ArticlePDF Available

Medieval Colanization and Abandonment in the South Swedish Uplands: a Review of Settlement and Land Use Dynamics Inferred from the Pollen Record

Authors:
  • National Historical Museums, Sweden

Abstract and Figures

In this review of pollen data from the South Swedish Uplands, evidence is presented of colonisation and strong agricultural expansion during the 11th to 13th centuries, followed by farm abandonment and land use change during the 14th to 15th centuries. The latter is associated with the Black Death and the late medieval crisis. Pollen data show that abandonment in the uplands resulted in the regrowth of woodland, but also in land use change from cereal growing to grazing. Similar cycles of agricultural expansion and decline are identified also from earlier periods during the Iron Age, which highlights the sensitive character of upland agriculture and settlement.
Content may be subject to copyright.
A preview of the PDF is not available
... During this period, the local land-use was characterized by increased agricultural activities as indicated by the expansion of cropland (Fig. 4). This change is likely associated with the Medieval expansion as evidenced by other data from southern Sweden (Larsson 1975;Berglund 1991;Lindbladh and Bradshaw 1998;Lindbladh et al. 2000;Myrdal 2011;Lagerås 2013;Fredh et al. 2019). At the early stage of this period (ca. ...
... The expansion of farming was possibly caused by an increase in population and settlement in this area during the High Middle Ages. Strong population growth accompanied by agricultural expansion was seen throughout southern Sweden during this period (Larsson 1975;Berglund 1991;Lindbladh et al. 2000;Lagerås 2007Lagerås , 2013Myrdal 2011;Bragée et al. 2013). ...
... The abandonment of agricultural land was likely the consequence of population decline associated with the outbreaks of the plague at this time. The first plague epidemic (commonly known as "the black death") happened in most parts of Sweden in ad 1350 and was followed by several outbreaks in the second half of 14th century and at the beginning of the 15th century (Benedictow 2004;Myrdal 2012;Lagerås 2013). The population decline at Skogaryd, which is located in a marginal agricultural area, might not only indicate that the area was particularly badly struck by the plague, but could also reflect a migration to more central agricultural regions, such as the more fertile coastal plains, where abundant farmlands became available in the wake of plague outbreaks (Lagerås 2013;Fredh et al. 2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
A sediment sequence from a small forest lake in southwestern Sweden was investigated to explore the effects of forestry and land-use on catchment erosion and delivery of organic and minerogenic matter to the lake. Catchment-scale vegetation changes during the last 1,100 years were reconstructed quantitatively at 50-year resolution using pollen analysis and the Landscape reconstruction algorithm (LRA). Variations in terrestrial organic matter input to lake sediments were assessed by total organic carbon (TOC) content and carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratios. Changes in minerogenic matter were analysed using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scanning. The results show that Skogaryd was not intensively used for agriculture throughout the past 1,100 years, but its land-use changes were very sensitive to societal changes. Between ca. ad 950 and 1350, local land-use was characterized by small-scale agricultural activities associated with the Medieval expansion, and enhanced soil erosion was recorded by increased K, Ti and Rb deposition. Around ad 1350 much of the farmland was abandoned, most likely in response to outbreaks of plague. The abandonment of farmland caused increased coniferous woodland cover and lower soil erosion. From the 16th century land-use expanded and gradually intensified, concurrent with a population increase documented in the study area between ca. ad 1600 and 1850. Intensive exploitation of the forest led to soil erosion and increased terrestrial organic and minerogenic matter export to the lake. These processes peaked with the artificial drainage of a nearby wetland for agricultural purposes. During the 20th century, modern forestry management started with the plantation of conifers, and soil erosion declined.
... Insofar as the initiation of long-term settlement does not appear to coincide with any notable climate shifts in the paleoenvironmental record and continues despite oscillations in environmental conditions, climate does not seem to have been a limiting factor, or indeed a stimulus, for upland expansion. Examples of upland settlement initiation or expansion between the 10th to 13th centuries are also found in southwest Britain, Denmark and southern Sweden [100,101,[112][113][114]. While the more clement conditions of the Medieval Climate Anomaly may have facilitated upland expansion, it cannot be seen as a specific "pull" factor, at least in the case of Slieveanorra, given that no seeming climate amelioration is evident in the 12th century. ...
