Four Stone Hearth: Call for Submissions

The 68th Four Stone Hearth blog carnival will run at Remote Central on Wednesday. Submit your best recent stuff to Tim before Tuesday evening. Anything anthro or archaeo goes!


How To Metal Detect Legally In Sweden

A friendly Englishman who recently settled in southern Sweden wrote me to ask how a law-abiding metal detectorist should go about getting a permit to pursue their hobby in this country.

The first thing to understand is that the Swedish system makes it effectively impossible to metal detect on a whim while vacationing (unless you’re a nighthawk). Paperwork, overburdened county officials and long waits are always part of the process. A sustained metal detector hobby is only really possible if you stick to one or two län counties and establish a good relationship with the County Archaeologist and County Museum.

I’ll explain the pertinent laws, then I’ll give some instructions.

  • Metal detecting is illegal in Sweden without a permit from the County Archaeologist, Länsantikvarien. Metal detecting is never legal for amateurs on the islands of Gotland and Öland in the Baltic.
  • Sweden has no trespassing laws: as long as you don’t interfere with crops or livestock, or bother someone at home, you can go wherever you want.
  • When a member of the public makes an archaeological find, he (not the landowner) has ownership of it except in the following cases, where he is obliged to offer the find to the State before possibly gaining ownership:
    • Objects that consist at least in part of gold, silver or copper / bronze / brass.
    • Objects that are found together in some kind of cluster.
  • This means that if you find a single iron object, it is not illegal to keep it, but you are concealing potentially valuable archaeological data. If you find a flint chip and a potsherd together in one spot, then you are obliged to offer them to the State. And if the State decides to keep any of your finds, you are entitled to remuneration.
  • The find spot of an archaeological object becomes a known archaeological site the moment you show your finds to the museum staff. This means that if you find something really interesting in a field and follow the rules, chances are you will not get continued permission to metal detect in that field, as most County Archaeologists do not let detectorists anywhere near known archaeological sites.

With all this in mind, to enjoy metal detecting legally and constructively in Sweden, follow these steps.

  1. Identify a likely field/beach/park far from the nearest registered ancient monument (runic Rs on the map, also check the on-line register).
  2. Check with the landowner & tenant that it wouldn’t cause them trouble to have you walking and digging little pits on the land in such and such a season.
  3. Print out or photocopy a map and circle the area you want to metal detect with a marking pen. A field or two is realistic: a parish is not.
  4. Write an application letter to Länsantikvarien at Länsstyrelsen (i.e. the County Archaeologist at your County Council) where you specify the time frame (weeks or months are realistic, years are not) and emphasise that you will get the landowner’s & tenant’s permission and you will show your finds to your County Museum. Append the map.
  5. Wait two weeks and then start nagging the County Archaeologist politely by phone.
  6. When metal detecting, bring your permit and a GPS navigator. Bag all finds except those of which you’re absolutely positive that they are of post-WW2 date. (Hint: all aluminium is post-WW2.) Write coordinates in the Swedish National grid on the bags.
  7. Once a month or so, make an appointment with an archaeologist at the County Museum to look through your recent finds.
  8. Everything will be much easier if you get to know people: join the local historical society and offer the County Museum your services as a volunteer (or, if you’re lucky, paid subcontractor) on its excavations.

Now, what have I forgotten? And is anything unclear? Tell me!

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The Man Who Wasn’t There

Magnus Ljunggren has a lovely little piece about two Russian writers in today’s Svenska Dagbladet.

1. In fiction, a man who doesn’t exist. Yury Nikolaevich Tynyanov (1894-1943), a Latvian Jew, wrote the satirical novella Lieutenant Kijé (1927) about a non-existent military officer who gets entered into the rolls through a misunderstanding and rises through the ranks to general.

2. In reality, a body of fiction ascribed to a man who writes nothing. Anatolii Surov (d. 1987) published several successful plays and received the Stalin award twice, all on the strength of work that he stole from other writers. They were largely Jews who were in no position to complain in Stalinist Russia. The year after Stalin’s death, Surov was unmasked at a literary conference.

