Tuna and Nävragöl -- New Light On An Old Find

In April of 2007 I directed a week of metal detecting at sites in Östergötland where there was a potential for an elite presence in the period AD 400-1000. These investigations were part of a project that I published in my 2011 book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats.

One site that proved a dud for the project's exact purposes was Tuna in Östra Husby parish. But my friend and long-time collaborator (and these days, colleague) Dr. Tim Schröder found something pretty damn cool anyway: a gold finger ring from AD 310–375, the last phase of the Roman Iron Age. It had been twisted up and thrown into a long narrow inlet of the Baltic, apparently as a sacrifice. The find got us all energised and we put extra time into the site, hoping to find more from this era. But in the end the second-oldest datable finds were mounts for 15/16th century table knives. Tim and I published a paper on the ring and the site's wider significance in 2008.

There was one intriguing object though from Tuna that I could neither classify nor date: a gilded oval mount for a strap or a wooden object. The gilding and the bevelled edge might place it in the 6/7th centuries. But it might also be from a piece of 18/19th century furniture or horse harness. In the journal paper and the book we illustrated the find and admitted defeat as to its classification. And nobody has contacted me about it since.

Finds from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, May 2016 Finds from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, May 2016

But now there's been a development. As so often with these enigmatic metal detector finds, it's the amateurs who have, if not the classification, then at least the parallels. My friend and collaborator Tobias Bondesson (a detectorist and banker who deserves an honorary doctorate for his encyclopaedic knowledge about small finds, his academic publications and his services to archaeology) pointed me to a group of finds made this week by Thomas Hasselberg at Nävragöl in Fridlevstad parish, Blekinge. This all looks like 18/19th century to me: note the 1801 coin. And in the middle of the collection sits another one of those oval mounts.

Mount from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, reverse Mount from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, reverse

Nävragöl's front is an exact match for Tuna, and the back side has had fastening rivets in the same places as Tuna though Nävragöl has had loose rivets, not tangs cast with the mount. Thomas has wisely been careful with the cleaning, but he reports that his piece is also gilded. Tuna measures 33 x 22 mm. Nävragöl measures 38 x 30 mm. I'm convinced that both mounts have served the same purpose and are of a very similar age.

But what age? Well, neither find is from a closed context. And at Tuna there are ample cemeteries and finds that prove intensive settlement at least from AD 1 onward. But Nävragöl is a very different deal. Thomas tells me the land he's been detecting is the site of a farmstead established in about 1800. It's on the edge of the parish, in the woods near the Småland border, an area that has never been densely settled and probably had very few inhabitants before AD 1100. Fridlevstad parish itself isn't even documented in writing before 1349, though the church dates from c. 1200. And finally, due to our unfortunate legislation, Swedish daylight detectorists like Thomas only get permits for land judged to have a very low archaeological potential. The Nävragöl find has convinced me that the Tuna mount is Late Modern, not Late Iron Age.

In 2007 I asked around a little with people who know about antique furniture, to no avail. I'm trying again now. Stay tuned!

Big thanks to Thomas Hasselberg for information and permission to publish his photographs. A similar case of eventual find identification was the one with the bodice-lacing pin from Skamby in Kuddby.

Update 22 June: The Swedish Army Museum's staff found pretty good parallels to these mounts on objects in their collections!

Update 10 January 2017: Thomas lent me the piece so I could collect som extra information. It measures 37.9 x 30.3 x 8.4 mm and weighs 9 g.

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I don't have anything to say about the mount, but I'd like to know something about Tuna. Tolkien called a hill by that name (but said the language was Quenya), on which he had a city.

Naturally it gets smiled at for it's resemblance to the fish, but given his tendency to steal from Nordic sources, was there a Tuna he might have used as a source for this hill with a city on it? Is "Tuna" similar in meaning to "dun"?

Tuna means "enclosed place" and is a common name for the residences of mid-1st millennium AD magnates in agricultural Sweden. You can read about them in my Book Mead-halls on Academia.edu. A connection to the British dunum has been suggested by one place-name scholar, but afaik this idea never won many adherents. Dunum is Celtic, not Germanic, and we have no trace of Celtic ever having been spoken i Scandinavia.

