The Archaeology of the Commons

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December 5, 2015 at 11:00 #17608
Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

13. Tue 27 Oct: The Archaeology of the Commons

Student organiser:

Reading: Karl-Johan Lindholm, Emil Sandström & Ann-Kristin Ekman (2013) The

Archaeology of the Commons. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 10.

Tue 27 Oct 13-15 Open lecture, Karl-Johan Lindholm.

December 5, 2015 at 11:01 #17609
Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

Current Debates 27 Oct: The Archaeology of the Commons (2013) by Karl-Johan Lindholm1, Emil Sandström2 & Ann-Kristin Ekman
Reflection by Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

This paper contains many interesting aspects. One very interesting, at least to me, clarification is done in the definition, where the researcher emphasises that a common should not be confused with “open access” but is rather a sort of cooperatively managed resource. The classical example of the “tragedy of the commons” is more a discussion about what can happen with an open access resource rather than a common. To understand that Hardin was discussing open access resources and that Ostrom was discussing cooperatively managed resources seems very basic to avoid confusion in the ongoing academic debate about the commons.
Once a common in defined as a cooperatively managed resource the researchers can identify many “man-made” resources – like roads, shielings, iron production and mills – as commons. Lindholm et al do also include examples as meadows and big game hunting. These are historically known to have been cooperatively undertaken activities in medieval Sweden. This is maybe not the kind of natural resource that is normally considered in the debate, where things like rainforest, fish populations and other more “nature-made” resources are in focus. But any way, these are examples of how communities have jointly managed resources to make their livelihoods.
The main question for this paper is if an archaeological landscape approach is fruitful for research about commons. The hypothesis set up is “that commons are archaeologically manifested by site distributions that contain a variety of cooperatively undertaken land-use activities coupled to distinct areas”(p.11). Large game hunting was done by digging pits, which can still be traced in the landscape. A no longer existing shieling is difficult to spot, but the researchers instead look for place names that indicate that there has once been a shieling there. Iron production sites as well as mills have left more visible traces (and also place names) and many such sites have been identified in the research area. After mapping all these sites the researches can conclude that the visual examinations “reflect clustering tendencies” (p. 23). They also observe that it is not unusual that a cluster contains all types of activities that are indicative for cooperative resource management.(p. 30) The researchers concludes that the archaeological landscape approach functions at least from a spatial perspective, but has some problems with the time aspects (the time span for different activities is not identified).
For my own thesis, focusing on the theoretical discussions and narratives about the origin of money, I can see interesting connections to Lindholm et al’s paper. Just like when it comes to the debate about the commons, there is a theoretical (maybe ideological?) divide between ideas about the role of private – national – cooperative. One money-theory emphasise that societies without money did not conduct a form of inefficient barter but where well-working gift economies. The idea about a “tragedy of the commons” can be connected to ideas about that if the state, or a private person, does not own a resource it will be used in an inefficient or wasteful way. The research of Lindholm et al shows that before private ownership very sophisticated institutions of joint management where widely practised. This can be provocative to a mind that is costumed to the very strong current ownership institutions.

January 5, 2016 at 11:07 #17625

The Archaeology of the Commons
Karl-Johan Lindholm , Emil Sandström & Ann-Kristin Ekman, you find he repor here

It was after Ellen Ostrom’s famous theory of common pool resources 1990 when the discussion and narrative about commons has start to change. (p. 4) To be clear, an open pool resource is a resource who has a well defined group of users who in some way are connected with the same land/resource. (p.4) For a long time was commons misused as a concept, and mixed up with, open access resources. Much of this is caused after the world spread paper ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ published by Garrett Hardin’s in 1968. (p.4)

Then, what is an open access resource? It is a resource with no regulation and has not a defined group of users. As one can notice, quite different from the common pool resource. Even today are we told a different story. A story that it is essential for the swedish forest resources (and I have not doubt that it is the same with many other natural resources) to be controlled by the state and private ownership for economic growth and prosperity. (P.5) However, common pool resource management starts to come back to the discussion on how to handle resources both on local scales (to increase local participation and implement a sharing economy) as well as how to deal with global resources such as the internet, atmosphere and oceans (P.4)