... The legacy of such events at a generational scale can be gleaned, however, enabling us to examine the population's ability to absorb and recover from shortterm catastrophes in the longue durée. Elsewhere in Europe, the significant mortalities and ensuing rural abandonment following the earlier 14 th century population crashes, aggravated by the Little Ice Age climate deterioration, are thought responsible for issuing in a late Medieval economic decline, a cessation of building activities and widespread woodland regeneration, which persisted into the 15 th century and thereby long-outlasted the events themselves [103,113,[115][116][117]. Our highly refined chronology enables us to differentiate categorically the late 15 th century decline in activity at Slieveanorra from any early 14 th century events, and to track the extent of land-use throughout the climate oscillations of the Little Ice Age. ...
Article
Full-text available
Evaluating the impact of environmental changes on past societies is frequently confounded by the difficulty of establishing cause-and-effect at relevant scales of analysis. Commonly, paleoenvironmental records lack the temporal and spatial resolution to link them with historic events, yet there remains a tendency to correlate climate change and cultural transformations on the basis of their seeming synchronicity. Here, we challenge perceptions of societal vulnerability to past environmental change using an integrated paleoenvironmental and land-use history of a remote upland site in the north of Ireland. We present a high-resolution, multi-proxy record that illustrates extended occupation of this marginal locality throughout the climate oscillations of the last millennium. Importantly, historically-dated volcanic ash markers enable us to pinpoint precisely in our record the timing of major national demographic crises such as the Black Death and the European, Irish and Great (Potato) Famines. We find no evidence that climate downturns or demographic collapses had an enduring impact on the use of the uplands: either the community escaped the effects of these events, or population levels recovered rapidly enough (within a generation) to leave no appreciable mark on the palaeoenvironmental record. Our findings serve to illustrate the spatial complexity of human activity that can enable communities to withstand or quickly bounce back from largescale calamities. In neglecting to consider such local-scale variability in social and economic organization, generalized models of societal collapse risk overplaying the vulnerability of populations to long- and short-term ecological stressors to the detriment of identifying the social constraints that influence a population's response to change.
... A recent study of Central Italy (Palmisano, Bevan, and Shennan 2017) found that 14 C date counts and site count and other site-derived population proxies seem to covariate, meaning they are all potentially reliable population proxies. For medi eval Scandinavia, the extension of rural settlement into marginal areas has been proposed to reflect demo graphic growth (Lagerås 2014). In Roman archaeo logy, researchers have focused on determining the urban population sizes, and to a lesser extent rural populations. ...
... -change in subsistence strategies (e.g. from slash and burn to intensive agriculture, exploitation of marginal zones) (Lagerås 2014); ...
Article
Full-text available
The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) is a model of the relationship between environmental degradation and economic development. The model postulates that indicators of environmental degradation tend to be positively correlated with economic growth up to a transition point, after which the society starts deploying measures to reverse the environmental degradation leading to its decrease. This paper will introduce the EKC model and discuss the potential contributions archaeology can make to ongoing debates on the EKC. It will present several archaeological proxies that can be used, thus setting out a theoretical conceptual framework. The case study of Palmyra, a desert oasis city, and its hinterland will be used to demonstrate the potential and challenges involved. Establishing the validity of the EKC model is critical since it determines socio-economic policies. We argue that archaeological data has a strong potential to inform such debates.
... Depleted δ 13 C 25 seen at both sites after ~ CE 1200, and the lower δ 13 C values in EMB046/20-3GC than in EMB046/10-3GC between CE 1300 and 1450, could be caused by an increased input of terrestrial organic carbon via enhanced river runoff due to land-use changes such as deforestation and strong agricultural expansion, documented at that time in Scandinavia (e.g. Lagerås, 2013). Thus, the more inland-located EMB046/20-3GC would be more affected by terrestrial influence than EMB046/10-3GC. ...
