This is a direct follow on post from a discussion of wind power and archaeology in the UK, this time focusing on wind power in Sweden and drawing upon site visits in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012. I haven’t been able to get back to Sweden since, sadly but on those visits I encountered many churches, runestones, prehistoric cemeteries and by happenstance as much as anything, the occasional windmill.
When visiting Rök, Östergötland, to view its famous rune stone in 2005, I remember a juxtaposition of windmills new and old. From the church and 9th-century rune stone, the modern turbines pictured above were visible and nearby an old windmill on my way back from visiting the Cistercian monastic ruins at Alvastra. This reminded e of the deep historical roots of wind power.
Indeed, there is a fascinating website with historic photographs of Swedish and other windmills here.
More photos of Swedish windmills, inside and outside, are available here, including some of the ones I visited.
At that time, wind was generating under 1% of Sweden’s energy needs. Now, roughly in line with the UK, Sweden generates over 11/12% and at exceptional peaks up to over 25% when weather conditions allow.
Yet it was to be in 2007 when I came across the heritage hub of Swedish windmills: the Baltic island of Öland. The second largest Swedish island, this relatively flat, exposed and well-drained landscape prompted the development of wind power since the Middle Ages on a phenomenal scale.
Historically, the island sported around 2,000 windmillls, with 400 still visible and preserved as monuments.
A particularly notable feature is the juxtaposition of windmills.They are drawn to the same topographical locations at the break of slope on prominent hills and ridges on this limestone island. Meanwhile, whereas elsewhere bespoke platforms would need to be thrown up to enhance the height of a windmill, the prehistoric monuments to the trick in such locations. Indeed, there are multiple examples from Öland where windmills don’t just survive in isolation, but the ‘post’ mills – for which the entire building pivots on its base – survive in linear arrangements upon prominent ridges – now often the lines of the principal N-S roads along the west and east of the island – overlying burial mounds and stone settings of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
So windmills and prehistoric burial mounds co-exist as dimensions of a distinctive multi-period historic landscape of movement and monumentality. Yet it is surprising how rarely they are discussed in relation to each other as components of the landscape’s biography. I say this because, among other things, the wind of these locations might have been enhanced in earlier times too – feeding the fires of ceremonies and cremation ceremonies, blowing flags and pennants raised over graves. We need to think about wind beyond simply the harnessing of wind power for milling!
There is plenty that could be said about the varying size, form and materiality of these heritage monuments, including the deployment of red paint on many, akin to the traditional use of red paint on farm buildings.
I left Sweden a fan of its prehistoric and historic landscape, but also of its windmills. Wind power connects past, present and future heritage and is deserving of further reflection and discussion.
Please direct me to any discussions of windmill heritage and archaeology please!
If you are anything like me, you won’t be able to get Feel Good Inc out of your head for at least the next 24 hours.
Let’s turn forever, you and me…