Easing Swedish Metal Detector Restrictions

Restrictions on the use of metal detectors vary from country to country. In England, they are too lax. In Sweden, they are too strict. In Denmark, they are pretty much just right. As I’ve written before, I think everybody would stand to gain if the Swedish restrictions were eased. My idea is that we should treat metal detectors as hunting weapons: anybody who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge of rules and best practice should be licenced by the county authorities to use the instrument, and then allowed to continue doing so until they prove unfit. (Currently, all amateurs are considered unfit by default).

In the forthcoming summer issue of Fornvännen, I’ve got an opinion piece on this matter. Andreas Hennius tells me that the Swedish National Heritage Board is hosting a workshop on crimes against cultural heritage law in Gothenburg next week. So I’ve decided to put a pre-print of my piece on-line (in Swedish) to offer, perhaps, some food for discussion.

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Investigating the Field of Saint Olaf

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Certain place names over most of agricultural Scandinavia suggest that sacred fields were once prominent features of the landscape there. This was in the 1st Millennium AD, the period I work with. We have places named Field of Thor, Field of Freyr, Field of Frigga, or just Field, and all tend to be central locations in their districts, often lending their names to Medieval Christian parishes after the end of the pagan cult. Place-name scholars are uncertain about exactly what these sacred fields were used for, but it seems likely that they were the sites of seasonal rituals having to do with fertility and rich crops. Perhaps each year’s harvest began with ritual reaping in the sacred field?

In the province of Uppland is a hundred (a judicial and military district) named “Field of Thor”: TorsÃ¥ker. One of the parishes in this hundred is named “Central Place of Thor”: Torstuna. Near the parish church is a great barrow. Very likely, Torstuna is an abbreviated version of TorsÃ¥kerstuna, “Central Place of Thor’s Field”, and chances are that the hundred assembly convened there in the Viking Period.

In his 2001 PhD thesis, Gudarnas platser, “The Places of the Gods”, my buddy Per Vikstrand discussed Torstuna and a discovery he made about the place. Just north of the village, within clear view of both church and barrow, is a field with a very funny name on the oldest 18th century map. It’s named The Field of Saint Olaf. This is, to my knowledge, a unique field name: pieces of land in Sweden are hardly ever named after saints. Per suggested that this might be the old Field of Thor, renamed with Christianisation. The step from a hammer-wielding pagan god to an axe-holding Viking saint may not have been very great.

At my suggestion, Per and I have gotten permits to metal-detect a number of fields with suggestive names that he has identified in the early maps. Today we went to the field of Saint Olaf in Torstuna and put in six man-hours of detector work plus six man-hours of fieldwalking (we only had one metal-detector between us). Our idea is to turn the sacred fields from a hypothesis among place-name scholars into an object of archaeological study.

The field adjoins an area full of earthworks and house foundations: they belong to a Bronze Age settlement site (like the one at Älvesta in Botkyrka) and a 19th century crofter’s holding. The former may explain a burnt flint chip that we picked up and a certain amount of quartz debitage, dating from before our period of study. As for later centuries, we found two large sherds of fine glazed wheel-turned stoneware of the 19th 14th century.

But what about the 1st Millennium? Pieces of a strike-a-light flint with characteristic crush damage and a slate whetstone probably belong there. And a Viking Period padlock key certainly does! We managed to make contact with the Viking Period on our first try!

The finds are too few so far to support any detailed functional interpretation. But they do have one thing in common: they’re small portable objects that people are likely to have brought with them on trips. To the hundred’s sacred field, perhaps? The road to Torstuna is lined with rune stones. There is very little burnt stone and no visible charcoal in that field, so it doesn’t look like a ploughed-out Viking Period settlement site.

I’m really tired now after a day walking in the sunshine on Saint Olaf’s field.

Update 19 April: Dear Reader Dreikin posed a good question: “… how do you detect that these rocks are created by humans and not natural?”

Firstly, it’s harder when you can only see a photograph. Secondly, it takes a certain amount of practice. Compared to natural pieces of rock, these two really stand out as modified: one by knapping and strike-a-lighting, the other by honing steel blades against the surface of the slate.

Also, I picked these two out when fieldwalking: I was standing up and they were half-buried in the surface of the earth. At that distance, I couldn’t see the details that convinced me that they are artefacts. But I could see that the material was unusual: flint and slate. If the entire field had been littered with natural pieces of those materials, chances are I wouldn’t have picked the modified ones up.

I’ve been a small-finds geek for 16 years. But I still don’t have a good handle on the dreaded quartz, because of its unpredictable fracturing behaviour. If you give me a bag of quartz frags, I’ll have to sort it into a small pile for “certainly modified”, a middling one for “certainly unmodified” and a big pile for “maybe modified”.

Update 21 May: I know nothing about historic-period pottery. The beautiful stoneware that I placed in the 14th century is in fact 19th century packaging for mineral water, seltzer bottles, made in the Rhineland. Thanks to pottery guru Mathias Bäck for setting me straight!

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Another Funny Brooch

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Here’s a funny little guy from our site in Kaga. It’s a crumpled-up disc-brooch, about 75% complete, original diameter 71 mm, copper-alloy pin extant and folded into the brooch, pin-catch extant on back, apparently soldered on.

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On the surface of the brooch are a central large boss with mock-filigree, surrounded by five identical ones, and outside those five are another five smaller bosses. All in all eleven bosses. The surface of the brooch is divided into petal-like fields by lines of tiny bumps. All decoration is visible on the back side too: most of the piece is just 0.6 mm thick.

