Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

John Ljungkvist

Gamla Uppsala – the growth of a mythical centre


John Ljungkvist was born in 1970 in Lund, Scania, Sweden. After his undergraduate education at Lund University he worked as an excavating archaeologist for three seasons. In 1995 he began his research studies at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient history, Uppsala University. After alternating between research studies and different excavation jobs, small children etc. his thesis En hiar atti rikr http://www.arkeologi.uu.se_copy/publications/digital.htm was presented in April 2006.

John's interests in archaeology have markedly varied during his years in the archaeology business. His interests have spanned from submerged Mesolithic settlements to Viking Age trade. During the years of his undergraduate education and two years therafter, he got some experience in underwater archaeology. He participated in underwater fieldwork in Denmark and Scania, worked as a underwater archaeologist for the Öresund bridge project and had co-responsibility for the investigation of a 9000 year old submerged settlement outside Landskrona.

Work as an rescue archaeologist led to a deeper interest into Iron Age settlement archaeology and this was combined with research into crafts and trade in the Late Iron Age. During the following years, John mixed research with different field-related projects. For example, he was given the opportunity to lead two excavations and a survey in Gamla Uppsala, as well as research field work and rescue archaeology jobs in Ultuna outside Uppsala. The work with crafts materials and graves in Ultuna contributed to the recruitment into the FREMDE project, a EU-financed international project, led by Dieter Quast from the Römishc Germanisches Zentralmuseum an in cooperation with scholars from eight other European countries. During this period, John was placed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm where he recorded continental imports from the Migration and Vendel Periods. Eventually he also participated in the making of the museum's new base exhibition and got a job as coordinator for nine archaeologists in the state-financed Access project at the museum. In September 2006 he went on temporary leave to work with the Valsgärde project. He is  currently creating a summary of the cremation burials from the grave field, its chronology and development through time.

His thesis, En hiar att rikr, dealt with three different subjects. First, the problems and methods of how to identify the elite from the ordinary population in the Late Iron Age society. The second part is a discussion of Late Iron Age elite milieus, their social and economical structure as well as the differences among them. This work is the foundation for a further discussion about the land ownership during the Late Iron Age and Medieval Period. The final part is a area study of twelve parishes around Uppsala, where John displays how common the archaeologically defined elite was during the Late Iron Age, and presents the picture of a very widespread low aristocracy.

Current research

John's research is currently divided between three main lines that are continuously under way to be dealt with.

Late Iron Age status burials in Middle Sweden/chronological questions regarding the Late Iron Age.
This subject consists of a number of spinoff projects related to the PhD-thesis. One particular direction is a series of at least three articles. First article was published in Fornvännen 2005 and discuss the established dates of the mounds of Gamla Uppsala. This work has been followed up with studies of the Valsgärde grave field and studies of overall changes of the elite burial rite after 550 AD and how these changes are related to what happens with the international contacts in the same period.

Trends in material exchange and social interaction. Scandinavia-Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean 300-900 AD
This is the title for Johns postdoc project. The research began during the FREMDE project where a large material of imports from all over Europe, the Middle East and even India was collected. This material is the foundation in an attempt to understand the long term picture of the import and contact with different people around Europe, Africa and Asia. And in some degree reconstruct the changes in trade and relate them to trends in the global economies of that time.

Currently some studies exist of the Roman Iron Age and Viking period exchange. However, there is an almost 400 year-long period in between that has been sparsely studied, and thus we are unable to see the long-term trends. Further, the existing studies are more than 20 years old and not dated according to modern chronologies. A thorough study will not only give a much broader picture of the import material, but will also change some of the existing pictures and make the trends in the flow of imports much clearer.

East Mediterranean and African goods in Scandinavia between 500-900 AD
Regarding the Roman period, the origin of east Mediterranean objects has been dealt with on numerous occasions. The continuity of the Byzantine and early Islamic export of objects has not been as thoroughly dealt with. This project deals with the origin of some of the Mediterranean/African/Indian ocean beads that are found in western Europe and Scandinavia before the massive import of Islamic beads begin in the late 8th century.

It will also touch upon how the trade changed in the eastern Mediterranean after the shift between Byzantine and Moslem dominance around 640 AD.

Project participation

■Kom el Khawaled
■Late Iron Age status burials in Middle Sweden.
■Trends in material exchange and social interaction. Scandinavia-Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean 300–900 AD.