Nils Mattsson Kiöping On Mount Sinai

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 22: Sinai part 1

On the afternoon of the 31st we mounted the mules, ten of us except the monks, and travelled through sand and little thorn bushes. Along the way there was no water: we would have suffered great thirst if we had not brought water in leather bottles. On the 2nd of September we came to Mount Sinai. We sat there beneath the mountain while the monks went up to tell their brethren about our arrival.

When they returned they had with them six other Carmelite Fathers who brought warm water with which they washed our feet, kissed us and thanked us for the great charitable deed we had done their brothers. Before we could go up onto the mountain, however, we had to put down our guns in a guard house where about 300 Turkish soldiers kept watch over said mountain. All are supported by these monks who live on the mountain, and they have to keep keen watch there, fearing the Jews greatly, who seek with the greatest zeal to take this mountain from the Christians, as Moses has received the Law in that same place from God Almighty.

On the 3rd of September the Envoy went to confession, and then to the Lord’s Communion in the Carmelite monastery, since he was a Catholic. In the evening he asked the Carmelites to arrange for us to see some famous remains that might deserve to be told of to the Christians. This was also promised. The next morning we went out with two Carmelites and eight Greeks who showed us the whole environs, as follows.

Chapter 23: Sinai part 2
You must first note that these two mountains stand on a single foot. Horeb is called Chu Orel by the Christians who live in Asia as well as by Muslims. It means a desert, as Stony Arabia or the Sea of Sand, where the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years, begins there when you travel from the sea to Horeb. It is not very high in itself. But Mount Sinai is very high and pointed, indeed, more than four times as high as Horeb. It is still called Saint Catherine’s Mountain by the Christians, because the Catholics claim that Saint Catherine’s body, after she was tormented in Alexandria in Egypt, was taken there by six angels and found wrapped in a bloody sheet by some hermits who lived there. And though this mountain was once very difficult to get onto, the Christians have now with their own money and at great cost had 142 large and wide steps cut into the hard cliffs before you reach the gates themselves, so that now both camels and donkeys can get up and down.

Here on the mountain only two creeds have a permanent presence: the Carmelites here have five and the Greeks two congregations, and the Muslims three churches, which are all listed below. Once you have gone up the stairs you come to two tall gates which stand next to each other. In one hangs a carved stone cross, through which all Christians must go, and in the other a crescent, where all Muslims are to pass through. Immediately on the left hand when you enter the gate you come to a monastery named Santa Maria de la Cinnatura.* Next to it was a beautiful spice garden with all kinds of spices and roses, and fruit, such as in particular apples of Paradise, which they called muses, which is as large as a man’s two fists, and has leaves that are 1½ fathom long and a foot wide, and taste delicious. There are also apples, pears, myrtle berries, Indian figs or pisang, dates and other unfamiliar fruits. There we were served salt and fresh bread as well as all kinds of fruits and myrtle wine. All of the soil in which these trees are planted has been collected at the foot of the mountain and dragged up onto it. They also had another kind of wine which they called liatico,** a very expensive and delicious wine. Here are also lovely fountains from which flow excellent drinking water.

Higher up on the left hand is a monastery named Saint Anne. It is a beautiful monastery that we visited. There was a lovely garden, which they said was planted by John the Evangelist. These Carmelites never eat meat, but only spices, herbs, roots and fruit. Higher up is a chapel that has a triangular tower with some ponds around it. Here is shown a hole in which Elijah is supposed to have stayed when he fled from Jezebel, being fed water and bread by the angel. At the upper end near the mountaintop is a cleft rock where God let himself shine on Moses when he walked past and could not see his face, for which reason Moses went back, and still there is impressed into the rock, as I have seen with my own eyes, like a hole from a fat and short man, with the rear part of the head, back, feet and extended arms. Finally, high up on the top is shown the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God Almighty.

Below on the left is a monastery named Saint Catherine. Here the monks have Saint Catherine’s body in a white alabaster coffin, which the priest shows to pilgrims and wandering Christians, with a tool made from silver. Out of these dead bones comes fat similar to oil, but it is neither oil nor balsam. Then he shows them her head and the bloody sheet that she was found in. Behind the altar they had a dry bush which they said was the very one that Moses saw burning yet not being consumed by the fire. We all had to take our shoes off before being allowed to come near it. I saw it quite well but I will hardly believe that it is the same one.

