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Flint from the Eastern trench

The recorded flint finds from the Eastern trench consist of 3084 individual finds in 1002 different records.

An overview of the finds can be found in fig. 1. The most common find types in the Eastern trench are microflakes (52,27%), debitage (34,73%) and flakes (6,74%). Other find types, such as cores, blades, small microflakes, scrapers, points, axe fragments, knife fragments and burins are found in small numbers and collectively amount to 6,26%.


Type of artefact No polished surface/retouch With polished surface With retouch With polished surface and retouch Total Percent
Flake 99 104 3 2 208 6,74%
Debitage 1071 0 0 0 1071 34,73%
Core 11 1 0 0 12 0,39%
Blade 53 12 2 0 67 2,17%
Microflake 1612 0 0 0 1612 52,27%
Small microflake 30 0 0 0 30 0,97%
Scraper 47 3 0 0 50 1,62%
Point 14 0 0 0 14 0,45%
Axe fragment 2 15 0 0 17 0,55%
Knife fragment 1 0 0 0 1 0,03%
Burin 1 1 0 0 2 0,06%
Total 2941 136 5 2 3084 100,00%
Percent 95,4% 4,4% 0,2% 0,1% 100,0%

Fig. 1. Numbers and types of finds from the Eastern trench

Cores and blades are two types of lithic remains that are good indicators of which knapping techniques that were used at a site. The types of cores found in the trench are dominantly bipolar cores, though flakes and blades produced using platform techniques show that several knapping techniques were used at Alvastra. An overview of the cores can be found in fig. 2.

Type of core No
Bipolar 5
Single platform 3
Two platform 1
Flake 3
Total 12

Fig. 2. Cores from the Eastern trench

Fig. 3.  Object number 1183240. Other core with one platform. Photo: Ola Myrin, Swedish History Museum (SHM).



Polished surface appears on 4,5% of the finds, mainly on flakes. Retouch is found on 0,3% of the finds (here excluding artefacts with obvious retouch, such as scrapers). The retouch is most often found on flakes. Polished surface and retouch appear on 0,1% of the finds, again most often on flakes.

A large portion of the flint from the Eastern trench is burnt, in total 33%, even when microflakes are included. Excluding the microflakes also gives a value of 33%.


The material from the Eastern trench clearly seems to support the phenomenon that finished, polished and unpolished flint axes from several geographical and geological sources were being brought to Alvastra and subsequently broken down and reused as cores and raw materials for flintknapping activities that were taking place on-site. Danian flint has a geographical distribution pattern in northern Jutland Denmark and accounted for 327 artifacts. Senonian flint has a geographical distribution pattern of western Scania in Sweden and northern Jutland, Mön and eastern Zealand in Denmark and accounted for 510 artifacts. Ordovician flint has a geographical distribution pattern in the Swedish islands of Öland and Gotland and accounted for 17 artifacts. Kristianstad flint has a geographical distribution pattern in northeast Scania and accounted for 5 artifacts. Determination of these types was visual and based on reference material found in Scandinavian (Högberg, A., Olausson, D., 2007).

Fig. 4.  Object number 1186145. Square-sectioned axe with polished surface. Photo: Greg Tanner, Swedish History Museum (SHM).


Fig. 5..  Object number 118640. Square-sectioned axe with polished surface. Photo: Ola Myrin, Swedish History Museum (SHM).


More than half of the flakes show signs of having been struck from finished, polished flint artifacts. In addition, over half of the total number of artifacts recovered from the trench are microflakes resulting from pressure flaking and bipolar flaking activities. 17 finished axe fragments were also recovered that had not yet been further processed; the majority (15) of them being fragments of finely made, polished axes.

A significant proportion (33%) of the material, including finished tools, broken tools, debitage, and flakes were all seemingly subjected to burning at the pile dwelling. It is currently unclear whether this was an intentional activity, for example in the structures’ numerous hearths, or as a result from the pile dwelling itself burning down. It is known that the entirety of the pile dwelling was subjected to fire at least once during its period of activity.

It is noteworthy that flintknapping activities were taking place within the pile dwelling itself as it has previously been interpreted as everything from a defensive structure, a habitational dwelling, a livestock pen, to a ritualistic tomb or temple in wood. From personal experience, flintknapping is nothing you wish to perform indoors; the sharp flakes get everywhere and can cut deeply, even though tough leather.

The unusually large number of closely spaced hearths, apparent lack of roof and” indoor” knapping activities do not logically seem to support the notion of a dwelling or animal pen. Neither do the relatively loosely spaced piles forming the walls seem to form a good defensive structure, especially when considering its location in the middle of a bog. (See Browall, 2016;149ff and references there-in.)

The last option, at least when considering the lithic material, would at present seem most logical; a ritual-tied gathering and burial place. Flintknapping activities, both productive and destructive in nature were taking place on site using fine finished axes brought in from large distances as raw materials. Groups of people, likely from or at least in trade contact with these various places were meeting up, lighting fires, burning and smashing objects, including those finished and unfinished in flint and sometimes also burying their dead.

These are known phenomena from the Middle Neolithic, but nowhere else taking place in such a structure. There is a uniqueness about Alvastra and we do not have all the answers. All we can go from is the material left behind. The flint gives one possible part of the story, but much remains left to be told.

Text: Gregory Strand Tanner 2018

The following references cited on this page have no web links:

Browall, H., 2016. Alvastra pålbyggnad. 1976–1980 års utgrävningar. Västra schaktet. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och antikvitets akademien, Handlingar, antikvariska serien 52. Stockholm.

Högberg, A., Olausson, D., 2007. Flint-An archaeological perspective. Aarhus University Press.