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Alan Sokal on the Nature and Use of Science

I just got home from Alan Sokal’s talk at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on the outskirts of Stockholm. He was on the same stage where astronaut Christer Fuglesang spoke a year ago. The headline was “What is Science and Why Should We Care?”.

Sokal’s reply to his first question was, briefly, that science is to use reason and observation when approaching factual matters pertaining to any aspect of the single real world we live in. It’s thinking clearly and respecting the evidence. Not only natural scientists proceed in this manner. Sokal also mentioned historians, plumbers and detectives — anyone who needs to engage successfully with the world. He thus has the same unitarian attitude to science and scholarship that makes it natural for an archaeologist to blog at Sb.

The reason that we should care about what science is, Sokal said, is basically that if we forget how to engage scientifically with the world, then it will punch us in the face. He identified four groups hostile to science, in ascending order of weight and dangerousness.

  1. Post-modern relativists. These are largely a thing of the past since the Bush administration taught the academic Left where a hostile attitude to reason leads. Even Bruno Latour has apparently backed down.
  2. Purveyors of pseudoscience. Homeopathy is rampant in the UK.
  3. Advocates of religion. No matter how theologians spin it, all religion boils down to believing the dogma in the holy book because one of these dogma is “thou shalt believe in what the holy book says”. Circular reasoning.
  4. Propagandists, PR firms, spin doctors and the politicians and companies that employ them. Their business isn’t about muddled thinking, it isn’t about sloppiness, it’s about defrauding the public. Sokal explicitly pointed out George W. Bush and Tony Blair as fraudsters in the case of the rationalisation of the second Iraq war.

The lecture hall was about 2/3 full. Including Q&A Sokal spent an hour and a half on stage. It was an enjoyable talk, though he was reading from the apparently unaltered manuscript of a lecture he gave in London a year ago. I found this a little disappointing — the guy was hunched over his paper and at some points had to halt, look up and apologise for some reference that was topical in the UK in early 2008 but not so today in Sweden. Anyway, his humorous and informal approach was nice, he didn’t mince words and everything he said was eminently sensible. No surprises really. The scripted part was pretty short and then he took questions. I stood up and briefly told the sad story of the Kuhnian Huns. Afterwards I said hi to my buddies from the Swedish Skeptics and the Archaeological Research Lab, Åsa from Ting & Tankar, Martin from Sneer Review and staunch pro-science debaters prof. Arne Jarrick and prof. Olle Häggström, before going home through the summer evening.

It pained me a little that not a single colleague from the non-lab, humanities-orientated section of the archaeology department was there even though their offices are a stone’s throw from the speaking venue. I guess after all these years they still haven’t quite weaned themselves off of the wordy nonsense that goes for intellectual discourse in those quarters.

With thanks to Rikard from the Swedish Skeptics web forum, here’s a published paper of Sokal’s that closely resembles the talk he gave yesterday.

Nose Balloon

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i-c5d91975afb304287843bf150748d2e2-otovent01.jpgWhen she has a cold, my 5-y-o daughter often suffers temporary hearing loss. Her ears don’t get infected, there’s no pain or fever — she just can’t hear very well, sometimes for weeks. The reason is that the lining of her eustachian tubes becomes swollen, obstructing them, and then fluid leaks out of the walls of the middle ear, flooding it and putting a damper on her audio. These days Swedish doctors try to avoid putting drainage pipes through kids’ ear drums. Instead the excellent Dr. Claes Wibom (who’s now treating the fourth generation of my family) recommended that I buy my daughter a nose balloon.

Nose balloon. It’s a balloon fitted with a spherical nozzle so you can inflate it with your nostrils. A beautifully simple treatment.

