Settlement and agriculture on the lower reaches of river Jägala, Northern Estonia

The lower reaches of river Jägala provide an excellent opportunity to study prehistoric settlement processes and landscape use in the long-term. With 16 settlement sites ranging from the Mesolithic to the Viking Age, a multi-phase Early Iron Age hillfort, one of a kind field remains and several cup-marked stones, this microregion forms a unique complex in Estonian archaeological record. As such, it is the central study-area for my PhD project “Landscape in time and space – Jõesuu-Kaberneeme coastal plain from the Mesolithic to the Viking Age”, which started in September 2016. The focus of the project is on two main questions: (1) the landscape conditions during settlement phases and (2) the effect of anthropogenic and natural factors on the different use of landscape. Methodological aim is to combine archaeological (e.g. settlements, fossil fields), geological (e.g. GPR, soil samples), geographical (e.g. LiDAR, coastal landforms) and palynological (e.g. macrofossil plant remains, phytoliths) data and analyse it using GIS-based and quantitative methods. As a result, attempts at creating landscape reconstructions will be made. The study area is currently the only region in Estonia, where such research is possible due to natural conditions and abundance of archaeological material, which has been mainly acquired during 2005–2013 fieldwork seasons. As a part of the coastal plain the area is also affected by the slow but uneven glacioisostatic land uplift, adding to the dynamics of long-term settlement processes.

In addition to purely GIS-based research and statistical modelling, the goal is also to test and develop better ways of acquiring and presenting data and results. This includes paperless archaeology on the field, on-site data analysis (e.g. GIS (Qfield), GPS-tracking, 3D modelling (Agisoft)) and composing (interactive) 3D models for documentation and presentation.

Current presentation will focus more narrowly on four Iron Age field remains and their connection to settlement sites of corresponding periods. In Estonian archaeological record prehistoric agricultural remains are nearly always evidenced by clearance cairns and baulks made of stone. Plough layers and ard marks are seldom found or even extant. In contrast, the four field remains on the lower reaches of river Jägala are buried under eolian sands and because of this plough layers and ard marks have survived in great extent. The field remains were studied in the years 2008–2013 using archaeological and geophysical methods. Also numerous soil samples were collected for plant remain analysis. Presently the data is being analysed in preparation for reports and publication. This represents the first instance, when such prehistoric agricultural sites are being extensively studied in the Baltics. Preliminary results of the analysis and planned interdisciplinary study will be introduced. It is shown that coastal areas were continuously inhabited and cultivation of cereals was actively engaged on sandy soils, which have previously been thought to be unsuitable.