... This can be associated with reduced terrestrial input 30 to the central Skagerrak due to agriculture decline and vegetation changes in Scandinavia caused by a massive population decline in 14 th century due to an outbreak of Black Death (e.g. Lagerås, 2013). In the second part of the 14 th century BWT and δ 18 O curves match again between both sites, suggesting decreased influence of local processes. ...
Article
Full-text available
A comprehensive multi-proxy study on two sediment cores from western and central Skagerrak was performed in order to detect the variability and causes of marine primary productivity changes in the investigated region over the last 1100 years. The cores were dated by Hg pollution records and AMS 14C dating and analysed for palaeoproductivity proxies such as total organic carbon, δ13C, total planktonic foraminifera, benthic foraminifera (total as well as abundance of Brizalina skagerrakensis and other palaeoproductivity taxa) and palaeothermometers such as Mg / Ca and δ18O. Our results reveal three periods with changes in productivity in the Skagerrak region: (i) moderate productivity at ~ CE 900–1200; (ii) low to moderate productivity at ~ CE 1200–1600 and (iii) high productivity at ~ CE 1600–present. During ~ CE 900–1200, moderate productivity was likely driven by the nutrients transported with the warm Atlantic water inflow associated with a tendency for a persistent positive NAO phase during the warm climate of the Medieval Climate Anomaly. The following low productivity period at ~ CE 1200–1600 was likely caused by a lower contribution of nutrient-rich Atlantic water due to a generally more negative NAO phase and a shift to the more variable and generally cooler climate conditions of the Little Ice Age. At that time the nutrient supply was largely sustained by the Baltic Sea outflow and river runoff associated with land-use changes. Since ~ CE 1600 towards present day our data point to an increased nutrient content in the Skagerrak waters. This increased nutrient content was likely caused by enhanced inflow of warm Atlantic water, increased Baltic outflow, intensified river runoff and enhanced human impact through agriculture expansion and industrial development. Intensified human impact likely increased nutrient transport to the Skagerrak and caused changes in the oceanic carbon isotope budget, known as the Suess effect, which is clearly visible in our records as a negative shift in δ13C values from ~ CE 1750. In addition, a higher benthic foraminiferal Mn / Ca suggests slightly decreased bottom water oxygen conditions between ~ CE 1050 and 1400 in the central Skagerrak and in the last 70 years at both studied locations.
... Furthermore, this paper also highlighted fluctuations in settlement intensity and how these were reflected in various types of data. Lagerås (2014) demonstrated that different types of evidence provided different pictures of medieval colonization in southern Sweden. The hamlet of Ö stra Ringarp was traced by written records back to AD 1523, an archaeological excavation dated human activities to the 13th century and the local pollen diagram placed the start of continuous cereal cultivation to the 9th century. ...
Article
Medieval settlement history in Europe is a common topic in several scientific disciplines. Recently, Fanta et al. (2020) examined colonization processes in Bohemia through the comparison of archaeological evidence and historical records. They concluded that the first mentions of settlements in historical documents are not reliable sources for settlement dating and should always be verified and preferably superseded by archaeological data, which are, in contrast, mostly unproblematic. We argue that this conclusion is controversial from several aspects. Firstly, it neglects the disciplinary constraints of archaeological evidence for medieval settlement development, as regards quality and chronology. Secondly, there are several legitimate perspectives from which to analyse the data. Our reanalysis of the original dataset showed that-in partial contrast to the conclusions of Fanta et al. (2020)-when viewed from the point of view of historical evidence, the time lag between the historical and archaeological dating increased with time and that the historical dating of most of the settlements between the 10th and 13th centuries was supported by archaeological evidence. Lastly, we demonstrated how research combining different disciplines (archaeology, history, palaeoecology, geography) and types evidence can reveal the manifold processes of human settlement dynamics. In our view each type of evidence has advantages as well as drawbacks, therefore strictly prioritising one at the expense of others hardly furthers the understanding of complex social phenomena.