Now I'm certainly biased because I 'm friend with Tobias , but I can only agree with your high appreciation of his archaeological expertise. It is tragic that so much expertise and voluntary charitable effort Swedish archeology miss out on because of our destructive legislation - but in this we feel the same way...

I've always assumed (since my first visit to Sweden almost 20 years ago) that the Swedish tuna is cognate to the English town (or -ton suffix), as both occur in place names with some regularity.

If there is a connection to the British dunum, then it would most likely be that it was derived from the same Indo-European root word. I don't think the timing works for it to have been a loan word in either direction--the British were using the term before Viking raiders appeared on the coast.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 29 May 2016 #permalink

I thought 'dunum' was Roman, as in the Roman name Camulodunum for what is now Colchester. If not Roman, it must have been derived from the previous Celtic name for the town before Roman occupation. In either case, tuna and dunum might have a common Indo-European root, but dunum would not have derived directly from a Nordic source, nor tuna from a Celtic source.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 May 2016 #permalink

Totally off-topic, but I begin to think I am as old as the things you are digging up.
No, I wasn't ready for that, either.

North Sweden is full of odd place-names that were originally Sami, but have been "swedishized" resulting in nonsense names, like the formerly indian place-names in USA ("Chicago" was originally something like "Ki-Chi-Saga").

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 30 May 2016 #permalink

I remember a lot of things from when I was 3 years old. Really a lot. I remember my grandfather got a fractured hip in a car accident. I found his loaded revolver in his house, while he was in hospital (he was a bank manager, so licensed to keep it). Fortunately it was too heavy for me to lift.

People really should keep a very close eye on 3 year olds; they can get up to all sorts of tricks. And 4 year olds, especially those that express a strong desire to climb into the gorilla's enclosure and swim in his pool. I bet a 4 year old would remember an event like 911.

Western Australia is full of Aboriginal place names, but they are faithful renderings of the Aboriginal names, and the meanings of the names are still known.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 May 2016 #permalink

I'm sorry you thought I was asking about Celtic; I must not have explained myself very well.

John@8: Glad to hear that nothing came of your first encounter with a loaded gun, but your grandfather should not have been storing the gun loaded. Here in the US there are far too many stories of small children finding a parent's gun, with fatal results for themselves, a sibling, or a friend.

In parts of the US it is common to encounter place names of French or Spanish origin. These names are often Anglicized (with the anomaly that the Spanish pronunciation of J as an H sound was generally kept). In some cases the American settlers had only seen the name written out (e.g., the Versailles in Indiana is pronounced ver-SAILS). Native names, where they occur, have a wide variation in how faithfully they were rendered--an extreme example is the town in southwestern Washington state whose name was rendered in English with the rather suggestive name Humptulips.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 31 May 2016 #permalink

Eric: It was equally fortunate when I had my second encounter, when I found my other grandfather's loaded revolver. He was the general manager of a smallgoods company with a factory that made pies, sausages, ham, bacon, etc. All of the factory workers were paid in cash, so on pay day he had to pick up a load of cash from the bank and then transport it to the factory to pay the workers, so he was licensed to carry a revolver.

By then I was 4 years old, and strong enough to lift the gun when I found it. I tried pulling the trigger, but was confounded by the safety catch. Of course I fiddled with the safety catch, but by the time I had figured out that it played some part in preventing accidental firing of the gun, I'd had time to think things through, and decided that firing the gun in my grandfather's bedroom was probably not a really good idea, so I put the safety catch back on and put the gun back into the drawer in his wardrobe where I had found it.

Small children are little monkeys. They sneak around and get into everything, and they hear, see and know a lot more than adults think they do. Grandfathers' bedrooms are a treasure trove of interesting stuff just waiting to be discovered. A high drawer won't stop them; it's just a challenge to get up there to see what's in it.

I understand why both of my grandfathers kept loaded revolvers - it was an insurance requirement that they do so when in charge of large quantities of cash. But keeping a loaded gun at home is a really very bad idea, especially with little monkeys around.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2016 #permalink

It's all climate change all the time.


