Has Teutoburg AD 9 No Correlate In Archaeological Chronology?

An archaeological period or phase is defined by a list of artefact types that usually occur together in e.g. graves and sacrificial depositions. Archaeology finds it fairly easy to identify such periods and order them in a correct relative sequence. It is harder to put correct absolute dates to the start and end of a period. Over the decades though, most of the absolute dates we accept make smaller and smaller jumps. For instance, the start of the Vendel Period was first placed at AD 600, then 550, and now for a very long time 536-540. It is extremely unlikely that the students of my students will decide that the typical objects of the Early Vendel Period where first made in 620.

Period shifts can be big and small. A small change in jewellery fashions can be seen just as spontaneous drift over the generations. But a big period shift where many radically new designs show up must be interpreted as a sign of a larger social change. In parts of the world with good written sources, such a change can often be understood with reference to a single political or economic event. Returning to the start of the Vendel Period, it is extremely unlikely that it had nothing to do with the catastrophic climate event of AD 536.

There was a big period shift in agricultural Scandinavia somewhere around AD 1, plus-minus a couple of decades. (It had nothing to do with any birth in a Levantine stable.) In the currently accepted chronology, it is set to AD 1. But eight years later there is an event of enormous political and economic import in northern Europe: the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, where Roman northward expansion was permanently checked. As the chronology currently stands, this event had no visible correlate in material culture, which had instead undergone an unrelated major shift a few years before.

Here’s my challenge to colleagues who work with the chronology of this period in Denmark and Scania. Rounded to the closest decade as we usually do, can you really demonstrate that phase B1 started closer to AD 1 than to AD 10? I’m aware of only one scholar who has set this period shift to AD 10, and that was Jerzy Wielowiejski (1922-2006) in a 1970 work.

Fencing In A Napoleonic Era Invalid Cemetery

Ulriksdal Invalid Cemetery, projected layout by Nyrén Architects

The Swedish National Property Board has done something pretty clever and unusual with geophysics near the royal country manor (”castle”) of Ulriksdal outside Stockholm.

In 1821 the King allocated the manor for the use of a care home for destitute war veterans, “invalids”. Soon a cemetery was laid out nearby since the residents understandably had a pretty high mortality rate. About 200 people were buried there over the following quarter century, before the invalid home was closed down in 1849. Sweden had (and still has) not been in a state of war since 1814, so there were no longer any military invalids to care for.

In 1884 the cemetery was refurbished, and got a new fence. Rather than fence the whole thing in, the decision was made to fence only about a sixth of the former cemetery including some high-status burials. The rest was allowed to revert to forest.

Now the cemetery is scheduled for refurbishing again. The Property Board has decided that all of those veterans of our country’s last wars deserve a tidy cemetery environment. They commissioned Lars Winroth and Anna Andreasson Sjögren to survey selected areas with ground-penetrating radar to check the distribution of grave cuts. Not in order to excavate them, but to fence them in! And now the GPR results are included on the new design plan from Nyrén Architects.

Thanks to my friend Magnus Reuterdahl of the Property Board for information and plans.

“Nuv staket” = current fence. The purple rectangles outside it are GPR survey areas.

January Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • An idea: the 1980s cassette course in a foreign language found in your batty old aunt’s home after the funeral turns out to teach an extraterrestrial language that opens your Third Eye to the cosmos and slowly drives you insane. Now Duolingo wants to put it online…
  • Movie: UFO Sweden (2022). This is a big-budget X-Files feature film about a misfit UFO investigation club — but made in the style of Swedish children’s TV, set around Norrköping, several characters speak dialect, and there’s a lot of comic relief revolving around Swedish self-perception. Grade: great!
  • We look quite differently at violent nationalist movements when they are underdog freedom fighters and when they are topdog oppressors. But often one turns into the other. Maybe the distinction between the two types of violent nationalist movement is redundant.
  • Working from home, I occasionally feel a little lonely. But there are two kinds of weather that make me super pleased not to have to go to an office. One is extremely good weather. One is extremely bad weather. Today is a cold, rainy, windy day. I ain’t leaving the house!
  • Funny how Fundie Christian groups focus on the straight nuclear family. Jesus certainly didn’t.
  • Was asked to contribute some provocative debate starters for a workshop weeks from now. I’ve already written them, but I’m so used to online life that I have this vague feeling that any minute now a lot of angry people will start commenting. On something that only I can read.
  • Saw the trailer for the upcoming D&D movie the other day. Was confused to find remixed 70s hit songs on the sound track. A battle scene has Robert Plant offering you every inch of his love. Another tense scene has Elton John — a mongrel who ain’t got a penny — thinking wistfully about leaving his drug-addled socialite sugar daddy and going back to his plough. Don’t the film makers know that people listen to song lyrics?
  • Oh no, the SkepDoc Harriet Hall has passed away! I met her in Florida once, she was such a nice person and such a good writer.
  • An old lady wrote me and asked for a summary of our recent investigations at Aska in Hagebyhöga. Then she informed me that the most recent results are that the platform hall was built by a powerful Viking Period woman, and asked what my opinion is. I replied “The most recent results are from my project. The hall was built before the Viking Period, most likely by slaves, at the orders of a powerful family”. Highly original thinker. “Hello, I know that you have recently investigated a site for years, but I haven’t read your work, now let me explain the most recent ideas about your site to you”.
  • One month to either side of the winter solstice is unacceptably dark in Stockholm. Less than a week left now until that period ends!
  • Movie: Prey (2022). Sportsman goes trophy hunting on one of his favourite planets in 1719, is inconvenienced by Native American teenagers and a large group of trappers whose ridiculous attempts at simulating the French language make it a joy to see them all killed. Grade: good!
  • We have long known several runic inscriptions from AD 150-200. But the new find may be the oldest rune stone so far. However, the radiocarbon date should be seen in relation to the maritime reservoir effect, that is, how much fish the deceased ate. S/he may have died much later.
  • Capitalism was a historically contingent abstract game back when it involved the manipulation of coins with an actual value in precious metals. Today it mostly doesn’t involve any kind of physical money at all. A US dollar is no more real than a DogeCoin or an NFT monkey picture. And the rules of the game are no more natural laws now than they were in AD 1400. We have founded the well-being of our societies on emergent behaviours of an extremely large number of people playing Settlers of Catan with our labour and the planet’s resources.
  • Movie: One False Move (1992). Two killers from the cocaine underground and one guy’s girlfriend flee Los Angeles with city cops on their tail to the woman’s little home town in Arkansas. There the local police chief awaits them, who hasn’t drawn his gun in years. But what’s his relationship to the young woman? Grade: good!

January Pieces Of My Mind #1

These individuals can neither deny nor confirm that there is any organisation called “Delta Green”.

  • Foreign cities or places I stayed in during 2022: Kraków, Łódź, Warsaw, London, Bornholm, Savonlinna, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, Jena, Prague, Ostráva, Lecco.
  • “Dishing the Dirt / Starving Artist IV”: I’m gathering funding for an art project where I will visit homes and interview the inhabitants about their ideas around cleaning the dishes. In each home I will search through the plates, cups and cutlery in the cupboards for fragments of dried food and collect them. Finally I will cook a gruel from thousands of these fragments and make a video where I eat the gruel while clips from the interviews are played through weird otherworldly sound filters. The video will be played in the kitchen of the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art for seven months.
  • A memory from 1990, the intro lecture to History 101. One chubby bespectacled young man in the audience stands out. He interrupts the fairly boring lecture with entusiastic semi-irrelevant questions in an odd breathless monotone. “Excuse me are you a Neo-Malthusian? Because I’m not I think when we run out of resources on Earth we can go to Mars and extract more resources so we won’t really run out!” At a later occasion I saw him pulls the collar of his washed-out teeshirt down over his left shoulder and busily squeeze pimples there. I saw him in the hallways during most of my undergrad years but we were never in the same course.
  • Movie: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). Six separate tales of death in the Old West. Grade: OK.
  • Tom Waits has acted in 50 films of various lengths.
  • Remember early 2020 when you suddenly lost elderly relatives and acquaintances in the West to covid? That’s happening now to us who have elderly relatives and acquaintances in China. Because the Party didn’t use its oppressive powers to vaccinate people, only to lock them down for three years.
  • Current US law mandates that NASA must send something (such as a crewed lander) to the moon on a huge SLS rocket at least once a year. Until this law is repealed.
  • Cousin E reports that yes, it’s true that the US only managed to beat China at the Maths Olympiad when they started recruiting contestants from China who almost made it onto the Chinese national team. Rumour has it that the Americans do this by offering these guys citizenship. 😃
  • Movie: Insomnia (1997). A disgraced Swedish homicide detective and his Oslo colleague are sent to Tromsø to help investigate the not very complicated murder of a highschooler. But things do get complicated. Grade: good!
  • The clown show over the Speakership is a particularly clear example of why the US needs proportional representation and a multi-party system. The reason that the Republican “party” can’t deliver a Speaker is simply that by most countries’ standards, the Republicans are not one party.
  • Maybe this has already been done. But I had an idea for a scenario: a future British Museum that uses a time machine to loot the past. Sometimes they pick up famous people as well and disappear them. The museum displays i.a. the full original contents of Khufu’s burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and the section of Phaistos on Crete that was eroded away in antiquity by a river. Jesus of Nazareth and Jimmy Hoffa take turns manning the entry ticket desk.
  • Movie: The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005). It’s an odd documentary where the subject has filmed and audio recorded big chunks of the historical material used, and is himself on screen in a lot of new footage, but is too mentally ill to provide more than a few brief soundbites. The massively creative and productive musician and painter Johnston died aged 58, fourteen years after the film was released. Grade: great!
  • I game-mastered a lot of roleplaying scenarios from age 12 to 22. Then almost none until age 48, the first pandemic year. Since then I’ve game-mastered about 20 four-hour sessions a year, way more intensively and focused than when I was a boy, and I’m having a blast!

