Well, that simply was not good enough for Martha, who edits this site, so in an interesting case of role-reversal, and she set off to consider this in much more detail.
And I am so glad she did.
Olszanica 6: A Sledge Shed?
By Martha Murphy
Things that slip and slide
Probably the concept of the sled occurred to the first hunter who dragged an animal home by its hind legs because it was too heavy to carry. Sledges have been used for at least 7000 years, and the wheel for only about 5500, so the sledge definitely had its day and is due a measure of respect.
The travois, a temporary sled used by some of the American Indians, could be fashioned quickly from the family’s tipi poles and cover when it was time to move, and pulled by either humans or dogs. A travois could serve as a litter for carrying toddlers or an elderly or injured person as well as the household goods. Two of the tent poles are bound together – this forms the end of the travois that drags on the trail. The loose ends of the poles are held in the hands or tied together with a leather band to form a yoke for pulling. A hide or lacing across the V-shape formed by the poles holds the load. Before the Indians had horses, a dog was sometimes used to pull a travois.
Sleds or sledges were known in northern Europe by the Mesolithic period. At the Vis I site in the northern plain of Russia, a number of Mesolithic wooden artifacts dating to 7000 BC were found in a peat bog. The artifacts included both a ski carved with the head of an elk and a sledge runner. (Gramsch and Kloss 1985) A better known (and more controversial) example, the Heinola sledge runner, was apparently dated by pollen analysis to 8000 BC (Clarke 1975). Autio (1987) suggested, however, that the Heinola “runner” is actually the bottom covering of a birch-bark boat. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too distracted by details: Once the concept of the ski and the technology for building a birch bark boat were both in the human mind, could the invention of the sled have been far behind? In fact, a one-runner sled in a Norway museum looks very much like a boat.
[Fig. 5] A boat-like sled from Norway may have been pulled by dogs or reindeer
Lahelma (2008) describes rock paintings in Finland that show ships or boats with elk heads on the prows, continuing the elk theme of the Vis ski. Similar elk motifs are shown in rock art from the Urals to Finland. Since these ship paintings resemble sleds, it may be that the elk theme was carved on sleds as well until such time as reindeer were domesticated and trained as draft animals.
The very earliest sleds or sledges were no doubt either pulled or pushed by humans. Professor Nishimura Asahitaro of Waseda University, Japan (late 1960s?), wrote extensively of the use of wooden mud sleds, upon which the user kneels and pushes with one foot, for fishing on the coasts of East Asia. According to Nishimura, similar sleds were used on the coasts of the Netherlands, France, and Britain into the early 20th Century for harvesting shellfish. There are one-runner sleds as well as two-runner sleds.
Wenzel (2008) wrote of the use by the Inuit of Baffin Island of whale mandibles as sled runners, attested by William Parry on his visit in 1821. Since Stopp and Kunst (2005) describe the use of cattle mandibles as sled runners in the settlement of Basel-Gasfabrik, Switzerland, 150–70/80 BC and in the eastern part of Mautern-Favianis in Lower Austria in the First -- Fourth Centuries CE, it is not inconceivable that the mandibles, tusks, or ribs of large mammals such as the wooly mammoth may have been used as sled runners by the hunters of Europe even during the last glaciation. But that is conjecture.
According to Clark (1975), the size the Heinola sled runner suggests animal traction. Childe (1937) argued for the use of the dogsled as early as 6300 BC. More conservatively, Lamb (1977) claimed, “Sledges are known to have been used from quite early postglacial times, and by 2000 BC, heavy sledges up to 4 m long, drawn by dogs, were in use from Finland to the Urals. Reindeer sledges had reached the Baltic by 1000 BC.”
These dates are subsequent to the proven use of oxen as draught animals. It seems more likely that the dog, the first domesticated animal, was also the first traction animal, but this has not been proved. The next domesticated animal after the dog may have been the bezoar goat, domesticated in the Middle East about 8000 BC, according to one source. These goats were later used as draft animals and are shown in pictures from the Middle East pulling carts; goats may have pulled plows and sledges as well. The Norse god Odin was said to have ridden in a chariot pulled by two goats. Sheep, another animal domesticated early, have been used as draft animals in some locales.
