Going to Cons

Two months from now I’m going to spend a week on the US East Coast, attending two conferences and doing some sightseeing.

From 18 to 22 January I’ll be in the Chapel Hill/Durham area of North Carolina for the 2nd Science Blogging Conference, where I’m co-chairing a session on blogging about the humanities and social sciences.

From 23 to 27 January I’ll be in Plantation/Ft Lauderdale, Florida, for The Amazing Meeting 5.5, a skeptical conference hosted by James Randi. I think there’s a seat on a panel for me there.

Dear Reader, both of these conferences are looking really good, and I’d love to meet you there. In the interval between the cons I’m going to be a lone tourist, and I’d be thrilled to meet up with local Dear Readers in either of the two areas. Please get in touch!

OK kids, who’s going to which con? There’s still room!

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Lucifer Over London

i-19aaa168a72796b846ffce341654bbde-current9308020312.jpgDear Reader, have you lately heard much merry folk rock with apocalyptic lyrics about the coming of the Antichrist over London?

My dear friend Asko is, among other things, a war gamer, a geocacher, an antiquarian amateur, a fiction writer and a musician. Hear him play the bass on releases by 90s stoner rock outfit Dear Mutant! (I have heard kickass stuff from the band’s final unreleased album sessions…) Asko recently recommended me a track by Current 93, a band I’d never heard of. Turns out it’s a huge body of recordings from the early 80s onward by occult Englishman David Tibet with various co-musicians. These people link the project to Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV etc.

The song Asko told me to start with is “Lucifer Over London”. I found a live recording from 1994, and as far as I can tell it wasn’t released in any studio version before that. A gothy distorted feedback-laden guitar first plays briefly with the intro to Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, then settles into a folky three-beats-to-the-bar groove, accented by a tambourine. And then David Tibet comes on, a wild-eyed seeker of cosmic truth, not without humorous distance to the dreamy lyrics, yet sounding dangerously prophetic and unhinged. “Current 93” is a concept out of Aleister “Evilest Guy” Crowley’s writings, and Tibet clearly half-believes in it all, Satanism, Christianity or both or none.

Allmusic lists 47 albums by this guy so far, generally giving them very high marks for quality and originality throughout. This is not a musician who bloomed early and then settled into complacency and increasing irrelevance: the reviews imply that he suffered a bit of a quality slump from about ’85 to ’95 (around the age of 30), releasing stellar stuff in great profusion before and after that period. And the excellent “Lucifer Over London” belongs to the slump! Looks well worth delving into, and deliciously underground.

The versions of the lyrics available on the web are much longer than the original and more or less corrupt. They indicate that a 2000 cover version by Greek death metallers Rotting Christ is more popular (or simply more easily available) than the original. I’ve put the lyrics below in line with the Current 93 track. (Isn’t it unbelievably metal for a death guitarist to be named Kostas Vassilakopoulos?)

Lucifer Over London
Lyrics by David Tibet

Twisted wings and clouds unfold
And the great taint of He who fell
Makes darkened shadows
Over pointed spires

Little children point and sing
Little children run and dance
Over there the setting sun
Over there the setting sun
Lucifer over London

Under that the silent stars
Under they the laughing world
Under that the silent skies
Balance sits

In western parts and piles spare spares
In his gabled room
Lucifer over London

All the little Christs I count
Laughing in the green green fields
Some of these angels have the face of Gods
Some of them the face of dogs
Lucifer over London

A golden seabird
Half dead with spray
Evil incense moons
The glint of dead fruits
The shining stars topple

And all this falls
Under his cloak
Lucifer over London

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Hopeful Buttons

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Dear Reader, it’s been a while since I asked you to press any buttons. If you like Aard, and haven’t already done so, would you please do me the favour of pressing a button in the left-hand column, right below my profile? Good grades make blogger happy! Thanks.

The Onion Knows the Archaeological Worldview

Archaeologists have an extremely strange worldview. We never simply see what’s going on around us right now: we keep thinking about what a place would have looked like hundreds of years ago, or what it will look like in the far future. The Onion has a great piece on-line about just that: “Crime Scene Investigators Find Arrowhead”.

“Their bodies showed signs of blunt force trauma to the head, as well as several postmortem stab wounds, although no indications of sexual abuse were present. A steel pipe bearing human blood and tissue matter was found at the scene but did not appear to be related to the arrowhead.

“We just couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” said Lt. Derek LaScolla, the lead detective on the case. “As a police officer, you like to think you’re prepared for anything, but an arrowhead all the way out here is an extremely rare find.”

Anders Söderberg on Sigtuna Metalworking

I’m on a guest blogger roll. Here’s something about 11th and 12th century metalworking finds from Sigtuna near Stockholm by my friendly colleague Anders Söderberg. He and our mutual friend Ny Björn Gustafsson are making sense of stuff that usually ends up with burnt daub in large anonymous sacks that nobody ever opens. Impressive work!


The excavation of the Trädgårdsmästaren block in Sigtuna 1988-90 hasn’t yet been published, but the dig is of tremendous archaeological value since it covered 1100 square meters and spans about 270 years, from the founding of the town in the late 10th centiry until the mid 13th. Together with my colleague Ny Björn Gustafsson, I’ve had access to the finds of fired clay, slag and technical ceramics — such as like moulds and crucibles — from the excavation. They have turned out to contain loads of information.

The finds tell rather concrete stories about the development of metal crafts in the town, from discreet and vague production of luxury goods in the early 11th century to commercial production of larger volumes in the 12th. Also, the site probably hosted a mint under King Knut Eriksson in the 1180s. Signs of this activity were secured already during the excavations, but now it can be verified by traces from extensive precious-metal refining work in the area. Thereby we can also spot the remains of what may have been the mint’s assaying office, where silver bullion was refined and tested before being struck into coins.

