Outlanders? : Resource colonisation, raw material exploitation and networks in Middle Iron Age Sweden

Abstract: The Middle Iron Age, around 300–650 CE, was characterised by extensive transformations across many aspects of society in the area of present-day Sweden. Within the central agricultural regions of the southern parts of the country, these changes are evident in a re-organisation of the settlements, renewed burial practices, the building of large-scale monuments, as well as increased militarisation, social stratification and an increase in imported objects. This thesis addresses an additional aspect of Middle Iron Age societal change, namely an increase in the utilisation of raw materials and resources from forested and coastal landscapes situated beyond the settled farm. These non-agrarian landscapes are commonly referred to as the outlands. In previous research, the increased utilisation of the outlands has in general been understood as part of a Viking Age expansion.The case studies of the thesis suggest that the outlands saw an intensified resource colonisation already during the Middle Iron Age, and that a similar explanatory model can be used to accommodate the parallel developments that appear in the agrarian landscapes as well as the in the outlands. The resource colonisation contributed to a surplus production that seems to have exceeded the needs of ordinary households, along with serially produced items, distributed along far-reaching trade networks in exchange of exotic commodities. The thesis argues that these networks should be interpreted as part of systems connecting distant regions, ranging from the Far East to Arctic Scandinavia. The discussions of the cases studies illustrate interplay between different groups of people – producers and consumers, hunters and farmers – in different parts of the landscape, and how they generated complex, social and economic relations and interdependencies. This in turn resulted in specific cultural patterns in the border area between the boreal forest in the north and the agrarian region in the south. The main contribution of the study is that it highlights how the main elements of outland exploitation, such as mass production and trade in valuable non-agrarian resources, can be dated earlier than has been previously thought. Moreover, the thesis argues that outland resource colonisation was an important driving force for the societal developments that took place during the Middle Iron Age, and is crucial for our understanding of later time periods.

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