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Eketorp Fort in Sweden

Eketorp Fort in Sweden

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Stora Alvaret, home to the Eketorp Fort, is a barren limestone terrace found in the southern half of the island of Öland, Sweden. The area of this formation exceeds 100 square miles (260 square kilometers), covering a quarter of the island. It was designated World Heritage Site due to its extraordinary biodiversity and prehistory.

The area is not devoid of trees, but the variety is sparse and the trees stunted due to the thin layer of soil and high pH levels.

Eleven thousand years ago the first portions of Öland emerged from ice and over the next several thousand years, mammals and humans migrated across the ice bridge from the mainland. Eventfully a thin layer of soil less than an inch (two centimeters) deep was formed to create the alvar formation as it is now.

The island prospered in the Iron Age due to its central location along the trade routes of the Baltic Sea, but those factors also exposed Öland to piracy until the 13th century. Being a long, flat island, Öland offered very little shelter. As a result, the province has a high concentration of ancient forts, of which Eketorp is the most famous. 

Eketorp Fort is one of Nineteen Ancient Forts on Öland

The very first fortress at Eketorp was built in the Iron Age, 4th Century AD and served as a place of shelter, where people from the surrounding villages also took part in religious ceremonies. The original diameter of the stone fortification was roughly 187 feet (57 meters) and since the terrain was flat, the circular design meant that they could defend themselves from any directions.

Interior of the circular fortress at Eketorp Fort (Fotolia)

Interior of the circular fortress at Eketorp Fort ( Fotolia)

The people living at Eketorp soon needed of a larger fort. The first fort was torn down and then re-built on the same spot between 400 and 650 AD. The new circular structure, spanning 260 feet (80 meters) in diameter, served as a fortified farmers’ settlement for about 250 years until it was abandoned. The limited tree species growing on Stora Alvaret could not meet the needs of those living there and the lack of wood may explain the mysterious disappearance of humans which is documented at Eketorp and other sites. The fort was used one last time, from roughly 1170 as a military garrison and was finally abandoned around 1240.

Eketorp is an Open-Air Museum with Various Activities Offered

Eketorp fortress, which is also referred to as Eketorp castle, was excavated 1964-1974 and after the excavations, the fort was reconstructed as an open-air, living museum and opened to the public. Inside the fort there are reconstructed houses from both time periods. There is also a museum where the 26,000 finds from the excavations, including weapons, jewelry, horse equipment, tools and medieval ice-skates are exhibited.

Village inside Eketorp fortress (Fotolia)

Village inside Eketorp fortress ( Fotolia)

The guided tours teach visitors more about Eketorp and the people who once lived there during the Iron Age and the Middle Ages with a number of activities such as archery, bread baking, textile handicrafts and casting of amulets. Domestic animals such as pigs, sheep and chickens, roaming free inside the fortress. The fort’s mission is to make the Iron Age and Middle Ages come alive for the approximately 50,000 people who visit each year.

One of the most famous amulets found at Eketorp depicts a man bearing a sword, a powerful symbol of protection. The Eketorp amulet was dated to 960 AD.

The Eketorp amulet (Attitude Europe)

The Eketorp amulet ( Attitude Europe )

They Hoped to Illustrate the Reality of the Iron Age

When Kalmar County Museum took responsibility of the fort, there were discussion concerning the sacrifices at Eketorp. Those involved debated the merits of providing the tourists with a ‘lite-version’ of the Iron Age/Middle Ages versus reflecting the reality of these period. The management’s aim was to offer more than a sanitized picture of the Iron Age and to remain authentic.

During 2004 and 2005, a great effort was made to illustrate what an Iron Age sacrificial place might have looked like on the basis of excavations at Eketorp and other sacrificial places from Northern Europe’s Iron Age.

 Excavations showed that horses and other animals were sacrificed to deities in the shallow lake located east of the fort by the Iron Age people. The heads of animals were placed on poles, while the intact hides were stretched out behind. The edible parts were probably consumed in the company of the gods before the horse hides and heads were displayed. At Eketorp, hazel rods were found the horse skulls which supported the theory of the archaeologists.

The sacrificial site became an integral part of the archaeological education about the Iron Age performed at Eketorp and they hoped to show a part of Iron Age society that is rarely illustrated. However, the management of Eketorp did not apply for permission from the Swedish Board of Agriculture to use animal remains.

As soon as the oversight became clear, they contacted the relevant authorities. The media swooped in, but focused more on the morbid than the aim of the historians. In two articles, journalists alluded to ‘the crazy rituals of the Vikings,’ even though the reconstruction concerned events that took place several hundred years earlier.

Top image: Iron Age symbols in Eketorp Fort             Source: ( Fotolia)

By Michelle Freson

References

Josefson, E. and Olofsson, J. 2006. To Recreate a Sacrificial Site. Exacrc.net
Available at: https://exarc.net/eurorea-3-2006/aoam/reconstruct-sacrificial-site

2018. Eketorp. Kalmar County Museum
Available at: https://www.eketorp.se/

Eketorps Fortress. Visit Oland
Available at: https://visitoland.com/en/gora-pa-oland/eketorps-fortress/

2017. Eketorp Ancient Castle. Enjoy Sweden
Available at http://enjoysweden.se/en/object/eketorp-ancient-castle/

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