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2) A cupel, a small vessel made from bone ash used for silver analysis, probably connected to the minting in the late 12th century. Width c. 35 mm.

In the mid-11th century a permanent jewellery workshop was set up on one of the town plots. This seems to have been an important workshop, under command of an important owner, as it appears to have housed a goldsmith from Kiev judging from the find of a crucible of Russian type. An identical crucible has been found in Kiev, connected to royal or aristocratic contexts, and so far this is the only one of this type found in Sweden. Early Sigtuna had close connections to Kiev by marriage between the royal families. Obviously at some point a delegation brought a goldsmith over, who worked in the workshop for some time.

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The crucible from Sigtuna (left) compared to the almost identical crucible from Kiev (right; after Karger 1958).

A famous retinue, contemporary with the crucible, landed in Sigtuna about 1045, when Harald Hardrada stopped on his voyage from Constantinople to Norway where he was later crowned. He brought with him great wealth as well as his new wife, Princess Ellisiv of Kiev, granddaughter of Olof Eriksson, King in Sigtuna, and daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav of Kiev. It’s certainly tempting to connect the crucible to that very delegation, but speculative, as it is something we won’t ever be able to prove. Despite this, the crucible is strong evidence for the connections between Sigtuna and Kiev in the 11th century.

The finds from Trädgårdsmästaren are voluminous, and by this investigation we’ve merely scratched the surface of the information contained in them. A long paper on our investigations, “Från prestigevarugjutning till myntning, tidigmedeltida metallurgi i Kv Trädgårdsmästaren, Sigtuna” has recently been published in Situne Dei 2007, the annual of Sigtuna Museum.

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Jim Benton on Christianity’s Problem of Communication

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Guest blogger Jim Benton, scourge of faiths big and small, pokes a few innovative holes in the logical fabric of Christianity.

Introduction — Joseph, the ‘Five Rocks,’ and the Problem of Communication.

This article began as a series of four comments at Debunking Christianity in response to the second of a series of essays by a relatively new member named Joseph. Joseph is an ex-minister and counselor in a conservative Christian denomination who had found his faith weakening even before he came to DC. I am not sure if it is accurate to say that our influence — I am no longer a member, but an almost daily commenter there — ‘completed his deconversion’ or if we merely provided a ‘soft landing’ when he parachuted from a religion he could no longer accept.

Joseph has become a member and has begun a series of articles on the ‘5 Big Rocks’ — “five major hurdles I encountered to faith in Christianity, culminating in my deconversion.” His second piece was on “The Problem of Communication”, and since both he and John Loftus have given me credit for inventing this term in this context, he asked me to comment extensively on it. Those of you who know me will realise that I couldn’t resist, but comments can get lost, so I have rewritten them into one (lengthy, of course its lengthy, it’s me) article.

To put it briefly, the ‘problem of communication’ holds that it is necessary, if you accept the ideas behind Christianity, to accept that Jesus (or God, for Christadelphians and others who are Christians but deny Jesus’ ‘divinity’) was an incredibly inefficient and incompetent conveyor of his ‘message’. I’ve argued that the problem of communication is a loaded gun, loaded with at least four bullets, and every shot creates a mortal wound in the body of Christian belief.
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17th Century Urban Archaeology

My friendly colleague Claes Pettersson heads excavations in Jönköping, a town in Småland. His team is working with 17th-century urban layers in a part of town that was laid out and settled by royal decree starting in the 1620s. Here are his pics of a few cool finds.

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A shard from a painted window.

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Part of a sword hilt, decorated with sweet non-sword-wielding little putti. (This piece is going to be sooo pretty after conservation.)

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A baker’s mould depicting King Gustavus II Adolphus. In modern times, there has arisen a tradition to eat cake bearing the king’s image on the anniversary of his battlefield death. Such cakes were however unknown during his lifetime, and so Claes hypothesises that the mould may have been used to make funeral sweets out of black marzipan, a popular treat at the time. (I’ve enhanced the contrast of Claes’s photograph to bring the chubby king out.)

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A heavy lead bullet was found stuck in a floor board in the ruins of a house built in the 1620s. Explains Claes, “Most likely wood salvaged from the old town area, and if so probably a memento from the siege of Jönköping Castle in 1612! These days, most of our Danish visitors are considerably more peaceful.”

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Call for Nominations: 2008 Gene S. Stuart Award

A press release for you archaeoheads:

An award of $2000 is made to honor outstanding efforts to enhance public understanding of archaeology, in memory of Gene S. Stuart, a writer and managing editor of National Geographic Society books. The Award is given to the most interesting and responsible original story or series about any archaeological topic published in a newspaper or magazine with a circulation of at least 25,000. The award will be presented at the 2008 Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 28, 2008.

Past winners have included individual stories on local archaeological projects and series that span international boundaries and the range of archaeological endeavors. Included have been exposés on looting and pot hunting, interactions with local populations, and controversies. Paleontology, although a worthy field in itself, is not eligible for this award. No dinosaur stories please.

Special Requirements

  • The nominated article should have been published within the calendar year of 2007
  • An author/newspaper may submit no more than five stories or five articles from a series
  • Nomination packets may be submitted as PDFs via email to Renata B. Wolynec.
  • If submitting hard copies, six copies of each entry must be submitted by the author or an editor of the newspaper to:

    Renata B. Wolynec
    Department of History and Anthropology
    Hendricks Hall 143, 235 Scotland Road
    Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
    Edinboro, PA 16444

Deadline for nomination: January 11, 2008.

Thanks to Malin at Vetenskapsnytt for the heads-up.