Fieldwork in Kimstad and Kaga

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Frag of a brooch decorated with embossed silver foil. 5th century. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

Our site in Kimstad parish looked even better than I’d thought. This was one of many cases where I’ve come swooping in to sites that I’ve never visited before and directed metal detecting. In Kimstad, I had been attracted by Östergötland’s only (probable) Viking Period wetland weapon sacrifice, a fine sword found during drainage work. But I didn’t want more swords. They’re too expensive to conserve, and my project is about the settlements of people who could afford to sacrifice that sort of thing. So I got permission to check out the fields around a nearby hilltop cemetery instead, which looked like a good place for an abandoned farmstead.

I hadn’t realised what the topography would be like. The hill turned out to be really high, with an awesome view, and there were plenty of really good surfaces for settlement on its flanks. I knew from the map that there were many little islets of rock and clearance stone in the fields around the hill. Very promising.

Yet we found almost nothing in 13 man-hours. We haven’t cleaned the finds yet, but I don’t think there’s anything older than a 18th century book clasp. A little disappointing, but I’m glad we went there so I could see the amazing landscape and fraternise with a bunch of horses.

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Crumpled-up highly ornate disc brooch. As yet unclassified. Best guess — Viking Period? Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

After lunch we returned for the fourth time to the site in Kaga parish that I’ve been blogging so much about for the past two years. Much of the surface was stubble, which is bad because it keeps the detector’s disc off the ground. But still, 20 man-hours netted us a fine early-5th century brooch with a semicircular head decorated with embossed silver foil, a 9th century brooch in the shape of an equal-armed cross with animal-head terminals reminiscent of Irish manuscript art, and loads of other weird & wonderful stuff.

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9th century brooch in the shape of an equal-armed cross with animal-head terminals reminiscent of Irish manuscript art.

A fine day ended in a very fine way when Mr & Mrs LL of Arkland invited us to dinner. LL took us for a drive around Bjärka-Säby at sundown, beautiful landscape with meadows and hoary oaks, and then we ate and talked and took our pick of LL’s archaeological library, which he has decided to slim down before moving to Visby.

Six sites in three days, whew! And it’s given me both a databurst for the book and excellent camaraderie.

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Fieldwork in Tingstad and Östra Husby

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Frag of a lion-shaped badge with a rivet used to fix it to some surface. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

Another day of fruitful fieldwork, with friendly landowners and pretty good weather. We started out with 20 man-hours in the fields around a fortified hilltop settlement in Tingstad parish. The hillfort was trial-trenched in 1903, yielding the richest finds known to date from a 3rd and 4th century settlement in Östergötland. I was hoping that we might run into something interesting of 5th century date. No such luck: our oldest datable find all day was a piece of a 9th century copper-alloy equal-armed brooch of the Ljønes type.

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Frag of an equal-armed brooch of the Ljønes type. 9th century. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

But as so often, the Tingstad site offered some interesting stuff that we aren’t actually looking for: the leg of a Renaissance tripod brass pot and a little cast relief badge depicting a heraldic lion.

I only managed to pick up a fresh roebuck antler. Actually, I’m not a very good metal detectorist. I make much fewer finds than the guys I work with, and this means that they find most of the interesting things (since you have a certain very small chance of being lucky every time you get something out of the ground). I’ve unsuccessfully been trying to pin down the reason that I’m not doing better. Some of the guys have different, more expensive gear than me, but one has the same kind of machine and still finds far more. I’ve checked that I’ve configured everything correctly and that I’m doing all the right things. I think it may be a question of wordless expertise acquired through practice.

On to Östra Husby for lunch and 16 man-hours of metal-detecting on the site where we found a cool piece of 4th century jewellery a year ago. We weren’t at all as lucky this time: our oldest find this year is a finial from a 16th century table knife. One or two 17th century coins (good old Queen Christina, nothing makes a detector shrill like her quarter öre coins) and an 18th century shoe buckle bear mentioning. When we arrived, a posh-looking cat was hunting a squirrel. Later it walked all over my black car, decorating it liberally with muddy paw prints.

One fine thing about metal detector expeditions is the evenings when we sit around a table, cleaning and classifying finds. I’m learning learn a lot about Early Modern small finds, and I sometimes have a chance to pass on some knowledge about 1st Millennium stuff. Good people, good times!

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Fieldwork in Hov and Vretakloster

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Polyhedrical weight. 9/10th century. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

(Martin here, posting from the hostel of Norsholm on the Göta canal, using my handheld and the cell phone network. To get the post on-line, my dear scibling Janet has kindly agreed to act as go-between.)

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Coin struck for Heinrich II, King of Germany. Mainz 1002-1014. Dbg 785. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

This is the third April in as many years that I’m reporting from a week of fieldwork in Östergötland with my metal detector buddies. I intend this to be the final expedition before I complete my book about late-1st Millennium aristocratic manors.

