Archaeology Magazine’s May Issue

i-281752aec916fa17cecad9e35634e5a9-covermay09.gifThe readers of popular archaeology magazines have a much more international and escapist view of the subject than most professionals. Indeed, in the popular perception, one of archaeology’s defining characteristics is that its practitioners travel to exotic locales on a regular basis. In fact, professional archaeologists usually only work in one or two regions each, usually located near their offices. So if an archaeologist does travel abroad to do fieldwork, she is likely to go repeatedly to a single place for years and have little knowledge of other countries, let alone other continents. Archaeology does have a universal toolkit for excavation and analyses, but each region and period forms its own specialism, and so archaeology is not a universal discipline like biology or astronomy.

As a specialist in Scandinavian prehistory, I am not well equipped to enjoy Archaeology Magazine. Published by the Archaeological Institute of America, it ranges widely around the exotic bits of the world and rarely touches upon Northern Europe. The current May/June issue has stories from Bermuda, Mexico, Peru, Easter Island, China, Ethiopia, Palestine and Albania. All good stuff, I’m sure, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s Indiana Jones material.

The one story that really caught my interest did so for two reasons: it’s about Modern era high-status burial in the British colonies (making it similar to stuff I know from Sweden), and its spin is completely wrong in an embarrassing way.

St. Peter’s church in the town of St. George’s, Bermuda, was originally built in 1612 and later replaced by the current structure. In an effort to find traces of the original building, archaeologists have excavated under the floor, finding a few late-18th century graves, at least two of which belong to colonial aristocrats, neatly identified by their coffin plates. This is the expected outcome of such an excavation. But the author of the piece paints the discovery of the graves as a sensational surprise. “How did the bodies of two important historical figures end up beneath the floorbords of the church?”, she asks in astonishment. Well, frankly, that’s where these guys and their entire social circle probably expected to end up. Burial inside churches has always been an elite prerogative.

It gets embarassing when we learn that scores of graves had been found under the floor already in the 1950s, and really bad when the author quotes the obituary of one of the buried men, George James Bruere: “The obit notes that ‘the Corpse’ came to rest in the church’s aisle, but doesn’t mention a burial”. What this means is not, as the author clearly believes, that the mourners carried the coffin into the church and just set it down on the floor in the aisle for a while. It means that a few floor boards were lifted there and the corpse buried beneath them, coming to rest “in the aisle”. I might say that my late grandma “rests in the cemetery of Saltsjöbaden”. I don’t need to specify that her remains are actually beneath ground level.

So, my plea to the editors of Archaeology Magazine is this: could we have less sensationalism, more everyday prehistoric digs in the northern temperate zone, and perhaps something about Northern Europe in each issue? I’d like to read about US contract digs as well. That would be relevant to my own experience from railroad and highway projects in Sweden.

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Four Stone Hearth 66

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It’s been more than two years since the last time I hosted the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival. Now it’s my turn again with number 66!

The Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is currently going over a rough patch. For this instalment, I had no host and only two submissions. So now I’ve been your host, Dear Reader, and I have rummaged around the web for a collection of mostly non-submitted great material. Anthro bloggers everywhere, submit your best new stuff and line up for hosting! It’s a great way to make contacts and attract high-quality traffic — smart people who share your interests!

Damn Good Swedish Soul

Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Damn!‘s fourth album, Let’s Zoom In, that was released last year. Damn! is an unfortunately namned soul/funk octet from Malmö in southern Sweden, mostly known as a backing band for rapper Timbuktu. Excellent stuff, among the best music the country has to offer! Though the album’s main single played in the live clip above is a shouting-blues type of thing, most of it is dominated by ultra-smooth Curtis Mayfield style falsetto singing. And there’s a lot of kraftwerkesque vocoder on it too.

As I explained to my wife yesterday, a vocoder is a beautiful thing when it’s used to make people sound like robots. This is not the same as the ugly digital re-pitching that is so common in current mass-market R’n’B. A typical example can be heard on the male part of the gratuitous duet version of Beyoncé’s lovely “If I Were A Boy”. A vocoder turns you into a robot. If you can’t sing in tune or if you have an insufficient reach, then the vocoder won’t help.