... AD 1250 revealed input of lignin-rich terrestrial organic matter, which is likely related to the increasing agricultural activity during the medieval expansion indicated by the land cover reconstruction (Fig. 4). However, the agricultural expansion was interrupted by the outbreak of the plague around AD 1350, and much of the farmland in Sweden was abandoned and either converted to pasture for animal grazing or went through a natural woodland succession (Lagerås, 2013). A decline of the agricultural land followed by woodland expansion between ca AD 1350 and 1600 was indicated by the land cover reconstruction in the study area (Yang et al., 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Organic carbon burial in lake sediments plays an important role in the global carbon cycle, and is heavily affected by the terrestrial organic matter input. However, few studies have focused on long-term changes in terrestrial organic matter input to lakes in response to land-use changes. The aim of this study was to assess variations in sedimentary terrestrial organic matter over the last 1000 years based on lignin biomarker records from two sediment cores from Lake Skottenesjön, southwestern Sweden. In combination with pollen-based quantitative land cover reconstruction, we investigated the impacts of centennial-scale land-use changes on terrestrial organic matter input to lake sediments. The results show that human activities in the catchment had significant impacts on terrestrial organic export by modifying the vegetation cover. Intensified use of the forest in the 18th and 19th centuries led to enhanced soil erosion, and increased terrestrial organic matter input to the lake. Although farmland expanded between the 12th and the middle of 14th century, no significant change in terrestrial organic matter input was observed at that time. Much higher export of terrestrial organic and minerogenic matter to the lake was observed during the period of modern forestry in the 20th century as compared to previous periods of minor forest disturbance, such as 11th century. The changes in the vegetation cover in the catchment considerably modified the composition of terrestrial organic matter deposited in the lake sediments, which is reflected by the composition of lignin phenols. This study demonstrates that the combination of lignin phenols analysis and pollen-based quantitative land cover reconstruction is a useful approach for investigating long-term changes in terrestrial organic matter delivery to lake ecosystems.
... Galimos šio reiškinio priežastys iki šiol nėra tiksliau nustatytos, tačiau tradiciškai jis siejamas su Vakarų Romos imperijos žlugimu ir vėliau sekusia turbulencija Europos viduje. Antrąja priežastimi dažnai įvardinama 536-537 m. galimai kilusi klimato katastrofa, sukelta vieno ar kelių stambių ugnikalnių išsiveržimų (Bondeson, Bondesson 2014;Näsman, Lund 1988;Lagerås 2013;Löwenborg 2012). Teigiama, jog dėl jų galėjo susiformuoti istoriniuose šaltiniuose minimas Fimbulvinter -klimato atšalimas, Skandinavijos mitologijoje vadinamas "didžiąja žiema", sukeltas virš šiaurinio pusrutulio užslinkusio "paslaptingo debesies" ar "dulkių uždangos" (Gräslund 2007;Gunn 2000). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Humans and plants have always shared a deep and complex relationship. Thus, plant remains from the archaeological settlement contexts contain evidence on agriculture, subsistence strategies, economic and technological development of the past communities. Also, information on various processes and activities inside the settlement and its environment. However, archaeobotanical research in Lithuania is still in its infancy. This project aimed to analyse and organise all accessible archaeobotanical material from 11th c. BC – 12th c. AD settlement sites in Lithuania. New archaeobotanical finds collected during the ongoing fieldwork form the basis for this project. In addition, it utilizes published data and the re-analysis of legacy botanical finds. A total of 247 archaeobotanical samples from 24 Lithuania sites were analysed resulting in identification of ca. 100 000 plant macrofossils. The results facilitated the reconstruction of the development and main characteristics of farming in different periods. Also, the construction of a model illustrating the impact of agricultural development on the changing settlement patterns in Bronze – Iron Age Lithuania. Finally, these suggest that local agricultural and settlement development in 11th c. BC – 12th c. AD ought to be seen as an integral part of a broader economic, technological and social development of the Baltic Sea region.