Below this on the left hand is another monastery named Saint John the Baptist, which also has a beautiful garden, with lovely ponds or cisterns. Here the Greeks had their congregations, one named Koloizisi, which do not keep themselves as clean as the Catholic ones. There are great differences between them, in their church services as well as in customs and food, insomuch as they eat meat and pork. They have some houses there that they call Basilopoli, as they claim that two sons of kings would lie buried there.

All the way at the bottom below (but still inside the gate) are four Turkish churches. One they have allowed the Greeks and pilgrims to celebrate Mass in. The second one is locked: inside (they said) would be a pit or hole in the rock, where Moses would have lived and fasted for 40 days (after having crushed the first set of stone tablets), and now asking for new ones. In the event that he did not now dare to scale as high as before. But in the other two, the Muslims hold their divine services. And their priests who live in their churches on the mountain and at its foot (in Arabic a church is called mossea or messgita) call themselves Nantonoss, that is, the protectors of the holy tombs. Of which saints these are the most important: Omar, Osman, Hussein and Abubakr. The Muslims pray to them. They also greatly venerate Mohammad’s daughter, named Fatimah.

* Cincture, girdle, belt. Cf. the Cincture of the Theotokos on Mount Athos in Greece.

** Liatiko is a Cretan grape variety once used to make Malvasia wine.


June Pieces Of My Mind #1

car door

Found an old car door next to the Sörmlandsleden hiking trail.

  • Given Michael Jackson’s unsavoury reputation, it is encouraging that the song is called “Pretty Young Thing” and not “Extremely Young Thing”.
  • Had a French friend over for game night. She had never seen a tea cosy before. Now I begin to understand the wrong-headed logic of Brexit.
  • What did it signify when Tom Waits and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue wore lots of wrist watches in album photos?
  • For the past two years I’ve been in the part of your life when you help teens move house.
  • Love Avram Davidson. In his Adventures in Unhistory he has footnotes asking people to please return books that he needs.
  • It would be wrong to say that US has a random number generator for a president, because he is quite consistently pro-rich, anti-environment and anti-immigrant. But outside of those fields, all bets are off.
  • Naval Observatory: a short shirt that leaves a person’s midriff bare.
  • Companionably helping Cousin E sort through his stuff and decide what goes along with him to Bristol for the autumn semester. Notable sign of long-distance motherly care over the past three years: he has nine pairs of long-johns.

First yacht race of the year!


Samples of Roger Wikell’s Work

kvarts juli 2016

We were lucky enough to be visited by three renowned Mesolithic specialists at Birgittas udde in July 2016: Lars Larsson, Fredrik Molin and Roger Wikell. Lucky, because the little Medieval stronghold we excavated had turned out to sit on a Late Mesolithic settlement site.

Roger Wikell (1965-2019) was particularly interested in three fields of research. Here is one paper for each field, all from Fornvännen because most of Roger’s Open Access work is found there. All are in Swedish with abstract and summary in English. Plus an obit written by Roger.

And below are some blog entries of mine reporting on Roger’s and Mattias’s et al. work. Apologies for the missing pictures: they were lost in a blog migration.

Roger Wikell 1965-2019


Roger visiting a runic inscription near his home in Sorunda (Sö 231) on 1 June 2019. Photo by Andreas Forsgren.

My dear colleague Roger Wikell died yesterday at age 53, from a heart attack while walking in the woods. Reading that sentence feels absurd. Roger was timeless, a tireless and ever-enthusiastic lover of archaeology, a hugely productive scholar. In addition to the human cost of a middle-aged family man with many friends falling away so abruptly, it is a major blow to Swedish archaeology. Because while other contributors to our discipline like to secure funding first and only then do research, Roger made constant empirical discoveries and wrote voluminously in his favourite fields regardless of whether he had any funding or not.

