Bronze age rock art from Svarteborg, Munkedal in Sweden.
Photo: Svenskt Hällristnings ForskningsArkiv

Archaeological project on maritime meetings receives 47 million sek


The sea will be in focus in a new archaeological research program at the University of Gothenburg.
"Boats, boat building, navigation and the importance of the sea as infrastructure in a long-term perspective", says Johan Ling, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Gothenburg who will lead and coordinate the research project.

Riksbanken Jubileums fond has granted 47 million sek to the project and that means that we now can learn more about the journeys at sea and the rivers during the end of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age.

The importance of the sea in a new light

Our history has long been told from a perspective that more or less neglects the importance of the sea and rivers for migration with interaction and exchange in antiquity. But at the University of Gothenburg, there are several research projects in archeology that in recent years have instead pointed to the sea and rivers as potential transport routes in prehistory.

Journeys across the oceans

"There is a significant gap in this current model that we sense most acutely in Scandinavia and the British Isles", says Johan Ling and continues:

"The question is how did these groups reache the islands and peninsulas of Atlantic Europe? What types of boats were used? How many people and animals could they carry?"

The archaeologist Johan Ling has in recent years been the director of the Swedish Rock Art Research Archive and at the University of Gothenburg there is today world-leading research regarding the Bronze Age.

Other research projects

The new research program " Maritime meetings: a counterpoint to the dominant land-based narrative of European prehistory " relates to many of the research projects that already exist today at the Department of Historical Studies.

"All of those projects will benefit from this. The researchers make arrows across the oceans when their research shows that people have moved. Now let's fill these arrows with content".

In addition to what the boats looked like, archaeologists hope to find out more about the knowledge the indigenous people had about boat building and navigation.

Interdisciplinary project

A lot has happened in archeology in recent years. By using scientific methods such as DNA analysis, new knowledge has been gained. The new research program wants, so to speak, to "tie the knot". By taking a holistic approach where new research results are combined with traditional archeology, sociology and also historical linguistics, it is hoped that the importance of the sea in Europe during the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age will be clarified.

"With an international interdisciplinary team of researchers, we want to create a more nuanced story about travel at sea during prehistory and about the importance of the sea for long-distance contacts and development of cultures in a long-term perspectiv."

“Our program is based on a maritime perspective, a counterpoint to prevailing land-based perspectives on Europe's prehistory”, says Johan Ling.
Photo: VG Kulturutveckling/urklipp film.

New technology will simulate sea voyages

The Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) will also be involved. Together with CDH, Johan Ling and SHFA have developed an ocean Voyager tool that makes it possible to simulate sea voyages in time and space with different types of boats and during different seasons and weather conditions. This tool will now be tested in all the pilot projects included in the program with a focus on Atlantic Europe.

"We hope to start the project next year. This is a big international project and we must sit down with everyone involved. There will be researchers from all over the world".

The area that archaeologists want to take a closer look at is large.

"From Spain in the south to northern Norway in the north, the British Isles in the west. The focus is on the area called Atlantic Europe", says Johan Ling.

Text: Cecilia Sjöberg


Stiftelsen Riksbankens Jubileumsfond has granted 46,7 miljoner sek for “Maritime encounters: a counterpoint to the dominant terrestrial narrative of European prehistory”.

The project will be hosted by the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg. Johan Ling, Professor of Archaeology will lead and coordinate the research project.

More about the Centre for Digital Humanities (CDH)

More about the Swedish Rock Art Research Archive

More about the project on Riksbankens jubileums fonds webbpage.