Carl Persson’s doctoral thesis in Archaeology is based on archaeological material discovered in connection with the construction of the E4 highway by Markaryd, Sweden. The finds consisted of a few very small pieces of flint that had been left behind in connection with visits to what used to be a small island in the outlet of a long-gone lake. The wear marks on the flint fragments reveal that they were used to carve meat, bone, wood and horn. The wear marks combined with computer-aided analyses of the phosphate levels in the ground and the distribution of the finds has yielded a detailed account of people’s visits to the site some 9,000 years ago.
‘It is generally believed that conclusions about Stone Age life require large amounts of archaeological finds, but the results in my thesis contradict that notion,’ says Persson.
To put the site in a larger context, Persson reconstructed the Mesolithic landscape through computer-aided analyses. It turns out that the landscape has changed dramatically – 9,000 years ago the now brown lakes were clear and full of nutrients and had a high pH level. The average temperature was much higher than today and the dense forests were full of lush broad-leaved trees.
‘Yet despite the good ecologic conditions, the area didn’t attract many people in the first millennia after the Ice Age. Analyses show that the inland probably wasn’t permanently inhabited during the Mesolithic period (10,000-4,000 BC), but that people did come to visit,’ says Persson.
Traces from the inland visits are almost always found near waterways and lakes, and analyses of the finds indicate that different groups have travelled to the inland with different ambitions. The visits are probably due to the fact that people moved across very large areas 9,000 years ago. The extensive travel had to do with the extremely low population density – in order to meet other people you had to travel far and have broad social networks.
‘In a society characterised by a quest for equality, knowledge about foreign locations and other people was a way for people to distinguish themselves and gain status. Against this background, the trips to the inland 9,000 years ago can be seen as a natural consequence of people’s creativity and desire to express a sense of individuality,’ says Persson.