His main fields were Bronze Age rock art, Stone Age settlement sites with their knapped lithics, and Viking Period rune stones. But with contract archaeology as his main source of income, Roger excavated and wrote archive reports on all kinds of sites from every period of the past. There are 159 pieces of work to his name in VITALIS, the main bibliographical database for Swedish archaeology. I have about half of that, and I’m known to publish a lot.

When I got to know Roger in the early 00s he and his research partner of many years Mattias Pettersson were collaborating with a couple of scholars with PhDs. As I understood these collaborations, they were not on equal terms. Roger, Mattias and others provided huge amounts of new data from skilful field surveying, but they were diffident about writing their own analyses and sending them off to journals. They had preferred to be credited as collaborators by scholars with academic credentials. But this arrangement had started to chafe after 2000. The rate of output was too slow for Roger’s taste, and he wasn’t getting his ideas into print.

I am proud to say that Roger would later repeatedly credit me with telling him and Mattias to cut out the middle man and become independent researchers, PhD or no PhD. He liked to quote me saying that if you want funding, it’s more important to vara nypubbad, to have a recent publication to show, than to have letters after your name.

Looking at the VITALIS data, here’s how Roger’s output grew over time. (The figures include collaborations.)

1987-89: 3
1990-94: 2
1995-99: 7
2000-04: 6
2005-09: 46
2010-14: 68
2015 through May 2019: 28

This pointless cardiovascular accident in the woods has robbed us not only of a good man, a loving husband and father, and a friend of many. It has also most likely robbed the research discipline that Roger loved of over a hundred solid contributions.

May Pieces Of My Mind #3


This half-a-century-old office block will be replaced by housing. It stands right between Sickla hamlet’s oldest known location (1774) and its Viking Period cemetery. Both sites were bulldozed long ago.

  • Ambition: from Lat. ambire, “go around” (canvassing for votes).
  • Reading a paper book. Want to check something in it somewhere. Annoyed that there’s no search function.
  • Awesome. I just spoke to a lady from Latvia who insisted that her country was named Lithuania.
  • The traditional phrase ending a French business letter, the ”Yours sincerely”, can be translated as ”May you wish to allow, Sir, the expression of my distinguished feelings.”
  • Facebook informs me that I am interacting as myself. That’s… deep.
  • You know why a state cultivates an ideology of respect for war veterans? To motivate young people to keep enlisting as soldiers. To motivate families to keep sending their kids to possibly be killed or maimed for the state’s questionable purposes.
  • It’s strange to hear Conservative Party members on the municipal council refer to Property Rights as sort of a can’t-argue-with-that sacred principle on a par with Human Rights. I’m thinking “Are you aware that these appeals of yours have very little traction with most of the people listening to you?” It’s like talking to a religious person who tries to win an argument by referring triumphantly to one Scripture or another, and you’re just like, “Umm… So?”.
  • No thanks, I don’t want to read Neal Stephenson’s new 896-page novel.

LinCon 2019 Gaming Convention

evolutionThere’s no objective metric of a life well lived. But by the standards of 13-year-old me, I think I pretty much maxed out at LinCon this year. I was at a major gaming convention, wearing an organiser’s badge and an Äventyrsspel tee-shirt (makers of my boyhood’s favourite games), and gave a talk in the biggest auditorium about my seventh book, which deals with excavations I’ve headed in the ruins of Medieval castles. Good times!

I played seven games this year, four of which I knew well and only one of which was new to me, Evolution. Most con-goers are simply too shy to shout “HELLO STRANGER LET ME TEACH YOU THIS GAME” at people the way I often do.

  • Forbidden Island (2010). A super pretty co-op where you race to collect four treasures before the island sinks.
  • Azul (2017). Pretty and abstract with neat mechanics.
  • Evolution (2014). Develop strong populations of your creatures and help them adapt to their faunal environment.
  • Coloretto (2003). Pretty and abstract with neat mechanics.
  • 7 Wonders (2010). Civilisation building with simultaneous card drafting, which makes it enjoyable even for seven players.
  • Agricola (2007). Build the best farm in Early Modern Germany! Worker placement and resource management.
  • Five Tribes (2014). Vaguely Arabian in theme, this is a rather messy concoction of several abstract ways to gain points.

