Category Archives: Osteology

The Swedish Osteological Association’s annual seminar 2009



The Swedish Osteological Association in collaboration with the Osteoarchaeological research laboratory (OFL), Stockholm University, hold it’s annual seminar and a workshop at Stockholm University February 14th 2009.

“Bird and fish bones – methods and seasonality”.

Seminars by Fil. Dr. Carina Olson, the Osteoarchaeological research laboratory (OFL), Stockholm University, Professor Inge B Enghoff, Natural History Museum of Denmark (Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen) and Fil. Dr. Kristiina Mannermaa, University of Helsinki, Finland.

DATE: 14th February 2009.

LOCATION: Stockholm University, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, seminar room, level 3, Wallenberglaboratoriet, Lilla Frescativägen 7.

Språk/language: Swedish and English

Chair: Senior lecturer Jan Storå 


13.00-13.15 Welcome

13.15-14.00 Fil. Dr. Carina Olson, Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University. “Tolkning av fiskben från arkeologiska lokaler”. (Interpretations of fish bones in archaeological contexts; seminar in Swedish)

14.00-14.45 Professor Inge Bødker Enghoff, Natural History Museum of

Denmark (Zoological Museum), University of Copenhagen. “Archaeoichthyology: Size estimates and repesentation of skeletal elements”. programfeb2009a1

14.45-15.15 Coffee.

15.15-16.00 Fil. Dr. Kristiina Mannermaa, University of Helsinki, “Bird bones in graves at Yuzhniy Oleniy ostrov (Russian Karelia)”.

16.00-18.00 Workshop two sessions/species (16.00-16.45 and 16.45-17.30)

18.00-18.30 Discussion and reflection.

18.30 Dinner at the Department



Carina Olson “Tolkning av fiskben från arkeologiska lokaler” (In Swedish)

Vid tolkning av fiskben från arkeologiska lokaler används metoder som kroppslängd- och viktberäkning, ålders- och säsongsbedömning. Exempel på detta där kotor och otoliter av torsk använts kommer att visas och sedan praktiskt provas på. En aspekt på kvantifiering är att jämföra NISP och antal förekomster per kontext får man fram olika slags information från kvantifieringen. Istället för att bara erhålla antal per art från en boplats (NISP), får man genom antal artförekomster per kontext fram fler dimensioner till tolkningen. Till exempel hanteringen av fisk (eller andra djurben) inom en boplatsyta, vilket indikerar hur aktiviteter rumsligt förekommit inom lokalen.

(I’ll translate this later tonight)

Inge Bødker Enghoff “Archaeoichthyology: Size estimates and representationskeletal elements”

Measurements of subfossil fish bones can be used for estimating the total length of the fish from which the bones derive. The total length of the fish can in turn be used for inferences about fishing methods and season. The relative frequency of, e.g., bones from head vs. body, can be used for inferences about processing of the fish for consumption. However, the method of excavation needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting the finds. The talk will be illustrated with examples from the author’s own research on fish bones assemblages from Danish sites, e.g., Vængesø III (Mesolithic), Viborg Søndersø (Viking Age), and Selsø Vestby (Medieval).

Kristiina Mannermaa “Bird bones in graves at Yuzhniy Oleniy ostrov (Russian Karelia)”

Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov in Karelia, northwestern Russia, is the largest known Mesolithic cemetery in northern Europe. Most of the graves are well preserved, and a wealth of materials, including human skeletal remains and a variety of grave goods, has been documented during the excavations in 1937 and 1938. Animal bones, both unmodified and in the form of artifacts were found in the graves. In this presentation I talk about fresh results of the analysis of bird bones from graves on Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov. The most common bird species in the cemetery was the osprey (Pandion haliaetus). By studying the location of bird bones in burials as well as the distribution of anatomical elements,

it is possible to interpret the roles of birds in burial practices. The behaviour and ecology of the identified species can be used for investigating and estimating why these species may have been placed in graves and what kind of significance or value these species may have had for the Late Mesolithic people who used the cemetery.

Participation entries are due no later than febuary 8th 2009. For payment see Osteologiska föreningens webpage (in Swedish) or contact me for further information. The price is 60:- for members and 95 for non members, this includes the seminars, the workshop and coffee. For dinner participants the price is 175:- for members and 225:- for non members.

Programme (pdf-file part in Swedish part English).

Magnus Reuterdahl


Cholera cemeteries; abandoned overgrown but remembered.

