A tale of the Fjaering tribe – 1

Previously I’ve warned you that I’m about to tell you more of this place where we live with our Nokota horses, who came all the way from the prairies of North Dakota. I’ve already told the story of the Nokota horses and how they can be connected back to Europe, as you can read in a series of earlier blog posts. This place is now the new home for three of them and the way the horses have settled in gave me a feeling of déjà vue; they are probably not the first horses to graze this pasture. I wanted to find the trail back in time to discover the connection to the ancient horses that once grazed our pasture and their human herd members, so I wrote this last spring but somehow I never got around to post it, so here it is: 

If you would like to come along on this journey in time I will tell you the story of an ancient Nordic tribe, the “Fjaeringar” on the west coast of Sweden.

The ancient Viking Age grave field Li at the west slope of Fjärås Bräcka. 125 bauta stones remains today.

The official history based on archeological and written evidence is untouchable, but lacks the imagination and logical speculation that brings history to life. The historical evidences from human activities right here are very fragmented and span from the stone age to present day, consisting of remnants from buildings, fireplaces, different kinds of grave remnants, a few findings of artifacts and chemical soil analysis.

The tradition of telling a story is as old as language itself and significant for a story which survives thru long periods of time is that it often includes both facts and fiction. Why is that so? Cold facts only paint half the picture and only involve one half of the brain. By adding imagination both sides of the brain gets involved, which fills in the gaps to complete the picture. A painting by one of the famous 19th century impressionists can give a sense of reality, more accurate than a photograph, because the paint sets the light and only selected unfocused details; the rest is filled in by the watchers imagination. So you not only see the painting, you feel it.

So this story I am about to tell is a mix of facts and fiction. It’s not the official story of a peaceful farmland we were taught in school and it is not pure fiction. It is a truthful tale that may well have been told by wayfaring northern pilgrims during dark winter evenings by the fireplace in ancient Scandinavian long houses, stories since long forgotten. I will start by drawing up a charcoal sketch of facts outlined by cold evidence, then the colors will be added by logical reasoning and speculation, finally the shadows of imagination will complete the tale.

The ridge Fjärås Bräcka. Lake Lygnern to the right and to the left the plain that stretches towards the ocean. On top of the ridge goes the ancient road Via Regia that runs down to the right in the picture.

We live near the south end of a majestic ridge of moraine and gravel deposits, formed during the latest ice age at a temporary suspension of the de-glaciation 13 000 years ago. (By the same time in history the first humans walked over the ice sheet of Bering Sound to colonize the American continent.) The mighty ridge that runs from north to south constitutes a significant feature in the landscape as it rises sharply over the plain of northern Halland across the lake Lygnern valley. At the western foot of the ridge a flat plain, previously a sea bed, stretches out towards the sea.

View from the ridge towards the west, the ocean in the background.

View from the ridge towards east, the Lake Lygnern

At the eastern foot the deep lake Lygnern runs from west to east, 12 miles long, thru a forest covered landscape. Fjärås is the name of the ridge as well as the county and the village. The place is a farmland known all over Sweden for its horseradish. During the era of railroad construction large amounts of gravel and sand was excavated from the ridge, but the golden days are since long gone. The gravel deposits are still in business but at a modest pace, though a brick factory has been added to the landscape. Today it’s a sleepy village for people working in Gothenburg and most farms are either wasteland, or transformed into family horse ranches.

Lufsen our English Cocker Spaniel (Discovery’s “Dressed to Thrill”)
A British sterling silver coin has been found on the ridge, imprinted in Canterbury for Henry III in 1251.

However the area has not always been as insignificant as it is today. When I stand on the ridge and look towards the sea in the west and turn around to see the long lake that stretches towards the horizon in the east, it strikes me that this place has all the features of an ancient strategic stronghold.

To the west was a marshland, to thick to drink, too thin to plough, only accessible by flat bottomed canoes during short periods of the year. To the east, the only option was to go around the lake, which means several days of travel thru impenetrable deep forests undoubtedly inhabited by hostile tribesmen.

Whomever controlled the ridge determined who may pass and of course, the fee that had to be payed. Combine this insight with the archeological findings that points out one of the largest ancient settlements at the time in this part of Sweden and the historical importance of this place comes to light. At the time of the first settlements there were no central government and no laws. Where ever life is present, the urge to gain power over resources grows, as well as the will to defend it. Without the laws of civilization the struggle knows no limits. So the official conception of an ancient peaceful farmland is crushed to the ground and an adventure of power and treachery can begin.

