Lad Lit: Ninjas and Pirates

i-5e9e75fd42c8884415c934ad36862a60-P1000739lores.JPGI’ve taken out a couple of extremely laddish books from the library to read for fun. Seeing constant mentions of ninjas and pirates on the web, I became curious about the historical reality of these matters. So I’ve started on Stephen Turnbull’s Warriors of Medieval Japan (2005) and I’ve got David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag (1995) lined up next. Here’s a fine passage from Turnbull:

“… even though the Age of Warring States was a time when samurai warfare went through its biggest revolution in history under the influence of strategy and technology from both Europe and China, it was also a time of amazing nostalgia. In spite of the hail of bullets whizzing past his ears, and the ranks of lowly spearmen under his command, even the most modern samurai leader kept looking over his shoulders to a glorious and often hypothetical past. This golden age, in his view, had been a time when a battle consisted of a number of individual combats fought between honourable enemies who had singled each other out by the issuing and receving of challenges. The victor would have taken the victim’s head as proof of duty done, and for his reward would have been as pleased with the name he had made for himself as with any grant of rice fields he may have been awarded by his lord.” (p. 20)

My wife and I have very different reading habits. Ideally, I like to read only one book for fun at a time, and I don’t stock up very far into the future. She, however, has tens of books and magazines going at any one time, and constantly amasses more. As I collect them from around the apartment I deposit them in our vertical book case. The floor and ten shelves are hers. The top two tiers are mine. Currently I have three copies there of a friend’s kids’ book to give away, plus three DVDs I’ve received as review copies for the blog, and the Swedish Tourist Association’s annual that arrived yesterday.

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Erich von Däniken: Twilight of the Gods

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i-ec18f5e68f33877a4828c3a86f09a19a-figure0.jpgIn this guest entry, German SciBling Florian Freistetter of Astrodicticum Simplex offers a translation of his report from a recent lecture by a spaced-out visionary. Now if only I could say that I’ve never been fooled by this sort of thing…


A few weeks ago, on 17th October, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by Erich von Däniken with the title Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods”. The great hall in Jena’s Volkshaus was rather full: I believe there were 650 to 700 people there. It was a strange feeling, being in the same room as all those people and knowing that most of them would probably believe what Däniken was going to tell them.
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Skamby Boat Grave Paper Published

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When you’ve finished an archaeological excavation, you always produce an archive report describing the results. Most excavation units these days actually publish their reports in small print runs. If you’re lucky enough to find something really interesting, you should also try to publish it in a journal, anthology or monograph. This is good for you, because it enhances your academic qualifications, and it’s good for research, because it makes new data available to colleagues and opens up a discussion of the new finds.

In the summer of 2005, me and my friend Howard Williams directed the excavation of a 9th century boat grave in Östergötland. The post-excavation work has been a recurring theme in my blogging ever since (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). I finished the archive report and put it on-line in February 2007.

Now myself and Howard have published a long meaty paper on the boat grave in Medieval Archaeology 52. The title is “A Viking Boat Grave With Amber Gaming Pieces Excavated at Skamby, Östergötland, Sweden”. Download it and have a look! (Medieval Archaeology is ERIH grade A, I’m proud to report, and published by Maney.)

Now all that remains for me to do before I can lay the 2005 dig behind me is to hand in the finds, including 18.1 kg of burnt daub. The reason that I haven’t done so long ago is that the State Board of National Antiquities still hasn’t decided which museum should receive the stuff for safekeeping.

And BTW — I’d like to thank the American voters for finally electing someone with brains and decency. The past eight years in US politics have been ugly and scary. It’s very hard for us in the world at large to ignore your internal affairs.

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Talks in Lund and Linköping

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Next week I’m scheduled to give talks in two venerable Swedish cathedral towns.

On Wednesday afternoon the 12th I’ll speak at the Wikipedia Academy Conference in Lund under the heading “Inclusion/exclusion. How obscure subjects can you write about in Wikipedia?”. I’m also gonna talk a little about science outreach, live blogging my research and the importance of amateur volunteers for my work. This event is booked full, but there’s a wait list.

The following day, Thursday the 13th at 18:30, I’m speaking about my main research project at the County Museum in Linköping under the heading “A Five-Year Chase After Östergötland’s Iron Age Kings”. This is a drop-in event.

I may have some spare time in Lund on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, so if anybody wants to meet up, please drop me a line!