Although the invention and use of wheeled vehicles seems to be a most fascinating topic for writers, the sledge actually has some advantages over the wagon or cart, even when used on earth, sand or grass instead of snow. For one thing, the use of carts and wagons is almostdependent upon built roads, and maintaining roads requires a large investment of energy – it is a community, rather than an individual project.
According to Wikipedia, “The end of the Younger Dryas has been dated to around 9620BC (11,550 calendar years BP, occurring at 10,000 radiocarbon years BP, a "radiocarbon plateau") by a variety of methods, with mostly consistent results…” The pre-Boreal warming trend that followed the glaciation in Europe made the sledge an ideal vehicle. The British Islands were at the time contiguous with the European mainland, and reindeer herders roamed Doggerland, what is now the Dogger Banks. As the North Sea gradually rose, Doggerland became a land of lakes and marshes. In what was to become England, as in Doggerland, marshes replaced frozen tundra. First birches, then pines, began to grow. Most skis and sled runners in early Scandinavia were made of pine. Use of the sled or sledge might have transferred from snow to mudflats and bogs.
It was into this landscape that the first farmers of England came, very likely bringing draft animals and sledges.
Animal powered farming
The earliest known evidence of draft animals in Europe is attested at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites in the Ukraine, dated to between 4000 and 2750 BC. Bulls’ heads and oxen are frequent motifs in Trypillian artifacts, and clay models of sledges combined with ox figures are found.
[Fig. 9] Trypillian ox sledge model. The oxen seem to be between the runners. Could such clay models have been used to demonstrate and spread new ideas in technology? Or is this an abstraction of a familiar sight?
The models of ox drawn sledges show the predecessor for the wheeled cart – a wagon-box on sled runners. Thus the inventor of the wheel and axle had something already in mind to which he would attach the assembly.
The ox sledges of the Ukraine were also prototypes for what we think of, in English, as a sleigh, a winter carriage for people. The Trypillia people eventually had domesticated horses and used them with wheeled carts, but they continued to use the sleigh as well, because it was practical in ways that the wheeled vehicle was not. A google search on the terms "peasant sledge" will produce the necessary evidence from history and folk lore.
Bogucki (1993) argued convincingly that the cattle in the Neolithic farming economy of Europe included oxen by 3500 BC, noting evidence at Bronocice in SE Poland (ca 3500--3000 BC) that, of the cattle bones that could be sexed, the bones of castrated males (oxen) accounted for 20%. Although actual wagons have not been found there, a pottery vessel from Bronocice shows a depiction of a wheeled wagon. A part of Bogucki’s argument that animals were used for draft in Neolithic Europe:
“Almost no societies keep livestock which can potentially yield secondary products and traction only for their meat. The return on this 'investment' can come in a variety of currencies: security, prestige, wealth, dowry, alliances, secondary animal products and -- ultimately -- meat."
“Cattle are unique among these species in their strength, which can be harnessed and converted into animal traction. In discussions of the SPR [secondary products revolution], animal traction is rightly treated as another secondary product, alongside milk and wool. Yet there is a crucial distinction. Meat, milk and wool are raw materials for food and clothing, for which the animal converts nutrient energy into a material, a relatively inefficient process by the time that the humans use these materials. Animal traction, in concentrating and exploiting nutrient energy, replaces human labour directly and expands what humans can do. The energy return to humans from animal traction follows a different pathway, suggesting that the relationship between humans and animals used for traction will also be different, even if the latter are ultimately consumed at the end of their useful lives".
“Where does this leave cattle? Cattle simply do not make sense as an investment for meat alone or only as insurance against agricultural deficits, particularly in an agricultural system in which the household was the primary productive unit. Cattle take almost 4 years to reach their optimal meat weight. Cows and draught oxen have productive lives up to a decade. For a Neolithic household, the investment made in a cow, bull or ox would have had a different character and purpose from that made in a sheep, goat or pig, Cattle would have been for the long term, to be liquidated only when their value began to decline or in emergency".
“The emergence of animal traction in the 4th millennium BC would have provided the missing element which made male cattle valuable beyond their 4th birthday. The birth of a male calf promised a long productive life, rather than a passing windfall of meat four years hence.”
