Mesolithic Scholar Happy to Get High

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My old buddy from undergrad days, hard-core Mesolithic scholar, painter and woodsman Mattias Pettersson, sent me a pair of wonderful breathless letters on 19 and 21 July about new high-end discoveries. This is all about ancient seal-hunting camps in an area with dramatic shore displacement, which is why Mattias is so happy to get high — 75 meters above current sea level! High means early here, so early that the top sites are pushing the chronological limit set by the last Ice Age. (More context & pix here). I quote (and translate) with Mattias’s permission:
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What is Emo Anyway?

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I’ve been largely oblivious to the emo movement in music and youth culture, but being a pop music fan I feel I should find out a little about this recent mass-market outgrowth of the hardcore punk scene. Opportunity struck in the most recent issue of kids’ mag Kamratposten left on the john by my 9-y-o son. Enthroned, I found a feature piece about a heavily eyelinered 14-y-o Stockholm emo-subculture girl, with a list of five emo bands deemed important by her. I read up about them on Allmusic, and offer the list with my commentary in the following for anyone who wants to learn about emo music.

  • My Chemical Romance. USA. Album debut 2002. Big MTV band with a platinum-selling album. Pic above.
  • Tokio Hotel. Germany. Album debut 2005. A single topped the German pop chart in August ’05. “The follow-ups ‘Rette Mich’ and ‘Der Letzte Tag’ also hit number one, although the former appeared in a re-recorded version dramatically different from its LP version thanks to Kaulitz’s post-pubescent vocal changes.”
  • Panic! At the Disco. USA. Album debut 2005. MTV Video of the Year 2006.
  • From First to Last. USA. Album debut 2004, titled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount. Second album on US Top-40.
  • Jimmy Eat World. USA. Album debut 1996. A 2001 album sold 1.3 million copies in the U.S.

Says an anonymous writer at Allmusic:

“Originally an arty outgrowth of hardcore punk, emo became an important force in underground rock by the late ’90s, appealing to modern-day punks and indie-rockers alike. Some emo leans toward the progressive side, full of complex guitar work, unorthodox song structures, arty noise, and extreme dynamic shifts; some emo is much closer to punk-pop, though it’s a bit more intricate. Emo lyrics are deeply personal, usually either free-associative poetry or intimate confessionals. Though it’s far less macho, emo is a direct descendant of hardcore’s preoccupations with authenticity and anti-commercialism; it grew out of the conviction that commercially oriented music was too artificial and calculated to express any genuine emotion. Because the emo ideal is authentic, deeply felt emotion that defies rational analysis, the style can be prone to excess in its quest for ever-bigger peaks and releases. But at its best, emo has a sweeping power that manages to be visceral, challenging, and intimate all at once.”

I wonder what was wrong with me at fourteen. Back then I loved Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, who were neither visceral, challenging nor intimate. And I was at least sixteen before I wore any eyeliner.

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Blog Carnival Call for Submissions

Wednesday 1 August the will see the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival appear in all its archaeo/anthro glory at Afarensis. If you have read or blogged anything good on those themes lately, then make sure to submit it to the proprietor ASAP. (You are encouraged to submit stuff you’ve found on other people’s blogs.)

There’s an open hosting slot on 29 August and further ones later in the fall. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me.

Red River Hog

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From Pär Svensson of Kurtz, this fine portrait of a red river hog, Potamochoerus porcus, in Berlin’s zoo. These cool-looking omnivores make their home in sub-Saharan Africa.

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From the same recent zoo visit, our cerebal rock guitarist provides us with a peek at the nocturnal fellows who give this blog part of its name.

Elvis in Brighton

Our local newspaper Nacka-Värmdö-Posten for 24 July has an item by Evelina Stucki that I would be remiss to keep from you, Dear Reader (and I translate).

“Last summer, three Värmdö girls went to Brighton in Great Britain. Before leaving, they had tried to contact their host family, but the phone number they had been given did not work. When they arrived, it turned out that there were thirteen people living in the house. […] the family was prone to fighting, and the girls allegedly did not get much to eat.

The host father had changed his name to Elvis Presley and the host parents were allegedly heavily inebriated every day. The father is reported to have openly made advances on one of the girls and tried to get them drunk. ‘He was unstable and they were afraid of him’, says their complaint.”

Wop-bop-a-loom-a-blop-bam-boom.

Molluscum Contagiosum

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I’ve run into an interesting ethical conundrum involving Molluscum contagiosum. It’s a viral infection common among kids, where a pox-family virus causes little pale warts that usually remain from six to nine months. Once the last lesion is gone you seem to become resistant, and the complaint is rare in adults. According to Wikipedia, 17% of kids go through it, mostly between the ages of 2 and 12. There’s no antiviral treatment: usually nothing is done about molluscum as removal involves the same regimen of soaking, mechanical scrubbing and mild corrosive agents as for warts, only you have tens or hundreds of them instead of a single one.