At the con’s flea market and used-games dealer room I bought Spyrium, Kingdoms and Above & Below. Also mistakenly a copy of Candamir that is probably the very one I sold back in 2013 after trying the game and not liking it much, haha. I keep making poor purchases at the spur of the moment at LinCon! At the auction I sold Hanabi and Sid Meier’s Civilization (both bought at last year’s con and sadly not big hits) plus Gaia Project and Stephenson’s Rocket.

2019 was my seventh LinCon. Here are my impressions of last year’s con.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping in the Gulf of Suez

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 21: Gulf of Suez, “Zerzes”

On the 26th of August we came to a place named Zerzes, which the Catholic priests recognised immediately, saying that it was the spot where Israel’s Children came ashore when they walked dryshod through the Red Sea. They said that there was no better water to be had anywhere in all of Arabia than here. When we saw that no-one would come to us from the land, we launched our little boat with the interpreter and eight musketeers, in addition to crewmen with axes, and rowed ashore. When we arrived we found few people, only a couple of Jews. We soon rowed back to the ship, launched our big boat, with all the empty barrels we had, went ashore and got as much water as we needed from a group of fine wells.

Then we went to view the ancient memorials of that place. There was a Turkish church, and next to it twelve pillars that had sunk to more than one third of their length into the ground. We were told that the Israelites had put them there when they had crossed the Red Sea. The Jews also had a synagogue on the same site and valued it highly. On the same stones were carved in Hebrew characters the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Many Greeks lived there too, all of whom were apostates. Both they and the Jews said that for years no Christian ship had been as far up the Red Sea as ours.

We could also clearly see Sinai and Mount Horeb before us. The priests made an agreement with the Lord Envoy and the Captain that they would take them to a strait or inlet named Bajor, that is, the Straits of St. Catherine* near Mount Sinai, located two days’ travel from the mountain. Their request was granted not only for the sake of the priests, but also to have our charts checked and thus provide all seafarers with newer and more secure information. Also, because everyone wanted very much to see these famous mountains, even though not all were permitted to do so. And the one who was most active in this was our excellent Lord Pelliconie, who was as already mentioned a Catholic, and who was keen to have his confession heard by these Fathers. An additional important justification for the delay was that for six months, wind and currents would keep us from leaving the Red Sea. Then the incessant wind turned around, which by then we expected every day as the sixth month had come, and finally the wind began to toss around. Thus refreshed, and with much-needed water on board, having conferred with the Bailiff we weighed anchor.

On the 30th of August we entered the previously mentioned Baijo, the Straits and Inlet of St. Catherine. Here the Fathers again asked the Envoy and the Captain to do a good deed and accompany them to Mount Sinai where they had their congregation and their brethren.** Meanwhile the weather was beginning to change, and so it was decided that the Envoy and the Captain and some soldiers would travel with them. I was in great favour with these Catholic priests and asked them to recommend me to the Bailiff, so that I could also come along and see such famous and honoured sites. And I got permission to do so. Less than half a mile from the seashore was a little smallholding named Kutziuk, where the monks went to fetch mules for us all.

* The Straits of Tiran at the southern end of the Gulf of Aqaba.
** Saint Catherine’s monastery, founded in the 6th century and continuously active since. Note NMK’s repeated references to a Catholic Carmelite establishment at this Greek Orthodox monastery.

Nils Mattsson Kiöping Still at Zabid in Yemen

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 18: Yemen, Zabid part 2
A few days later we were all collected in state from our lodgings and invited as guests to his summer house, which was in a beautiful garden containing lovely springs, fountains, fish ponds and other rare artifices. Here were also all kinds of fruit trees such as figs, almonds, Persian bitter oranges, limes, lemons, plums etc., along with a strange kind of grapes and and all sorts of roses. When we sat eating, a hideously large tiger came walking, but it was tame, and ate the crumbs and bones lying behind us, harming no human. Indeed, it neither ate nor took more than they wanted to give.

