Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

”Death’s Snug Chamber”: the Chamber Grave of the Roman Iron Age and Migration Period.

The project title plays with the notion of how those buried in chamber graves used to live, and with the lifestyle that surrounded the dead in their lifetime. The chamber graves mark and confirm the presence of a central Swedish elite in relation to certain farmsteads and regions. The Migration Period chamber grave is a phenomenon related to fashion and trends displaying a new elite that measured itself with more than just a glance at Roman Civilization.

Just as fundamental as the old social structure was during the Roman Iron Age, as drastic is the metamorphosis that the south Scandinavian social system endures during the 5th and 6th centuries of the Migration Period. This may be regarded as a far-reaching turnover in the rank and file of the upper echelons of society. Many were to lose rank and status. This has been qualified as a catastrophe. Yet it only was so in then sense that every societal change turns out to be a catastrophe to a given social grouping. For the new elite, success was undeniable.

In central Sweden, the periphery of south Scandinavia, the hiatus between the establishing phase and the discontinuation phase of elite settlements amounts to a mere 200 years. It is also evident that many chamber graves have been opened towards the end of the last of the two centuries. They have been emptied of their splendid content after a very brief use period as chamber graves. The emptying appears to a fashionable trend along the lines of the chamber grave fad itself.

Archaeology is a fortunate discipline in that the research material is constantly expanding. Recent finds of chamber graves shed new light of the twilight of the old elite from a different angle. The first objective of the project is to arrive at a coherent new perspective of the social change manifest in the chamber graves and their subsequent plundering. The drawback within the archaeological discipline is that new research suffers from a great deal of problems in terms of edition and interpretation. This is certainly the case with the chamber graves. It is difficult to determine their content if they have already been opened. They are also difficult to excavate so that one may understand both construction and emptying. As source material, they have arguably received a half-hearted treatment, and one has partially displaced their scientific potential. Therefore, the second part of the project has as its objective to create a manual for how one may critically and systematically excavate and interpret the chamber grave.

Project members:

Professor Frands Herschend
Fil dr Svante Fischer
Fil dr John Ljungkvist
Fil dr Helena Victor

Links to other sites with chamber graves (will open in new windows):

Prittlewell, UK: http://www.molas.org.uk/news/latestNews5.asp

Saint-Dizier, France: http://www.inrap.fr/site/en/page.php?id=430&p=&id_evenement=30

The Lilla Karby Chamber grave at the Stockholm County Museum: http://www.lansmuseum.a.se/arkeologi/artiklar/kammargraven.html

Sutton Hoo, UK: http://www.suttonhoo.org/