The Sandbakken Qarry, Kvikne: A Window into Early Iron Age Soapstone Exploitation in Norway
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The oldest known example of large-scale soapstone exploitation in Norway is found at Kvikne (south central Norway), where quarrying took place during the pre-Roman Iron Age (5th to 1st century BC). The quarry is located in a remote area at an altitude of nearly 1000 m ASL, and is untouched by Viking Age and medieval exploitation that was so extensive elsewhere in Norway. Excavations in the 1960s suggested a production of several thousand circular vessels. Later studies revealed a separate, large extraction area for angular and irregular blanks that were distinctly different but carved with similar adze-like tools. We speculate that the latter blanks were meant for forge-stones connected to the contemporary, large-scale exploitation and processing of bog iron. Radiocarbon dating results suggest that the circular and angular extractions represent early and late pre-Roman Iron Age phases of quarrying, respectively. The tool marks suggest that iron axes were used for soapstone extraction already from the earliest pre-Roman Iron Age. This nearly 500-year period of quarrying with a bladed tool technique is in marked contrast to the use of pointed tools in the Viking Age and later, in accordance with previous suggestions of a total break in soapstone vessel production during the Roman Iron Age and Migration Period. Similar production must have existed elsewhere in Norway in the pre-Roman Iron Age, but traces of the ancient quarrying were in most cases erased by the very extensive exploitation of soapstone in the Viking Age and later.