Today I worked on a matter concerning a cholera cemetery, now I’ve got a bit of a weak spot for these remains. Most of them are classified as permanent ancient monuments/remains though they’re really not that ancient. The meaning of the word ancient in this particular case is dependent on its context; the application of the Swedish Heritage Conservation Act (KML) where among other things the concept of permanent ancient monuments and remains is defined.

In short;

–         Ancient monuments and remains are marks or traces of human activities. They are remains of human activities from ancient (or former times) derived from ancient (former) times manners and customs and be lastingly abandoned.

In other words it’s not the age of a remain that determines if it is an ancient monument and is protected by KML but rather the conception if it bears witness of times gone by.

I’m not sure if I got this translation quite right it’s a bit difficult to translate law into another languish as the importance of the words might vary and it is difficult to find the exact phrases, though I believe I’m pretty close.


Back the issue at hand cholera cemeteries, these are most often from the 19th century and can be describes as a sort of mass grave or several mass graves where people who died of cholera. These are often mixed up with a pestilence cemeteries these are a bit older from the middle ages to 18th century. They are difficult to separate as they are registered as Pestilance-/Cholera cemetaries in the registry of ancient monuments (FMIS) and one has to read through the entry to get an idea of what’s what.

There were 11 cholera epidemics that raged through Sweden between 1834-1873, the worst one was the nation wide epidemic of 1853, in total ca 37000 died.

The cemeteries are often quite small, 10-15 x 10-15 m, and the graves are normally not marked. But there is often a sepulchral monument in stone or Iron with a memorial text like “here lays those who died of Cholera 1853″ and it’s not unusual that it is enclosed by a wall or a low fence. This sounds as if they’re easy to spot, well some of them are but most are uncared or cared very little for and nature has more or less taken over which makes the more or less invisible.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease that within a few days might give cause to extreme diarrhoea. The real danger is the loss of fluids, untreated this might and did often lead to death with 24 hours. This is quite easily treated by supplying fluids; it took some time before the doctors made the connection between the disease and unhealthy water. This in turn led to better sewer system in the cities and other hygiene improvements.

These cemeteries also has scientific value, here is an almost untapped archaeological resource for research on well defined small groups. These groups can are bound to a specific time and place and most of them are probably bound to rather small social groups; farmers, farmhands and the poor. A qualified guess is that those with wealth still got buried on cemeteries or in family tombs. Here are possibilities for several studies within archaeology, osteoarchaeology (physical and forensic anthropology), history and ethnology. Among other things there’s bound to be a difference between the countryside and the city burials, the study of life history and compartment between different burials, health status etc. Then there’s the question of who died, to meet those whose faith was cholera and death. There are a few cemeteries that have been excavated but not many so this could be an interesting.

A quick search in FMIS in the category Plague-/Cholera cemeteries gives 634 hits whereof eight have been excavated. To get anywhere one would have to categorise them more closely; plague vs. cholera, the dating, check the written sources, how many been buried and when etc. But there might also be more to be found in older texts etc. Another thing that would be interesting to investigate is the different plagues and make comparisons between different materials. There’s just too much and way to little time and money to do anything of it.

These abandoned cemeteries can be found all over Sweden, often more or less forgotten with marker; a stone or a cross that tells of those who got the final rest far from the regular cemetery. They’re found both outside of villages and towns, though those outside of towns is said to be more common as the hygiene situation was worse in the cities than in the countryside. I guess this must have been difficult step in a time where religion and the sanctity where more vivid than today and that is probably why we know of so many of these cemeteries still, it was important to remember the dead and therefore the memory of the places lived on in people’s mind till the big surveys for ancient monuments during the later half of the 20th century.

I’ll probably come back to this subject as I’ll reread the book Pestbacken (Pestilence hill) about an excavation a few years back in Bleking county.

  • Arcini, Caroline, Jacobsson, Bengt & Persson, Bodil E. B 2006. Pestbacken, Riksantikvarieämbetets förlag, Stockholm.


Magnus Reuterdahl

Christmas greetings to ya all

First some important announcements;

The next Four Stone Hearth blog carnival  is but a week away and I would like to ask you to be creative during the holidays, if you are please let me know via a comment here or a mail. For you who have read something you feel should be a part of the next 4SH please do the same.


Neuroanthropology hosts the first yearly edition of the Best of Anthropology Blogging and calls for Submissions, check it out!

As it is Christmas Eve and that’s the day we celebrate Christmas by sharing a couple of great gifts; given to me this year.

From an anonymous (for you) donor I’ve gotten his cranium. It has belonged to a doctor (now retired) who bought it in the 50’s during his studies. He felt that it should continue to serve science and will do so through me.