Via Regia, a 5000 year old dirt road just outside our doorstep.

But first we will look into the archeological findings that will support the base of this tale; At the transition between the Bronze and Iron ages the area west of Fjärås was a flat, occasionally flooded meadow of marshland type, in ancient Nordic language; “fiara”. Since the Swedish word for ridge is “ås”, Fjärås means “The ridge by the marshland”. The oldest written Swedish reference is “Fiaerae”, from A.D. 1250. Nowhere in Halland has so many ancient archeological remains been found as in Fjärås, which shows that Fjärås was central for the Bronze- and Iron Age cultures, clearly evidenced by the huge grave field at Li.

West of the ridge, four identified places with archeological remains were destroyed during the first part of the 20th century, as huge amounts of gravel were removed to be used for railroad construction. In 1913 some ancient graves where examined as well as the remains of a smithy from the age of the Vikings. The year after, remains of potsherds, nails, bronze plates, iron slag and flint from the same period was found at a nearby site, along with about twenty millstones in the gravel pit itself. Previously millstones had been observed in the coal mixed soil over the gravel deposits.

In 1925 Elof Lindälv examined another site with black soil and found ceramics, burnt clay, iron slag and flint, interpreted as a settlement or a fire grave field from early Iron Age established on top of a Stone Age settlement.

In the south end of the ridge a grounded flint axe is said to have been found, according to a story told by the village elders. Below on the west slope is a cholera graveyard from the middle of the 18th century. A closer examination of the area would surely result in the discovery of more unknown graves.

More ceramics, grave urns and burnt bones have been found from pre roman iron age 14C-dated to 360-100 BC and the coal has been determined as alder (alnus), still the most common leaf tree in the area. At least 30 dark spots interpreted as pole holes were found in the soil when the road on top of the ridge was remade.  The ancient dirt road Via Regia runs from north to south on top of the ridge, it ends at our ranch and continues south only as an overgrown path thru the forest.

One day in late spring 1945 a railroad worker found a clay pot in the gravel deposit and Gothenburg Archeological Museum was contacted. The clay pot contained burnt human bones, soil and small objects made of iron, bronze and green colored glass. When the area was examined seven fire pits was found, two feet deep and four feet wide, filled with coal mixed soil and burnt stones covered by flagstones. One of the pits contained ornamented bits of a broken clay pot. The pot was dated to late Iron Age.

The pits was described and catalogued as ”fire pits under flat ground”, but only some of them were actual graves while others were remnants after settlements. The chronological connection between the graves and the settlements seems uncertain.  There are indications that an Iron Age settlement was situated on the west slope. Minor remnants after what is believed to have been a Viking age smithy, notes about the finding’s, rapid surveys of settlements/graves, besides presumed cultural layers discovered as the gravel pit progressed; these are the only documented evidences, except for the 1975 survey of the Li grave field. Whether it is remnants of an iron age settlement or a field of fire pit graves on top of a Stone Age settlement is uncertain.

In the book Hallandia Antiqiuia from 1752 the field of grave stones is described as: “like a forest of withered tree stubs.”  The 14C-method dates the grave on top of the ridge to pre roman iron age as well as the remnants of the settlement. Written accounts tells that graves from both Bronze- and Iron Age has been found on the west slope. The present day Li grave field is only a minor remnant of a once monumental grave field.

The Frode stone, a 16 feet tall bauta rock

Fjärås is one of the county’s most well publicized and visited cultural sites. Unfortunately it can also be described as one of the most exploited and destroyed ancient environments in Sweden. The destruction is foremost to be blamed upon the vast gravel deposit excavations during the first half of the 20th century, but also earlier residential buildings are intruding on this sensitive site.

So people lived in the area alright, but how can that justify the claim of an ancient central culture? There is much more evidence to unveil. The next part will tell about the discovery of an ancient settlement that lasted for a thousand years, just half a mile from our horse ranch.


Horses and roe deers

Late this afternoon a roe deer came for a visit and a snack of fresh grass. The horses made no business of that, probably didn’t want to scare her off. After a while the roe deer walked under the electric fence and back into the woods. Last summer she (or some of her “collegues”) had two kids grazing in the pasture all summer, we saw them last week too. Good grass tends to be popular.

