Living at the margin of the retreating Fennoscandian Ice Sheet: the early Mesolithic sites at Aareavaara, northernmost Sweden

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Per Möller, Oluf Östlund, Lena Barnekow, Per Sandgren, Frida Palmbo, Eske Willerslev

During an archaeological survey in Pajala parish, northernmost Sweden, clusters of quartz waste from knapping and burnt bone were discovered on a glaciofluvial gravel plateau close to Aareavaara village in the Muonio River valley. Sampled materials from a larger area and small-scale excavations (in total 6 m2) are interpreted as resulting from short-stay hunter-gatherer camps. Radiocarbon dating on burnt bones suggest an age of occupancy at ~10,700 cal. yr BP, which is more or less contemporary with 'Komsa Phase' sites on the north coast of Norway (~300-360 km northwards). The Aareavaara site should thus be the oldest known archaeological site to date in northern Sweden. A palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, based on pollen analysis of sediment cores from two nearby lakes and radiocarbon dating of macrofossils for construction of time/depth sedimentation curves, suggests a deglaciation age of the area corresponding to occupation by early man (~10,700 cal. yr BP). Aareavaara was at the time of deglaciation situated in a transitional zone between subaqueous and subaerial ice-margin retreat from the northeast towards the southwest, with higher hills and plateaux forming an archipelago in the Ancylus Lake with highest shorelines formed at ~170 m a.s.l. The hunter-gatherer camp sites at Aareavaara were thus, both in time and space, located in close proximity to the retreating ice sheet margin, but also in a waterfront location, in fact on an island in the Ancylus Lake. Our pollen data suggest a subarctic birch woodland tundra landscape characterized by open vegetation, including occasional birch trees and an abundance of willow and dwarf birch.
TidsskriftThe Holocene
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)104-116
Antal sider13
StatusUdgivet - 13 jan. 2013

ID: 91795075