... We used the Kristianstad municipality (1484 km 2 ) in southern Sweden (approx. 55 N, 14 E, Figure 1) as a representative example of the long term general transition from a multi-functional cultural landscape based on animal husbandry, and thus pastures and grasslands [25], to maximum sustained yield forestry and agriculture [26]. This municipality includes the downstream part of the River Helge å drainage basin, which transitions from forest uplands to agricultural lowland areas. ...
Article
Full-text available
Animal husbandry in Europe that sustained once wide-spread semi-natural grasslands has been replaced by maximum sustained yield agriculture and forestry. This transformation coincides with declining populations of species dependent on semi-natural grasslands. A key task is therefore to define benchmarks for landscape restoration in terms of well-planned functional habitat networks, i.e., green infrastructure. Using a representative example of the European landscape gradient between agricultural and forest landscapes in southern Sweden as a case study, we analyzed the historic range of variability of the total area, quality, and size of grassland patches, and compared this to the requirements of focal grassland species. Spatial data covering the past two centuries indicated a 75-80% loss of total grassland area. Three factors affected the functionality of grasslands as green infrastructure. First, during the period 1927-1976, the loss of all grassland areas with high nature values was 41-59%. Second, as a measure of alteration, the number of semi-natural grassland types declined from 5 to 1. Third, to address habitat fragmentation, an analysis of changes in grassland patch size showed that patches sufficiently large to support local populations of complete focal grasslands species assemblages declined by 89-100%. The cumulative effect of loss, alteration, and fragmentation over the past two centuries indicates that the functionality of semi-natural grasslands has declined by at least 98%. However, this estimate does not consider land use changes before 1800, reduced connectivity, and altered biotic and abiotic processes in both semi-natural grasslands and the surrounding matrix. We stress the need to define the historic range of variability as a benchmark in relation to species' requirements to maintain semi-natural grasslands as green infrastructure. Finally, integrated land management and governance that support multi-functionality of grasslands is needed.
... We divided the sequence into four major land-use periods (L1-L4). and returned throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, although the local effect is not known in detail (Lagerås, 2007(Lagerås, , 2013Lagerås et al., 2016;Myrdal, 2012). Myrdal (2012) estimated that 60-70% of all farms in the uplands were abandoned. ...
Article
The relationship between land-use and floristic diversity in the landscape, for the last millennia, is analysed from two small lakes in southern Sweden. Pollen analysis and the Local Vegetation Estimates (LOVE) model are used to quantify land-cover at local scales with 100-year time windows. Floristic richness is estimated using palynological richness, and we introduce LOVE-based evenness as a proxy for floristic evenness on a local scale based on the LOVE output. The results reveal a dynamic land-use pattern, with agricultural expansion during the 13th century, a partly abandoned landscape around AD 1400, re-establishment during the 15th–17th centuries and a transition from traditional to modern land-use during the 20th century. We suggest that the more heterogeneous landscape and the more dynamic land-use during the 13th–19th centuries were of substantial importance for achieving the high floristic diversity that characterises the traditional landscape. Pollen-based studies of this type are helpful in identifying landscape characteristics and land-use practices that are important for floristic diversity and may therefore guide the development of ecosystem management strategies aiming at mitigating the on-going loss of species seen in the landscape of southern Sweden and many other regions worldwide.
... This would suggest a decline in the occupation of new areas by farming communities. This same decline in the number of farms at c. AD 600 is recorded in Upland in southern Sweden (Lagerås, 2013) and Estonia (Tvauri, 2014), possibly because of the climatic anomaly at AD 536 (Gräslund, 2007;Tvauri, 2014). Furthermore, a tree ring summer temperature reconstruction from northern Sweden suggests that summers were cooler between AD 600 and 700 (Briffa et al., 1992). ...