Ethnicity and Religion Don’t Correlate Strongly With Gang Violence – Or Rapping

Successful young gangster rappers are making more or less successful attempts to murder each other around Stockholm for no very good reason. With the crypto-Fascists’ voters worrying about immigrants from outside Europe in general, and more specifically Muslims from the Near East, I found it instructive to look at some rappers in the news.

In October ’21 a Swedish Lutheran rapper was allegedly murdered by a Somali Muslim rapper, who was himself then shot several times this past autumn but survived. The other day, now, a Polish Roma Catholic rapper tried to blow the Somali Muslim rapper up and was soon arrested by the police. He is likely to have to… take the rap.

All in all, ethnic and religious affiliation does not seem to be quite the predictor of crime that poorly educated voters believe. The person you really don’t want to meet in a dark alleyway is in fact an elected representative of the crypto-Fascist party. That demographic is heavily overrepresented in the crime statistics.

Actual Ethnic Person Expresses Disgust

A hundred years ago, writers and film makers in the West could just say ”poorly known ethnic group X is scary and evil”. Tolkien used his invented goblins and orcs for the same purpose. Thankfully this is considered hate speech today. But it seems that some stories still need tribes of exotic villains. So a new trope has emerged that I like to call ”Actual Ethnic Person Expresses Disgust”.

The Tcho-tcho people were first described in a 1932 story by August Derleth and Mark Shorer, “Lair of the Star Spawn”. They are a race of evil Burmese pygmies. Derleth & Shorer did not make up this fictitious ethnic group out of any concern that peaceful Burmese tribespeople in the real world would read the story and be offended. More likely they had no idea what any real tribe in Myanmar was named. The nasty Tcho-tcho then proved tenacious: they have recurred through the decades in many stories by other writers, notably Lin Carter and T.E.D. Klein.

By the 1990s it became clear that an Actual Ethnic Person had to come in and Express Disgust if the Tcho-tcho people were to remain useful to horror writers. In the 1997 modern-day supplement Delta Green for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, Dennis Detwiller et al. explained that though the Tcho-tcho themselves are indeed scary evil pseudo-humans from south-east Asia, everybody else in that part of the world absolutely hates them. In scenarios in the 2018 collection A Night At The Opera, which myself and my RPG group have been enjoying for months now, Shane Ivey and Greg Stoltze specify that the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Burmese and the Thai loathe the Tcho-tcho. In Stoltze’s neatly structured and unusual scenario “The Star Chamber”, a woman who keeps a bar in a remote multi-ethnic Myanmar village informs the player characters that the Tcho-tcho are terrible monsters — even though a number of them live in that same village.

A really clear recent example of this trope from the screen is found in the fine 2015 horror Western Bone Tomahawk. Here the scary evil people are a race of mute murderous male cave-dwelling cannibals who treat their own women with horrifying cruelty. But they do seem to have been living in that cave for a very long time. And this, the script writer realised, technically makes them Native Americans, which is not good. So there’s a scene in the movie where an Apache man (played by Zahn McClarnon) comments on them and says that the troglodytes are nasty and evil and absolutely not Native Americans. (Even though several of them are played by Native American actors!) The Apache character serves no other purpose in the narrative and is never seen again. Even in our own more enlightened time, once an Actual Ethnic Person has Expressed Disgust, we are free to enjoy the fight against the scary evil people / orcs as if it was 1932.

For a solid summary of Tcho-tcho lore in fiction and RPG materials with references to the literature, see Daniel Harms, The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana. I have the 1998 2nd edition.

December Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Field archaeology aims to separate the universe into spoil, samples and finds.
  • I’m working on a feature-length documentary film consisting entirely of business-related material about Ewing Oil Ltd. from the Dallas TV series.
  • Avatar II is over three hours long. No way am I watching that in the theatre.
  • Hey Civilization players, I’m thinking of barring half of my population from education, and instead making them take care of the children. Is this a winning strategy?
  • Quiet afternoon before the 24th, which is when us Swedes celebrate Yule. Cooking and baking. Babysitting my ex’s cute but highly strung young dog. It saw a hare on our walk but it didn’t pay much attention to it.
  • I recently learned that the area of Greenwich, Connecticut where I lived as a little kid was home to the Siwanoy band of the Wappinger people until 1640. They spoke a dialect of Munsee, an extensively documented language.
  • My kid called and told me my first published piece of writing, a role-playing scenario from when I was 17, is great and he intends to run it for his buddies. The best present!
  • Hear ye, hear ye, be it known to all that my Christmas nap after skating in the winter sunset was ~100 minutes long!
  • Movie: Love Actually (2003). A bunch of potential couples are frustratingly incapable of declaring their feelings for one another, but eventually they do before the end credits roll. Stars everywhere. Grade: OK.
  • Thomas Zimmer wrote in The Guardian that “Much of the moral panic over ‘cancel culture’ … is a reaction to the fact that traditionally marginalized groups gained technological means to affect the political debate.” This is also true of the rise of right-wing populism. Largely because of online discussion platforms, working-class men are increasingly voting crypto-fascist. One of the “traditionally marginalized groups that has gained technological means to affect the political debate” is the neo-Nazis.
  • Listened to a very ambitious academic podcast about inflation where it was painfully clear that the university researchers invited to speak knew nothing about this subject before about AD 1500. Kept conflating inflation of a nominal-valued modern currency with Medieval coinage debasement (increased copper content in the silver). Completely blank about the Roman source material.
  • I read an academic book recently where the author made no attempt to separate his top-level general argument from endless bottom-level anecdotal detail. Of course the latter completely drowned out the former. It was all just undifferentiated body text. Man, have you never become aware of the fact boxes in other books? This book would have been 10% body text, 90% fact boxes.
  • A memory from the brief period in my teens when I was learning to code in Turbo Pascal. I couldn’t find a persistent bug in the most ambitious program I’d written, so I asked a guy at my favourite BBS to check it for me. His reply wasn’t super helpful to a learner: “I couldn’t find the bug either so I re-wrote your code from scratch and now it works, here you go”.
  • Movie: Resolution (2012). In an attempt to get his old high school friend off meth, a man chains him to the wall in the rural cabin where he’s squatting. Then the sober friend inexplicably starts finding new film clips of the pair on various old media strewn around the vicinity. Grade: OK.
  • A Swedish social work student bought a BA thesis online, the university flunked the thesis, the student made a complaint to the National Board for Consumer Disputes.
  • Mat Kaplan of Planetary Radio has an excellent radio voice, very pleasant to listen to. But in clips from 20-30 years ago, goodness me, he sounds pretty much like Zeus! Incredible golden basso!
  • This is funny and kind of heart-warming. A party’s youth section is usually a little extreme, operating in a friendly semi-opposition against the grownups in the mother party. Now that the Swedish Conservatives have formed a government whose existence is predicated on the support BOTH of the Liberals and the Crypto-Fascists, the Conservative Youth Section has gone into pro-Liberal opposition. The Youth Section is advocating policies that would disintegrate the governing coalition if their elders insisted on them.
  • “Freebirthing” is when you go though pregnancy and labour without any medical checkups. Cf. other exciting alt-med modalities such as free-pneumoning, free-broken-legging and free-diabetesing.
  • Very proud of how Jrette continues her paternal tradition of organising events for her buddies.

A Response to a Young Conservative Archaeologist

Unherd is a London-based web site for Conservative opinion journalism that started in 2017. It’s mission statement includes:

“We want to … identify those things that have been lost, as well as gained, by the liberal world order … instinctively believe … a shift of emphasis: towards community not just individualism, towards responsibilities as well as Rights, and towards meaning and virtue over shallow materialism.”

This statement is actual old-school business-hostile Tolkienian Conservatism, not crypto-Nazism or slash-and-burn capitalist Libertarianism. But the site has many contributors and of course they don’t agree about everything. Glancing over the headlines I found some anti-veganism, attacks on the trans movement and Families First rhetoric, but not much to indicate that this is a web site for the crazy aggro Extreme Right.

*

My online buddy the philosophy lecturer asked me to comment on an Unherd article from 3 December 2022 by a new contributor. “Is this a correct description of the state of things?”