A picture and some words

A picture can say more than a thousand words.

I don’t know who said it first, but the statement is something of a riddle, because the number imposes a limit of words while a picture is unlimited in size and content. Ive’ been working with technical drawings all my life and know for sure that even a relatively small picture can say a lot more than a thousand words in a universal language, but also that a picture can leave a thousand words unsaid.

By that I mean that some pictures are only correctly understood if accompanied by words, if one wants them to be interpreted in a certain and precise way. On the other hand, take any DVD-players or cameras user’s manual and you soon realize that no picture and no words in it will ever make you understand how the damn thing is supposed to work, the only way is to try by doing, trial and error.

Of course a book without pictures can indeed paint greater pictures in ones brain than any artist or photographer can create, when the art of writing is the goal by itself. A picture is easier and more natural to take into our conscience. In order to understand words, we need to learn how. That’s why small children’s books has pictures only, then we move up to pictures and words, finally we have learnt to read words so good that the words make the pictures for us.

Now, what can we say about this here picture? Well, it is not arranged or manipulated in any way. I went out early in the morning to feed the horses and then back in again for breakfast and a cup of tea, got stuck by the laptop for an hour or so, went out to a clear sunny day to clean up after the horses. After a while I spotted them in the pasture beneath the barn and rushed in for the camera, walked out and shot a picture from long range. As I walked closer both of them noticed me coming, but not more than that, so I took some more pictures, this is one of them.

So, how did I react? Well, I suppose I should have been a bit worried, what if something sudden scared the horse, it could be dangerous! Yeah, well not this horse and not this girl. The horse feels safe enough to sleep, not in spite of the girl resting against her, but because of the girl being close and that they trust each other. If kids grow up like this I think they get a good feeling of what is important in life and I mean both of the kids, the girl and horse.

If we want to save our world, this planet, we must like all of it including ourselves. It’s like the old Indian proverb; “Talk to the animals and they will talk back and you will get to know each other. What you don’t know you fear.”


Now another update about how our horses are doing. This will be in fewer words, though. Windflower Dancer is as close to being ready for a rider as it gets. Bluebell Star is now ready for a saddle, so she is not far behind. The warm dry weather is helpful, making the horses feel at home. They don’t mind snow and storms, but they just love warming sunshine.

A new weekend

The horses are advancing in a steady pace. When we saddle up Windflower she stands quiet without resistance, without being tied up, looking forward for some attention just the way it should be.

Alexandra can now stand up in the stirrups to let Windflower feel the shift of load, she is getting the hang of it, she does not look surprised at all any more. One of the first things she got accustomed to was things moving around her head, so that is no concern at all. Very soon it’s time to get mounted. 

The dandelions are  blooming so the spring is also advancing, even if this one was found on an unnatural “hot spot”.

The fruit trees we planted last fall are waking up, apple, plums and cherries.

The grass always seems better on the other side of the fence, one mystery horses has been wondering about ever since fences were invented. (I wonder if there will be a genetic predominance of horses with long necks and flat noses in a thousand years from now? 😉 Soon it’s time to open up the summer pasture, give it a couple of weeks so the grass has a chance to be ahead of the “herbivores”.

Bluebell Star has become a real lady and her temper and personality is as sharp and sweet as she looks. She is also advancing in her training at a slow but steady pace, not as easily as Windflower though, she needs to think more, not so suspicious only careful and thorough.

Our good neighbor south of our ranch are taking out the spruce timber that fell down during the storms last winter, a new (?) repeated weather standard the last seven years.

In the evening some clouds rolled in from the west as the sun was setting behind the forest.

And the horses finished their supper on the front porch in their usual places, Windflower to the left, Bluebell in the middle and Wild Prairie Rose to the right. Funny how horses and humans share the same compulsive liking of habits and procedures, it’s probably something about the herd life.

Time for some Action

Why do horses run and buck? Some may think that only crazy horse’s run and buck, but given a second thought most of us can think of several reasons that are truly rational.

Horses evolved in an environment where they were pray animals eaten by predators and their best defense was to run and buck.  A Stallion needs to be strong, athletic and fast enough to defend his herd from other stallions, he also wants to make a sharp impression on his mares. A mare needs the same qualities to keep her position in the hierarchy. A horse must stay fit to be successful in everyday life. A wild horse may travel 50 miles in a day searching for food and water in different terrain and endure thru long winters and heavy storms.