A big thank you goes to fellow archaeologist Leif Häggström working at Kulturmiljö Halland (the author of the blog Arkeologi i Väst – in Swedish). He gave me some fine animal-bones. Among others this vixen (Vulpes vulpes), se pic below.

I also got some bones from a roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), some sheep and from fowls.




roe deer



Some of these will be delivered to archaeologist/osteologist Åsa M Larsson of the blog Ting och tankar (blog in Swedish).


sheep ca 6 months old


sheep ca 6 months old

I’ll take a short Christmas break in blogging but I’ll be back before the New Year.

Now I’ll go celebrate Christmas so Happy Christamas to all of you!

Magnus Reuterdahl

Urminne nr 7 2008

A new issue of Urminne (7/2008) is available, Urminne is a periodical concerning prehistoric and medieval issues in the Swedish provinces Småland, Öland and Östergötland. All articles are written in Swedish and it is possible to order it from Jonkoping County museum.


In this issue me and colleague; Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay, have an article; Tre oväntade fynd från Ottenby Kungsgård, Öland (Three unexpected finds at Ottenby Kungsgård).

Abstract: This paper presents three somewhat unexpected finds made in connection to the excavation in 2004 of a Pitted Ware site (Neolithic) at Ottenby Royal Manor on the southernmost part of Öland, Sweden. The first find to be treated here was identified during the excavation, and consists of an Early Medieval glass bead of Hungarian origin, of a type not previously documented from the Scandinavian area. The other two finds were identified during the osteological analysis; in the material from the 2004 excavation a Gannet (Morus bassanus, formerly known as Sula bassana) was identified, being the first of this species from a prehistoric context on Öland and the forth find from the large islands in the Baltic Sea altogether. Secondly whilst analysing bones from the 1991 excavation at the site a previously unidentified human bone was identified.

Magnus Reuterdahl

The other articles are (sorry I haven’t translated ´em);

– Jörgen Gustafsson: “Paradis i inland”
– Magnus Reuterdahl & Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay: “Tre oväntade fynd från Ottenby Kungsgård, Öland”
– Michael Dahlin: “Låt gravarna berätta! Några nygamla bronsåldersgravar i södra Tjust”
– Alexandra Nylén & Åsa Jönsson: “Gripeberg. En fornborg i Smålands inland”
– Christina Helander: “Att tända den livsgnista som släckts. En tolkning av två stensättningar i Bäckseda”
– Erika Räf: “Varifrån kom järnet? Om framställning av blästjärn i Östergötland under förhistorien”
– Mikael Nordström: “Död mans dörr och järnåldersdösens gåta”
– Anna Kloo Andersson: “Hälsa och ohälsa under medeltid och efterreformatorisk tid i södra Vätterbygden. Med utgångspunkt från skeletten i Barnarps kyrka”
– Rickard Wennerberg: “Skogens svarta guld. Undersökning av kolframställningsplatser i Nifsarp utanför Eksjö”
– Leif Häggström: Om viljan att kommunicera resultat. En analys av olika aktörers publiceringsfrekvens från en småländsk horisont”

Congratulation winners of SAU’s science award 2008

I would like to congratulate Sven Isaksson, archaeologist at the Archaeological research laboratory (AFL) Stockholm University, to SAU science award 2008 (In Swedish). Sven Isaksson is a bimolecular archaeologist who specialising in organic residues, for example lipid analysis on prehistoric ceramics. Sven is great teacher, scientist and fore most someone I call friend and it is always good see that good things comes to those who are good.

He wasn’t the only winner he shared the price with Uppsala scientist Anne Ingvarsson-Sundström, I don’t know her personally, though I believe I’ve met her on occasion, but I’ve read some articles and know of her as she do osteology (as well as archaeology). Congratulation it is good to see that bones are appreciated.

SAU or Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis (in Swedish) is Uppsala based foundation that does contract as well as research based archaeology.

Read more about Sven and his work in this presentation/article (in English).


Magnus Reuterdahl


Osteo treasures somewhat related to Santa

Some months ago while out in field, a few miles north of the polar circle, I found the remains of Santa’s little helper; in other words a reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).  


The Mandible





The ulna and radius are closely linked though not fused like the Bovines.


 A vertebrae





Parts of the pelvis – one half os coxae


 and the os sacrum.


Os talus


Metatarsal bone

 rangifer-tarandus-hoof b


Phalanges number I-3


And at last this is what he/she looked like when alive.