I believe it is likely that oxen were used as draft animals with plows and sledges both before and after the wheel and axle assemblage was known. Oxen, cattle, horses, donkeys, and mules are still being used with sledges in many parts of the world today.
Threshing with Sledges
Anderson’s (1997) work on the history of the threshing sled provides support for this contention. According to a Wikipedia article,
[Fig. 10] Threshing sledge of the Near East, artist unknown
“Patricia C. Anderson … discovered archaeological remains that demonstrate the existence of threshing-boards at least 8,000 years old in the Near East and Balkans. The artefacts are lithic flakes and, above all obsidian or flint blades, recognizable through the type of microscopic wear that it has.”
A threshing board is a type of sled or sledge made of a heavy board or boards turned up at the front end and studded on the underside with sharp bits of obsidian or metal. Pulled in circles over harvested cereal crops spread on a threshing floor, the device will separate the grain from its husks and straw.
Although a threshing board could be weighted with stones and pulled by humans, the earliest depictions show it being pulled by draft animals. To add weight to the sled, the driver often would ride on it while it was in use. Traditional threshing sledges were made with flint chips and used in Corsica into the 20th Century. In Latin a threshing sledge is a tribulum, from which comes the English word tribulation, often used in the King James Bible.
[Fig.11 ] These traditional threshing boards show the construction and the underside, studded with bits of obsidian.
Threshing boards or sledges appear on sandstone tablets from the mid-4th Millenium BC in Kish, and in cuneiform clay tablets from around 3000 BC. A pre-Sargonic text from southern Mesopotamia, DP 75, records a list of material goods presented by Lugalanda, governor of Lugash, to his son Ur-tarsirsira, when the latter’s wife, Ninenishe, was buried, according to Steinkeller, quoted by Potts (1997), the valued items interred with Ninenishe included a boxwood threshing sledge, a team of she-mules, and a slave girl, along with many personal and household items.
The Wikipedia article states,
“In that era, the threshing-board was a sophisticated and expensive implement, built by specialized artisans, using pieces of flint or obsidian; in the case of Lower Mesopotamia, these were imported from far away: in the alluvial plateau of Sumer, as in all south of Mesopotamia, it was impossible to find stone, not even a pebble.”
One of the most important of the early Egyptian gods of the afterlife was Seker, a deity who in later years came to be assimilated into the more well-known god Osiris. According to Wikipedia, Seker was:
“the deification of the act of separating the Ba and Ka from the Ha, roughly the separation of soul from the body, after death.” [author's note: like the Grim Reaper]
Seker was a sun-god, but also a power of darkness, so he came to be identified with the night sun. His kingdom was the sandy desert to the west of Cairo, so his sacred bark or boat, known as the Seker boat or Hennu boat, was depicted as being moved on a sledge (like a ship on the way to its launching). The Seker boat represented the second half of the sun's daily journey, through the Underworld. At times the boat was identified with Seker himself.
In the Pyramid Texts of Unas (PT 214, 138c) one of the steps the deceased had to take, after leaving his property to his heir and purifying himself, was:
“You will descend on ropes of bronze, in the arms of Horus as his name is ‘Being in the Hennu bark.’ ” “On the holiday of the god Seker, a stone—possibly a representation of the god—was put on the Hennu boat and pulled with a sled over the fields, while people followed it wearing garlands of onions.”
The sledge icon in the funeral rites of Egypt may be representative of this Seker/Hennu boat, which will carry the deceased through the Underworld. A huge cemetery in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, Sakkara, is named for Seker.
Internet sources are strangely lacking on the more recent history of the sleigh in Russia, Poland and Scandinavia, except for an amusing description of an antique sleigh on an Internet auction;
“Russian sledge with wicker body. There are place for passengers and for driver. Was drawled by one horse but on the holidays like Maslenitsa or wedding ceremonies sledge were drawled with three richly decorated horses, into the body of sledge a bright fabric and furs were put. This sledges are made such a way that from the side they look like a swan. Skid are made of bent oak. The body is made from wicked branches. Sledge are after conservation so it could be exhibit in wet place. Sledge in Russia since the 9 century were the favorite kind of transport. Till the 18 century Russian tsars and clergy made turn-out only on sledge because it was honorable. Till the Peter the Great times because of the bad conditions of road people in cities used sledge till beginning of summer. And in the North regions where are plenty of bogs peasants used sledge during the hole year till the beginning of 20 century.” [Fig. 14 above ]
Now with these multiple uses made of the sledge in all the places touched by the Neolithic Revolution, it seems likely that the farmers of Olszanica, so near to Bronocice, used both draft animals and sledges.
