Brud eller kontinuitet – Bebyggelsesstrukturer på overgangen mellem ældre og yngre førromersk jernalder i Nordjylland


  • Simon Nørkjær Nielsen



bebyggelse, Nordjylland


Settlement structures at the transition from the Early Pre-Roman Iron Age to the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age in northern Jutland – disjunction or continuity?

The intermediary stage between the Early Pre-Roman Iron Age (EPRIA) and the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA) in Jutland (c. 200 BC) has often been described as being characterised by major developments, manifested in changes in the structural organisation of settlements. These changes have been most acutely described by C.K. Jensen in his PhD thesis of 1995, in which this intermediary stage is described as a short period characterised by great social transformations, manifested by marked interruption in settlement continuity all over southern Scandinavia.

However, a number of EPRIA settlements have been excavated in recent years that appear to have been continuous during the LPRIA and into the Early Roman Iron Age (ERIA), thereby contradicting this disjunction theory. Based on evidence from Pre-Roman Iron Age settlements in northern Jutland, this article discusses whether settlement discontinuity in the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA can be confirmed or whether the development was characterised by continuity. Data are employed from 36 Early Iron Age settlements in northern Jutland (figs. 1-2), followed by a more detailed survey of five settlement localities.

In his development of a chronology for southern Scandinavia in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, C.K. Jensen found a general discontinuity in the archaeological record at the transition between the EPRIA and LPRIA. This was so major that it could only reflect a radical change in the behaviour and actions of the people who, in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, had made, used and deposited these objects. According to C.K. Jensen the discontinuity in the settlements evident at this time, was so extensive that only two special settlements showing continuity from the EPRIA to LPRIA are known from southern Scandinavia, i.e. “Borremose” (a fortified settlement) and “Smedegård” (a tell site), both situated in northern Jutland.

As a possible explanation for this significant break, C.K. Jensen refers to one or more major volcanic eruptions that took place around 200 BC. The essence of his theory is that the reduced solar radiation resulting from this led to crop failure and that the consequent famine provoked great changes. C.K. Jensen follows this line of argument to its utmost, but other researchers have also accepted that a number of striking social changes occurred around the 3rd or at the beginning of the 2nd century BC, resulting in substantial changes in the structural organisation of settlements. Most recently, this subject has been thoroughly addressed for Pre-Roman Iron Age settlements in Jutland by L. Webley. He describes the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA as a time of transformation between two different types of structural organisation of settlements: Settlements from the EPRIA are seen as ‘wandering relatively dispersed farmsteads’, while those after the transition to the LPRIA are described as being ‘long-lived and nucleated’, with many being based on continuously occupied farm plots. C.K. Jensen thereby perceives the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA as a clear interruption in settlement continuity, while L. Webley (and others) goes no further than describing this intermediate stage as an important dividing line that merely emphasises a reorganisation of structural practices with regard to settlements. These two explanations are not though necessarily mutually exclusive. On the contrary, one could be tempted to say that they can be perceived as separate hypotheses that, together, reinforce the conclusion that the time around the transition from the EPRIA to LPRIA was characterised by considerable structural changes in the settlements in Jutland.

Focusing on northern Jutland, it is worth noting that the two exceptions to C.K. Jensen’s arguments, Borremose and Smedegård, are both situated here. Moreover, further exceptions have been added since 1995, when C.K. Jensen produced his PhD thesis, so that today we can refer to at least six settlements in northern Jutland showing continuity from the EPRIA to LPRIA. At the same time, it has become apparent that nucleated long-lived settlements began to appear as early as the EPRIA in at least a few locations in northern Jutland.

If C.K. Jensen’s Pre-Roman disjunction theory is to have general validity in northern Jutland, the lifetime of settlements founded in the Late Bronze Age (LBA)/EPRIA should end at the transition to the LPRIA, at the latest. However, based on the earliest-latest dates for the longhouses at 36 chosen settlements, no such break could be identified at that time. At 17 of the 36 settlements, where the earliest longhouse was dated to the LBA/EPRIA (fig. 1 nos. 1-17), the latest longhouse at 13 of the 17 sites (fig.1 nos. 5-17) was thereby dated to either the LPRIA, ERIA or Late Roman Iron Age (LRIA). On the basis of this record, it is evident that there was usually settlement continuity from the EPRIA to LPRIA on those of the selected sites that were founded in the LBA/EPRIA. A possible source of error should, however, be mentioned here: Even though a break in settlement during the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA cannot be demonstrated in the archaeological record, it may very well exist nevertheless. This is because the simple recording of, respectively, the earliest and latest longhouses at these sites combines the evidence into broad time periods, within which there may very well be sequential holes. Five settlements were therefore subsequently selected for intra-site analysis of the settlement structures during the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA: Nørre Tranders, Nørre Hedegård, Trandersgård, Lykkensgård and Klovenhøj.

Analysis of the various village phases of the Nørre Tranders tell site (fig. 4) revealed that the structural organisation of the settlement was stable here from the EPRIA onwards. At the same time, it could be demonstrated that structural changes in settlement did not occur during the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA. On the site as a whole, there was consequently very limited structural settlement development from phase I in the EPRIA to phase XIV in the ERIA. At Nørre Hedegaard, the traces of a stable structure around the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA are even clearer (fig. 5). Here, the same plots were continuously occupied throughout four settlement phases, beginning in the EPRIA and ending in the LPRIA, and house continuity constituted a prominent part of this practice. As far as Nørre Hedegaard is concerned, it can therefore be reasonably indicated that the intermediate stage between the EPRIA and LPRIA fell within what was probably the most stable period in the 6-700 year life of the settlement. At Klovenhøj too, a stable structure was a reality as early as the EPRIA (fig. 8), with the founder plot being continuously built upon and occupied for centuries and with a marked degree of house continuity from the EPRIA into the LPRIA. Not until later, in the LPRIA and ERIA, were new plots established. The situation at Trandersgård was somewhat different (fig. 6): The northern farms from the EPRIA apparently functioned within a community of loosely structured wandering farms, while the southern farms from the same period must be seen as the founders of several farm plots for a settlement attached to a single locality, which lasted until the LRIA. As these obviously constituted temporally extended phases, it is therefore not possible to determine which farms within the various phases at Trandersgård were coexistent. However, an overall picture emerges of a settlement under constant development – without it being possible to identify one or more periods with substantial interruptions or changes to the settlement structures as a consequence. As for Lykkensgård, it seems that the settlement was not occupied during the EPRIA.

It can therefore be concluded that the solid line often drawn between the EPRIA and LPRIA is not evident, either as a break in settlement continuity or in the form of supra-regional structural changes, in the archaeological records from the settlements in northern Jutland dealt with in this article. The various episodes of restructuring identified at these sites therefore seem to have taken place autonomously and randomly in chronological terms, as seen for instance in the case of Nørre Hedegård, where the two interruption horizons coincided with sand drift horizons. The conclusions reached in the discussions presented in this article therefore point in the direction of developments in settlement structure in the Pre-Roman Iron Age of northern Jutland being first and foremost a consequence of practices and decisions that took place at a village level.

Simon Kjær Nielsen
Vesthimmerlands Museum





Nielsen, S. N. (2015). Brud eller kontinuitet – Bebyggelsesstrukturer på overgangen mellem ældre og yngre førromersk jernalder i Nordjylland. Kuml, 64(64), 99–130.