Not really surprising; early civilisations would have been particularly vulnerable to climate change; just as modern civilisations will be even more vulnerable.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2016 #permalink

Not quite an "old viking language" -the region is landlocked- but at least a language derived from Old Norse.
"Sweden's lost forest language gets international recognition" http://www.thelocal.se/20160602/swedens-lost-forest-language-earns-inte…
A question for Martin: Can you go a-viking if you live in a forest? Land pirates? Reminds me of the last Monthy Python film.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 03 Jun 2016 #permalink

Good point, Birger! The Elfdalians of the 10th century would probably have been quite surprised to learn that their time would one day be known as the Viking Period. As for the word Elfdalian, it's spelled älvdalsmål in modern Swedish and means "river valley language". It has nothing to do with elves, but is cognate with the River Elbe.

#13 - Slightly odd story, following on an even more odd story in 2012 that Madagascar was colonised by "30 Indonesian women". It has been known for quite a while that Austronesians originating from what is now Indonesia colonised Madagascar, but it seems unlikely that a group of women made the trip by themselves. The obvious explanation is that study was only of mtDNA, so of course it only tracked females. A far more likely explanation is that Austronesian family groups made the trip, and it looks from the latest story that they took crop seeds with them. Now, that *is* interesting, because it makes the migration look deliberate rather than accidental.

The Austronesians were amazing sea travellers and colonisers - starting from Taiwan, they colonised south-east Asia, all of the Pacific, all the way south to New Zealand, and west to Madagascar as well.

#14 - The never-ending argument about where domestic dogs originated gets a bit tiresome. There's a reasonable argument to be made that dogs domesticated themselves by becoming camp followers of nomadic hunter-gatherer groups of humans, and that this process might have happened multiple times in multiple different places, possibly going back 40,000 years. Or even earlier, but there is no evidence (yet) to support an earlier domestication event. You hit a problem with the limit of carbon dating much before then.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2016 #permalink

...as opposed to cats. A reasonable argument can also be made that cats domesticated themselves, but much more recently - they didn't start hanging around humans until the humans became sedentary agriculturalists and started keeping granaries which were plagued by rodents, attracting the cats.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2016 #permalink

...BTW cats would not bother with civilisation, beyond inventing a slave species that catered to their every need.
The current symbiosis gives them everything, without the need to evolve metabolically costly brains. Selfish bastards.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 05 Jun 2016 #permalink

" it makes the migration look deliberate rather than accidental."
but risky as hell. Much riskier than the hop from Iceland to Newfoundland.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 05 Jun 2016 #permalink

As the site seems to be regarded by some here as an incarnation of pure evil, instead of giving a link, I will quote from Razib Khan, who now works in dog genomics, while completing his PhD (on cat genomics), doing consulting work and raising two small biracial children (in itself an interesting genetics experiment, as those of us who have biracial children know):
" 'Dogs may have been domesticated more than once.' I believe this is wrong. Though the process we call domestication probably occurred several times in wolf lineages, almost all the ancestry of modern dogs descends from one single divergence event from a wolf lineage (now extinct). The issue is that the divergence is almost certainly considerably older that 15,000 years ago. The Amerindians had dogs. They separated from other human groups ~15,000 years ago. I’d take the origin of domestic dogs from wolves some time before the Last Glacial Maximum. If that is true, then there is probably a lot of old population structure that came down to the Holocene, some of which was erased. Similar to the story for humans."

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Jun 2016 #permalink

"Much riskier than the hop from Iceland to Newfoundland." How about hopping into a large sea going canoe with your missus and a bunch of neighbours, with some pigs, seeds, etc. and heading out into the Pacific, trusting that sooner or later you will see a large uninhabited island on the horizon that you can head for? The folks who peopled the islands of the Pacific were not lacking in guts or a sense of adventure. There's no way to count how many of them didn't find an island.

