torstai 17. toukokuuta 2007

Day 8 and 9: Giants´ Churches and Asbestos

On Wednesday, we were treated to a heaping dose of fine Finnish spring weather: freezing rain. Mercifully, Andre and Ieva decided that it wasn´t a very good day to go digging, so instead we spent the morning walking around a couple of sites south of our area (in the Haukipudas region), exploring possible future sites to excavate. One of our stops was a Giants´ Church, a large clearing encircled by relatively big stones. Giants´ Churches occupy a special place in Finnish archaeology: until very recently, no one had ever been allowed to excavate the interior of a Giants´ Church (there are hundreds around Finland), and so no one yet has a clear idea of why or when they were made. We do know, though, that they were labour-intensive to assemble, and therefore must have served a function that was important enough to dedicate a lot of time to. As well, the amount of work necessary to move and organize the stones tells us something about the people who made them (for example, they must have had a robust enough economy to devote energy to non-food related activities), and if our ¨Thing¨ turns out to be man-made, then we can likely make the same inferences about the Neolithic people we´re investigating.

To compensate for our "day-off" on Wednesday, we had a long, full day of digging on Thursday. We uncovered more pottery, quartz, and charcoal, but our biggest find was a piece of ceramics with asbestos temper. The presence of asbestos in the pottery we found, while not new, tells us a number of important things about the people who lived there. Most obviously, that they had access to asbestos. The nearest asbestos source is actually to the south and close to the border of Russia, so it provides strong evidence for long-distance trade. It also tells us that they felt that asbestos was important enough to them to import from a long way away: trade requires elaborate and extensive networks and connections between peoples, and is not easy to maintain in societies that are producing relatively little excess goods (our site may have been exchanging fish or seal for whatever they could acquire from further inland). However, asbestos-tempered ceramics have peculiar qualities - they are thinner than normal ceramics, and insulate against heat - that make it difficult for us to understand their value. For example, thinner pottery would be better for cooking, but the insulation factor cancels out that benefit. And asbestos pottery would not be significantly lighter than other forms, at least not enough to make the acquisition of asbestos from so far away necessary. Once again, we have found a fascinating piece of evidence that, in the end, tells us little more than that we know very little.

Anyways, more pictures this weekend, and more to discuss. We´re all getting pretty run down by now, so it will help to have some time to sleep, relax, and think about everything we´re finding.

That´s all for now,
The Field School

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