Screaming Lead Hailstorm


Friday last week I did some met-det for Thomas Englund and Bo Knarrström at the 1719 battlefield at Baggensstäket on Skogsö, of which I’ve blogged before. This time I was directed to a hillside that had seen heavy musket fire. I may not have had much balls when I came there, but I certainly did when the day’s work was done, before I handed my finds over to the guys. Above is an intact 1719 musket ball, either dropped by a shaky soldier or fired into soft earth. Below is a ball that has hit a rock. Getting hit by one of those 15 mm lead spheres was not an enjoyable experience, but at least you were unlikely to have to go through it more than once.


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Six New Finds from Kaga


Here are the fruits of my ten hours of metal detecting in Kaga while Immo and Per mucked around with the magnetometer Wednesday and Thursday.

Top left is a spool-shaped copper-alloy handle, cast around a slim iron rod that’s broken off at the lower end. There’s indistinct cast relief decoration on the handle, and its shape and size are identical to those of 11th century key handles. These keys are L-shaped with prongs toward the end of the horizontal rod.

The next thingie is also a handle, belonging to a key or an ear scoop. El Cheapo openwork decoration typical of the 10th century, where instead of moulding a fine 9th century interlace of gripping-beasts the artisan would just drill through the thing a few times. At the top is a loop for attaching the key to your pectoral jewellery with a bronze chain. Along the frame of the interlace are two polyhedrical knobs little goggle-eyed beast heads, interestingly placed asymmetrically.

Next is a lead spool, painstakingly carved by little shavings of the knife. I figure this must be a weight, an idea that could be tested by comparing it to known units of measurement. Its date is unknown to me.

At the centre of the picture is my favourite find (because of its age), the foot-end of a miniature disc-on-bow brooch of 6th century date. It’s tinned and gilded in spots. The tapered shapes that reach down from either side to join the end of the brooch are the beaks of two eagles, a feature of brooches all over Germanic-speaking Europe from some time in the late 4th century up into the early 9th. The birds are descendants of Gothic eagle brooches of the 4th century around the Black Sea, but they don’t pair up until they reach Scandinavia. Hugin & Munin?

Next is one of those utilitarian items that are hopeless to date: the end-plate of a knife handle, designed to be slipped onto the tang of the knife before it’s stuck into the wooden or antler handle. The one thing that may indicate an early date is the outline shape of the thing: it tapers to a point at the bottom instead of just being oval or round. Smells like 6/7/8th century to me.

Finally, one of Queen Christina’s ubiquitous quarter-öre coins. According to Pierre of AHIMKAR, almost 60 30 million were struck only in 1635. We’ve found nine of them since myself and the Gothenburgers started metal detecting in Östergötland in April 2003. They’ve popped up at three out of thirteen sites we’ve investigated so far. This particular coin was struck in 1633 when the Queen was a little girl of seven. She personally had nothing to do with Treasury politics at the time: Sweden was governed by her guardians from the battlefield death at Lützen of her father in 1632 until she came of age in 1646. So the brain behind that huge coin issue was Axel Oxenstierna, the Chancellor.

So, what does this all mean? Taken together with the finds we’ve made before, we seem to be dealing with a magnate’s farm established about AD 500 and moved to some other location about AD 1050. We have cool finds from every century in that interval. And then generation upon generation of farmers dropping coins and buttons as they ploughed, sowed and reaped.

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Magnetometry in Kaga

Originally posted 19 September from my handheld via the cell network and e-mail to my old site.


Drove to Linköping this morning listening to the Digital Planet podcast, M Coast’s latest album and a Povel Ramel hits collection. On site in Kaga I was greeted by my friendly National Heritage Board colleages Immo Trinks and Per Karlsson. They were busy assembling Scandinavian archaeology’s first motorised magnetometer setup, and informed me that my site would see the equipment’s first non-trial run.