Nature has provided horses with outstanding physiological assets. A lazy horse will be weak in lack of training and out conquered by an athletic horse. Domesticated horses survive with or without interest in physical activity, some may even rightfully be favored because of their exceedingly slow and safe manners. So a playful athletic mindset would be predominated among wild horses if that was true?

Our Nokota horses have been living wild for half a millennium, only one or two horse generations back, so how are their behavior? Well look at these pictures.

Every day after lunch they take a nap or just hang around with lazy looking eyes for an hour or two. Then when they wake up and feel a little stiff in their muscles they start grazing around, one of them may roll around to rub off some sticky dirt or winter furs. Rosie is our filly, or actually yearling, and when she sees that one of the other mares are rolling around she gets excited, at last someone to play with!

In just a few seconds all three horses are running. Our winter corral is only 100 by 45 yards but big enough for some serious horse athletics, can’t wait to see them in action in the summer pasture.

The horses uses all available space for their game, including the drove way up to the stable and the front yard, the “turf” is flying around all over the place.

Running and making sharp turns are part of the show, like a wilder version of roll-backs, run-down-and-stop. Bucking in full speed is another spectacular feature, probably very useful in the wild when being chased by a predator that is getting too close from behind.

Sometimes one or two of them stops to watch and admire the others make their moves, it’s a real circus show, great to watch. They are obviously having fun!

All doubts about the horses’ condition disappear; are they too fat, are we giving them too much to eat or too less, are their hooves alright, are their legs well? Only perfectly healthy horses can make a performance like this!

It also makes one realize the importance of keeping horses with mixed ages and personalities in a herd, young horses inspire the older, crazy horses inspire the lazy, so that all horses get their daily exercise and it makes life more fun for everybody. A big winter corral is important for horses.

(In Sweden there is even a paternalistic law, since a couple of years back, that says that horses must have a winter corral that is at least 33 yards long and no horse must stand alone. There is a long way until this rule is truly implemented though, some horse are confined in much too small corrals, if even outdoors at all.)

Now all we want is more horses like this! Above all it would be an amazing experience to see wild horses running free in their natural environment in places like the prairies of North Dakota and the Little Missouri Badlands. 

All photos in this blog post were taken yesterday afternoon by our youngest daughter, Alexandra.

Sunny March

What a gorgeous day in March!

Horses lining up for hay picnic in the sunshine.

“Won’t be long until the grass in the summer field is ready to be eaten”, says Windflower.

“Hmmm, maybe so”, Bluebell mumbles.

“No training on sunny Wednesdays, that’s a new rule starting from today”, says Wild Prairie Rose.

Everybody likes the sunshine, especially Caesar the “wild” tomcat, a previously homeless skinny fellow who found us two cold winters ago and decided to stay.

Home of our horses

Wild Prairie Rose and her fellow nokotas are living with us at our ranch Sotardalen Nokota horses in Fjärås, built on grounds with a thrilling ancient history.

Fjärås is the name of a village that rests by a thirteen thousand years old moraine ridge that runs from north to south like a dorsal stripe through the landscape, formed during the end of the latest ice age. East of the ridge is the short end of a twenty mile long lake, Lygnern. West of the ridge is the atlantic ocean, but nowadays there is a flat farmland between the ocean and the ridge.

On the west slope of the ridge is Scandinavias largest grave field from the iron age (Wiking age). It is called Li and it harbours 127 Bauta rocks, one of them is almost 16 feet tall and is said to mark the grave of the Danish King Frode.

On top of the ridge runs an ancient road Via Regia (now called Gamla Gällingevägen and Förlandavägen), up until the seventeen hundreds it was the main road in the southwest of Sweden. It was the only way to get from Denmark in the south to Norway in the north, and the ridge was controlled by an ancient Scandinavian tribe, the Fjaeringar. They were known as far as by the Alexandrian scholar Ptolemaios in Egypt. The road ends at our house a mile and a half south of the lake and continues south as a horse trail through a forest.

Just fourteen years ago remnants of an ancient settlement was discovered half a mile north of our ranch, when the exploitation of a gravel deposit was expanded. Evidence of a large permanent settlement during the bronze age, and at roman iron age, was excavated. At least twelve longhouses could easily be recognized , One of the buildings was 55 yards long.

We intend to unveil more of the stories about this place and the horses as we travel through space towards summer.