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Alvastra in Europe

Here Alvastra pile dwelling is compared with other sites in Europe outside Scandinavia.

Hans Browall has recently described  European sites outside Scandinavia and the Circum-Alpine region that can be compared with Alvastra pile dwelling (Browall 2011: 371ff). The table below summarises his observations in English. For references, see Hans Browall’s text. The last column ”interpretation of function” has been added by Jackie Taffinder on the basis of the information provided by Hans Browall.

Site name Country Date Features Setting Interpretation of function
Unfriedshausen/ Pestenacker 1A Germany 3536 B.C. 3496 B.C. 12 -14 houses, causeway, manure layer Wetland Subsistence
Hunte I Germany 3300 B.C. 2837 B.C. 2744 B.C. 24 house foundations surrounded by palisade Peninsula in lake Subsistence
Hüde I Germany Ertebölle, TRB Hut Wetland Subsistence
Siggeneben-Süd Germany Ertebölle, TRB, Platform Ancient fjord Subsistence
Swifterbant S3 Netherlands EN Circular huts Wetland Subsistence
Bergschenhoek Netherlands EN Wooden platform on floating island Wetland Subsistence
Hekelingen III Netherlands MN Huts Wetland Subsistence
Vlardingen Netherlands MN Houses Wetland Subsistence
Sarnate Latvia EN, MN 40 houses or huts Narrow ridge of peat between lake and Baltic Sea Wooden anthropomorphic figurine, 168 cm tall
Šventoji Lithuania 4000 – 2000 B.C. Semi-circular palisade, houses, dam constructions, fishing constructions Coast of ancient lagune Wooden figurines, anthropomorphic, animal.

Votive assemblage of ceramics

Baker platform, Somerset Levels Great Britain 3000- 2025 B.C. Platform and causeway Island in fen Hermaphrodite wooden figurine


The pile dwellings of the Circum-Alpine region are very well known. Since 2011 the more than 1000 wetland sites in the Circum-Alpine area appear on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. 111 lakeside and wetland sites in six Alpine countries, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy, have been chosen to represent these sites (Seng et al 2019, p. VII).

Since the 1980s the interpretation of Alvastra pile dwelling has been mostly couched in ritual terms (for example, Browall 2003, 2011,2016; Carlsson 2015, Malmer 2002) and this is something that makes it different from the classical pile dwellings in the circum-Alpine region. In a lecture delivered in the year of 1988 in Sydney and in an article published in 1991 (see copy of this paper in the Alvastra archives; Malmer 1991) Mats Malmer highlighted the similarities and differences between Alvastra and the pile dwellings of the circum-Alpine region, arguing that the ritual aspects of the latter had not been adequately investigated.  This is confirmed by Menotti when he writes in his 2015 overview of pile-dwelling research that “An area of research within lake-dwelling studies that does not, alas, have a long tradition, is the study of people’s social structure, organisation, and beliefs.” (Menotti 2015:8). Menotti maintains that this neglected area of lake-dwelling research is being rapidly updated. One of the studies he refers to as an example of this new field is by Benjamin Jennings and focusses on the Bronze Age (Jennings 2015). Two others (Ebersbach 2010 and Doppler et al 2010 discuss social questions such as mobility, organisation of work and specialisation on the basis of Neolithic lakeside dwellings and wetland sites such as Arbon Bleiche and Hornstaad Hörnle.  The interpretations referred to by Menotti are more about how society was organised than about the beliefs of the dwellers. Thus, work on the Alvastra pile dwelling still exhibits great differences from the Alpine pile dwelling interpretations. For sites like Šventoji in Lithuania, however, with votive deposits and zoomorphic as well as anthropomorphic figurines, ritual is something that is discussed (Rimantienė, 2005:99ff).

The following references on this page have no web links:

Browall, H. 2003. Det forntida Alvastra. Museum of National Antiquities, Monographs 6. Stockholm.

Browall, H., 2011. Alvastra pålbyggnad, 1909-1930 års utgrävningar.  Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Handlingar. Antikvariska serien 48. Stockholm.

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

Carlsson, A., 2015. Tolkande arkeologi och svensk forntidshistoria. Från stenålder till vikingatid. Stockholm studies in archaeology 64. Stockholm.

Doppler, T., Pichler, S., Jacomet, S., Schibler, J., Röder, B., 2010. Archäobiologie als sozialgeschichtliche Informationsquelle: en bislang vernachlässigtes Forschungspotential. In: Claβen, E., Doppler, T., Ramminger, B(eds)., 2010. Familie-Verwandschaft-Sozialstrukturen: Sozialarchäologische Forschungen zu neolithischen Befunden. Fokus Jungsteinziet. Berichte der AG Neolithikum. Band 1, p. 119–139.

Ebersbach, R.,  2010. Soziale Einheiten zwischen ”Haus” und “Dorf” – neue Erkenntnisse aus den Seeufersiedlungen. In: Claβen, E., Doppler, T., Ramminger, B(eds)., 2010. Familie-Verwandschaft-Sozialstrukturen: Sozialarchäologische Forschungen zu neolithischen Befunden. Fokus Jungsteinziet. Berichte der AG Neolithikum. Band 1, p. 141–156.

Jennings, B., 2015. Bronze Age trade and exchange through the Alps: influencing cultural variability? In Menotti, F. (ed) 2015.  The end of the lake-dwellings in the Circum-Alpine region.  P. 211-235.

Malmer, M.P., 1991. Social space in Alvastra and other pile dwellings. In: Grøn, O., Engelstad, E., Lindblom, I., (eds), 1991. Social space. Human spatial behaviour in dwellings and settlements. Proceedings of an interdisciplinary conference. Odense university studies in history and social sciences, vol. 147. Odense.
Rimantienė, R., 2005. De Steinzeitfischer an der Ostseelagune in Litauen. Forschungen in Litauen. Forschungen in Šventoji und Būtingė. Litauisches Nationalmuseum. Vilnius.Menotti, F., 2015. The lake-dwelling phenomenon: myth, reality and … archaeology. In Mentotti, F (ed) 2015.  The end of the lake-dwellings in the Circum-Alpine region. P. 1–14.

Seng, E-M., Schlichtherle, H., Wolf, C., 2019. Prähistorische Pfahlbauten im Alpenraum. Erschliessung und Vermittlung eines Welterbes. Reflex eder immateriellen und materiellen Kultur, Band 3.