Alvastra pile dwelling in English

The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities has again published a book of interest for all those who want to know more about the Alvastra pile dwelling, this time in English (Malmer 2016). The volume is entitled Archaeology as fact and fiction. Mats P. Malmer’s archaeological writings 1948 – 2002.  When Mats Malmer died in 2007 he was working on a volume with this title. Mats Malmer’s wife, Brita Malmer, worked on completing the volume until her death in 2013.  In 2016 the book was finally realised by Stig Welinder who has edited and commented on the articles of which the book is composed. Mats and Brita Malmer’s daughter, the historian Elin Malmer, has provided some of the images in the book.

The book contains 18 papers  most of which  have previously been published. 11 have been translated for this volume from Swedish or German.  Interestingly,  chapter 17, ´The Alvastra pile dwelling. Theory and method in the 1976-1980 excavations, is the only paper that has not been previously published at all. It dates from around 1995 and consists of a manucript written in Swedish by Mats Malmer and subsequently translated into English by Alan Crozier. Stig Welinder underlines the fact that comments in the margins and the presence of question and exclamation marks show that this manuscript was not ready for publication and that it therefore should be cited with caution (p. 293).  We can nevertheless be grateful that this article was included in the volume for it contains a formulation that I think is of great importance for the understanding of Mats Malmer’s excavations.  Most of section 2 of the paper (p.364-375) is dedicated to the many questions that can be posed to the pile dwelling. The number of possible questions is so great, Mats Malmer says, ” that is was found most proper to permit certain variations in excavation technique between the different trenches: the strategy would be the same, but the tactics would depend on the individual character of the structrues discovered, and on the particlular hypotheses that the excavation leader in each trench wished to test.” (bold print by me). Thus it is important to see the most recent excavations of the Alvastra pile dwelling in many ways not as one investigation but as five different excavations in five different trenches (east, west, middle, trial and new trial trenches; p. 375). Excavations in the Western Trench have already been published by Hans Browall (Browall 2016) but for the other trenches it will be of vital importance for us in the present Alvastra project to make report manuscripts for the remaining trenches available on the digital Alvastra platform which is one of the main objectives of the project. Otherwise it will on occasion be difficult to completely understand the priorities decided on in the different trenches and the variations in the assemblages produced in each trench.



Browall, H., 2016. Alvastra pålbyggnad. 1976-1980 års utgrävningar. Västra schaktet. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och antikvitets akademien, Handlingar, antikvariska serien 52. Stockholm.


Malmer, M.P., 2016. Archaeology as fact and fiction. Mats P. Malmers’s archaeological writings 1948-2002. Edited and commented by Stig Welinder. Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, Handlingar. Antikvariska serien 50. Stockholm.

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Jackie Taffinder

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