Skateholm (Sweden)

Late Mesolithic Site in Sweden

Skateholm consists of at least nine separate Late Mesolithic settlements, all located around what at the time was a brackish lagoon on the coast of the Scania region of southern Sweden, and occupied between ~6000-400 BC. In general, archaeologists have believed that the people who lived at Skateholm were hunter-fishers, who exploited the lagoon's marine resources. However, the size and complexity of the associated cemetery area suggests to some that the cemetery was used for a broader purpose: as a set aside burial place for "special" individuals.

The largest of the sites are Skateholm I and II. Skateholm I includes a handful of huts with central hearths, and a cemetery of 65 burials. Skateholm II is located about 150 m southeast of Skateholm I; its cemetery contains some 22 graves, and the occupation had a few huts with central hearths.

Cemeteries at Skateholm

Skateholm's cemeteries are among the earliest known cemeteries in the world. Both humans and dogs are buried in the cemeteries. While most of the burials are placed lying on their back with their limbs extended, some of the bodies are buried sitting up, some lying down, some crouching, some cremations. Some burials contained grave goods: a young man was buried with several pairs of red deer antlers placed above his legs; a dog burial with an antler headdress and three flint blades was recovered at one of the sites. At Skateholm I, elderly men and young women received the largest quantity of grave goods.

Osteological evidence of the graves suggests that it represents a normal working cemetery: the burials show a normal distribution of gender and age at the time of death. However, Fahlander (2008, 2010) has pointed out that the differences within the cemetery might represent phases of occupation of Skateholm, and changing methods of burial rituals, rather than a place for "special" individuals, however that is defined.

Archaeological Study at Skateholm

Skateholm was discovered in the 1950s, and intensive research conducted by Lars Larsson was begun in 1979. Several huts arranged in a village community and about 90 burials have been excavated to date, most recently by Lars Larsson of the University of Lund.

Sources and Further Information

This glossary entry is a part of the Guide to the European Mesolithic, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Bailey G. 2007. Archaeological Records: Postglacial Adaptations. In: Scott AE, editor. Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science. Oxford: Elsevier. p 145-152.

Bailey, G. and Spikins, P. (eds) (2008) Mesolithic Europe. Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-17.

Fahlander F. 2010. Messing with the dead: Post-depositional manipulations of burials and bodies in the South Scandinavian Stone Age. Documenta Praehistorica 37:23-31.

Fahlander F. 2008. A Piece of the Mesolithic Horizontal Stratigraphy and Bodily Manipulations at Skateholm. In: Fahlander F, and Oestigaard T, editors. The Materiality of Death: Bodies, Burials, Beliefs. London: British Archaeological Reports. p 29-45.

Larsson, Lars. 1993. The Skateholm Project: Late Mesolithic Coastal Settlement in Southern Sweden. In Bogucki, PI, editor. Case Studies in European Prehistory. CRC Press, p 31-62

Peterkin GL. 2008. Europe, Northern and Western | Mesolithic Cultures. In: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 1249-1252.