Living on Another Shore : Early Scandinavian Settlement on the North-Western Estonian Coast

University dissertation from Uppsala : Arkeologi

Abstract: Prior to the Second World War, there was a Swedish-speaking population settled on the north-western Estonian coasts. The early history of this group is largely unknown. No colonisation is mentioned in the written sources. The earliest such sources that mention Swedes originate in the late thirteenth century. The organisation of land use patterns remains obscure until the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries. In early research, these Swedes were viewed as a remnant of an old Germanic indigenous population. In more modern research the colonisation is usually linked to the Danish-German conquest of Estonia in the thirteenth century. It has been suggested that Swedes arrived under the protection of the new Christian landlords, to settle in uninhabited coastal regions that were utilised only extensively. In this thesis, previous research relating to the early phase of Swedish settlement, based primarily on studies of the few preserved medieval written documents and on linguistic material, is critically reviewed, as is the existing source material. Field investigations using modern methodology have for the first time been conducted in order to introduce new material into the discussion. The results from the Nuckö peninsula and Enby village demonstrate a long period of settlement continuity. Settlement was initiated in the early Iron Age. In the late Viking Period and the early Middle Ages a period of expansion can be observed. Questions of ethnicity and continuity are explored, and it is suggested that the colonisation is best understood in the context of long-term contacts maintained across the Baltic Sea. The settlement is viewed as a spontaneous peasant colonisation. In the late Iron Age-early Middle Ages, there is probably a link to the settlement expansion observable in Scandinavia and in other parts of Europe. It is also quite conceivable that coastal populations from the western side of the Baltic Sea had utilised the special ecological niche associated with these coastal regions even earlier.

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