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A look into the past
For more than a thousand years, ölandsstone , a kind of limestone has been culturally and economically important to the people of the Öland island of. They are very close to the raw material – it is right under their feet, wherever they go. The limestone cliffs are the basis for Öland’s particular character: ancient castles and houses, stone crosses and tombstones, churches, barns and stone walls.   

Stonemasonry was a vitally important source of income, particularly for those living on the northern part of the island, where previously agriculture alone could not sustain the people. The stonemason of long ago was born farmer and stonemason rolled into one. He often owned a limestone quarry and a small cargo boat so that he could transport the goods to their destination himself. 

Ever since the Middle Ages, ships have been loaded with cargoes of ölandstone for transportation to harbours bordering on the Baltic, such as the Hanseatic city of Lübeck, as well as to England. The people of Öland sailed far and wide – with the king’s blessing. A privilege which in later years became surrounded by more and more restrictions. 

The Ölandsstone had its heyday during the 16th and 17th centuries. A hard, shimmering russet limestone, which came from Dälie stone, today our Red B2 quality, could easily be mistaken for its cousin, marble, and was therefor highly prized by the Swedish kings. In the stonemason’s village at Dälie, the ölandstone was sculptured to artistic perfection by the king’s own stonemasons. German, Swedish and Flemish masons worked side-by-side to produce baptismal fonts, gravestones and architectural adornments for the royal palaces: mouldings, staircases, well houses and portals. 

A magnificent example of craftsmanship in Dälie stone and other types of ölandstone is the well house in the courtyard of Kalmar castle, hewn in Dälie by the French master, Roland Mochelin and his journeymen 1579-81. 

Quarrying and selling of the stone was always the men’s job, whilst  the women took care of the hewing and polishing of tiles, which for a long time were the product most in demand. These were honed during so-called “ox walks”. The equipment was simple: a pole in the ground, from which a bar protruded. A few stretchers were attached to the underside of the bar. The women laid out a ring of hewn stones on the ground, and with the help of oxen or horses, the bar was dragged round so that the stretchers wore down the stones. The addition of sand and water were necessary for a good result. Even then, it took up to a week to hone a hundred stones. 
In the middle of the nineteenth century, ship’s captain and boat builder O.P. Nilsson, from the northern part of the island, got an idea – why not hone the stones by using wind power, instead? When all was said and done, he constructed a honing mill, in which the wind replaced the circling oxen. At the beginning of the 20th century, therer were more than fifty such windmills on Öland. They were in use until the 1930’s, when all honing was taken over by machinery.  
Nowadays, one can still see “ ox walks” and a honing mill – Sweden’s only! – in Jordhamn, just north of Sandvik. 

Now orthoceratite ölandstone has been elevated tot he position of Öland’s provincial emblem. For more than a thousand years it has been used as a building stone in castles and cottages, and this tradition continues – it is still an attractive building material, much in demand. Before modern technology made its entry into the hillsides, as a rule the quarries were not very deep. The quarries had an enormous surface area, and in 1741, were called “ terra mortua” ( “dead earth”), by the great naturalist Carl von Linné. In order to loosen the stone, the masons hammered thin, dried wedges of oak into the hills’ natural crevices, then soaked them with water – the result was that the wedges swelled, and the slabs separated from the hillside.

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