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Seaways to Complexity

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This book presents the first big synthesis of sociopolitical development in northwestern Scandinavia, and outlines a theoretical model for concurrent but contrasting sociopolitical strategies that can be applied cross-culturally. It focuses on the sociopolitical development and the organisational differences between societies in northwestern Scandinavia in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (2350–1100 BCE).

Grounded in a political economy approach, this book presents a theoretical model that emphasises a dialectic negotiation between societies exercising coercive or cooperative strategies through processes of categorisation. Within this theoretical model the archaeological material is studied using a two-tiered approach. First, an extensive archaeological corpus, consisting of settlement and burial patterns, lithics, metal, and rock art is investigated comparatively for patterns of diachronic, regional and societal differences. Second, patterns from the first-tier are scrutinised and three case studies are selected, each expressing different organisational patterns based on local ecological advantages and/or restrictions. These aspects are then discussed on an interregional level, suggesting that utilisation of the seaway was one of the primary movers of increased complexity along the coast.

The intended readership for this book is scholars and students within the field of prehistoric archaeology, and the European Bronze Age in particular. However, the book’s comparative basis and emphasis on theoretical development within anthropological archaeology also make it accessible to a broader scholarly field.

Published: Jun 1, 2021


Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures Knut Ivar Austvoll
List of Tables Knut Ivar Austvoll
Acknowledgements Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 1
Introduction: Towards a Theory of Sociopolitical Complexity Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 2
Modelling Changing Regional Complexity Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 3
Regional Variations 1: The Archaeology of Settlements Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 4
Regional Variations 2: Burial Patterns Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 5
Regional Variations 3: Lithics, Metal and Ship Motifs in Rock Art Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 6
Regional and Chronological Variation: Overview and Case Studies Knut Ivar Austvoll
Chapter 7
Seaways to Complexity Knut Ivar Austvoll
End Matter
References Knut Ivar Austvoll
Index Knut Ivar Austvoll


The book by Austvoll is refreshing because his analysis of the western façade of the Scandinavian Peninsula is done on its own terms and not just as a function of development in southern parts of Europe. Still, the idea of hierarchy and hierarchy-bound communication and exchange forces the text towards the discussion of centres and peripheries, where the grand centres were situated further to the south. As a reader one is likewise forced to think of why this is the case. Two millennia after the Bronze Age, the Vikings changed the entire geopolitical order in Eurasia through their seaways to power and influence. Is it not likely, one might ask, that the commencement of seagoing communication and traveling in the Bronze Age gave rise to an equal geopolitical transformation? This question too—intimately bound to the two other subjects mentioned above—comes forth when reading Austvoll’s analysis. This way, Austvoll’s text, as an engaging book ought to, does not just clarify and interpret the record left from prehistory, but also invites the reader and I guess also the author, to new quests for and questions about the nature and character of human pasts and the limits of our intellectual tools to explore it.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology