Sättuna Radiocarbon

Last September I directed two weeks of excavations at Sättuna in Kaga, an amazing metal detector site I’ve been working at since 2006. I was hoping to find building foundations from a late-6th century aristocratic manor indicated by the metalwork. But I couldn’t get permission to dig the most promising bit of the site. Instead my team of Chester students and I dug off to one side and found no end of pits and hearths, but hardly any artefacts at all. Those bits that we did find are lithics, apparently belonging to a Late Mesolithic shore site.

Yesterday I got the radiocarbon results. They line up pretty well with what we knew from the artefact finds, with two exceptions: there’s no late-6th century at all, and there’s a funny 3rd Millennium BC date that corresponds to none of our finds.

This shows that the people on this site avoided burying stuff that keeps, not just during one era, but over repeated use phases covering thousands of years. Drat.

Lab code

Material

Feature

BP

Calibrated date

Period
Ua-37499

Oak, rotten

Hearth 45

5560±40

4462-4338 cal BC (95%)

Late Mesolithic
Ua-37500

Hazel

Hearth 123

3855±35

2462-2271 cal BC (79%)

Middle/Late Neolithic
Ua-37502

Spruce, trunk

Pit 170

1660±30

321-436 cal AD (86%)

Late Roman/Migration
Ua-37501

Maple

Hearth 135

1585±30

412-545 cal AD (95%)

Migration
Ua-37498

Scots pine, rotten

Posthole 8

1205±35

763-895 cal AD (81%)

Viking

Many thanks to Ulf Strucke for wood species and anatomy determination.

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Langobard

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On a whim, I’ve grown one of my infrequent beards, and it’s starting to itch. The beard hairs are hard and bristly, and the mustache feels like having the skeleton of a herring glued to my upper lip. Kissing and snuggling my loved ones isn’t at all as nice a usual, since the ‘stache makes contact with them long before I do.

Judging from the compliments I’ve received, though, a beard seems to be the way to go if you’re into ladies born in the 1940s. Another possible explanation for the data I have is that women of all ages love my beard, but that only ones of a certain age are daring enough to show their appreciation.

Swedish Heritage Board Puts Good Stuff in Public Domain

The Swedish Heritage Board (or, more specifically, my friends Lars and Johan who work there), has begun putting historical photographs whose copyright has expired onto Flickr Commons. Well done! Check it out!

The Board is a lot like the Museum of National Antiquities: even though some of its projects just make me want to weep, it also has excellent world-class stuff going on. This is of course an effect of the individual people behind each project. And the, shall we say, wide-open-mindedness of their superiors.

Major Archaeological Journal Goes Open Access

Since a bit more than a year, Fornvännen‘s first 100 years (1906-2005) have been freely available and searchable on-line. It’s a quarterly multi-language research journal mainly about Scandinavian archaeology and Medieval art, and I’m proud to be its managing editor. Now we’ve gone one step further and made the thing into an Open Access journal. The site’s run of the journal is complete up to 6 months ago, and every issue will henceforth appear on-line half a year after it was distributed on paper. Here, for instance, is an excellent paper in English by my buddy Svante Fischer from last summer’s issue, about the implications of two Scandinavian gold pendants of the Migration Period found in Serbia.

Many thanks to my friends Gun Larsson and Kerstin Assarsson-Rizzi of the Library of the Academy of Letters who have been the driving forces behind our on-line move!

Course on IT Society’s Vulnerabilities

My buddy Mathias is planning an interesting course at the University of Gothenburg for this autumn: “The IT Society’s Vulnerabilites“. I translate:

The goal of the course is to improve understanding of the vulnerability inherent in the central role information technology plays in society. The course offers seminars on the relationship between IT and society. Various implementations of IT are presented and discussed, as well as their influence on individuals, organisations and society. The course imparts knowledge about the role of information technology and issues of responsibility, determinism and free will.

Chances are I’ll be a guest speaker on the course, talking about archaeological information security in the past (cuneiform tablets, runestones) and today (digs that never get written up, digital excavation reports, the sack of the National Museum in Bagdad). But I believe most of the seminars and syllabus will be in Swedish.

Museum Catalogues Ice Cream Stick

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A bit of museum silliness with thanks to Dear Reader Kenny.

As mentioned before, my dear Museum of National Antiquities has not escaped the weird influence of post-modernist museology. In its excellent on-line catalogue, which I cannot recommend highly enough, we find object number -100:559: an ice cream stick, dating from the ’00s. Its context is unusually unclear in the on-line info, but it appears to have been donated during an outreach project where kids were invited to give the museum stuff and speculate about how people in the future will one day interpret it.

I don’t think curating, photographing and cataloguing things like this is a good use of public funds.

(And Fredrik, please don’t bother writing an angry comment this time. Maybe you should start a blog instead.)

Update 17 March: And here’s a bus time table, a plastic water bottle, a dud lottery ticket, a drinking straw and a crumpled shop receipt. There are at least 266 of these objects in the database, photos nos 570400-570665.

Current Archaeology’s March Issue

i-63d71f8671f87a5c63c9def2d759c59d-fc228.gifCurrent Archaeology, “the UK’s best selling archaeology magazine”, has kindly given me a complimentary subscription. I recently received my first issue, #228 (March ’09), and I found it an enjoyable read.

Best of all, I liked James Barrett’s and Adam Slater’s piece on their recent fieldwork at the Brough of Deerness, Mainland, Orkney. This scenic and Scandy-flavoured site would have interested me anyway, but now I also happened to have visited it last June in the company of Barrett and the Brough’s 1970s excavator Chris Morris. That visit took place as part of a conference excursion, and weeks later the new excavations opened. A very timely report!

An article celebrating the centennial of the Scottish and Welsh Royal Commissions is mainly interesting thanks to lovely pictures with intriguing captions. And a feature on WW2 Home Guard defenses in a London suburb – remains of the local militia’s preparations for an invasion that happily never took place – is difficult to appreciate for a citizen of a country that hasn’t seen war for two centuries.

All in all a finely designed and interesting magazine. I look forward to the next issue!

A Riddle of Brass Feet

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Here’s a little archaeological riddle I’ve been thinking about. From about 1350 to 1700, three-legged brass cooking pots were common in Sweden. When metal detecting in ploughsoil, you often find bits of them. They’re easily found as the fragments tend to be large and heavy: they make the detector sing loud & clear. But here’s the thing: you almost only find the feet and legs of the pots, hardly ever the wall or rim. Why is that? I think I’ve come up with an answer.

These pots weren’t used out in the fields. The reason that we find the feet there must be that household refuse was thrown on the manure pile and then carted out into the infields as fertiliser. The most likely place for a brass tripod pot to lose a leg was on the hearth in the kitchen. But this was not likely to go unnoticed: the pot would get overturned and spill its contents when it lost one of its three legs.

So, you have a broken brass pot that’s missing a leg, and you know where the leg is: among the embers on the hearth. What do you do? You put the broken pot away to sell it as scrap. But you can’t get the leg immediately: it’s glowing hot and possibly buried among the embers. So you decide to get it the next time you clean the ashes out of the hearth. And here’s where I think the legs get lost.

These hearths aren’t cleaned daily. When they do get cleaned, the person doing that chore needn’t be the same person who was using the pot when it broke, and if it is the same person, then it’s not certain that they still remember the broken leg. Also, in order to clean out the hearth without burning down the house, you need to put the fire out completely, which means that you’re working in the dark.

So every once in a while, legs and feet of these pots get thrown with the ashes onto the manure pile, and then carted out into the fields, where they spend 500 years before a metal detectorist finds them.

Update 15 March: Dear Reader Lassi Hippeläinen pointed something out that I hadn’t thought of. “IMHO that pot was hanging from chains when it was over fire. It was standing on its legs only when it was brought to table.” And I agree. I’m not sure what this means for the likelyhood of legs breaking off on the hearth.

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By Night He’s One Hell of a Lover

My wife and I watched the 2004 biopic Kinsey last night, about ground-breaking sexologist Alfred Kinsey. Good movie, good acting, interesting theme. And there’s an added perk for fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To the extent that the Kinsey movie has a villain, it’s Alfred Kinsey’s colleague, Thurman Rice. Professor Rice is an old-school sex-hostile sex educator who shows the class horrific slides of syphilis sufferers and preaches abstinence. And who plays this buffoonish prig of a character? Why, Frank N. Furter himself, the pansexual mad scientist from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania — Tim Curry. Excellent casting!