I really wonder about this baby. Judging from the rest of the finds on-site, it’s likely to date from after AD 400. But it doesn’t look much like anything Scandinavian from the period 400-1100. (During this period, Scandy brooch pins are almost exclusively iron.) It does look a bit like a cheap version of a Kentish 6th century cloisonné brooch. So my guess is that this piece is either

  • English/Frankish 400-1100,
  • Scandy 1100-1500, or
  • Continental 1100-1500.

Anybody able to help?

Tech Note: Help Me Choose a Smartphone

The audio connector on my Qtek 9100 smartphone (handheld computer cum cellphone) has crapped out for the second time in two years. The warranty’s lapsed, and repairing the thing would cost a third of what an equivalent machine of a current model would set me back. My 9100’s battery life is flagging, it’s a 2005 design and it has a number of irritating design glitches. So I’m in the market for a new handheld.

When I asked my readers two years ago to recommend me a machine, I didn’t get a single answer. You guys are a wee bit more numerous these days, so I’m thinking maybe you might have an idea about what I should get.

Here are the specs I’m aiming for.

  • Cell phone connectivity
  • Wifi connectivity that actually allows me to connect, not just see that there’s an access point
  • Swedish qwerty keyboard
  • NOT Windows Mobile
  • Works as a vanilla USB drive when connected to a desktop computer, or has removeable flash cartridge
  • GPS navigator
  • Full-screen time & date readouts when in sleep mode
  • Hardware key-lock button
  • Stable touch-screen that needs re-calibration less than once a year
  • Decent camera

What model smartphone are you using, Dear Reader? Are you happy with it? What should I get?

Update 16 April: Browsing the market, I find that I’ll have to accept another Windows Mobile machine since there are too few alternatives. And it seems that the HP iPAQ 914, the Samsung SGH-i780 and the soon forthcoming i-mate Ultimate 8502 might be pretty good. (I’m not going for the descendant of my current machine, the HTC TYTN II.) Opinions, anyone?

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Rupert Sheldrake Stabbed by Madman

i-dbb38da1b423ec26781cad011fffebdf-200804031021.jpgOn Wednesday 2 April, British fringe researcher Rupert Sheldrake was stabbed in the leg by a man showing symptoms of severe mental illness. The wound was serious but not fatal. The attacker struck shortly after Sheldrake had called a break in his presentation to the 10th International Conference on Science and Consciousness in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In my opinion, the paranormal ideas for which Sheldrake is known are simply nuts. But I don’t think he would be likely to attack anybody with a knife, and he certainly doesn’t deserve such treatment himself. Get well soon, Dr. Sheldrake! I much prefer you alive and saying things I find whacky than the alternative.

Via The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

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Tobias Bondesson Makes and Shoots Finds

Tobias Bondesson has kindly sent me photographs of several interesting finds, taken during our recent fieldwork with the heavy dudes of the Gothenburg Historical Society. With his permission, I’ve inserted them into the relevant blog entries:

Tobias has also opened my eyes to Nordisk Detektorforum, an on-line discussion forum and image database for (mainly Danish) detectorists. These guys are responsible, keen and hugely knowledgeable. One user, for instance, identified a coin we found as struck for a 12th century Archbishop of Cologne, but another one made a suggestion that seems more likely, viz that we’re dealing with the last or second-to-last Count of Katlenburg in the later 11th century.

Carnivalia

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The thirty-eighth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at A Very Remote Period Indeed. Archaeology and anthropology, and all seen in relation to the the Rice Track/Soccer Stadium in Houston, Texas.

The next open hosting slot is on 4 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 be a trustee of the Rice Track/Soccer Stadium, like me.

And check out the new Skeptics’ Circle!

Podcast Passions

A week ago I complained that I couldn’t find any good podcasts, and you guys responded with a wealth of recommendations. More to my surprise, a number of irate fans of the popular Nobody Likes Onions podcast showed up. They left a bunch of nasty comments to the effect that I am a stuck-up faggot who needs hair implants etc. This is kind of funny since what I had said in a possibly ironic way was that I don’t like the top-10 podcasts, but that this was only to be expected since most people are morons and so anything with mass appeal is unlikely to be any good. I gotta say that the NLO commenters did nothing to dispel that notion.

Anyway, commenter TJ pointed out that the most authoritative top-10 list for podcasts isn’t the one at Podcast Alley, but the one at iTunes. I can only get at their top-5 list without installing their software, but here it is:

  1. Oprah and Eckhart’s A New Earth
  2. This American Life
  3. Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil
  4. Fresh Air (NPR)
  5. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)

Nos 2 and 5 have been recommended by Aard readers, which suggests that I may be wrong about top lists and morons. But let’s note that Oprah is no 1 — q.e.d.

Meanwhile, I’ve found two more podcasts that I do like: Sex is Fun about astronomy and Planetary Radio about sex. The latter has excellent sexy astronomical news coverage, marred somewhat by a hokey US “family-friendly” style of presentation. (I was really relieved when the presenter allowed himself to say “crap” in the latest episode.)

Update 13 April: Charming and intelligent NLO fans are now taunting me in the comments because my podcast is not as popular as NLO. This really hurts since I don’t even have a podcast. And of course they’re calling me a faggot again, which I gather from context is supposed to be an insult. I just wonder whom they’re hoping to attract to NLO by this behaviour!?

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