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Myhre, Bjørn 2007: Lye in Time at Jæren in Southwest Norway – a forgotten Central Place from the Roman and Migration Periods. Stavanger, Norway.

In 1969-1970 Jenny-Rita Næss lead the excavation of a group of burial monuments at Lye in Time at Jæren. I was inspired by some of the special objects that were found, to make a broader study of the archaeological material coming from this farm and its neighbourhood, and I have come to the conclusion that this part of Jæren was a central place in the county of Rogaland during the Late Roman and Migration Periods.

In 1915 Magnus Olsen made an interpretation of the place name Lye and suggested that its meaning was a place where things were held under the protection of gods, especially Freia/Frey, Njord and Ull since they appear as part of place names of neighbouring farms. His interpretation has not been much discussed since then. It has been my intention with this article to see if the archaeological material can support his theory that Lye was a religious and political centre.

Since Lye was the vicarage of Time parish until the 1950ies recent agricultural investments have not been so intensive as on other farms at Jæren, and much of the prehistoric and historical landscape is still preserved, also a number of large burial mounds and a longhouse that is nearly 60 m in length. None of these monuments have been excavated, but most of them are of Iron Age types.

The nearest farm is called Vestly, and both the place name and the landscape indicate that Lye/Vestly should be considered as one original farm. From Vestly come a number of special grave finds from the Roman and Migration Periods, including also imported objects from the Continent like bronze vessels and glass beakers. Among these finds is an especially well equipped chieftain’s grave from early 6th century AD, also with a complete set of tools for a smith working on precious metals.

Lye/Vestly is situated at the border zone between the rich agricultural landscape of lowland Jæren and the eastern highlands, close to an old pathway leading from the inland to the sea. The nearest farm is Time; a church site since the Medieval Period. These farms are lying close to the upper part of the river Hå, one of the main rivers of Jæren. It reaches the sea 13 km further to the west, where some of the largest historical farms of the area are situated, f.i. Obrestad, Hå, Njærheim, Nærland and Haugland, and where rich finds from the Iron Age have been found.

Many burial mounds, as well as especially large house grounds and complete farm sites, from the Roman and Migration Periods are still preserved close to the Lye/Vestly farms and near the mouth of the river Hå. It has obviously been a densely populated area. Only 4 km east of Lye is Håvodl, one of the so-called ring-formed house sites from the Roman Period, situated. It has been suggested that these sites were meeting places where people met for juridical of religious purposes, or they may be even have been garrisons for the chieftains’ warriors.

The largest gold hoard from the Roman and Migration Periods found in Norway come from Oma, 2 km south of Lye. 626 grams of gold, in the shape of rings and rods, was in 1896 found in a stone fence surrounding a group of Iron Age houses. It is tempting to see this depot in connection with the smith’s grave from Vestly, indicating a local workshop for a gold smith. A gold imitation of a Roman medallion found at Mauland (for the emperor Valens, 375-378 AD) may have been made at this workshop for a local chieftain. So may even some of the gold bracteates found near Lye/Vestly. It has long been accepted that some types of brooches and local variants of Style I were made at Jæren.

From Lye and Haugland come two of the three Scandinavian wrist clasps that are clearly imitating the fastening technique of the English clasps, indicating a local production. It has even been suggested that the two glass beakers from Nærland and Rimestad were locally made. During the excavation in 1969-1970 at Lye indications of an iron smithy from the Iron Age was found, and it is suggested that iron from excavated iron ovens at neighbouring farms where brought to Lye for further processing. The indication of workshops and production sites fits well with recent finds from other central places in Scandinavia.

The river Hå is running from the highlands to the coast at Hå/Nærland/Njærheim is connecting the central area of Lye/Vestly and that near the river mouth where it was a harbour. From Lye pathways led to the inland to areas with iron production, pastures and hunting grounds, and from the central area at the coast contacts where established with neighbouring centres along the coast and across the North Sea.

Bjørn Myhre, Arkeologisk museum i Stavanger, P.O. Box 478, N-4002 Stavanger, Norway. Telephone (+47) 51846077, mobile (+47) 90086094, e-mail

Key words: Roman and Migration Periods, Production Sites, Political and Religious centres, Central places



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