 Magnus Reuterdahl

Neolithic Fisheries – Osteoarchaeology of fish remains in the Baltic Sea region

Last Friday I sat in on Carina Olson defence of her doctoral thesis; Neolithic Fisheries – Osteoarchaeology of fish remains in the Baltic Sea region at Stockholm University. Her dissertation is of importance for those interested in fish osteology and marine economy during the Neolithic’s especially regarding the Pitted ware culture along the east coast of Sweden and on the islands of the Baltic Sea.

I’ll get back with some notes on the papers in her dissertation but one that I felt was especially interesting is paper III; Selectivity across the millennia. Prehistoric vs. modern Baltic cod fisheries by Karin Limburg, Yvonne Walther, Bongghi Hong, Carina Olson and Jan Storå as it introduces some new elements and interesting openings within osteology. This concerns life history of cod during the Neolithic’s and present, the authors are trying to say something of the how the environment has changed from then to now and how that has affected the cod. There are several factors that are in work, such as the salinity of the water, the temperature, natural predators, the industrial fishery etc. 

The thesis is available in an pdf file here. ‘

Magnus Reuterdahl

Pitted ware culture thesis

Today I am going to the disputation of Petra Molnar; she will defend her thesis in Osteoarchaeology Tracing Prehistoric Activity – Life ways, habitual behaviour and health of hunter-gatherers on Gotland at Stockholm University. I’ve read the thesis which includes five articles on the neolithic pitted ware culture. She ‘s been studying traces of prehistoric stress through stress markers, dental wear and oral pathology, the graves and grave-goods, she has compared these Neolithics health status with the health status of those living in Sigtuna during the middle ages (interesting results) and she has been studying the link between osteoarthritis and activity.

The abstract is available here.

I’ll get back with a few more in depth thoughts of the thesis.

Magnus Reuterdahl

The dig is finished, it’s been dug!

Then this excavation is over all that’s left is a few days of working with the finds, in my case produce a small osteologic comment on the bones found. There is a kind of sadness when one the last phases of a dig, as you excavate you kind of get familiar with landscape that you create. In this case the two houses and the cellar and you kind of desiccate it to a level where you where everything’s at. And at the final days when you bring in an excavator and deep digs it all to be sure that there are no older structures underneath, the reality that one has lived in for a few weeks or so disappears.

Did we find anything older? Perhaps! We found a hearth that might be prehistoric – but we’ll have to wait for the 14c analysis. We also found a well underneath one of the houses; it is ca 3 x 3 meter large. We’ve dug about three meters in depth as well though we didn’t get to the bottom of it, the arm of the excavator wasn’t long enough. The well was filled with old building materials and such and had been so since before the house was built, so it’s older but probably not prehistoric.

The well


To sign of this particular dig I leave you all with a few finds

A horse hoof found within one of the houses!

A bone from a frog, always fun to find small bones as well.

A tool of some sorts, or rather a part of a tool, perhaps a stylus. The material is yet uncertain but it might be made of tortoise shell.

Another tool, made out of antler.

Though the dig is done I’ve still got a few days of work in Linköping and I’ve got plenty of pictures so there will be a few more posts from or about Linköping.

Magnus Reuterdahl

The excavation has been carried out by Östergötlands County museum.

Excavations at Konserthusparken in Linköping; summery week two

From the left; Christer, Hanna, me and Lena
From the left; Christer, Hanna, me and Lena

Another week has passed and on Monday we move on to the final week of excavations at Konserthusparken. This week has been dedicated to the constructions in the northen part of the shaft. We have dug down through the floor of one of the buildings and found several postholes and the delimitation of the structures, in the second “house” we more or less found the delimitations but we still need to dig through the floor.

We’ve found several finds that helps us to date the buildings to the 18th century hence we do believe that they were erected for the purpose of the construction of either the bishops mansion, ca 1730, or in connection with work on the dome in the mid and late 18th century. The finds constitutes of ceramic shards, animal bones, clay pipes and molten iron and glass slag. The iron slag indicates some kind of iron production or refinement though we have not found any further evidence for this except the slag.

My favourite find this week is this part of a bone flute, I’ve found it at the bottom the floor layer and I think it is really cool.

There is one more week of excavation then it seems as I might get a few extra days working with the finds, cleaning, washing, sorting and on top of that make a small osteological review of the findings.

Next week I will attend a walk through of the medieval cellars of Linköping, very exacting and I hope for some great pictures, and I will visit the ruins of the 12th century church St Lars that actually are preserved under the floor of the present St Lars church, how cool isn’t that.

I’ll get back to you with pictures, excavation results and more!

For you who happens to read Swedish this article in the local paper was published on the dig.

The excavation is being carried out by Östergötlands County museum.


Magnus Reuterdahl

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