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Coin struck for Dietrich II or III, Counts of Katlenburg. Gittelde 1056-1106. Dbg 690. The bird-like thing on the reverse is actually a cathedral. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

Like last year I began my trip here nervously, driving from Fisksätra through late-coming snow on summer tyres. But I made it fine to Hov parish on Lake TÃ¥kern, where I met the guys and no snow was to be seen. Our site in Hov has a lot of elite indications from around AD 1100, and I was gambling on finding a previously unknown aristocratic prehistory too. (My project halts at AD 1000.) We did 20 man-hours of detecting, and though I can’t really say the gamble paid off, we did find some very fine 11th-12th century stuff that may extend into the 10th as well.

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Frag of an Urnes-style brooch. C. 1100. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

We have a perfectly preserved polyhedrical weight of 9/10th century date, and a flat-poled double-conical one, both of the tiny type used to weigh silver on a balance. We have two 11th-12th century silver coins: one a German Otto-Adelheid penny and the other a really weird one that may be Polish or Hungarian if new crew member Tobias’s hunch is right. We have a fragment of a Urnes-style silver brooch from c. 1100. These things, widely scattered, suggest an 11th century market site.

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Pewter cross. 15th-16th century. 13th-14th century? Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

From the 13th and 14th centuries we have a dress spangle (Sw. ströning), a little strap buckle and a funny pewter cross.

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Coin struck for Ernst August the Elder, Duke of Hanover, Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, etc. etc. German. 17th century. Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

After wrapping up in Hov we went to a location in Vretakloster parish which has been suggested as a cargo transfer site for river traffic in my period of study. 11 man-hours there did not turn up any evidence to support that idea, but we did pick up a few fun bits. We have another High Medieval strap buckle, a 17th century Dutch (?) German silver coin bearing the legend “[la]bora.qvae.honesta…” and a piece of something that looks like a Viking Period copper-alloy disc brooch.

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Frag of Viking Period disc brooch? Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

All in all a fruitful day’s work, and a lot of fun despite inclement weather.

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Photograph Tobias Bondesson.

Update 13 April: Explains expedition member Tobias Bondesson, regarding the 17th century silver coin: “The ‘Dutch’ one is actually German and minted by Ernst August the Elder, i.a. Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, and Duke of Hanover. His family motto was SOLA BONA QUAE HONESTA (roughly HONESTY ABOVE ALL). Haven’t found an exact match for the coin yet … I believe the denomination is 4 Mariengroschen.” The coin bears the coat of arms of Osnabrück, featuring a wheel. Swedish emissaries had signed the Peace of Westphalia in that city in 1648.

Update 24 April: Professor Jörn Staecker tells me that the pewter cross is certainly not 11th-13th century, but probably 15th-16th century. He mentions grave slabs in the churches of Gotland that show similar motifs.

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Live Spruce Roots 8000 Years Old

i-daa2d8dfe070b37591ca3033648c9222-granar.jpgHere’s something cool. Norway spruce trees sprout from subterranean root systems, and though the actual trees come and go, the roots are extremely long-lived. In this they’re actually a lot like mushrooms.

New research by Leif Kullman at the University of UmeÃ¥ is just being reported on by the media. His team has studied spruce trees on the treeline of Mount Härjehogna in Dalecarlia, central Sweden, and found no standing trees older than 600 years when wood samples were dated. But below ground, the living roots of three trees gave radiocarbon dates at 5,000, 6,000 and 8,000 years BP! The oldest root system thus dates back from the end of the latest glaciation. It’s been supporting varying types of spruce, from little bushes to tall trees, as conditions have varied through the millennia.

(The only bits that are actually alive and metabolising in trees are the surface layer. Every year-ring gives a progressively older radiocarbon date as you move toward the centre of the trunk. That’s how it’s possible to use dendrochronology to calibrate radiocarbon dates.)

This offers a number of interesting new perspectives. Firstly, though the Norway spruce is a recent immigrant to much of Sweden, it is now in fact the oldest known tree species in the mountains of Dalecarlia. Secondly, if we want to know what the Norway spruce genome was like 8,000 years ago, we needn’t look for deadwood in bogs. We can sample living individuals on Mount Härjehogna and elsewhere.

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Concert Review: Hayseed Dixie in Stockholm, Sweden

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Last night’s Hayseed Dixie gig rocked. This is the bluegrass band playing metal songs that I blogged about recently. Me and Paddy K went there after checking out some stand-up comedy with the ladies. We had been given the wrong starting hour, so we arrived at the Debaser Slussen club in the middle of the fourth song. But I believe John Wheeler and the others played for about an hour and a half. Afterwards they scattered into the crowd and chatted with everybody.

I spent the entire gig with a big foolish smile on my face. They placed so fast and so skilfully with a constant feeling of vrrrrooooommm! H.D. are a quartet: lead singer Wheeler alternates between the guitar and the fiddle, there’s an acoustic bass guitar, a banjo and a mandolin whose player alternates on the guitar. No drums or perc! All four sing backup, and they observe the typical bluegrass taking-turns-to-solo, when three members take a step back from the edge of the stage. The mandolin was miked and filtered in such a way that it sounded like a fiddle.

