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The Gap in Ostrobothnia's History

Pär-Erik Levlin

Taken from Medlemsblad för Levälä Släktförening, No. 12, March 1990, published by Pär-Erik Levlin, Edsbacksv. 22, 19147 Sollentuna, Sweden, and reproduced here with his permission.

Researchers into Finland's history have long asserted an hypothesis that Ostrobothnia lay deserted and unpopulated during a period of time of approximately 400 years, from 800 AD to nearly 1200 AD. This theory has primarily been based upon the fact that archeologists have not made any finds from that era. The occasional find which might have been classified as being within that period might also easily have been dated from a somewhat earlier or later period.

As a corollary theory to "the gap", there has been constructed a similar unproven hypothesis about a colonization from Sweden to Ostrobothnia's coastal regions at the end of the 1100's and into the 1200's. Theoreticians have even imagined they can find evidence/support for it in the legend about St. Erik, a legend which, however, must be judged to have a very low level of historical reliability. A consequence of this hypothesis is that, then, all the Swedish names in Ostrobothnia could not be older than from the end of the 1100's.

During this present century there has developed in Ostrobothnia a very deep interest in the region and its history, and many able amateur researchers have surfaced. These have brought forth a number of arguments against "the gap" theory, and periodically a rather infectious debate has arisen between the academic researchers and amateurs. The amateurs, of course, have seen that there is a very rich fund of ancient relics from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages in Ostrobothnia clear up to and including the age of the Vikings around 800 AD. Thus it was difficult to believe in a depopulation when it was felt that there were strong arguments which spoke against such a circumstance. Conclusive proof of any flaws in the theory was nevertheless hard to find, and when runic inscriptions from 1000 AD were found in Vörå, the academicians immediately declared that these were fakes.

In order to further archeological research in Ostrobothnia, the Ostrobothnian Archeological Research Society (Österbottniska Fornforskningssällskapet) was established by a group of interested persons in the fall of 1984. Together with the Swedish Ostrobothnian Provincial Federation, this group turned to the Archeological Institute at Umeå University in Sweden in February 1986 with an inquiry if anyone there was interested in studying the Iron Age settlements in Ostrobothnia up to the Middle Ages. Professor Evert Boudou, who for quite some time had studied the evolution of settlements in Norrland, was very I interested in the comparable evolution on the east side of Kvarken [part of the Gulf of Bothnia]. Such a project required not only expert leadership but also entailed high costs. The Provincial Federation therefore turned to the parliament members of the Swedish People's Party, who obtained a grant from the parliament of 100,000 FIM for archeological research, which later was increased to 380,000 FIM.

Professor Evert Boudou, together with Roger Engelmark who is a botanist at the Archeological Institute, developed a four-year project plan which included pollen analyses, excavation of dwelling sites, and examination of macrofossils.

The pollen analyses, the importance of which was especially emphasized for the project, were administered by the paleoecologists Ulf Segerström from Karleby and Jan-Erik Wallin from Uleåborg, both doctoral candidates at Umeå University's Paleoecological Institute. For such analyses, a [core] sample was taken from the surface to the bottom of a peat bog. Then various strata of the sample were examined under a microscope in order to see which plants' pollen were to be found in the stratum and in what quantities. With such a method, one could find out which plants were to be found in the vicinity of the sample's position in the era which the stratum represented, and the age could be determined through carbon 14 tests. The first samples for pollen analysis were taken in Malax and Vörå, in the summer of 1986, near well-known archeological sites from the early Iron Age. On the basis of those and with the knowledge of the terrain, the researchers drew the conclusion that the population during the Iron Age, which existed on agriculture and cattle-breeding, was heavily dependent upon the shoreline fields for fodder for their animals. When the flat ground rose out of the sea, the waterline

moved [ed. note: after the retreat of the Ice Age], and additionally the ground which was situated higher up became swampland so that the old fields grew unfit to use. The population then moved to the new shoreline. They were attracted there, of course, by the proximity of the fishing spots as well. A new theory was formulated: "The change in settlement within the earlier areas rich in archeological sites within Ostrobothnia depended upon the fact that the uncommonly flat terrain which rose up out of the sea quickly became swampland. The specific local settlement was disrupted but a regional continuity of settlement existed".

In order to check the hypothesis, in the summer of 1987, new samples were taken at locations which lay nearer where the shoreline was calculated to have lain around the year 1000 AD. By the presence of pollen from rye, barley, and wheat in the earlier samples, it could be shown that cultivation in Ostrobothnia had begun some 100 years before Christ's birth, and in the later samples it could be shown that cultivation had proceeded through the whole period for which there are few archeological finds. Most remarkable was one sample from Rimal in Solf which showed that agriculture was carried on precisely there without a break from 600 AD up to our present day. One who has traveled along Highway 8 through Rimal (ca. 15 km south of Vasa) can see that the terrain there is more undulating, thereby making the fields on the hillsides easier to drain for a primitive agriculture.

Thus we know that Ostrobothnia was not depopulated, but that the population moved time after time to the new sites nearer the coast, where they could find continued sustenance. Consequently, neither has there been space there for new colonization from the west, but rather today's population has roots several thousand years old in the earth of their home region. This also means that the Swedish place names often are considerably older than one had wanted to believe. This nevertheless by no means excludes the presence of place names of Finnish and even Lapp origin. It is quite probable that the Old Swedish and Finnish languages lived side by side in our communities. This probability is reinforced, of course, by the fact that thousands of loan words from Old Swedish are included in the Finnish language.

It was a good thing that interpretations of archeological discoveries, research results, and place names which were based on preconceived opinions, were subjected to critical scrutiny. We can be thankful even more to the Ostrobothnian Archeological Research Society for taking the initiative in this project. The society is well worth our support, and I wish to urge all of those who are interested in our history to join the society and/or to subscribe to its publication which up to now has come out with four issues in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988. The information in this article was extracted from these sources. For further information write to the society's treasurer, Susanne Karlsson, 66540 Petsmo, Tel: 961-129333

Translated by Syrene Forsman assisted by E. Norman Westerberg.

Published by SFHS Newsletter 1994, Vol. 3, No. 3

© Pär-Erik Levlin

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