Anthro Blog Carnival

The fifty-fourth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Moneduloides. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to me. The next open hosting slot is on 17 December. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. No need to be an anthro pro.


Commanding English


So you’re the principal of an English-language high school in Stockholm, Sweden. And you decide to put some serious money into an advertising campaign in the city’s subway. Now, you want to express what we in Sweden call att behärska engelska, “learning English really well”.

And that’s when the idea hits you: “I’m gonna say it in home-made mistranslated Swenglish! That’ll give everybody a really good impression of my school, and they’ll send their kids here in frickin’ droves!”

“Commanding English — Those Who Dare, Win.”

Email Ghosts

I correspond with a lot of people and my email program remembers them all. Every time I type in the first few letters of an address, Thunderbird suggests a list of people it thinks I might want to write to. The software of course knows nothing about what goes on in the world around it, and so blithely continues to suggest the addresses even of people who have died.

I have heard of ghost email that has been sitting in some screwed-up mail server for months and only reached its adressee after the death of the person who wrote it. But this is something else. My computer wants me to write letters to dead people.

Only Population Size Really Matters for the Environment

Here’s a grim thought about the environment.

There is no way of life for humans on Earth that is ecologically sustainable for a global population of more than a billion. Our per capita environmental footprint doesn’t really matter at this stage.

If we retain our current population and return to a Palaeolithic lifestyle, we’re still fucked in the not-too-long run. If we quit having so many children and get back down to a global population in the hundreds of millions, it won’t matter any more how each of us splurges and consumes.

You don’t need to recycle milk cartons. What you really need to do is convince people to have no children. Two good ways to do this is to give all women at least a high school education, and to convince the Catholic Church that contraceptives are a gift from God.

The population will of course come down eventually. We choose whether this will happen by us not having so many children, or by billions of people dying catastrophically.

One Laptop Per Child and One For You


I accompanied my son’s new class to the Stockholm Museum of Technology today. An investment — it’s good for me to get to know everybody, and it’s good for Junior that everybody knows me as a present and available dad.

At the museum, just about the first thing I saw was the XO laptop, about which I’ve heard so much on Digital Planet. This is the machine developed by the One Laptop Per Child project, known as the “$100 laptop” (though it hasn’t quite come down to that yet). Having lugged all 3.6 kilos of my four-year-old Dell Inspiron 6000 through the streets of Lund and Linköping for two days, I instantly desired the tiny XO. That’s the kind of size my next computer will have.

The XO went into production a year ago, with a run of a million machines projected for 2008. 300,000 have been delivered only to Uruguay. 11,000 are in Afghanistan. It’s a ruggedised wifi-centric Linux machine with highly innovative screen technology and gigabyte of flash memory for storage. No fan and no hard drive — no moving internal parts that can fail.

A second round of the Give One, Get One (G1G1) program will open on Monday 17 November, organised through Amazon. For about $399, £254, €312 plus shipping, you can give an XO laptop to a child in the Third World and get one for yourself as well — or pass it on to a kid you know. Perhaps worth considering for your Christmas shopping?

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Non-Chicken Laid First Chicken Egg


What came first, the chicken or the egg? Easy, you say, eggs were laid by other animals aeons before the first chicken saw the light of day.

But what came first, the first chicken egg or the first chicken? This boils down to whether a chicken egg is one laid by a chicken or one out of which a chicken can hatch. Only the latter definition allows the question to remain open to discussion.

Biologically, a member of the chicken species could be defined by a list of alleles that must be present in its DNA if we’re to call it a chicken. And somewhere, sometime, the first bird that fulfilled that definition hatched. It hatched out of an egg laid by a non-chicken. As an adult, the first chicken (being lonely) probably mated with a bird that did not quite fulfil our definition of chickenhood, and so the first chicken probably laid non-chicken eggs. Out of these eggs hatched birds that almost, but not quite, fulfilled our definition of chickenhood. In subsequent generations, chicken eggs became more and more common. Later, after the geologically instantaneous speciation period, birds fulfilling the chicken species-definition became common and so chicken eggs were reliably produced generation after generation.

As they are still today: I boiled one Wednesday morning and served it to my daughter with soy sauce and a bowl of pao fan rice re-run gruel.

Wikipedia Academy, Lund


I’m at the first Swedish Wikipedia Academy conference in Lund. Yesterday I did a talk on inclusionism vs. deletionism (vs. mergism) on the online encyclopedia (text available on-line in Swedish). Above is my audience who asked a lot of questions and were nice & friendly. Most participants are not themselves Wikipedians, they’re largely librarians and teachers. I’ve chatted with a lot of people, notably Mathias Klang and Lennart Guldbrandsson and Lars Aronsson, and I look forward to future collaborations.

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Respectful Vandals


Here’s some characteristically excellent photography by my friend Lars of Arkland. He’s recently moved to Visby on Gotland, a big old limestone slab in the Baltic Sea, where he’s the Hauptnetzmeister of the National Heritage Board. The funny thing about the above picture is that it shows young vandals/graffiti artists to have a conscious and highly traditional perspective on the cultural heritage. Much more traditional than today’s heritage administrators, who worry endlessly about whether their perspective is democratically informed, in touch with the times etc. While these administrators consider whether they should preserve and protect abandoned post-war factory environments, kids in Visby are defacing the town’s jail from 1857 but respecting the Medieval town wall along which the jail was built.


Tåby Figurine



Last Thursday I went to Norrköping and checked out the Town Museum‘s collection of prehistoric metalwork. Most of it is decontextualised, but I did manage to collect some useful data on the movements of my 1st Millennium aristocrats across Östergötland.

Among the things I handled was, unexpectedly, the Tåby statuette. It’s a stray find from a field near Tåby parish church. Arthur Nordén published it in Fornvännen 1924 and suggested a Late Medieval date about AD 1400. I don’t know if the piece has been discussed in print since. It looks neither quite like Bronze Age figurines nor Early Iron Age ones. After 84 years it still poses, as Nordén put it, “an archaeological stumper”. When was it made? Where? For what purpose?

Update 20 January 2009: It’s a piece of a Medieval candlestick!

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