The songs were about half metal covers and half original Wheeler material. For instance, H.D. did a fine version of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, a song about the Vietnam war that has seen renewed popularity with US involvement in Iraq. In fact, I heard of Montreal play that song on the very same stage five years ago.

Hayseed Dixie are an absolutely ace live band, clearly enjoying themselves no end, and Wheeler’s between-songs banter is as smart and witty as his lyrics. Don’t miss them if them come around your town! I bought their new CD, No Covers, and I look forward to getting to know it.

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Austrian Anthroposophy Waldorf School Hit by Measles Outbreak

i-bea4525e9444793db625e19fdd8ca7b1-200px-RSteiner.jpgThe Austrian city of Salzburg has been hit by a measles outbreak among private-school children. Measles are no laughing matter, and thankfully outbreaks like these are rare in the West these days thanks to vaccination. So it comes as no surprise that the school in question is the Rudolf-Steiner-Schule in Mayrwies, a Waldorf school run by anthroposophists. Anthroposophy is an old New Age movement based upon the supernatural visions of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Its current altie medical practices include a strong antivaccination ideology.

Said Steiner in the fifth lecture of his 1910 series Manifestations of Karma:

“Let us now assume that this personality before developing measles had succeeded in gaining such soul forces that he was no longer exposed to all kinds of self-deception, having completely corrected this failing. In this case the acquired soul force would render the attack of measles quite unnecessary, since the tendencies brought forth in this organism during its formation had been effaced through the stronger soul forces acquired by self-education. If we contemplate life as a whole and examine in detail our experiences, considering them always from this standpoint, we should invariably find that external knowledge will bear out in every detail what has here been stated. And what I have said about a case of measles can lead to an explanation why measles is one of the illnesses of child-hood. For the failings I have mentioned are present in a great many lives and especially in certain periods did they prevail in many lives.”

i-bdf59c13504576b1ff4c53be4f1d3f79-391px-RougeoleDP.jpgPoor kids. They should have corrected their failings and gained soul forces and this would never have happened. Strictly karma.

Via Blue Collar Scientist and Physorg. See also Zooey and WeiterGen.

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Let’s Find Some Good Podcasts

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I’ve been laid low all day with a cold. To entertain myself while unable to read, I’ve listened to podcasts, and when I ran out of shows I subscribe to I started checking out Podcast Alley‘s top-10. Unfortunately, most people being morons after all, the top-10 aren’t any good. Take it from me: you needn’t really bother with Keith and the Girl, Red Bar Radio or Nobody Likes Onions.

So, Dear Reader, you clearly aren’t a moron: in aggregate, Aard’s readers should be a much better authority than the unwashed masses when it comes to podcasts. Please tell me your favourite podcasts with a sentence or two explaining what they’re about, and I’ll list them here. I’ll start off with my own favourites.
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Mid-Career Academic

Reading some US job ads I came across the terms “early career”, “mid career” and “late career” applied to academics. As some of you may remember, I decided about this time last year that I had become officially middle-aged (defined as “closer to 50 than 20”). Now it’s struck me that I am also mid-career.

Think about it. I’ve been doing archaeology for a living since I was 20. Standard retirement age is 65 in Sweden. (This is likely to change as medicine improves and the demography morphs.) Currently, society expects me to have a 45-year career, all in all. And I’ve entered the middle third of that span. I’ve done more than a third of the archaeology I’ll manage before 65.

From my elevated mid-career position in Scandy archaeology, I can report to colleagues still in their early careers that things are pretty much the same. Still a lot of fun, still no steady job. One change that I do see (though I’m generalising from a slim set of observations) is that the grants tend to grow with the years.

Humble Iron Age Grave Yields Big Honking Hoard

i-b8b78d13a4623024231e36e8001168b8-silverskatt3_170.jpgViking Period Scandinavians had a funny custom where they would bury silver hoards and not dig them out again. On Gotland, the hoards are so common that the local paper has been known to note tersely that “this year’s hoard has been found”. But not all Swedish provinces are similarly endowed. My native area around Lake Mälaren has far fewer hoards.

Most silver hoards are found by farmers when they till their fields. Once in a very long while, archaeologists get lucky and find a hoard in situ. Of course, they tend to find the commonest kind of hoard, i.e., pretty small ones. This happened at one of the Helgö cemeteries in the 1970s. But just recently, my colleagues at the National Heritage Board’s excavation unit got really, really lucky and found a big whopping hoard of about 450 coins on their dig. It’s the early type of Viking Period hoard, dominated by Caliphate issues including such from Baghdad and Damascus, with the latest coin struck about AD 850.

The dig was expected to be a humdrum affair, concerning a late-Last Millennium BC grave in which you might hope to find a little burnt bone and some iron fragments — if very lucky. As it turned out, local wealthies had messed around with the site a thousand years after the original funeral and stuck a silver hoard into the monument.

The site was dug in advance of development for housing and is located in Uppland, not far from Arlanda international airport. Those ancient people are everywhere!

Thanks to LL and Tegumai for the heads-up.

Update 7 April: Several good pix here.

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