Purse Torment Tavern

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Dear Reader Dveej asked me to write some more about the Purse Torment Tavern south of Stockholm. Its name is Pungpinan which is pretty funny, as pung doesn’t just mean purse or pouch, but in modern Swedish more commonly scrotum. The name might thus be translated “Purse Torment” or “Pain in the Ball Sack”, or even “Scrotum Torture”. (Boy am I gonna get hits from the S/M porn surfers now.)

The heyday of the Purse Torment Tavern lasted from about 1670 to 1805. This was back in the era of horse-drawn carriages, when Sweden was covered by a dense grid of rest stops where you could change horses, eat, drink and sleep. Apparently, the prices at Pungpinan were a bit on the stiff side, and so tended to torment your coin purse.

Pungpinan, being an expensive place, didn’t have the best reputation while active. But after it closed down, its name lived on in a deeper kind of infamy because of four murders committed there during the night between 4 and 5 March 1803. Soldier Peter Almqvist had previously done time for burglary. Attempting to rob the tavern, he ended up killing the landlady Maja Schröder, her serving girl and both her children using an axe. Almqvist was executed five months later at the gallows’ hill right by modern-day Gullmarsplan.

This entry was scooped by Dear Reader Martin L while it was waiting in the pipe. I usually set my entries to come on-line at the time when New Yorkers do their morning web surf.

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Names of the Close Horizon


Looking at a map of Stockholm’s suburbs, you find a swarm of place names denoting housing areas. The housing is almost entirely 20th century. But many of the names go back a thousand years or more. Today they’re all just suburbs. But not so long ago, all of these names were part of a hierarchical nomenclature, a ladder of names. The names on the ladder’s top rung denoted parishes and were used throughout the county. On the second rung down were the names of farmsteads, used among the surrounding few parishes, and among wayfarers in cases where a farmstead happened to be located on a major road. But many of Stockholm’s suburbs are on the third rung down: their names denoted parts of a farmstead’s lands and were only used among the surrounding few farmsteads.

I’m reading Per Vikstrand’s new book about the place names of southern Öland. Today I learned a good word for the names on the third rung: närhorisontnamn, “names of the close horizon”. Two farmsteads in a parish can’t have the same name, because that would lead to confusion. But as long as their lands don’t abut, there’s no reason why they can’t both have plots of land named “Old Man’s Meadow”, “Rye Field” and “Baker’s Bog”. They’re names of the close horizon. Few people have reason to talk about each place, and so there’s no risk of confusion. Sweden has tens of thousands of places named “Lake Meadow”, “Horse Pasture” and “Sandy Field”.

Farmsteads must lie some ways apart, and their locations are largely determined by access to resources such as arable land and pasture. Exactly what resources a farmstead needs is in its turn determined by the agricultural technology of each era, and so the settlement sites of each millennium are found in different characteristic locations. Modern housing estates, however, follow completely different rules, largely having to do with communication with the nearest city but also with aesthetic concerns such as views from hilltops and proximity to lakes and woods.

The 20th century suburbs of Stockholm were rolled out like a carpet over an age-old agricultural landscape. Housing estates were built in locations that would have seemed absurd to the farming generations who came before. Why build housing on Pine Crag, in Baker’s Bog and at the disreputable Purse Torment roadside tavern? Still, thousands of people came to call these places home.

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European Science Foundation Grades Journals

The European Science Foundation has a project called the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

… there are specifities [!] of Humanities research, that can make it difficult to assess and compare with other sciences. Also, it is not possible to accurately apply to the Humanities assessment tools used to evaluate other types of research. As the transnational mobility of researchers continues to increase, so too does the transdisciplinarity of contemporary science. Humanities researchers must position themselves in changing international contexts and need a tool that offers benchmarking. This is why ERIH (European Reference Index for the Humanities) aims initially to identify, and gain more visibility for top-quality European Humanities research published in academic journals in, potentially, all European languages.

Through a peer-reviewed process, ERIH is grading European journals in the humanities.

The ERIH lists will help to identify excellence in Humanities scholarship and should prove useful for the aggregate benchmarking of national research systems, for example, in determining the international standing of the research activity carried out in a given field in a particular country.

Suddenly, humanities scholars will have to start paying a lot more attention to where they publish. In Norway and other countries, a department’s funding is directly linked to the ERIH grade of the journals where its faculty publishes.

Grade A means global readership. Grade B means international readership. Grade C means national readership. Only good respected scholarly journals get graded at all. Here’s a rundown of grade A and B journals focusing at least to a great part on Scandinavian archaeology (not including e.g. Mediterranean archaeology practiced by Scandinavians).

