In June, the company Uppdrag arkeologi ('Mission Archeology') announced a surprising and fascinating find: a phallic stone of the Viking Age.

Rebecka Jonsson, project manager of the Tystberga site where the stone was discovered, discusses its significance, her expectations for the future, and how her team celebrated with plenty of cake.

A childhood dream

Sweden-born Rebecka has wanted to be an archaeologist ever since she was a small child. She began her professional career after graduating from Stockholm University in 2016 and is today an archaeologist and project manager at Uppdrag arkeologi.

"We work in several different counties in Eastern Sweden. I have worked with all types of projects, sites, and time periods – urban archeology, prehistoric archaeology, and farmsteads from the 1800s – but I specialize in settlement, burial (mostly Iron Age), and digital archaeology."

Rebecka Jonsson passionately explores the historical tapestry of Eastern Sweden as a dedicated archaeologist at Uppdrag arkeologi. Photo: Uppdrag arkeologi

Twin digs

Rebecka's team has just completed a two-month exploratory dig at Tystberga, a locality in the county of Södermanland in Southeast Sweden.

The archaeological project is part of the preparations for East Link, a large-scale railway construction project that will provide additional transport connections between the counties of Södermanland, Östergötland, and Stockholm.

There were actually two separate preliminary archaeological investigations: one a Viking Age burial ground, the other, an older settlement site dated to the Roman Iron Age.

Because the two sites stand side by side, however, the team essentially treated them as a single project. "The Viking Age burial ground consists of approximately 60 graves," explains Rebecka. 

"Ours is the first excavation ever conducted there. The Roman Iron Age settlement site is much smaller, with a few hearths and cultural layers containing fire-cracked stones."

A special discovery and 'find cake'

In the graves, the team found a number of interesting artifacts typical of the Viking Age: burial urns and scattered single sherds of pottery, iron rivets, nails, a knife, and a selection of glass beads.

In grave 800, however, they also discovered something entirely unexpected: one 35-centimeter stone that appeared to be in the shape of a phallus, as well as a second more-rounded stone of a similar size.

"We were talking about this particular stone almost from the day we started excavating the grave in question. We thought it might be a phallic stone, but we weren't sure until we had dug down far enough. When we finally lifted it out and examined it, we immediately understood what it was and the significance of the find."

"Everyone shouted, laughed – there was a lot of excitement, for sure. We also enjoyed some 'fyndtårta' ('find cake') afterwards, which is a lovely archaeological tradition where you share a cake after you find something special."

Aerial photo of grave 800, where the phallic stone was found. Photo: Uppdrag arkeologi

An unmistakable symbol of fertility

Though press attention has centered around the phallic stone, Rebecka points out that the "stone globe" found alongside it adds another layer of intrigue.

"The elaborate carving of the phallic stone is also notable, but the combination of the phallic stone and a stone globe in one grave is very rare. These are both clear ritual elements connected to fertility, and the combination of male and female elements is very interesting."

Rebecka also notes some intriguing parallels to phallic stones found in Norway, where they are far more common than in Sweden. At the same time, the on-site archeologists have until now been focusing on intense fieldwork, and much of the analysis is still to come.

"Several different types of analysis will be carried out by specialists in the following months. For example, all the bones from the cremation layers will be examined by an osteologist so we can learn more about the people that were buried there."

Phallic stone with red markings to show how it has been carved. Photo: Uppdrag arkeologi

More exploration on the way

Indeed, Rebecka herself has only just begun exploring the meaning behind the phallic stone.

"For this particular find, I hope to be able to research it further and contextualize it more when I write the report in the coming months," Rebecka says, "First, we will gather all the results from the different specialists that will examine the finds, bones, and soil samples from the grave."

At some point in the future, there will also be a more in-depth excavation at the site to explore the graves in full. "It will be very interesting to see if there are any more similar ritual components in the other graves or if this grave is a single 'standout,'" admits Rebecka. 

The East Link project is likely to see a large number of excavations across the region. As a result, Rebecka expects many more finds in the next few years, though it remains to be seen whether any of them will provoke quite as much excitement as the one at Tystberga.

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