Bodice-Ripper Archaeology

i-223fdd13b8de3b00c0788fcecaa7a2c7-Skamby05-silver pin lores.JPGIn 2005, when Howard Williams and I and a bunch of hard-working people excavated a Viking Period boat grave at Skamby in Östergötland, we found a funny little silver pin. It wasn’t in the grave, it was found just outside the edge of the superstructure, near the ground surface, though technically in a culture layer of the 2nd century BC. I’ve been trying off and on to find parallells to the pin, showing its picture to a lot of knowledgeable people, to no avail. Everybody has the same impression as myself: it doesn’t quite look like anything from Swedish Prehistory. So in a recent paper I co-authored with ceramics expert Ole Stilborg and Howard, we said that we really didn’t know what to make of the pin.

Today my friend and frequent collaborator Tim Olsson [Schröder] solved the riddle. Tim, being an ace metal detectorist, knows a lot about finds from recent centuries. He told me in email that he had seen darning needles from the 18th century and found that they have just about the same size and shape as the Skamby pin. They, however, are not decorated on the stem, which is hardly surprising as any irregularities there would snag the yarn. He suggested that I talk to the people at the Museum of Nordic Culture. I sent a picture and a few words of explanation to the museum, and very swiftly received a reply from the excellent Berit Eldvik. Turns out that Tim had gotten the pin’s date right and its function almost right (and I translate):

“It’s not a darning needle, but probably a lacing pin, that is, one that women used to lace a string or a ribbon through the lace holes of their bodices. They’re usually about 7 cm long, often made out of silver with various kinds of decoration or spiral-twisted. They could be dull-pointed as they weren’t intended to pierce fabric.

I append a picture of a bodice with a lacing pin from the early 19th century from Sorunda parish in Södermanland. How far back into time these lacing pins reach is more than I dare say. I do believe they extend back at least to the 17th century.”

What this means is that apparently a certain amount of bodice-ripping has been going on around the cemetery in c. the 18th century. I hope they enjoyed themselves!

i-873d9a9f5259ee7682a65f2d5cefaf7c-livstycke sorunda.jpg

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Book review: Prothero, Evolution

i-1f93ccb4cc2f98f6c5cff7d411788f26-prothero-evolution.jpgI read Donald Prothero’s Evolution for the palaeontology and general evolutionary zoology, and I was not disappointed. The book is up-to-date, well-argued, well-illustrated and aimed at the educated lay reader. Stylistically, it’s not bad, though poorly copy-edited, and I did find the author’s use of exclamation marks and italics a little overdone. Nevertheless: this is good solid pop-sci, very enjoyable.

But it’s not just a book about evolutionary zoology. It’s also a salvo in a war that’s being fought on that far-off continent, Northern America. In this respect it reminded me of another good pop-sci book on quite another subject: Secret Origins of the Bible. Tim Callahan’s 2002 primer on the Old Testament’s roots in mythological and legendary literature of earlier and nearby civilisations has the same kind of two-item agenda. Both Prothero’s and Callahan’s books are fighting the US Christian Right, a movement I would barely be aware of if it weren’t for their adversaries — if it weren’t for people like Prothero and Callahan.

I realise that in the US you can’t popularise evolutionary biology or the mundane literary history of religious texts without taking a stand against the obfuscating fundies that cloud these issues. So reading these books, it is very clear to me that as a Swede I am not really part of the target audience. Us Scandies are lucky enough that we needn’t even mention creationism or other fundamentalist misconceptions in our popular science. If I write in Swedish about the Mesolithic, a period lasting thousands of years and ending around 4000 BC, I never have to fear that my readers might believe that the world was made by Sky Guy in 4004 BC. Indeed, I can safely assume that most readers won’t believe in any sky guy at all.

But I know that these writers aren’t overestimating the problem. Inspired by the two incompatible Bronze Age creation myths of Genesis, half of the US population prefers not to accept the evident fact that life has evolved from small beginnings and that we are a recent result of this process. I don’t understand how this can be so, but I do see why this sort of thing has to be dealt with in books like Prothero’s. So I just skim past those bits to get to the real science. As I recommend you to do, Dear Reader, with the fine book I’ve mentioned briefly here.

Three other bloggers’ reviews of the book: Living the Scientific Life, Laelaps, Darwin Report.

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I’m Praised in Romanian, I Think

My on-line buddy Vladimir over at Diogenes’s Bottle has blogged extensively and almost incomprehensibly about my humble personage. Just look at the possibly wonderful (or not) things he has to say about me!

La început – e drept – ideea ma amuza, caci citeam constant blogul lui Martin, un prieten suedez arheolog, care s-a mutat apoi de la Blogger catre bloggeristii profi-, adica cei platiti sa blogareasca. Martin era si este un personaj interesant. L-am cunoscut live on the web prin 2003-2004, când lucram la primul meu articol despre Basarabi si, din lipsa de materiale bune pe spatiul scandinav în România, un amic arheolog belgian m-a pus în legatura cu el. Ei doi erau prieteni buni si ca urmare Martin mi-a dat o mâna buna de ajutor, demonstrându-mi pas cu pas, într-o serie lunga de vreo 20 de mailuri, ca la Basarabii mei nu se aflase vreodata picior de viking. Au venit apoi alte mailuri cu bibliografie scanata si Martin s-a ocupat, cot la cot cu mine, de cercetare.

You wouldn’t believe the number of unexpectedly placed cedillas and little semicircles I’ve had to strip from this quotation because I don’t know how to code them.