Sb Twitter Feed

I intentionally stay away from Twitter. Too many internet-related things already fracture my concentration and keep me from reading books. I go only so far as to update my Facebook status a few times a week.

But for those of you who have made Twitter part of your lives, or would like to try it, check out the new Sb Twitter feed.

North Shore Battlefield

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Spent the day metal detecting for Thomas Englund at the battlefield of Baggensstäket, anno 1719 (as blogged about before: 1234). This was my third time there, and the first time I’ve helped on the northern half of the area across the water from where I live. Thomas found musket and pistol balls. I picked up an 18th century coat button and loads of steenkeenggg aluminium bottle tops, and saw an abandoned tree house. I’m particularly interested in the pre-battle finds that are starting to accumulate.

Prehistoric Reenactment Centre

My buddy from the Swedish Skeptics, author Peter Olausson, reports on a recent visit to the Ekehagen prehistoric reenactment centre in Västergötland.


Ekehagen Prehistoric Village
By Peter Olausson

In Åsarp near Falköping, in a landscape littered with passage tombs, you’ll find Ekehagen. Founded in 1983, the centre has a number of houses built to show what Prehistoric life was like in Scandinavia, from huts of the Mesolithic to a farm of the Middle Iron Age (no Vikings).

Note: This is not a museum. Walking around on one’s own and studying the buildings etc. might work for people who already know what it’s about, but would be comparably pointless for the rest of us; the main point is hands-on experience. You can book guides with which you participate in flint knapping, leather working, cooking, archery, trapping (they have a nice path with a couple of period game traps) and so on. Or you can arrive during one of the theme weeks they arrange every year. (Or book stays for several days, including sleep-overs in a period of choice.) There is also a restaurant and a modest shop.

There is plenty of space here: some of the “attractions” are several hundred meters apart. Bring good shoes, and don’t forget your mobile phone! In my opinion, this improves the atmosphere and general experience no end compared to what a crowded “Stone Age Disneyland” would have been like. The “home base” assigned to our group, a Mesolithic house, wasn’t surrounded by noisy school classes — they were elsewhere — but by tranquil forest (with period tree species, I was told).

As for the scientific correctness regarding the many details, I really can’t tell (that is, if there are any flaws, I couldn’t spot them). But the staff sure loves to discuss the finer points of recreating history.

May Entertainments

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One of these men is an extremely zany comics artist and celebrated wit. The other is a stuffy scholar in an abstruse field.

We’ve had a three-day holiday thanks to Friday being 1 May — a red-letter day in Sweden since 1939. Here’s the entertainments I’ve enjoyed.

  • Went with wife & kids to the local Walpurgis Night bonfire, met loads of neighbours old and new.
  • Played Abalone, Tigris & Euphrates and Qwirkle with Kai and other friends.
  • Went to a lovely dinner at the home of my friends Mattias & Lina.
  • Took a morning bike ride and walk in the woods to log a geocache that had appeared near my home.
  • Went to the Kapten Stofil tenth anniversary event, met comic artists Joakim Lindengren, David Nessle and Camilla Forsman and off-beat culture historian Martin Kristenson. All a great pleasure to meet, and I was particularly pleased to meet Nessle who, apart from creating achingly funny comics, is also one of the Swedish language’s wittiest bloggers. I have of course been a Lindengren fan for over 20 years.
  • Left the kids with the world’s best ex-wife, drove with the world’s best wife to Duveholm manor near Katrineholm. Had tea, took a long walk among the anemones and over to the next manor over, Djulöholm, saw an abandoned tree-house, had a fine four-course dinner, slept well, had a good breakfast, took another walk.

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  • Drove to Eskilstuna prompted by The White Guide, was not terribly impressed by the food at the recommended restaurant.
  • Drove to historical author friends Kristina & Bo in rural Vallentuna, had canapés, admired the resplendent birthday girl and their new house.
  • Played Go fish with wife & daughter.

Did you do anything fun over the weekend, Dear Reader?