Molluscum is painless but contagious and a little ugly: typically the parents will mind it more than the child does. My son picked it up at daycare and eventually passed it on to his kid sister. Yesterday our excellent neighbour from Korea put her kid and mine in the bathtub after they had gotten themselves grimy. When she discovered the molluscum she was pretty disturbed, never having seen it before.

If I really wanted to make sure that my kids don’t spread the virus I’d have to home-school them (which is illegal in Sweden) and keep them from other children for a year. But daycare centres and schools don’t care at all about molluscum and impose no restrictions.

Dear Reader, what is my responsibility here? I’d really rather not tell every new parent I meet that my kid has a contagious skin condition that sticks for months, “But don’t worry, it’s harmless. Wanna come over to our place and play?” And I note that nobody (not even 17%) has ever said that to me.

The kid in the pic ain’t mine, I lifted it off Google.

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Those Haunting Memories

A weakness of mine is that the memories of a few embarrassing events in my past sometimes come back to haunt me and make me cringe with self-loathing. Very likely, I am the only person in the world who ever thinks of (or even remembers) these events, but I just can’t help feeling bad about them. Two of the worst have to do with archaeology and English, and so I thought I might as well dump them on you, Dear Reader.

1. Summer of 1993. I am 21, working my second season as a field archaeologist, and I’ve just learned about context-stratigraphic excavation and documentation methods à la Edward Harris. A group of urban archaeologists from Norwich come to Uppsala for a two-day seminar about these things. I am the youngest and most enthusiastic member of the audience. I am also one of very few audience members who speaks fluent English. And English has a strange effect on me: I am loud and talkative in Swedish, but for some reason become doubly so in English. The result is that (as I recall it now), almost every minute of the first day when the Englishmen are not speaking is filled up by my questions and happy blathering. At the time I am not insensitive to the fact that my colleagues don’t like this much, but I can’t help myself.

One of my colleagues later tells me off angrily. When the Englishmen visit our dig a few days later I apologise for my behaviour, and the guy I talk to, named Phil someting?, just laughs amiably and says that they are in Sweden to answer our questions, so I needn’t worry. Thanks Phil, I needed that! (And come to think of it, many of the other people in that conference room are now among my best professional friends. Seems they forgave me, after all.)

2. Circa winter of 1994/95. A green doctoral student, I attend a guest lecture by a highly regarded English osteoarchaeologist. After his somewhat nature-deterministic talk about early hunters in the Levant, I put up my hand and make a friendly but mildly critical comment including the words “Unlike you, I care about the meaning of the decoration on those pots — which I suppose makes me a bit of a wanker”. At the mention of the word “wanker”, the speaker (who has until then been nodding encouragingly) suffers a full-body spasm, turns crimson and gives off an involuntary falsetto shriek. I didn’t feel embarrassed at the time, but I do now.

There you have it. These are the demons that haunt me.

Greatest Hits

Back in January I ran a Greatest Hits roundup for my pre-Aard blog site. Now Razib has taught me how to check which Aard entries are the most-read ones via Google Analytics. Many are of course carnivals, and the rest are heavily influenced by who has linked to them, but anyway: here are the ten most-read non-carnival Aard entries since 1 January.

  1. Wish I Could Do That In Linux
  2. Scandinavian Attitudes to Nudity
  3. Subway Beggar Retaliation
  4. Are Humans Polygamous?
  5. Jim Benton on the Atheist / Agnostic Issue
  6. Modelling the World in Real Time
  7. Circumcision and Clean Syringes
  8. Book Review: Stenger, God, the Failed Hypothesis
  9. My Eugenics Project
  10. A Forest Fire on the Outermost Isles

The main lesson here is probably that Scandy archaeology isn’t so hot. I should go for controversial issues that touch upon the most cherished beliefs of my readers: things like religion, sex, nudity and, of course, above all, Linux.

Swedish Heritage Board: “We Have Abandoned All Scientific Ambition”

In today’s paper issue of main Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter is a news item headlined “Hobby Researcher Gives New Signs to Stones” (currently not available on-line, but here’s another relevant piece). It relays a few statements from museologist Ewa Bergdahl of the Swedish National Heritage Board regarding the Ales stenar visitor’s sign debacle. Bergdahl is head of the Heritage Tourism unit.

–There isn’t just one single truth. This place is so incredibly more complex than previously believed, says Ewa Bergdahl, unit director at the National Heritage Board.

[…]

The Heritage Board has long stood on the side of the academics. But now the organisation takes a more neutral stance.

–You have no privileged position with us just because you do research at a university, says Ewa Bergdahl.

To the dismay of professional scholars, both theories are now represented on the signs.

–Amateur researchers may feel that they have been vindicated somewhat. But that doesn’t mean that they are right.

—–

–Det finns inte bara en enda sanning. Den här platsen är så otroligt mycket mera komplex än man tidigare trott, säger Ewa Bergdahl, enhetschef på Riksantikvarieämbetet.

[…]

Riksantikvarieämbetet har länge stått på akademikernas sida. Men nu intar myndigheten en mer neutral inställning.