I have met similar people - they still exist as a large racial minority on Hainan Island. They are distinctly not warm, cuddly or friendly.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Jun 2016 #permalink

This might get stuck in the SPAM filter, because I need to post two links (assuming I need to post anything at all, which is open to debate):

Just 5% of Indians marry inter-caste, which is only slightly lower than the % of interracial marriages in the USA. The really chilling historical fact is that when I was in my first year at university, it would still have been illegal for me to marry my wife in 16 American states:



I assume in that piece that "race" accords with the definitions contained in the US Census.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

Birger, #26: Luckily I hardly ever get hate mail. I don't even get hateful blog comments. My guess is that it's because I hardly ever engage trolls in contentious debates. And looking back over the past five months there isn't a single entry on Aard with a politically provocative headline.

I did get a hate tweet the other day though, after I tweeted that the Israel-Palestine conflict would be solved in a generation by mandatory intermarriage. This person called me a "disgusting racist". I can't really parse the thinking behind that.

#31 - I suspect the tweeter concerned was confusing 'race' with religion, and thought you were suggesting that the conflict between the Israeli 'race' and the Palestinian 'race' would be resolved by Panmixia; and was accusing you of identifying people by 'race', hence a 'disgusting racist'.

But then, I think the tweeter concerned must have been a very confused person, so it's hard to know exactly what s/he was thinking. Not the only one, certainly - I know a lot of people who confuse race and religion, and regard Muslims as a 'race', at least at the knee-jerk level. That is possible in a predominantly white country like Australia which has a Muslim minority who are mostly some shade of light brown, despite the fact that the Muslims concerned come from anywhere from Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa to Indonesia and everywhere in between. So people who discriminate against Muslims in Australia are branded as 'racist'; it's easier than saying 'religionist' or 'culturalist' and requires less mental effort on the part of the accuser.

There is an identifiable group (seemingly mostly comprising non-white females as an offshoot of extreme feminism) that is opposed to interracial marriage on the grounds that it is 'racist'. It takes some thinking to understand how they arrive at that conclusion - it seems to be based on the thinking that white men targeting non-white women as 'sex objects' are doing so because they are 'racist'; i.e. women are attractive to them precisely because they are non-white, so they are discriminating on the basis of skin colour, shape of facial features, or whatever.

It all gets really tiresome and insulting. There were those who accused my wife of only marrying me because she wanted to get an Australian passport. 37 years later, those people don't say that any more.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

There's this guy at Stockholm Uni who was adopted as a small child from Korea by a couple out of an old famous Walloon-Swedish family. He's been going on about how structural racism is keeping East Asian men from getting laid, and once infamously published a paper on the university's server where he claimed that all Europid men who marry East Asian women are paedophiles.

"all Europid men who marry East Asian women are paedophiles" - yep, that's an old one - the theory that paedophile Europid men are attracted to East Asian women because they allegedly look more child-like than Europid women. I have seen that touted by quite a few people.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

It would be easy to test. Just look at whether daughters of these marriages are more often sexually abused by their supposedly paedophile dads.

As for why East Asian guys might have trouble getting laid, my guess is that it's true and it's due to women of all colours preferring tall men, regardless of the men's colour.

Yours truly,

Six foot three. (-;

In surveys in America, among non-Hispanic whites, blacks and East Asians, the findings were:

Women were most attracted to black men, then white men, with East Asian men coming last; but marriage choice was heavily mediated by socio-economic status and family pressure, which went against black men. In America, on average, East Asian men earn more than white men, so they don't miss out completely, on account of SES and family pressure. But they are considered the least physically attractive, maybe due to lack of height, I don't know.

Men were most attracted to East Asian women, then white women, with black women coming last. Even so, most white men marry white women, possibly due to family pressure.

When it comes to 'marrying out', the largest group is East Asian women marrying non-Hispanic white men. The smallest group is black women marrying East Asians.

Other studies have revealed that women are more attracted to tall men, and men with darker skin, while men are more attracted to short women with paler skin (that applies even to black men, so black women tend to miss out all round).

These results are usually explained with reference to evolutionary preferences, rather than any kind of 'structural racism'. Or maybe evolutionary preferences are structural racism, I don't know. Paler skinned females seem to be preferred, even among Africans in Africa, because it signals more favourable reproduction (look up folate deficiency during pregnancy). The preference for smaller women is usually explained by size signalling youthfulness, which again is a proxy for favourable reproduction. This is seen as counter-balancing the female preference for tall men, so humans don't keep getting taller and taller.

