Mysterious Labyrinth and Ritual Caves: Archaeologists dig up the Stone Age Past on Swedish Island
In local folklore, Bla Jungfrun Island has long been associated with dark curses and witchcraft. Off the coast of Sweden, the island has a history of bad luck and a reputation for magic, and even now visitors to the island must not stray off the paths, or stay after nightfall. Archaeologists investigating caves on Blå Jungfrun believe that strange rituals and performances dating back 9,000 years might have been held in the caves.
The uninhabited island, now a national park situated in the Kalmar Straight along the east coast of Sweden, is mostly bare rock and dense forests, and sports an ancient labyrinth, but it is the caves which interest the team of researchers from Kalmar County Museum and Linnaeus University of Sweden.
The Island of Blå Jungfrun has a mysterious past filled with tales of supernatural powers. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
According to LiveScience, archaeologists are well aware of the tales of the supernatural powers of the island but it’s not known for sure when these stories began. Archaeological fieldwork done on the island in 2014 has shed light on what might have taken place thousands of years ago on Blå Jungfrun and how it got its dark reputation.
In a summary the researchers wrote, “The results are astonishing and reveal extensive human activities on the island in the Mesolithic Stone Age.”
There are two caves in which various rituals may have been practiced, archaeologists say; one containing an altar, and the other having what is speculated to be a stage or “theater”. Each of the caves contain “distinct ritual features,” and according to a report on the fieldwork, cultural deposits date the prehistoric activity at the site to 7000 BC.
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Mysterious Ancient “Theater”
In the vertical wall of one cave a massive hollow was hollowed out at one point in the ancient past. The recess is 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) in diameter, and a fire pit lies beneath it.
Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay, archaeologist with Kalmar County Museum said, “We believe the hollow is man-made and that the fireplace has been used in connection to hammering out the hollow, probably [on] several occasions.”
Papmehl-Dufay noted, “The entrance to the cave is very narrow, and you have to squeeze your way in. [However,] once you're inside, only half of the cave is covered and you can actually stand above the cave and look down into it, almost like a theater or a stage below.
Further, the "act of producing the hollow could have been the important part [of the ritual], perhaps even the sound created while doing so.”
Fireplace below a massive hole that had been hammered into the wall. Credit: Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay
Researchers theorize that the sights and sounds of the hammering combined with the sight of the flames, as viewed from the gallery above, might have been a powerful experience for Stone Age audiences.
A hammerstone, used for grinding material, was found in the second cave. Papmehl-Dufay speculated this could have been an offering site, serving as an altar.
Hammerstones were used to hit and flake bits off other rocks, creating tools for prehistoric cultures. Various representative hammerstones. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A small rock shelter connected the two large caves. Measuring only 20 by 26 feet (6 by 8 meters), researchers believe that it may have been used by Stone Age travelers to the island as temporary shelter. “However, more-specific activities with ritual elements to [them] cannot be ruled out, such as feasting in connection to the rituals performed in the nearby caves," Papmehl-Dufay said.
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Excavations in the small rock shelter revealed stone tools and the remains of seals. The seals were consumed 9,000 year ago, according to radiocarbon dating. Deposits of quartz pieces were also uncovered, perhaps used in toolmaking.
Researchers excavated the rock shelter, uncovering animal bones. Credit: Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay
It is wondered if the possible rituals performed on Blå Jungfrun, combined with its isolation and dramatic landscape, may have been the genesis of the beliefs and legends that followed.
Witchcraft, Curses and a Mysterious Labyrinth
In Swedish folklore Blå Jungfrun, or “The Blue Virgin” Island was seen as a magical or supernatural place where evil spirits dwelled, and it was best avoided by sailors. It was thought that witches met on the island, especially at Easter, to cavort and worship the devil. Large cavities in the rock along the shore, called “jättegrytor” were attributed to giants.
“Jättegrytor” were “Giant’s Kettles” created by giants in myth. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A stone walking labyrinth can be found on Blå Jungfrun. The Trolleborg is the largest labyrinth in Sweden, but little is known about it. No one knows when it was built, or by whom, but it is thought it might be linked to the ancient fishing trade, as they were commonly created in the past in hopes of good fishing, fertility, or calm seas.
The labyrinth at the island of Blå Jungfrun, Sweden. (CC BY 3.0)
As the island is now designated as a national park, there are restrictions for visitors: keep to the paths, no staying overnight, no lighting fires, and no removing the sacred stones from the labyrinth. Even now it’s said that doing so will bring very bad luck to the thief.
Archaeological work is set to continue on Blå Jungfrun, and the team’s findings were given at a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Glasgow, Scotland.
By Liz Leafloor