Grade A

  • Acta Archaeologica
  • Norwegian Archaeological Review

Grade B

  • Current Swedish Archaeology
  • Fennoscandia archaeologica
  • Fornvännen
  • Hikuin
  • Iskos
  • Journal of Danish Archaeology
  • Kuml
  • Lund Archaeological Review
  • Viking
  • Archaeologia Medii Aevi Finlandiae Monograph series
  • Lund Studies in Historical Archaeology Monograph series
  • Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja Monograph series
  • Tor Graded despite being on hiatus since a decade!

So, all the Scandy countries except Iceland have grade B journals. Acta Archaeologica is an annual published in Copenhagen, and it does have the kind of global scope required for grade A. I’m a little surprised though that N.A.R. is graded A. I’m really interested in Norwegian archaeology, and yet I have only ever found reason to read one or two papers in that journal in my 15 years as a professional scholar. It seems to cater mainly to the theory crowd with which I do not mix willingly. On the other hand, Norway has only one grade B journal, which is likely to get inundated with manuscripts now from Norwegians who would like to keep their funding yet continue to write about actual archaeology.

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Classifying an Archaeologist

Carl Lipo at Evolution Beach has been kind enough to recommend Aard to his readers. He characterises me as “a big advocator for science based archaeology in the classic ‘New Archaeology’ sense”. It’s not the first time I’ve been called a New Archaeology guy, and I don’t consider it unflattering, but I do feel that it calls for a few comments.

Archaeology emerged as a scientific discipline with the work of C.J. Thomsen in the early 1800s. It’s a worldwide crazy quilt of regional subdisciplines that needn’t communicate much. I don’t need to know anything about Chinese archaeology to be able to publish in Viking studies, and vice versa.

In the 1960s, archaeological theory became a field of discussion in its own right, mainly among US and UK academics. There had been plenty of theoretical consciousness long before that time, which is sometimes lumped into a single period of thought called “culture-historical archaeology”. This is completely misleading as the archaeological cultures approach wasn’t formalised until 1930 with Gordon Childe’s book The Danube in Prehistory. Archaeology, at that time, had already spent over a century developing its theoretical framework.

In the 1960s, however, two young scholars published theoretical work aiming to restructure the discipline. American Lewis Binford and Englishman David Clarke painted this “New” or “processual” archaeology as a radical departure from what had gone before, as a long-overdue cleaning of a grimy stable. This was, in my opinion, mainly marketing hyperbole from scholars jockeying for academic position. What was good about New Archaeology wasn’t new, and what was new about it wasn’t good. Binford and Clarke were science-friendly, and I am too, as had most archaeologists been before them. But they also introduced a genre of impenetrable theoretical jargon that is still with us (at the time largely involving misused systems theory) and to which I am deeply hostile. With the science-friendliness also came a tendency to focus research on issues having to do with subsistence, which pretty much leaves me cold. Indeed, there was a tendency to natural determinism, where everything people did in the past was seen as happening because of calorie requirements. Finally, the New Archaeologists cultivated a dream about discovering global Laws of Culture that would let them interpret the archaeological record more unambiguously. This is in my opinion comparable to attempts at long-term prediction of other chaotic systems such as the weather and the stock market, that is, completely unscientific.

About 1980 came the next bunch of young UK PhDs who needed to make names for themselves, and so Ian Hodder, Michael Shanks and Christopher Tilley turned belatedly to the radical post-modernist humanities of the preceding decades and introduced “post-processual” or “contextual” archaeology. Reams of painful theoretical blitherings ensued, and in Shanks & Tilley’s case, open hostility against science and the Enlightenment project. Now, symbolic determinism reigned: nobody in the past did anything to keep from starving, everything had to do with symbolism, cult and making sense of the world. But prominent post-processual scholars like Julian Thomas and Mike Parker Pearson were science-friendly: they harnessed really abstruse natural science to buttress their symbolic interpretations. Thomas even turned to malacology, the study of snail’s shells, to argue that pretty much the entire archaeological record of Neolithic Britain was composed of cult sites. And when Ian Hodder toured the world in the 90s to explain what post-processual fieldwork methods would be like at Catal Höyük, we learned that a) you would use a lot of computers, b) you would talk a lot to each other in the field, c) you wouldn’t believe that anything was objectively true. Few felt that this meant any radical departure from everyday procedure.

25-30 years after Hodder proclaimed the dawn of a new radical age in archaeology, it’s actually just business as usual. We still engage in productive dialogue with 19th century scholars. Almost everybody’s pretty science-friendly, although many colleagues are not very knowledgeable about new natural scientific methods and results, or even of basic statistical reasoning. Almost everybody knows the jargon of post-processualism, though since it’s not new and hip anymore, few use it very enthusiastically.