Dark skin in males resulting in folate deficiency doesn't matter in reproductive terms, so there is no preference for more pale skinned males in terms of physical attraction. But they are heavily mediated against in the American context by low socio-economic status and family pressure. Even so, marriages between black males and white females are much more common than between white males and black females.

So, in America at least, the groups who tend to 'miss out' the most are East Asian males and black females.

I don't make this stuff up, I just read it and report it. Personally, I find dark skinned women attractive, and my favourite female tennis players are Venus Williams (6'1") and Garbiñe Muguruza (6'0"), but this is about averages, not me.

By John Massey (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

Personally, I Think Grace Jones was (and is) pretty cool.

By Birgerjohansson (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

She was brilliant in Conan the Destroyer.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

The art historian Waldemar Januszczak did a tv series on Dark Age art recently, and in the episode on Northerners (Vikings and Anglo Saxons) he claimed that because of the shape and geomorphology of the Nordic lands, Viking farms were rarely far from the sea, nor the sea from Viking farms.

So getting into a boat was on the cards for Vikings based on their land, and they wouldn't be in a forest far from the sea.

Strikes me as an odd line of reasoning. Why then weren't there any Irish, English, Dutch, French or German Vikings? They have coasts too.

There are lots of forests away from the coasts in southern Scandinavia, notably in the Swedish provinces of Värmland and Småland.

My knowledge of history is generally lousy, but my understanding is that there were no Irish, English, Dutch, French or German Vikings because they had all converted to Christianity. The Scandies wanted to carry on trading with the rest of Europe, but were shunned by others because they were still Pagans so, having been spurned as trading partners, the Scandies turned to raiding and looting instead.

The end of the Viking Period came when the Scandies converted to Christianity and were once again able to resume normal trading relations.

Mind you, being Christians didn't stop the Normans from being enthusiastic and highly militarised invaders and crusaders, but that had other explanations.

Corrections welcome.

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Jun 2016 #permalink

The Viking raids on Western Europe (and now, we know thanks to the Salme ship burials, Estonia) from the late 8th century on were not an innovation. Scandies had been mounting well-organised raids on each other for a thousand years, as documented by the ship + war booty sacrifices at Hjortspring, Nydam etc. The new thing at Salme and Lindisfarne in the 700s is the sails on the ships and the distance travelled.

The end of the English Viking Period in 1066 coincides with a shift in Viking activity where the raids are rebranded as crusades and directed towards surviving pagan communities in the Eastern Baltic.

Remember that the term "the Viking Age" was coined by British historians to mean "that period when we had so much trouble with Scandy attacks".

Thank you for the correction.

Note that I learn the lessons people teach me, and referred to the Viking Period rather than the Viking Age. So correcting me is not a waste of time, nor is it resented in any way.

A lot of the history I did learn was essentially Anglo-centric, and corrections from that perspective are also welcome. Primary school education on local Australian history was shamefully Euro-centric, so the "Battle of Pinjarra" that I learned about in primary school, I had to relearn as the "Pinjarra Massacre" by self-learning as an adult. Although modern day accounts of the incident vary widely, none of them bears any resemblance to the version we were taught as children, which was portrayed as a concerted massed Aboriginal attack on besieged white settlers - it was nothing of the sort.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

Yes, that is about the size of it. It was a punitive attack by white police/troopers on a large Aboriginal encampment, to discourage them from reprisal attacks on white settlers. The early good relations between Aboriginal people and white settlers had very seriously deteriorated by that time, with killing and reprisals on both sides, plus many Aboriginal deaths due to disease from contact with white settlers, and the added complication of fighting between different Aboriginal groups.

It was all a terrible mess, really, but one thing it was not - the so-called 'Battle of Pinjarra' was not an Aboriginal attack on whites, it was an orchestrated surprise attack by whites on a large group of Aboriginal people to "teach them a lesson they wouldn't forget." And they didn't - they didn't forget it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink