Ale’s Stones and Kåsehuvud

Ale’s Stones and Kåsehuvud

Ale’s Stones at Kåsehuvud, above the harbour of the old fishing village at Kåseberga, is the site of Sweden’s largest preserved stone ship. Today, the ship consists of 59 boulders in the form of a 67 metre long and 19 metre wide ship.

Kåseberga 2

This ancient monument was already named in a list of lands belonging to the Diocese of Lund around 1515: en ager kalldiss Hesten (a field called Hedsten). The oldest record of the name ‘Ale’s Stones’ (Als Stene) is more recent however, from 1624.  Parish priest Niels Ipsen from Valleberga renders a local story in his description of the stone ship – that All permitted the construction of a harbour below the site of Kåsehuvud.

 The oldest depiction of the stone ship is also linked to ships and seafaring. Ale’s Stones are marked in a stylised form on Gerhard Buhrman’s coast chart dated 1684. The monument was evidently used as a landmark at that time. The first detailed drawing was made by antique draughtsman C.G.G. Hilfeling in 1777 who drew many of Scania’s ancient monuments. The first known photo of Ale’s Stones was taken in 1914.

Kåseberga Ales stenar

 These and many other older descriptions and drawings make significant contributions to our knowledge of Ale’s Stones and the surrounding environment. The stone ship has been restored on two occasions – in 1917 and 1956. Several stones had fallen down, and loose sand covered large parts of the ship. An air reconnaissance facility built on the site by the military during World War II also contributed to the state of disrepair. The 1917 restoration is not very well known, but the process was probably quite minor compared to the rough-handed restoration that took place in 1956. Major digging and bulldozing work was carried out without the watchful eye of archaeologists.

The result is that knowledge of Ale’s Stones has been almost non-existent for a long time. There was no real surveying of the stone ship, and information about the number of boulders varied. Neither was it known whether the boulders still stood in their original position. The dating was solely based on comparisons with other better-known stone ships. And there was no knowledge of the surrounding environment. Did Ale’s Stones stand alone, or had other monuments existed on the same site?

 Ale’s Stones and the surrounding environment have undergone several archaeological and geological excavations since the end of the 1980s. Despite limited resources and some remaining knowledge gaps, we now know significantly more about Ale’s Stones. To begin with, the ancient monument has been scientifically measured and the stones have been systematically described. Many stones have also been studied beneath the ground surface.

The geological excavations show that only boulders with a long, narrow shape have been used to construct the stone ship. Erratic boulders of this shape are relatively rare. They are usually worn and rounded after being transported by ice over rock surfaces. The erratic boulders on the sides of the ship are granite and gneiss, while the four boulders in the middle are sandstone. The centre boulders are also different because they have been broken from rock cleft. The source has been localised to a stone quarry just south of Simrishamn.  

Charcoal from different parts of the stone ship has also been dated with the carbon 14 method*.  No less that seven results indicate that the stone ship was erected during 500 – 1000 CE. This is in line with information about other monumental stone ships, especially in the area that is now Denmark. New research shows that they were predominantly erected during 900 CE. 

Närbild på en sten vid Ale stenar

Among the relatively few finds from excavations inside the ship is a ceramic vessel from 400 - 500 CE. The simple shaped pot contained traces of burned human bones and charcoal. This confirms that the place was used as a burial site, even though Ale’s Stones had probably not been erected at the time.

Archaeologists have long believed that other monuments existed at Kåsehuvud in addition to Ale’s Stones. These have also been described by Hilfeling in 1777. The excavations have strengthened their theory. Cup marks have been discovered – small carved, concave depressions – on many of the boulders. These have also been found on parts of the boulders that lie underneath the ground.

 Because cup marks have been found on boulders in Stone Age dolmens and passage graves, Ale’s Stones could have been built with boulders from old graves. The National Heritage Board has used geophysical measuring instruments like georadars and magnetometers to map structures at the stone ship that are not visible above the ground. Traces were registered that may well originate from a removed dolmen or passage grave.

This was confirmed by an archaeological pilot survey carried out in 2012. Traces of large stone blocks that had been removed and remains of stone packings are interpreted as suggesting that there was a long dolmen a short distance from the ship tumulus. Dolmens of this type were erected around 5,500 years ago.

Kåseberga 3

 The excavations have not so far revealed any knowledge of Ale’s Stones. They have also shifted archaeological interest away from the actual monument to how the site of Kåsehuvud has been used. Did this place inspire the erection of monuments long before the stone ship was built? Were some of the boulders used to construct the stone ship dragged up to Kåsehuvud as early as during the Stone Age? It is natural to assume that at least some of the stone blocks included in the ship tumulus were brought to Kåsehuvud during the Stone Age when the long dolmen was built.

 Source: The Swedish National Heritage Board June 2013

 *Carbon-14 dating is a scientific dating method where you calculate the amout of carbon-14 (a radioactive isotope of carbon) in a sample. This enables you to determine the approximate age of objects. Its breakthrough in the 1960s gave archaeology its first reliable means of dating.Kåseberga 2

Publicerad 2013-07-15, Uppdaterad 2020-11-04