As soon as the meal was finished, the Secretary and some of the nobility rode with us to see the town, but they would not let us come onto the wall or into their fortifications. Thus they accompanied us to a large old building in which there had once been a mint, and which they claimed to have been built by Noah. Nearby is a church that is surrounded by iron bars. In the entranceway a large piece of wood hangs from an iron chain, said to be part of Noah’s Ark. They considered it a fine testimony of great value.

From there they took us to an octagonal tower in which a horrific lion stood bound. I told the Captain that at the court of King Shah Abbas in Persia [Abbas II of Persia, regn. 1642-66] I had seen nine lions. He asked me about the King’s splendour, his Khans [Persian provincial governors] or lords in their rule, item which way I had travelled, and for how long I was there, to which I replied as much as I could and knew. Item I told him about the Pasha’s splendour in Bagadet, in sum, I gave him satisfaction in all that he asked me about.

They also let us see a well that was more than 100 fathoms deep, which they claimed to be the tomb of the Patriarch Jacob. The water, which was cranked up in leather buckets, was so salty that we could barely let it reach our teeth. Some distance away was a square church with a flat roof in which was 100 pillars, all hewn from one rock. There were also many other old things that had been brought there long before the birth of Christ. A few days later we were served a meal as farewell and a little gift was given to the Envoy. Thus we said farewell to the Sultan and rode to our lodgings.

That evening we learned from an Armenian Christian that the Persian, Arabian and Indian traders had written a letter to the Lord in which they allegedly reproached him for allowing great friendship and freedoms to us, who were infidel Christian dogs, but wanted to ruin them who were good faithful Muslims. Two days later, early in the morning, the Secretary came with some noblemen and the Captain, and escorted us half a mile outside the town where a barque lay at the shore. We went aboard with the Captain, and when we came to a little castle named Kadiar we went ashore and were entertained by the Captain. Then we went back onto the barque and came in the evening to the ship, where a salute was soon fired, and the Captain entertained, and again given a gift.

Here we also saw incense grow, with which entire large fields are planted. It drips from trees like resin, which happens twice a year, both in the spring and summer. In the spring it is red, but in the summer white. Myrrh also grows abundantly here. It is a small tree, five ells tall [3.0 m], and has sharp thorns like dog rose. When you cut open the bark juice runs out like a thin resin, and when you rub it onto dead bodies they will not soon rot away, and when you put the leaves in a chest among clothes, no moth or other pest will thrive there.

Two days later we weighed anchor and went along the Arabian side, to find out if there was anything on the shores that might be useful to the East India Company.

May Pieces Of My Mind #2


Come on join the joyride / Be a joyrider

  • When I hear about people who hate and fear immigrants I think about a percentage: 20%. That’s currently how many Swedish citizens were born abroad. Think of how many citizens are family members or friends of these foreign-born people. The haters don’t have a chance. ❤
  • Why do or did Englishmen have a thing for women wearing nurse uniforms?
  • Given the Aztec Empire’s extremely awful religious traditions, I don’t mourn its downfall. The sacking of the royal court in Benin in 1897 is taught as a textbook example of reprehensible colonial looting. But it seems that it’s a similar case as with the Aztecs. My cultural relativism only goes so far. “The kingdom’s prosperity declined with the suppression of the slave trade, and, as its territorial extent shrank, Benin’s leaders increasingly relied on supernatural rituals and large-scale human sacrifices to protect the state from further territorial encroachment. The practice of human sacrifice was stamped out only after the burning of Benin City in 1897 by the British, after which the depopulated and debilitated kingdom was incorporated into British Nigeria.” (Enc. Brit.)
  • I enjoy training roses onto supports to help them climb. It’s fun to see them turn any misaligned leaves towards the sun after I reposition a twig, then sprout new shoots.
  • Haven’t noticed the mistranslation in Kraftwerk’s “Showroom Dummies” before. “We’re standing here exposing ourselves…” 😀
  • Wife asks me to buy two aubergines and a small bag of almonds. I’m afraid the grocery store clerk will yell “KITCHEN ABSURDIST” at me.

Lilacs beginning to bloom.


… and the young gingko’s first leaves of the year.


Grass snake sunning itself. Not venomous. Likes to swim and eat frogs.