30 november 2004

Deserted Migration period farms in Storrsheia, Rogaland

Storrsheia is an open-ended, rather wide WNW-ESE-oriented valley in the hills near Vigeså in Bjerkreim, Rogaland, Southwest Norway. It is located at 200-225 m above sea level. The motor way between Kristiansand and Stavanger runs through the valley, and on both sides of the road is located a substantial deserted farm complex, investigated by Jan Petersen in 1929 and 1930 (Petersen 1933). The complex at that time consisted of the visible remains of six houses and more than 100 barrows and clearance cairns, as well as stone fences and cattle roads. Storrsheia was by far the largest of the deserted farms investigated by Petersen and others in the years between the two world wars. The fenced area covers c. 11 ha.

The area around Vigeså has been claimed as a veritable laboratory for settlement archaeological studies in Norway (Lillehammer 1985). The area in question are outlands for three modern farms located somewhat further to the east. Storrsheia is one of a total of six farms and farm complexes in the area. Close to Storrsheia in the southeast is the deserted farm of Auglend, excavated by Petersen in 1928 (Petersen 1933). Uadal, together with Sosteli in the neighbouring district of Vest-Agder probably the best preserved of the deserted farms in Southwest Norway, is located just on the other side of the lake Storrsheivatnet from Storrsheia (Lillehammer 1985). Outside of this cluster – no more than 20 km north of Storrsheia, however – is yet another well-known deserted farm, Homsi/Lyngaland (Petersen 1936).

All six houses at Storrsheia were excavated by Petersen. He also investigated three barrows (Petersen 1933). Based on the artefacts, mostly pottery sherds, found in the house ruins, Petersen argued that the farm complex had at least two settlement phases. The main phase was in the Migration period, with settlement starting in the 4th century. At that time, four different houses (Houses 1, 4, 5, and 6) at three different sites within the complex were settled, each site with its own cattle road leading to the stone fence encircling the complex. A fifth house (House 3), located at a fourth site and interpreted as a smithy due to five crucibles found inside the building remains, was also in use in the Migration period.

The three different sites within the stone fence consist of 1 (House 1), 1 (House 6) and 2 buildings (Houses 4 and 5), respectively. The normal Migration period farm in Southwest Norway seems to have had two longhouses, situated close to, often parallel to, each other, with Ullandhaug, Lyngaland and Sosteli as typical cases. This is also a recurring pattern at the huge Forsand settlement in Rogaland (Løken 1988). At Storrsheia there is a second house close to House 1. This building, House 2, was dated by Petersen to the Viking Age, based on a burial from this period dug into the northern wall of the building (Petersen 1933). There is no need to doubt Petersen’s dating in this case; however, his published excavation report and drawings makes it more than likely that House 2 has an earlier, probably Migration period phase, as well. Petersen excavated a burial mound immediately on the outside of the eastern gable wall of the building. C. 600 sherds of pottery were found in different levels of the mound, and at the very bottom Petersen noticed two fire places of the same kind as in the investigated buildings. It is thus most likely that the barrow which did not contain any grave goods, only cremated bones, was put on the top of an older building, partly covered by House 2. This is also supported by the a find of c. 20 pot sherds of Migration period date in House 2, as well as by the number of and situation of postholes in this building. It has not, apparently, been noted by earlier research (Petersen 1933; Lillehammer 1985; Myhre 1980). Most probably, then, the farm in the northern part of the complex had two buildings, too.

House I is the biggest one within the Storrsheia complex (outer dimensions: 39,5 m long, 7.75 m wide). The two houses placed together in the southeastern part of the complex, i.e. Houses 4 and 5, are 35,5x9 m and 29x7.60 m, respectively. The singular House 6 is 20x7,5 m.

Bjørn Myhre has suggested a room division for all the buildings at Storrsheia (Myhre 1980). In earlier decades stone pavements in a section of both House 5 and House 6 were interpreted by some as a certain indicator for stable functions. This was Petersen’s approach (1933), and in this he was supported by Ander Hagen (1953). However, he was critized by Sigurd Grieg (1934), and later by Ottar Rønneseth (1974) and Bjørn Myhre (1980). The considerable stone pavement in House 5 suggested to Hagen that this building had housed 40-50 cattle (Hagen 1953). More recently, Myhre has suggested that the stone pavement in Storrsheia House 6 might have been part of a seating arrangement (Myhre 1980).

Besides House 2, evidence of Late Iron Age/Viking Age occupations was found in Houses 1 and 4, too. Since the pottery based datings from the settlement are rather coarse, it is not possible to decide whether Storrsheia were continously occupied from the Migration period to the Viking Age. Storrsheia was one of only two deserted settlements considered by Petersen to have been inhabited through the Merovingian period (Petersen 1933). It should also be pointed out that the house types traditionally identified as typical of the Migration period, are found at Forsand already around the birth of Christ (Løken 1988). This fact must have some bearing on deserted farms still visible above ground, like at Storrsheia, as well, and in the absence of C14 datings one cannot rule out that some of the houses in at Storrsheia are in fact Roman period in origin.

Storrsheia is a prime example of the complex settlements that are known from the Migration period in Southwest Norway besides the single farms (Myhre 2002). Such complex settlements with two or more farms lying within a common fence separating the arable from the outlands, have recently been compared to village settlements like Forsand, and it has been suggested that there must have been some kind of cooperation regarding farm work between such farms (Myhre 2002). While Storrsheia is the largest of the deserted farm complexes investigated by Petersen, much bigger complexes are known from the rich nearby agricultural district of Jæren. A complex at Obrestad in Jæren seems to have comprised c. 25 ha and 4 separate farms (Rønneseth 1974), while other complexes in Jæren have consisted of up to 5 farms (Myhre 2002). The largest of the two Forsand villages in the Migration period hade 13 farms (Løken 1988). Furthermore, while Houses 1 and 4 at Storrsheia are among the largest of the investigated houses in more marginal, upland areas in Southwest Norway, they are outdwarfed by Houses like the main buildings at Vadland, Vigrestad (Myhre 2002) and Valleland, Varhaug (Rønneseth 1974) in Jæren, both of them approx. 90 m long.

S. Grieg, Jernaldershus på Lista, 1934.
A. Hagen, Studier i jernalderens gårdssamfunn, Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Skrifter 4, 1953.
A. Lillehammer, Ei øydegrend i Bjerkreim, Frá haug ok heidni (Stavanger), 2-1985, 202-208. T. Løken, Bygg fra fortiden, Forsand i Rogaland – bebyggelsessentrum gjennom 2000 år, 1988.
B. Myhre, Gårdsanlegget på Ullandhaug I, Gårdshus i jernalder og tidlig middelalder i Sørvest-Norge, 1980.
B. Myhre, Landbruk, landskap og samfunn 4000 f.Kr.-800 e.Kr., Norges landsbrukshistorie, vol. I, 2002, 1-213.
J. Petersen, Gamle gårdsanlegg i Rogaland fra forhistorisk tid og middelalder, 1933.
J. Petersen, Gamle gårdsanlegg i Rogaland. Fortsettelse, 1936.
O. Rønneseth, "Gard" und Einfriedigung. Entwicklungsphasen der Agrarlandschaft Jærens, 1974.

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