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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/August 1889/The Stone Age in Heathen Sweden

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 35‎ | August 1889


ONE of the peculiar features of modern historical study is that it is to a very large extent dependent upon the examination of the monuments which the people of the past have left and the articles of use and ornament that are found among their ruins. When the nations constituting objects of research were civilized and had writing, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the information afforded by these relics is extremely valuable, and furnishes records of events and illustrations of the life of the peoples more definite and accurate than can be obtained from books. The accounts and pictures they bear were a part of the contemporary life, and have such a relation to written history as in the eye of law courts the evidence of the res gesta has to a minute made up after the event. With peoples who had not writing and arts, the relics give hardly any evidence respecting events, and only scanty and incoherent testimony of the conditions of their life. The further back we go in the investigation the less satisfactory does the knowledge imparted by them become. But they are all that we have by which to inform ourselves respecting the life of primitive man.

Relics of human life antedating all written monuments have been found in nearly all countries where the search has been carried on by excavation, and often occur superficially where they can be seen without particular search. The investigation of such relics has been made most systematically in the Scandinavian countries, and it was there that the division of prehistoric times into three periods was first made. Thus in Sweden the use of iron was universal in the ninth century a. d., and had been so for a long time. Investigation of the antiquities of the country has shown that previous to the Iron age there was another long time when iron was not known, and weapons and tools were made of bronze; and that before the beginning of the "Bronze age" the country had been inhabited by people who had not the use of metals, and were obliged to employ such materials as stone, horn, bone, and wood. This was the "Stone age." We can conceive, says the Rev. F. Woods, how incomplete is the evidence respecting the primitive life afforded by these relics of stone and bronze, by reflecting that while furniture, stuffs, and clothes made out of such perishable materials as wood, bone, leather, cloth, etc., formed incomparably the greater part of the belongings of the heathen Northmen, it is "only by an exceptional conjunction of specially favorable conditions" that such materials have been able to survive.

The relics of the Stone age in Sweden, and incidentally in Scandinavia generally, are described, and the testimony they give to the kind of life the people lived is set forth in the first part of Dr. Oscar Montelius's "Civilization of Sweden in Heathen Times" (London and New York, Macmillan & Co.), from which, and the Rev. F. Woods's introduction, the facts and illustrations in this article are derived.

PSM V35 D527 Hammering pebble and flint arrowhead.jpg
Fig. 1.—Hammering-Pebble. Fig. 2.—Flint Arrow-Head.

Our only clew to the antiquity of human settlement in Scandinavia is derived from the evidence afforded by certain finds of a habitation of some southern parts of the region by a people of the Stone age at a time when firs were still the prevailing trees there. Since then the forests of fir-trees have died out and made way for great forests of oaks, "which covered the land till they in their turn succumbed to the now prevailing beech woods."

PSM V35 D527 Lunate flint saw.jpg
Fig. 3.—Lunate Flint Saw.

Traces of population at a somewhat later but still very early date are found in the "kitchen-middens"—enormous collections of shells, with bones, bearing marks of having been eaten from, and remains of fireplaces and instruments—which are scattered along the sea-coasts.

PSM V35 D527 Polished grindstone worn by use.jpg
Fig. 4.—Polished Grindstone, worn by Use.

The tools with which the Northmen during the Stone age produced their wooden works, and which are found at their old resorts, were mainly knives, saws, borers, chisels, and axes or hatchets. They were made out of flint, chipped into shape by stone hammers, of which many specimens have been found. Sometimes hollows were cut or ground out in the hammering-pebbles (Fig. 1), in order to secure a firmer grip for the fingers. PSM V35 D528 Amber bead and bonefish hook.jpgFig. 5.—Amber Bead. Fig. 6.—Bone Fish-hook. The manner in which such a pebble could be used for the work was demonstrated to an Englishman some time ago by an Indian arrow-maker in California. The long and narrow barbs in the fine arrow-heads (Fig. 2) and saw-teeth (Fig. 3) were obtained probably by the pressure of a bone tool, such as is still used by some American tribes. Holes were bored, where needed, by twirling a stick, hard pressed upon, against the spot where the perforation was to be. It took a long time, but primitive men had time. Most of the tools were only chipped, while others were polished or ground. The grindstone was usually a suitable block of sandstone, or else a thick piece of the same material. One of these pieces, which has been worn down in the middle by use, is represented by Fig. 4. Handles, if the instruments were provided with them, were inserted into