The balloon helps a kid put air pressure on their eustachian tubes from the pharynx, which opens them and helps keep the middle ear drained. Us grownups do the same thing easily by just closing our eyes, holding our noses and “pushing”, like on air trips or while driving in mountains or scuba diving. But try to explain that push to a little kid!

My daughter uses the balloon with great gusto mornings and nights, and often she comments on the wind she then hears blowing inside her ears. That’s when an obstructed tube opens and admits air into her middle ear.

(Now, don’t confuse this with ear candles. That’s just woo.)
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Geocaching is a fun nerdy outdoors hobby where you hide tupperware under boulders in the woods and publish their GPS coordinates on the web for other geeks to go look for the tupperware. Sometimes when you look for geocaches in public spaces such as parks, you get funny looks from passing non-geocachers (“muggles”, in potteresque geocacher parlance). Lone guys hanging around in parks and acting as if they’re looking for something are probably interpreted either as drug customers or gay cruisers. Thus, back in 2005 I came up with the ultimate gay nerd pastime: geocruising, where you publish your coordinates on-line and wait for someone to come along and sweep you off your feet.

Gender roles and sexual mores being what they are, I never thought it likely that there could be hetero geocruising. For casual sex with women in western society, you need to buy strange ladies drinks in bars into the wee hours unless you’re willing to frequent prostitutes. Skulking around in parks with your GPS is fun, but let’s face it, it will rarely get a straight male laid. Now though, I find (prompted by the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe) that “geoshagging” has entered the on-line vocabulary, referring to “location-aware mobile computing” when it is used to set up such brief liaisons. Most likely completely fictitious, this activity was briefly referred to in Wired Magazine back in January. Was that the first mention of the word?

Geoshagging. You may have heard it here first. Now be safe!

And congratulations to the rogues of the Skeptic’s Guide on the occasion of their 200th show!

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Archaeology Misused in Jerusalem

A headline caught my eye: “Archaeology in the Struggle for Jerusalem“. As usual when archaeology is used for political ends, it is actually subservient to written history in this case.

In the Bustan neighbourhood of the Silwan precinct in East Jerusalem, the municipality of Jerusalem has ordered 88 buildings torn down. Most are inhabited by Palestinians, most were built without a permit, most can be expected to sit on top of interesting archaeology. But not just any cool anonymous Prehistoric stuff for us nerds: the municipality wants to make an national archaeological park of the area to show off a certain historically documented period. They’re not curious about the Chalcolithic, they don’t itch to learn more about Canaanite settlement, they aren’t fans of Saladin curious about the 12th century AD. When we learn that the nationalist settler association Elad are intended to run the park, we know what levels they’re going for: The Kingdom of David and the 1st Millennium BC. Anglophone readers will know the place name Silwan as Siloam, of Pool fame, one of the sites where the Old Testament can be linked to the archaeological record.

If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve seen this sort of thing after the fact: the great open pits of the Fori Imperiali, where Mussolini had entire neighbourhoods torn down in order to shovel away the Middle Ages and reach the Imperial Period. In that case, it was basically rich Italians evicting poor Italians, so any protests would have been far more quiet than in East Jerusalem.

At Tell Hazor in the Galilee, where I did my first digging in 1990, excavations have largely been funded by wealthy New Yorkers. That is, until the team reached the pre-Israelite period and hit upon the ruins of a Canaanite palace. Very cool stuff! Then it suddenly proved quite hard to find the money to build a protective roof over the remains. Canaanites, schmanaanites, you know?

Extreme nationalism is an ugly thing regardless of the specific ethnicity involved. On-lookers everywhere wish that Israel would just elect a mixed-ethnicity secular liberal government and stop looking to the past. I mean, come on, those buildings in Bustan were built without permits because Palestinians can’t get building permits in Jerusalem. Archaeology should proceed in constructive dialogue between scholars, local people and other interested parties. To project managers: if you start to feel a need to evict living people forcefully in order to get at a site, you’re doing it all wrong and for the wrong reasons.

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