The man writing as Stone Age Herbalist introduces himself as an archaeologist, as a junior researcher or PhD dropout, and as the author of the book Berserkers, Cannibals & Shamans: Essays in Dissident Anthropology. He has self-published the book and it has only 20 reviews on Amazon. (Its sub-title suggests that SAH might be an American, because in Europe the discipline of archaeology is not organised under the umbrella term “anthropology” like in the US.)

Before I comment on SAH’s claims, note firstly that archaeology is not a unified global discipline. It’s a patchwork quilt of regional and chronological specialisms that share a lot of methods but that have very few shared goals and largely ignore each other. In my research into 1st millennium AD Sweden I ignore Japanese archaeology completely. I also ignore all work on pre-agricultural Sweden itself.

Note secondly that the US political climate is alien to European academia. For instance, there was a ridiculous flap a few years ago where some Americans had discovered that UK scholars used the term “Anglo-Saxon” and thought this could somehow be equated with how American Neo-Nazis use the term.

*

The article’s sub header (which may not be his own writing) is a fair summary of SAH’s main message: “Censorship is driving dissident researchers underground”. SAH writes:

“… for many of us, anonymity has allowed us to pursue our passion for scholarly research in a way that is simply impossible within the censorious* confines of modern academia.”

SAH, then, describes himself as a “dissident anthropologist” in his book’s sub-title. In this piece he claims that important archaeological matters cannot be discussed openly at universities. Yet SAH repeatedly describes his own views as common sense that is obviously true to the public.

Much of the text summarises recent DNA-based advances in ancient population history. SAH does not say that it’s impossible to pursue or discuss such research: after all, all of it comes out of mainstream academia. But he quotes one archaeologist who opposes simplistic interpretations of the results, and one elderly historian who comments on archaeological matters from a clearly poorly informed position. SAH offers no evidence that theirs are majority concerns or that these two have the power to silence anyone.

Where then are these oppressive universities? Remember, academia has no single discussion about archaeology that can be silenced or moderated “censoriously”. SAH doesn’t name any, but the scholars he quotes disapprovingly are at Cambridge, Nottingham, Freiburg, Turku, Uppsala and Stockholm. Six people in four European countries make for a pretty slim thought police force.

From the discussion of ancient population genetics, the piece just devolves into aggro far right rhetoric:

“… not a week seems to go by without some new claim that today’s morality has always been the norm. For the British public, perhaps no single phenomenon better demonstrates this than the ‘discoveries’ of black people in British history and prehistory.”

“… these discoveries … are weaponised for supporters of mass immigration to make the rhetorical claim that ‘Britain has always been a nation of immigrants’.”

But really, to my mind SAH is baring his heart here as a lonely young man who hasn’t been able to fit in, and who consoles himself by imagining a worldwide “censorious” Liberal hegemony operating against him:

“A young man entering full-time research interested in warfare, conflict, the origins of different peoples, how borders and boundaries have changed through time, grand narratives of conquest or expansion, would find himself stymied at every turn and regarded with great suspicion. If he didn’t embrace the critical studies fields of postcolonial thought, feminism, gender and queer politics or antiracism, he might find himself shut out from a career altogether.”

*

Finally, note that most archaeologists simply don’t deal with the brief events where one pottery style (and sometimes one set of genetic haplotypes) replaced another in a region. Even fewer pursue “grand narratives of conquest or expansion”. And even among those who do, you need to be really invested in the idea of national identity, like SAH seems to be, to respond emotionally one way or another to the research findings.

I’m one of SAH’s anti-nationalist Leftie bugbears in academia, and I love ancient DNA. I’m completely fine with the fact that both the arrival of agriculture in Sweden and the much later arrival of the Corded Ware culture coincided with radical changes in the population genetics. Because like almost all archaeologists, I seek scientific truth in my work, not validation of my political beliefs. The facts of what society was like 2000 years ago can argue neither for nor against what I would want society to be like tomorrow.

* Censorious: this adjective goes together with the verb ‘to censure’, to express severe disapproval. Not with censorship, as SAH seems to hint.

Best Reads of 2022, #3

Here are my best reads in English during September through December. My total for 2022 was 60 books, which is a lot for me. 55% of the total were e-books.

Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what were your best reads of past few months?

  • The English Eccentrics. Edith Sitwell 1933.
  • The Queen and I. Sue Townsend 1992.
  • Homeland. Cory Doctorow 2013.
  • A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures. K.H. Jackson 1951.
  • Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space. Ed. Isaac Asimov et al. 1984.
  • Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch 2011.
  • Once Upon a Tome: the Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller. Oliver Darkshire 2022.
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Bill Bryson 1998.
  • New Moon. Ian McDonald 2015.

Here’s my list for 2021.