Pastoralists and the State in Iron Age and Medieval Sweden
Tina Thurston Principal Investigator
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With NSF support, Dr. Tina Thurston and colleagues from the United States, Sweden, and Great Britain will conduct three and a half years of fieldwork on Sweden's Småland Plateau, seeking to understand how autonomous pastoral peoples are encapsulated by states and incorporated into state political and economic systems, often against their collective will. Local-state relations in Småland were "high-conflict" in nature: successive phases of independence, confederacy/hegemony, and forced "pacification" with varying impacts on ethnic identity, political cohesion, and economic strategies. <br/><br/>Between AD 600 and 1550, twelve Plateau polities were incorporated into the Svear (later Swedish) state. Sketchy ethnohistories concern activities of social and political elites, incorporating real people and events and politically embroidered legends supporting later Svear agendas and identity. Of the local, ethnically-distinct forest pastoralist population, virtually nothing is known, except that the early historic state recorded non-cooperation, tax evasion, and "illegitimate" treaties with Sweden's enemies, culminating in 16th century armed rebellion.<br/><br/>Cereal cultivation was impracticable on the marginal Plateau, though pastoralism was viable, as was exploitation of iron ore and wood, for charcoal used in smelting. To exploit the resources of this hostile region, beginning around AD 1100, state power was increased through sequential establishment of local state outposts, concurrent with rising taxation and labor demands. Did economic shifts accompany new demands? Was there intensification? If so, was it broad-based or limited to areas near royal centers? Did animal production increase, were new species added, were cereals introduced? Did quality of life and livelihood change over time? The project will document conditions as the state brought pressures to bear, significant enough to foment violent conflict. Critical to questions about this largely prehistoric context is the timing and extent of agricultural expansion waves, recognizable through the establishment of pioneering hamlets and the opening of new forest pasturage, assessed through datable sites and clearance features. Pedestrian survey, soil chemical survey, and test excavations will establish dwelling, farming, and industry locales, AD 500 to 1550, within the former autonomous Småland kingdoms of Tveta and Vista, determining sites appropriate for further investigation. Extant and new faunal assemblages, microregional pollen profiles, macrobotanical analyses, and the survey and dating of iron production features will further chart economic change. <br/><br/>The ultimate intellectual contribution is a case study of state-pastoralist relationships, as contemporary and historic pastoralists have played important roles in state politics and economies, but typically have contempt for central authority and are unafraid of the subsequent conflicts, due to strong ethnic identity and sociopolitical cohesion. Pastoral peoples can have significant power, and the sequence through independence, hegemony, encapsulation, and subsumption is neither inevitable nor unidirectional. Most "encapsulation sequences" occurred long before the social sciences developed, and while contemporary outcomes are much-studied, the process is largely undocumented. The Plateau, with its full sequence, is ideal for studying the relationships between successive generations of rulers and subjects. The broader impacts of continued archaeological training and research opportunities afforded a multinational student cohort will have a positive impact on general and region-specific material and theoretical understandings.