The setup consists of a long trailer made of aluminium and held together by bronze and plastic bolts, pulled by a four-wheel off-road vehicle. Both the materials used and the length of the trailer are intended to keep the magnetometers away from anything magnetic above ground. The instruments, four of them today, are mounted at the rear of the trailer, where they measure magnetism at about 30 cm and 100 cm above the ground surface. As magnetism’s strength decreases with the cube of the distance, the lower sensors pick up the planet’s magnetic field plus any subsoil anomalies, while the upper sensors only get the planet’s field. Subtract one from the other and you have a measurement with archaeological relevance. Take measurements 25 times a second as you drive across a field, with each measurement being tagged with GPS position data, and you get a dataset that allows you to map what’s under the topsoil. Drive to and fro across a field as if you were ploughing it, covering its entire surface, and you can map 15 hectares in one day’s work.


As always with newly developed gear, there were glitches, so we didn’t cover quite so much ground. But I’m confident that Immo will iron out the wrinkles and get the job done as he has at Birka, Ales stenar, Gamla Uppsala and other high-profile sites. At those sites, he used a manual setup with simpler positioning tech.

The reason that I asked the guys to come to Kaga was the metalwork myself and the Gothenburg metal detectorists have found there in the past two Easters — the gold foil figure die, the many brooches, the copper-alloy casting debris. I believe we’re dealing with an elite settlement site of the mid- to later 1st Millennium AD, and before I ask Chris the farmer for permission to dig in his field I want to know what the site’s layout is like. Hopefully the magnetometry will be informative enough to allow me to open up 300 square meters or so right over the remains of the mead hall. Blindly machine-stripping the place would be a clunky, destructive and expensive way to map the settlement.

I wasn’t much use to Immo and Per, so I spent the afternoon metal-detecting around the spot where Kenth Lärk found the c AD 500 relief brooch back in April. Compared to the Gothenburgers I’m crap at detecting, so I only found one datable piece of prehistoric metalwork in four hours: the handle of a 10th century key. Also a coin of mid-17th century Queen Christina and a lot of later odds and ends. I think this was the fourth It’s the sixth quarter-öre of Christina we’ve found in that field. Per has also noticed in his urban excavations that those coins are bloody everywhere.

Having failed to make contact with Dear Reader Hans to invite myself to his casa in Malmslätt, I am spending the evening alone in my room at a hostel by the swimming centre in Ljungsbro. Rain pours, making me fear for what the site will be like tomorrow. But I have books and chocolate, and so need not feel too sorry for myself.

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Howard’s Swedish Speaking Dates

My friend Howard Williams of the University of Exeter touched down at Arlanda airport in Sweden a couple of hours ago. He’s here for a few weeks of study and also giving talks at four archaeology departments. Good stuff for all friends of the Dark Ages!

Wednesday 19th September, 13.00
University of Stockholm
‘Memories in Miniature: New Perspectives on Artefacts and Commemoration in Early Medieval Britain c. 450-850 AD’

Thursday 20th September, 10.15
University of Uppsala
‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Commemoration’

Wednesday 26th September, 15.00
University of Lund
‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Commemoration’

Monday 1st October, 18.00
University of Kalmar
‘Death Warmed Up: Cremation in Early Anglo-Saxon England’

Children of the Posthole


Up until a thousand years ago, almost all buildings in Scandinavia through the ages had roof-supporting posts dug into the ground. Postholes are lovely things: they’re deep enough for at least the bottom end to survive heavy ploughing, they trap a lot of interesting stuff while a house is being built – lived in – torn down, and their layout across the site lets you reconstruct the building in great detail.

When you machine off the ploughsoil from a site and find a posthole building foundation, it is common to mark the postholes with coloured sticks, paper plates or shaving foam and photograph the whole thing, preferably from some vantage point such as the scoop of an excavator or a low-flying aeroplane. This gives you a good intuitive idea of the house’s placement in the landscape.

In the above picture (shot probably by his colleague Stina), Lars L of Arkland has marked out the foundations of a 12th century banquet hall at Varla in SW Sweden. And he’s done it in a novel way: using a visiting class of school kids. Most of the kids are standing on postholes belonging to the walls: these are usually small and shallow as all they had to support was the wattle-and-daub wall. In this case, however, we’re seeing a transitional structure type where the roof no longer has dedicated support posts inside the house, being instead supported by the walls. The next step was to do away with postholes entirely and anchor the wall posts in a horizontal sill-frame of wooden beams supported on a rectangle of stones sitting on top of the ground surface. That was a sad development in structural engineering, as a sill-frame building usually leaves no excavatable traces in ploughland once the farmer has carted off the sill stones.

