Raine Borg is the Keymaster


Raine Borg has an amazing web site about locks and keys through history. And it so happens that he’s made reconstruction drawings of how keys identical to the one me and Per Vikstrand found in Torstuna recently were used. It’s not a padlock key: it’s most likely for a lock mounted permanently inside the lid of a chest or a door.


Lena Thunmark-Nylén’s Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands informs me that the key type dates from the 11th and 12th centuries. Thus, alas, a bit too late to tell us much about pagan activities in the Field of Thor.

Thanks to Raine for permission to reproduce his drawings and to Tobias B. for tipping me off.

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I’m messing around with Skype and I find it’s working very well indeed. (Skype is in fact the only part of my linux installation that can interact with my Logitech USB headset.) So, Dear Reader, feel free to give a shout to mrundkvist!

All My Readers are Descendants of Royalty

Commenters on yesterday’s entry broached the subject of being the descendant of European royalty. I’d say everybody alive today with even a vaguely europid complexion is such a royal scion.

Do the math as you count generations into the past. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on through the centuries. Soon you reach a point where the number of ancestors in a given generation is larger than the population of the Earth at the time. (This is possible because as you move back, a single individual may occupy a large number of slots on your family tree, which is known as pedigree collapse. That is such a badass term.)

The population of Europe in AD 1000 is estimated at about 36 million. Not all of them had kids. With a mean generation length (defined as the duration from a person’s birth to the birth of their first child) of 25 years, we get 40 generations per millennium. 240=1,099,511,627,776. There are almost 1100 billion slots on your tree in AD 1000. So all living Europeans and European-descended people elsewhere are descendants of Saint Olaf.

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The Strange Fate of the First Christian Burials on Gotland

In the mid-to-late 19th century, just as Scandy (and thus, it’s fair to say, world) archaeology was making its first big breakthroughs, a lot of furnished 11th century female burials unexpectedly turned up in the churchyards of Gotland. The chain of events that led to this windfall of new data is convoluted and, in my opinion, quite fascinating.

Gotland is a large limestone island in the Baltic and a province of Sweden. Its first organised Christian congregations came together in the early 11th century, and they had some rather unusual burial customs. They had already practiced inhumation as pagans for two centuries. When they left the pagan cemeteries and started new Christian ones, many congregations continued to furnish the graves. (I wrote about this at length in my PhD thesis, vol. 2, ch. 4). The new cemeteries were gender segregated, so that women were buried to the left (north) when one faced the altar, and men to the right (south). Furnished burial petered out in the early 12th century, but gender segregation continued for some time longer.

These people had very concrete and literal ideas about Resurrection. On Judgement Day, their Maker would appear in the morning sky, and they would rise bodily from their graves to greet him. Thus everybody was buried with their feet toward the east for convenience. In the 13th century, the Gotlanders suddenly stopped using the northern halves of their churchyards. Some authors maintain that this was because the female, sinister side had become connected to ideas about bad luck and evil spirits in a rather vague way. But others point to writings of the time that suggest that when the angel sounds the trumpet on Judgement Day, then all churches will collapse, and they will collapse northward. This will make it very hard for anyone buried there to get out from under the pile of rubble to meet their Maker.

Christian churchyards are very unsafe places for anyone who wishes to enjoy eternal rest. Whereas a pagan cemetery can expand in all directions with impunity, a Christian one has a wall around its hallowed ground, a wall outside of which only suicides and unchristened babies may be buried. Thus churchyards tend to get crowded really quickly, and soon need an ossuary to store all the bones that surface when new graves are dug into old ones. For this reason, 11th century male graves are almost unknown from the churchyards of Gotland: they were all destroyed by grave digging in the Middle Ages. But the coeval female graves lay undisturbed in the shady northern part of the cemeteries — until the dramatic population expansion of the 19th century.

Man of letters, bishop etc. Esaias Tegnér famously explained this expansion with reference to “peace, vaccine and potatoes”. Sweden has had peace since 1814, smallpox vaccination came into widespread use in 1801, and the Swedes finally did learn to eat the potatoes instead of making vodka from them. This meant, with time, that the churchyards of Gotland became so crowded that something had to be done. In many parishes, what people did was to break the six centuries old taboo on burial north of the church. And so their Viking Period great-great-great grandmothers’ rest finally began to be disturbed.

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Tech Note: Ubuntu Linux 8.04 Hardy Heron Running Fine

I just installed Hardy, the brand new version of Ubuntu Linux, on the household’s two Dell PCs. They’re a Dimension 4550 mini-tower and an Inspiron 6000 laptop, and I’m happy to say that everything’s running fine so far. (Almost.) The release is so new that Google hasn’t even had time to update their toolbar for the new version of Firefox.

The irritating wake-up bug in Gutsy has been taken care of. Used to be, every time my laptop went into suspension or hibernation mode, it would have to wake up, immediately and spontaneously go back to sleep and wake up a second time before I could resume working.

The one problem that remains was introduced with the previous version, Gutsy: sound issues. When I installed it, sound died on the laptop after having worked under version Feisty. The only sound I can get out of the laptop now is when I plug in a USB headset: I’m treated to Ubuntu’s mock-ethno login sound on both machines, but then I can’t get any other sound out of the headset. The analog sound output on the mini-tower, meanwhile, works just fine.