[Fig. 16] Carved wooden sledge from Scandinavia
The essential design of four sledges or sleighs found in the Oseburg Viking ship burial (ca AD 835) is like sleighs used today. The Viking sleighs are richly carved, lending credence to the idea that sleighs and sledges were highly valued.
I think your “cart shed” was very likely a place to store the family sleigh, or possibly a variety of sledges for different purposes, some probably carved and painted, as befits such important items.
Postscript by Geoff Carter.
I will confess some degree of disappointment when I realised that the wide doors could not be for a cart, just a sledge then; It was one of those “. . .the coffin turned out not to be gold, but only silver after all . .” archaeology moments!
It strange how snobby we can get about technology. But it is time to take sledges seriously!
While sledges are simple and intuitive, we soon encounter one the deeper truths of archaeology; most of the past is invisible to us, and evidence for material culture based on wood is frustratingly rare.
The use of sledges for threshing is interesting technology, and, for me, perhaps the most significant point Martha raises. It is vital, as archaeologists, we ask some basic questions that arise from other assertions; if a culture grew wheat, how cultivated and processed?
I simply don’t know whether threshing boards are represented in lithic assemblages, or even whether this has been considered.
However, for structural archaeologists studying buildings, crop processing must be regarded as an important potential function. The further north agriculture spread, the less the weather could be relied upon, and buildings would become more important for processes like threshing and winnowing.
In terms of Olszanica Longhouse 6, I am now more than happy to apply the term 'sledge shed' to the these spaces. The width of the door still seems to implies use of two draught animals, probably oxen. So if we assume sledges drawn by single animals at an earlier date, our wide entrance may imply the introduction of some form of double yoke.
Sources and further reading
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Absolute Astronomy: Exploring the World of Knowledge (website) http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Sled (accessed 11/2/09)
Anderson, P.C. (1997): History of Harvesting and Threshing Techniques for Cereals in the Prehistoric Near East, http://www.bioversityinternational.org/publications/Web_version/47/ch08.htm (accessed 11/7/09)
Asahitaro, Nishimura (late 1960s?): The Most Primitive Means of Transportation in Southeast and East Asia. Tokyo University. Online at http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/afs/pdf/a221.pdf (accessed 11/9/09)
Bogucki, Peter (1993): “Animal traction and household economies in Neolithic Europe,” Antiquity, Sept, 1993. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/067/Ant0670492.htm (accessed 11/11/09)
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Wikipedia was used extensively for basic information and locating sources: http://www.wikipedia.org/
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 Crew with a loaded sled, Minnesota: http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/troufs/Buffalo/images/pf019223.jpg (accessed 11/13/09)
 Irish slypes and slide cars: Evans (1957, 2000)
 Slide-car with peat-kish, Glens of Antrim: Evans (1957, 2000) figs 59&59
 Boat sled:http://www.flickr.com/photos/urville_djasim/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://www.flickr.com/photos/urville_djasim/3604956938/]
 Kentucky cane sled: Library of Congress
 Sumerian development of the wheel: James and Thorpe (1994)
the Trypillia ox sled model
 Diego Rivera, The Threshing Sledge: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Threshing-sledge.png
 After; Bottom of threshing-board: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshing-board (accessed 11/7/09) and Top of threshing-board, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshing-board (accessed 11/7/09)
 Cylinder Seal impression showing threshing with a sledge, Arslantepe-Malatya (Turkey), 4th millennium B.C, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cilindro-sello_trillo.png (accessed 11/7/09)
 Threshing at Heliopolis-1884.jpg, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Threshing_at_Heliopolis-1884.jpg (accessed 11/7/09)
The wicker sleigh from the Larusse auction: http://www.larusse.com/cgi-bin/user.cgi?task=item&goods_id=849
 Traditional troika: About.com, http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/russia/ss/russianculture_7.htm (accessed 11/13/09)
 Carved Russian Sleigh: Library of Congress