Royal Medals Copied

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A year ago I showed some pictures of particularly cool finds that Claes Pettersson and his team from Jönköping County Museum had made in 17th century urban layers near their offices. One of them was the above clay mould depicting King Gustavus II Adolphus. Claes believes that it may have been used to make candy. Now he knows where the motif came from.

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The mould is actually a contact copy of a 1631 royal medal used to decorate military officers. And among Claes’s finds is a piece of yet another mould copied from a coeval medal, this one an equestrian portrait. Muses Claes, “What have they been doing at Jönköping Castle in the early 1630s? Who is this person who lends his treasures, given by the King, to be used to make lowly clay moulds?”

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I wonder if these clay copies may have been made by the sculptor during work with the medals, as a kind of backup copies? Or by someone who wanted to show the folks at home what the medals he had received looked like, without having to mail them the medals themselves.

Explains Claes,

The candy hypothesis was actually something meant for the newspapers! They wanted us to tell them that THE FIRST GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS CAKES were actually made in Jönköping. But that tradition belongs to Gothenburg in Victorian times! So please don’t take our so called interpretation too seriously, because it was never meant to be!

And the moulds don’t have to be connected with counterfeiters. It was completely accepted to make copies of 17th century medals in cheaper materials. But what complicates the matter are these moulds themselves. Clearly not made for casting metals, being made of earthenware and having no raised edges, they should have been used for pressing the image onto something soft and plastic. Wax maybe? Or stucco? Some kind of foodstuff? Nobody knows.

So Рif these moulds were used to make decorations; what is the historical context? In 1631 the Swedish army on the continent won a major victory in the battle of Breitenfeld. A year later, in november 1632, antother victory also claimed the life of the Gustavus Adolphus himself. Both these occasions must have been commemorated in the Castle of J̦nk̦ping, especially the later one.

It’s probably hard for us to imagine what it meant to the people of the early 17th century to have a King dying on a battlefield as a Champion of the True Faith …according to the propaganda of the day. My guess is that his picture was literally everywhere for months, maybe years to come. And that our two small moulds were used for decorations during the period of mourning.

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The Huge Fish

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Great images of my childhood are appearing on-line from an unexpected source. My dear Connecticut nanny Lynn Leavey is scanning choice pix from her time with us in Sweden in 1978-79.

Here’s my India-goin’, safety-match-pushin’, ABBA-accountin’ grampa Ingemar with a big fish and three small boys on the shore of Lake Lillsjön in Kungsängen west of Stockholm. If I recall correctly, the monster pike weighed 8.3 kg, and I still haven’t seen a larger one get caught. Ingemar took it with his favourite method, dragrodd, where you trail a wobbler lure after your boat and row along the edge of the reeds.

Us boys, being after all the fruit of grampa’s loins, are all >6′ tall now. When I showed the picture to my daughter she confidently identified me as her 10-y-o brother, but didn’t recognise uncle Adam or cousin Carl.

Norwegians Grade Archaeology Journals

The other day I took a look at how the European Science Foundation’s ERIH project grades journals in Scandy archaeology. Dear Reader Ismene pointed me to a corresponding list put out by the NDS, “Norwegian Data Support for the Social Sciences”. While ERIH recognises three impact grades plus ungraded journals, the NDS has only two grades plus ungraded. Here’s the list of relevant journals.

Grade 2

  • Acta Archaeologica
  • Fennoscandia Archaeologica
  • Norwegian Archaeological Review

Grade 1

  • Current Swedish Archaeology
  • Fornvännen
  • Journal of Danish Archaeology
  • Journal of Nordic Archaeological Science
  • Kuml — Årbog for Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab
  • Meta — Medeltidsarkeologisk tidskrift Defunct!
  • Primitive tider
  • Viking

ERIH and the NDS agree upon the top importance of Acta Archaeologica and N.A.R. But the NDS has a higher opinion of Fennoscandia Archaeologica and Meta than does ERIH. Conversely, while ERIH finds Hikuin and Iskos and L.A.R. to be important journals, the NDS seems entirely unaware of them. The fact that Primitive Tider and JoNAS are missing from the ERIH list is probably due do their subscription number requirement (>=200).

Anybody here read the Norwegian Archaeological Review? It’s apparently globally important on the level of Antiquity! Please tell me what I’m missing.