Any ideas how to make the laptop sing under Ubuntu Hardy?

(Oh, and let me promote this thing: if you’re running e.g. Windows and you’re curious about Linux, you can download a CD image of Ubuntu, burn a disc and boot the whole operating system from it, no strings attached.)

Update 27 April: I’m lucky enough to have a number of very computer-literate friends. And David Kvarnberg is not just any computer professional: he works for an audio software firm. So, after a series of gruelling software tests conducted over ICQ, he managed to find the source of my audio problem. And it was remarkably easy to solve.

Ubuntu Linux has a master volume control in the screen-top control bar. Left-click on it to control your volume. Right-click on it, and a menu appears, including the option to “open” the volume control. This gives you a larger volume control panel with ten slider bars and six mute-buttons. When Ubuntu Gutsy and Hardy were configured for shipping, someone correctly decided that the master volume should be on and the PC speaker too. But the “PCM”, line-in, CD and microphone were apparently best muted by default in this person’s opinion.

PCM means “pulse-code modulation”, which really leaves me no wiser. And apparently, it’s important stuff. So, Dear Reader, if your Ubuntu machine is inexplicably silent, try unmuting the PCM. It worked for me!

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Let’s Shoot Bits of Peter Higgs into the LHC!


A number of prominent people in science and science fiction have had samples of their body tissues launched into space after they died. Thus Gene Roddenberry, thus Timothy Leary, thus Clyde Tombaugh, to name only three. Now, I’ve come up with a similar honour for particle physicists.

Currently, it appears that the matter being shot into particle accelerators — protons taken from hydrogen nuclei, lead ions — is just anonymous off-the-shelf stuff from chemical supply firms. This is boring. Instead, all the big old guys and gals in high energy physics should contribute tissue samples, from which hydrogen and lead could be extracted and then shot into the Large Hadron Collider. BANG HIGGS BOSON!

They wouldn’t even have to be dead first.

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Anthro Blog Carnival

The thirty-ninth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Hominin Dental Anthropology. Archaeology and anthropology in honour of Maximiliano Gómez. He was the leader of the Maoist Movimiento Popular Dominicano (MPD), a militant organization opposed to the Joaquín Balaguer government and to U.S. presence in the Dominican Republic. Commended by some, repudiated by others, the controversial figure of Maximiliano Gomez is part of the political heritage of the Dominican Republic.

The next open hosting slot is on 18 June. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me. No need to be an anthro pro. But you must look like Maximiliano Gómez, like I do.

Clas Tollin on 12th Century Land Ownership

The former Cistercian abbey of Alvastra in 1639.

My brother in arms against pomo nonsense, human/cultural geographer Clas Tollin, has put half the manuscript of his forthcoming book on-line beforehand (fully illustrated, in Swedish). The title is StorgÃ¥rdar, egenkyrkor och sockenbildning i Omberg-TÃ¥kernomrÃ¥det under äldre medeltid, “Manorial farms, private churches and the genesis of parishes in the Omberg-TÃ¥kern area in the Early Middle Ages”. (These are the Swedish Early Middle Ages, dating from about AD 1100 to 1250.) Hugely useful to me as I’m doing fieldwork and writing about the period up to AD 1000 in that very area, and likely to be interesting to many others too.

Via LL.

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Film Review: Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills

There was a time, around the age of twenty, when I saw some pretty weird movies. First I lived a short bike ride from the Swedish Film Institute, where I caught Kenneth Anger and Luis Buñuel (neither of whom I liked much — I walked out on Anger’s shorts). Then I moved to a place with a TV set just as Swedish commercial television took off. The stations didn’t have much money yet and would broadcast the weirdest, cheapest feature films on weekend afternoons. Two stuck in my mind: one a low-budget Italian Conan rip-off whose title eludes me, the other an American picture from 1989 named Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.

I only saw about the last third of Scenes at the time, and it really amazed me. It was this completely dream-like ironic bedroom farce where everybody got it on in random combinations. I never forgot it, and so I recently bought it used on video tape (there’s a 2005 DVD edition as well) and had a good look.

I wasn’t disappointed. Scenes is just as weird as it seemed when I stumbled into it. Stylised yet silly, comedic yet with a strange sense of unreality.

The story is simple: a wealthy Beverly Hills divorcee has to find accommodation over a weekend while a bug extermination company wraps her house in orange plastic (cue Christo joke) and gasses it. With her teenage son and chauffeur, she moves in with her equally affluent neighbour, a recently widowed ex-movie-star. A number of other people come to visit, and everybody starts fucking everyone.

There’s a lot of meta-stuff going on. The film helps itself to the good bits out of Buñuel and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the latter providing a template for a lot of purposely hammy acting and dialogue. Reading up, I learn that the whole thing is loosely based on the 1939 French feature La Règle du Jeu and that the title parodies the 1977 US documentary Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal. Only mentioning stuff I’ve seen myself, Scenes shares cast members with The Princess Bride, Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck.

Scenes is a playful, ironic, surreal comedy. It’ll make you laugh, it’s got some righteously soft-porn moments, and after you’ve watched it you’ll feel like your worldview is slightly askew for a while.

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