PSM V35 D528 Dolmen at haga on the island of orust.jpg
Fig. 7.—Dolmen at Haga, on the Island or Orust.

holes bored by the tedious process which we have mentioned, or were attached in grooves by splitting the end of a stick and binding it around by cords. Clumsy implements these, even at the best, but some beautiful works remain that were executed with them; and a Danish gentleman recently, for experiment, had some trees felled and all the work necessary for building a small house, with doors and windows, carried out exclusively with axes and other implements of flint.

At first the people are supposed to have made such clothes as they wore of skins and hides; at a later period they became acquainted with woven stuffs of wool; and the lake-dwellers of Switzerland cultivated flax. For ornaments they had beads of amber (Fig. 5), the teeth of animals, and articles of bone. Awls and needles were made of bone, and an instrument resembling a comb made of the same material, is supposed to have been used, just as instruments of the kind are employed by the Eskimos, in' cutting out the leather threads for sewing. Fishing and the chase supplied the chief means of subsistence, and probably, during the earlier part of the period, the only means. Hooks (Fig. 6) were made of bone, or of bone with the point and barb of flint. Harpoons

PSM V35 D529 Two passage graves at lutra.jpg
Fig. 8.—Two Passage-Graves at Luttra.

and fishing-spears were also in use, and the lake-dwellers had nets. The people had boats, for remains of fish that can only be caught in deep-sea water have been found in the middens. The earliest boats were probably "dug-outs," though none of those now known can be referred to the Stone age. Domestic animals were kept, for their bones have been found in the passage-graves. The Swiss pastured their cattle and tilled the ground, raising flax, three sorts of wheat, and two-cornered and six-cornered barley. We have no direct proofs of tillage in Sweden during the Stone age, but certain facts seem to show that it was not unknown to them; and this view has been confirmed by the discovery of a stone hand-mill belonging to the period. Caldrons of clay have holes bored in the upper part, by which the vessel was probably hung over the fire for cooking. Vessels were decorated with straight lines. A horn axe assigned to this period bears two engraved representations of animals.

Except the pile-houses of the Swiss lakes, we know nothing of the dwellings of the Stone age. Prof. Montelius thinks the conjecture is allowable that the people lived in tents made of hides, or in hovels of wood, stones, and turf. Prof. Nilsson has traced a resemblance in form between what are called the "passage-graves" of Scandinavia and the homes of the arctic races in America and Europe. That the Stone-age men had fixed dwelling-places "appears from their often magnificent tombs, which seem to point to the beginning of an organized society, and the combined industry of a small community or of a whole tribe." These tombs are described as "dolmens" (Fig. 7), "passage-graves" (Fig. 8), and "stone cists" (Fig. 9). Of these, the dolmens were the earliest; the passage-graves are a little later; the

PSM V35 D530 Stone cist near skottened.jpg
Fig. 9.—Stone Cist near Skottened.

uncovered stone cists are later still; and the cists covered with a barrow belong to the time of transition between the Stone and Bronze ages.

"During the Stone age," says Prof. Montelius, "bodies were always buried unburned, in a recumbent or sitting position. By the side of the dead body was usually laid a weapon, a tool, or some ornaments. We often find in graves of this period earthen-ware vessels, now filled only with earth. The care bestowed upon the last resting-place of the departed certainly betokens a belief in a future life; but the things placed by the side of the dead seem to show that that life was believed to be merely a continuation of the life on earth, with the same needs and the same pleasures." Offering-stones, with little cup-shaped holes, are sometimes found on the roof-stones of graves of the Stone age. They are now popularly called "elf-mills" and are still regarded as holy; and, it is said, offerings are still secretly made in them.

That the Stone age lasted for a very long time in the North is proved, among other things, by the fact that this period reached a far higher development there than anywhere else in Europe. At what time it began in Sweden we can not even approximately determine; but everything seems to show that it ended rather before than after 1500 b. c, and, therefore, about three thousand five hundred years before our time. In many countries of the east and in the south of Europe the Stone age came to an end long ago; while in some parts of the New World this stage of civilization has continued to our own day.