–Man har inget företräde bara för att man forskar på ett universitet, säger Ewa Bergdahl.

Till de professionella forskarnas förtret finns nu alltså båda teorierna representerade på skyltarna.

–Det är möjligt att amatörforskarna känner att de fått en viss upprättelse. Men de har inte fått rätt för det.

Now, by far the most of the Board’s employees are university-trained archaeologists, and I’m sure they don’t share Ewa Bergdahl’s and the other top bureaucrats’ stale 80s post-modernist and anti-science ideas on this matter. There has long been a discussion about separating the Board’s regional contract archaeology units from the central administration and making them standalone organisations. The new evidence for anti-scientific hyper-relativism among the Board’s central directors shows that this separation is urgent indeed. And when it is completed, I hope the Ministry of Culture sends the Heritage Board through a radical pro-science personnel purge. It’s either that or close the outfit down. The Swedish Heritage Board clearly suffers from Mad Cow Disease.

Update same evening: In a short new piece in Dagens Nyheter, the head of the Heritage Board Inger Liliequist is quoted as saying “We pay attention to local historians and amateur researchers. But we don’t place them on a level with tested research. If that is how our message has been received, then we will have to adjust the signs.” Archaeology professors Herschend and Burström are quoted voicing severe criticism against the new signs, and I must say that both names come as a pleasant surprise to me.

Update 25 July: According to Aftonbladet, another bright star and non-archaeologist at the Heritage Board, comptroller and temporary press liaison Ulrika Salander, says “Regarding Ales stenar, there is not and may never be any absolute truth or any unambiguous ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.” And here’s a piece from today’s Sydsvenska Dagbladet where Ewa Bergdahl repeats her views. These people know absolutely nothing about the philosophy of science, nor about archaeology’s place in the larger landscape of science. Can’t Inger Liliequist put a muzzle on the clowns she employs?

Update 31 July: Touchingly, Ewa Bergdahl informs me that she is well within her rights to make public pronouncements about archaeology because she studied the subject for three terms 30 years ago.

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Media Kick Swedish Heritage Board in Groin

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As discussed here in a recent entry, there has long been a conflict over Ales stenar, a prehistoric stone ship monument in Scania, southern Sweden. Scholarship has argued that like all other large stone ships in southern Scandinavia with ample space between the standing stones, Ales stenar was built as a grave marker (or perhaps assembly site) in the late 1st Millennium AD. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed the date. On the other hand, amateur archaeo-astronomer Bob Lind has led a vociferous campaign asserting that the ship is several thousand years older than that and originally built as a calendarical observatory. It’s been one of Sweden’s most publicised battles between skeptics and woo-mongers. But not one academic archaeologist believes in Lind’s interpretations. His model has been taken apart in great detail and shown to be baseless.

Recently the National Heritage Board replaced the visitor’s signs at Ales stenar with four new ones, all measuring about a square meter. Few archaeologists have seen them yet as the site is in a remote location. My dad, however, is vacationing in the area. He just called me and read the signs out over the phone (and he took the above pic: click for higher resolution). Bob Lind’s interpretations are described in a noncommittal manner, on the template of “archaeological scholars have deduced that blah blah blah, while the amateur Bob Lind believes that bleh bleh bleh”. Mention is made of the fact that the stone ship’s length axis is orientated roughly toward sunset on the summer solstice and sunrise on the winter solstice. This, alone, is not enough to make the thing work as a calendar, a fact which is not mentioned.

Actually, on these new signs, the Heritage Board takes no stand as to the monument’s interpretation. It simply reports both sides — “teaching the controversy”, as it were. But Bob Lind feels that he has been personally vindicated. And two major newspapers, Dagens Nyheter and Sydsvenska Dagbladet (here and here), misrepresent the Heritage Board’s message, stating falsely that the Board’s signs officially endorse the sun calendar interpretation. The story angle in both papers is that of the single private man battling for years with unfeeling authorities until finally they give in and accept that he’s been right all along. This is not what has happened. But the current sorry mess was entirely foreseeable.

In my opinion, the Heritage Board has screwed up badly, and it’s gotten its just deserts from the media. The Board’s signs are a medium for science popularisation. This means that it’s the Board’s duty to report the best available science, making clear what the consensus among professional researchers is. If they were in the business of healthcare outreach, nobody would accept their reporting wildly divergent ideas from evidence-based and alternative medicine without taking a stand. Kajsa Althén of the National Heritage Board has abdicated her responsibility at Ales stenar, opting for non-scientific multivocality. Her headline is “Ales stenar — en pågående tolkning”, meaning “Ales stenar — an ongoing interpretation”. This misleads the public about the site’s scientific status. As regards Bob Lind’s interpretations, nothing is ongoing. That case was closed years ago as far as serious scholarship is concerned.

Meanwhile, Lind is sitting happily in his deck chair on site, giving an interview to a TV crew. I hope the people higher up at the Board learn from this sad farce. [Oh no, they’re not learning, on the contrary.]

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