the county museum of Jonkoping will probably excavate another three dolmens, which will also be very interesting.
In conclusion, this is what we know:
The grave type is only found in a small part of Sweden, it is dated to the early part of the Iron Age, they are always or almost always found within grave fields and most often in connection with a square stone setting or a cairn, they are often opened towards the south.
Pictures will be uploaded soon.