The inside of a house with a wall-supported roof was a novelty, being the first time you could enter a large building in Scandinavia and see an airy space without roof-supporting posts everywhere. Here’s a brief rundown of the rural Scandy long house’s development.

  1. Early Neolithic, 4000 BC. Long houses appear, roof supported by a single line of posts down the centre of the house: interior thus separated into two aisles.
  2. Late Bronze Age, 1100 BC. Two-aisled house gives way to three-aisled house, with two lines of posts down the centre. Each building is divided into several functional units, with one half a byre and the other for living quarters.
  3. Viking Period, AD 800. Long houses survive mainly as banqueting halls, while the various units of the earlier multifunctional houses are built as separate small houses without interior roof supports. Sill frames appear alongside posthole walls.
  4. High Middle Ages, AD 1100. Long houses increasingly rare, small sill-frame buildings become the rule.

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Science Blogging Study

A couple of other bloggers here at Sb are writing a paper on the impact of science blogs on the outside world. You, Dear Reader, can help them by <a href="

“>filling out a questionnaire.

This survey attempts to access the opinions of bloggers, blog-readers, and non-blog folk in regards to the impact of blogs on the outside world. The authors of the survey are completing an academic manuscript on the impact of science blogging and this survey will provide invaluable data to answer the following questions:

  • Who reads or writes blogs?
  • What are the perceptions of blogging, and
  • What are the views of those who read blogs?
  • How do academics and others perceive science blogging?
  • What, if any, influence does science blogging have on science in general?

Please consider participating in the survey as an act of ‘internet solidarity’! It will likely take 10 minutes, and a bit more if you are a blogger yourself. We thank you in advance.

P.J. and Björk

Here’s something everybody’s watching right now in Sweden because one of our best pop music journalists is linking to it from the main newspaper’s web site. Thought music lovers elsewhere might like it too: Björk Guδmundsdóttir and P.J. Harvey performing “Satisfaction” at the 1994 Brit Awards. The ladies are 29 and 25 here, raw power!

Subway Conversation

From Tor yesterday (and I translate):

A short while ago I sat down in the subway beside a sixtyish lady, opened my backpack and got out a book titled From Frege to Gödel. A conversation ensued.

“Oh my, that’s a thick book! Is it maths?”

(Tor sighs silently and pulls out his ear plugs.)

“Yes, mathematical logic.”

“It’s like a brick!”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to read it from cover to cover, it’s an antholo…”

“Have you read Wittgenstein’s Taractus?”

“The Tractatus? Well, bits and…”

“When I am on the operating table, under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, Bertrand Russell keeps me company.”

But by then we were already in the Old Town, where the friendly lady was getting off.

Six New Coins of Olof


Olof Eriksson skotkonungr (c. 980-1021) is the first man of whom historical sources of adequate quality tell that he managed to get himself elected king of both the Götar and the Svear. These tribal groups had previously been organised separately, and thus Olof may fairly be seen as the first king of Sweden as we know it.

Olof’s main power base was the town of Sigtuna between Stockholm and Uppsala, founded by his father King Erik as a Christian replacement for the pagan trading post on Björkö (Biaerkey, latinicised Birca). Sigtuna was the site of Sweden’s first known mint, where English minters worked on a small scale, producing coins bearing Olof’s name but ripping off Ethelred’s designs. These coins are rare, so when six were recently found on Gotland it expanded the corpus considerably.

The new hoard is a small one for Gotland: only 54 coins all in all, tpq AD 1009, found during excavations after a home-owner in Bunge parish alerted the authorities to coins he’d found in his flowerbeds. As is common in 11th century hoards, the bulk is English and German coins.

Olof’s coins are so rare that they can’t really have functioned as legal tender. You can’t have a legal tender system if coins are so scarce that many people don’t know what they should look like. This suggests that Olof wasn’t striking coins for reasons of economic rationality. They were most likely part of propaganda efforts by this princeling on the periphery, proclaiming proudly that he was the Ethelred of the North, a real Christian king. Little did he know how posterity would value Ethelred the Unready.

Update 22 September: Here are hi-res pics of all the coins in the new hoard! The site’s Dan Carlsson’s, the tipoff came from Pierre.

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