Article
Full-text available
Dates for early cultivation in Finland obtained from pollen analysis and remains from archaeological sites are compared with the changes in population size derived from the summed calendar-year probability distributions. The results from these two independent proxies correlate strongly with one another indicating that population size and the advance of farming were closely linked to each other. Moreover, the results show that the adaptation and development of farming in this area was a complex process comprising several stages and with major differences between regions The most intensive expansion having occurred in and after the Iron Age. It is therefore more accurate to describe the introduction of farming into the area as a long-lasting process, rather than an event.
Article
Full-text available
The study focuses on the environmental history of the higher parts of the Småland Uplands, southern Sweden. Pollen analysis was conducted on gyttja from the small lake Avegöl, and an absolute chronology established based on AMS dates of terrestrial plant macrofossils. The area has been used for grazing from 3900 cal. BC to present, but cultivation of cereals was not introduced until c. 300 cal. BC. There have been two major periods of open landscape, cal. AD 0-500 and cal. AD 1300-c. 1900. The first period was characterized by pastures and shifting cultivation in both till and sand areas. The second period was characterized by pastures, meadows, permanent arable fields and slash-and-burn cultivation, and it was mainly restricted to till areas. Cal. AD 500-1000 was a period of regression and reforestation, when extensive wood pasturage was the only agrarian land-use practised in the area. All dramatic environmental changes, except for the spruce invasion AD 900-1100, are assigned to agricultural land-use, while some slow and gradual changes are explained as the combined effect of land-use and natural processes. The classical Ulmus decline at c. 4000 cal. BC is not detected in the pollen diagram, but there is a significant decline in Ulmus dated to 2800-2600 cal. BC.
Article
The time-span of 6000 yr is subdivided into seven cultural landscape periods, the boundaries between which mainly follow landscape-ecological periods. Because the ecological changes roughly correspond to certain important changes in society, the same time periods are also appropriate for describing the social changes, even if other important changes occur in society within these periods, particularly during historical times. We focus on ecological and social factors of importance for explaining changes in the cultural landscape. Finally we also present our basic ideas about the interaction of environment and social systems, and their influence on landscape changes in the long term, including some critical remarks on our general project hypothesis. We conclude with some reflections about modern society and its future impact on the landscape. -from Authors
Article
In the recent past, Fagus forests in southwestern Sweden were more common and widespread than today. The Fagus forest area has decreased considerably due to cultural activities, mainly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The pollen records of two small adjacent forest hollows (lying c. 50 m apart) in the Bocksten area in central Halland indicate that the pre-Fagus forest was of a rich memoral type with many woody taxa present. Quercus, Tilia, Alnus, and Corylus were important components of this forest type. Fagus became established in the area around 1450 14C years BP, and rapidly became dominant in the forest. The expansion of Fagus was remarkably rapid, and probably facilitated by slight human disturbance. The rather pure Fagus stands found today in the area are a product of recent human activities. The high pollen percentages of Tilia at one of the sites (site A) until 200 BP is remarkable, and stands in contrast to the picture seen in regional-scale pollen diagrams from Sweden. At this site, Tilia grew in a mixture with Fagus, Quercus and Corylus for almost 1200 years until the stand was suddenly cleared c. 200 BP. At the other site (B), Tilia shows a gradual decrease beginning before the establishment of Fagus, which is in agreement with the regional picture. It is evident that stand-level differences in vegetation is not possible to detect with conventional pollen diagrams based on regional-scale sites. Different grazing regimes, or human influence, may have caused these stand-scale differences in vegetation. The boreo-nemoral forest type found today in the studied area is domi nated by intensively managed Picea plantations and Fagus stands. This forest type has little resemblance to the vegetation that existed during earlier periods.
Article
As a background for a discussion on errors and potentials of the palaeo‐botanical methods in the documentation of early prehistoric agriculture in Scandinavia, some methodological problems in pollen analysis are treated. Multidisciplinary research for understanding environmental changes is emphasized. Definition of long‐term changes in the cultural landscape is discussed. Different research strategies in Scandinavia are outlined. A survey of the introduction and expansion of agriculture in Scandinavia is presented. Finally, some palaeoecological interpretation problems related to the early agriculture landscape are listed.