So responding to Carl Lipo, I’d like to say that I am neither a culture-historical, a New nor a post-processual archaeologist. I’m science friendly, I’m hostile to untestable speculation, and above all I’m hostile to jargon, such as that of the aesthetic disciplines in the humanities. But I fail to see any radical “paradigm shifts” in the history of my discipline, and I believe all interpretive determinism to be unscientific. There is no one-size-fits-all interpretive perspective. You have to argue well in each unique case. And, needless to say, if you’re not studying material remains and aren’t asking questions about the human past, then you’re not doing archaeology and shouldn’t have archaeological funding.

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New Estonian Boat Graves

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One or more boat burials have just been excavated on the Estonian island of Saaremaa! Rich weapon burials with multiple inhumations, provisionally dated to the 8th century (though I’m pretty sure they’ll turn out to be 9th century). Check out the Salmepaat blog!

Via Kristin Ilves on the Swedish archaeology mailing list.

Anthro Blog Carnival

i-1826c7284a102d5e4de1bec7e4f516d8-bertrade-montfort2.jpgThe fifty-second Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Greg Laden’s blog. Archaeology and anthropology, and all dedicated to the memory of Bertrade de Montfort!

The oft-married Count Fulk IV of Anjou was married to the mother of his son in 1089, when the lovely Bertrade caught his eye. According to the chronicler John of Marmoutier, “The lecherous Fulk then fell passionately in love with the sister of Amaury of Montfort, whom no good man ever praised save for her beauty. For her sake, he divorced the mother of Geoffrey II Martel…” Bertrade and Fulk were married, and they became the parents of a son, Fulk, but in 1092 Bertrade left her husband and took up with King Philip I of France.

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to me, not to the old submissions address. The next open hosting slot is on 3 December. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. No need to be an anthro pro. But you must be willing to leave your husband and take up with King Philip I of France, like me.

And check out the latest Skeptics’ Circle! And the newly started Metacarnival, that aims to gather the best content from a range of blog carnivals: here’s the first instalment!

What Does Contract Archaeology Cost?

Carina Andersson and Rickard Franzén at the Swedish National Heritage Board have put together a report in Swedish titled “What Does Contract Archaeology Really Cost?”. Their answer to the question is, briefly, “less overall than the County Archaeologists would actually allow”. County Archaeologists all over Sweden put out lots of contract work to tender and select who will do each job at what budget. And the archaeologists on average keep well within these budgets. Very likely, this is helped to a great extent by sites that look promising but turn out to be duds.

Another way of answering the question is that in 1996-2006, Swedish contract archaeology cost from 150 to 330 million kronor per annum, which currently translates to $19-42 million or €15-33 million. Divided by Sweden’s population the money translates to about $2-5 per capita, though not all of the money is of course public funds.

Research Council Grants Announced

The Swedish Research Council has just announced its 2008 project grants for research in the humanities and social sciences. 106 out of 993 submitted projects (10%) have received funding. Only two archaeologists got money: Thomas B. Larsson (b. 1953) who works with the Scandinavian Bronze Age, and Susanne Berndt Ersöz (b. 1959) who works with Turkey in the Last Millennium BC. Grant recipient Lena Larsson-Lovén (b. 1956) works with Roman dress, which places her in a border zone between art studies, history and archaeology.

As I have previously documented, you need to be about 42 and a recent PhD to get a university job in Swedish prehistoric archaeology. Apparently you need to be about 55 and a chaired professor to get a Research Council project grant, though the dataset (n=1) is admittedly rather small. The fact that only one Scandy prehistorian got funded is however telling in itself.

It’s the same story as last year. Don’t know why I bother.

Among Friends & Foes

Yesterday I gave a talk at a seminar organised by my friends in the Djurhamn project. This was interesting from a scholarly, a professional and a social point of view.

Not least piquant was that I ended up chatting briefly with two ladies whom I have criticised sharply in various media over the Ales stenar sign-post debacle. One was very friendly, telling me that she welcomed my voicing frank opinions, in a way that was too sweet to appear condescending. The other, whom I once offended pretty badly already during the Kristian Berg conflict, had a more restrained demeanour. In her talk she told us that she doesn’t like the word förmedling (“dissemination”) in science popularisation, as it “presupposes an hierarchical relationship between the speaker and the audience”. This helps to explain why the Ales stenar signs turned out like they did.

My perspective on this is that scholars and scientists who do not know their stuff better than the average Joe should not get paid. Also, in my opinion there is no reason for scientists and scholars to cooperate with those few popularisers and science journalists who have this kind of hyper-relativistic lack of respect for specialised knowledge. I certainly don’t claim to know all there currently is to know about Swedish prehistory, but I have made its study my full-time occupation since 1990 and I do know quite a bit more than the average tourist, thank you very much.

The day ended with my first Skype conference, as paternal duties kept me from attending the October board meeting of the Swedish Skeptics in meatspace. How cool!