Uppåkra Though the Ages

Uppåkra – the power centre

Iron Age Uppåkra – ca. 100 BC to 1000 AD

At the beginning, the settlement at Uppåkra was rather small-scaled. After some time it grew, and it became a centre of power. That it lasted for over a millennium makes it the dwelling place in Scandinavia with the longest continuity.

The settlement was no doubt an impressive sight in the landscape. Longhouses, workshops, ovens, storehouses, and cattle sheds were spread out over an area of at least 44 hectares (109 acres). Here people met from near and far met to exchange both goods and ideas. The handicraft manifested at this place, as well as the trade goods discovered here, have many times been of fine quality. In the earth of Uppåkra there have been finds from afar, such as coins, jewelry and glass from today’s Europe, but even from present-day Irak and Uzbekistan.

Uppåkra was not just a place for handicrafts and commerce. It was also the power centre for a ruling aristocracy. This is evidenced by an impressive hall, a wooden palace of sorts which is where the rulers of Uppåkra could well have lived. Beside this wooden palace there was an unusual high structure which seemingly was used for special ceremonial purposes. Perhaps this building was inspired by the Romans’ custom of making sacrifices to the gods in a temple, rather than in the wetlands outdoors, as had been done for thousands of years earlier. The first inhabitants here may walked in a procession towards Gullåkra Mosse, only 2 kilometres from the settlement, where sacrificial remains have been found, dating back to the Stone Age.

A magnificent bowl and chalice, as well as 122 small stamped gold figures, give witness that sacrificial ceremonies took place in the building. In the same area we have found burned houses, sacrificial weapons, and the remains from feasts. This was clearly the centre of life in the settlement.

Illustration: Loic Lecareux

Illustration: Loic Lecareux

After the 11th century, it seems that the settlement declined in size and significance. A number of medieval farmsteads, graves, and a possible wooden stave church indicate that Christianity had entered the scene. Yet exactly what happened is still unclear. A possible answer is the founding of Lund, two kilometres north of Uppårka, in about 990. Uppåkra and Lund could have existed simultaneously for a short period, but the new town soon too over Uppåkra’s role as the region’s centre of power.

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Uppåkra – an important site through the millennia

Stone Age Uppåkra
When did the settlement at Uppåkra actually begin? Given that the earliest buildings are covered with thick layers of cultural remnants – that is, everything that people have left there, down to the present day – we have thus far only been able to get glimpses of them. But flint artefacts and tools, such as arrowheads, axes, chisels, cutting and scraping utensils, reveal that humans have lived here long before the place became a power centre during the Iron Age.

Near the church archaeologists have found the remains of a grave that was raised some 4000 years ago. The grave thus dates from what is called the Neolithic period, most typified by the advent of agriculture. It contains the skeletons of a child, an adolescent, and an adult. The grave was discovered thanks to the geophysical investigations pursued by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Austria. Above ground there were no traces of the grave, which previously seems to have been crowned by an earthen mound. Perhaps it was still visible during the 18th and 19th centuries. At about this time the grave was plundered, as the disturbed earth and artefacts discovered during this period reveal.

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Bronze Age Uppåkra
There are two grave mounds from the late Bronze Age or possibly the early Iron Age. They are located along the Old Trelleborg Road. This road was probably built during the Bronze Age. Thus, when the settlement was developed, there already existed a trade route and some monuments. Two further grave mounds have been ploughed away in recent times. One lay beside Storehög (Big Mound), as pictured, and the other by the cemetary.

Traces of Bronze Age have also been found in Gullåkra, which was a large wetlands just to the east of Uppåkra. Weapons, jewelry, and art objects have been found there. They had been presumably been placed in the marsh as offerings to the gods. Some of the finds from Gullåkra derive from the Stone Age, some from the Bronze Age, and others from the Iron Age. It has thus been an important site throughout antiquity. The people of Iron Age Uppåkra probabaly continued making sacrifices to the gods, just as their ancestors had done for several thousands of years.

London Uppåkra mm 162

 

 

Uppåkra during the Middle Ages
After the large Iron Age settlement at Uppåkra came to an end, a few farmsteads north of the church remained during the Middle Ages. Today’s church, built in 1864, rests on the remains of a church built towards the end of the 12th century. In 1998 and 2003 archaeological investigations were carried out in conjunction with the renovations that were done at the time. The researchers found several graves that they dated to ca. 1020, plus one earlier grave. All of the bodies had been buried according to Christian traditions, indicating that the church had yet another predecessor, a wooden structure from the Iron Age.

Read more about the excavations here in the church in a report from Sydsvensk Arkeologi: Uppakrarapport (but it’s in Swedish!)

(More information coming to this page!)