Pre – and protohistoric bread in Sweden : a definition and a review

Pre – and protohistoric bread in Sweden : a definition and a review

By Ann-Marie Hansson

Civilisations, Vol.49 (2002)

Abstract: This article presents shortly the different archaeological discoveries of breads, buns and other cereal dishes found in Sweden. It insists on the importance of clear definitions and on the influence of preservation conditions. Besides a differentiation based on size and morphology, a certain number of analytical results allow for a differentiation based on ingredients and preparation. The interpretation of the distribution of breads in the cemetery of Birka is discussed.

Introduction: Cereals have been cultivated in Sweden since the Stone Age, i.e. since c. 4000 BC. But with the exception of « blood-porridge », we can only guess at the form in which cereals were eaten at that time. However, in the later archaeological material we can discern traces of a tradition to combine flour and grain with different animal products to create various dishes, especially grain-pastes which were sometimes leavened. At the same time bread – i.e. grain in prepared form – was also consumed. The majority of surviving Swedish prehistoric bread can be dated to the later part of the Early Medieval Period (which in Sweden incorporates the Migration Period (400 -550 AD), the Vendel Period (550 -800 AD) and the Viking Age (800 -1050 AD).

A concentration of findings can be noted in eastern central Sweden, while the northernmost find comes from Västbyn, in Frösön in the province of Jämtland. This was analysed by Prof. em. Hakon Hjelmqvist, Lund, who suggested that blood may have been one of the ingredients in the dough, together with hulled barley.

About 150 charred prehistoric loaves of bread are now known from archaeological excavations.

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