The management of the swedish forest has shifted during the 19th century, to become more state controlled and privatized. Before this increased state/corporation involvement of the common resources written documentation was not made in the same way, and therefore are these resources called hidden resources. (p.6) The research group behind “the Archaeology of the commons” aims to discover how the hidden resources in one particular place in the center of Sweden, Ängersjö in Hälsingland, was dealt with by using an archaeological approach. (p.8) The purpose with the paper was to discover if and how an archaeology approach can be used to raise a long-term understanding of common resource management, also to collect more valuable knowledge to the current debate about common resources.

I see many advantages and positive outcomes with reinforcing and developing the management of natural resources similar to the common pool theory. Today’s increased business model to privatize and/or involve state control takes away the power from the local citizens and centralizes the governance of nature. One of the consequences this gives is that the main actors who extract natural resource often lack relations to the land and the people they affect. Just think of the Sami people struggle in the northern Scandinavia, indigenous people in Canada, mining on Gotland and so on. I believe that this together with economical growth push the development away from ecological sustainability and social justice. Common pool influenced reconstruction of how management of natural resources is for sure one possible way to create a more sustainable and fair system.

“The Archaeology of the commons”-paper focuses to look at natural management activities that were labour intensive, required cooperation and which also had relation from pre-historical and and later time periods (to get a long-term perspective of the common pool management). Activities they finally chosen were; pitfalls which were used in larger game huntings (p. 14); livestock production, by looking at traces of shielings; meadow and pastures; iron production; tar production; mills and roads. By mapping out all these archaeological traces and place names given by the common pool activities, they find more or less intense clusters. One result was that the archaeological traces mainly came from game hunting and iron productions. On the other hand was places named mostly after livestock production and mills. When combining archaeological traces and place named and saw that there is less than 1 % chance that the clustered patterns are random. (see figure 16 p. 31) This shows that a village often was built near water. The land from the water och to the nearest hill belonged to the specific village. From the other side of the flat keel of the hill the commons began. (p. 31) In 1320 this was more established by a law named Hälsingelagen. (p.30)

After the 19th century when the extensive land reform was made, the landscape changed a lot and so did the land lots of Ängersjö. But, common pool areas are still noticed in today’s maps over the land system. A high percent of the land that this paper argues where common pool resources, 85 % of the archaeological traces and 72 % of the old place names are, was under the 19th century divided into smaller and well define personal or family land slots. (p.34) Once again does this show that old structures are reflected in new laws and systems.

The authors to the article argues that the activities on the common pool areas are closely interlinked with the raised demands on certain resources, especially due to the growing population of northern Europe. The common pool areas was a golden resource that the villages used for wealth and prosperity to the local village.(p. 39) Some evidence for this argumentation is that some products and activities had a much higher production than the local consumption. (p. 37)

Some reflections I have after this paper. The usage of the common pools has constantly been changed. My perception is that in the earlier year, the thought with the common pool was supposed to serve the village citizens commonwealth, to become more and more a piece of land to extract for trade and economic growth for the state. The more complex and entangled the world has been the more efficient and stable production has been required. Therefore are we told the narrative that the new and “improved” land reforms and production system are needed to give us even more growth, happiness and freedom. This has in return lead to the current centralized and unsustainable way to extract resources from nature. As I began this paper, I see huge benefits to once again reform landsystems to resume a common pool, collaborative, increase local democracy of how to use the Swedish forest. However from an ecological and sustainable perspective, one of the most important step for sustainable and resilient usage of natural resources is, from my point of view, by having national and global laws and institutions that regulate the extraction of resources. To some extent is it hard to define who the group of users would be to a common pool resource today. Where do you draw the line when we do not have the same, small villages as before? How to deal with the fact that some places have much lesser and not as usable resources as other places? However, I am sure that this problems can be regulated in good ways.

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