17th Century Ship Replica Burns

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This picture is not from a film. It is something you would see back in the 17th century: a burning real tall ship. At the Djurö bridge, not far from Djurhamn where I have done fieldwork, is Point Brännskeppet, “the burnt ship”, which commemorates the wreck of the Rikswasa (“Sheaf of the Realm”) that burned and sank there in 1623 and was clumsily salvaged in the 1960s. But the image shows the death of the Prins Willem, a 1980 replica of a 1649 trading ship of the Dutch East India Company. It burned the night before last in Den Helder harbour.

Burning is a common and often intentional end for archaeological replicas of buildings. We find a lot of burnt-down houses, so one way to learn more about how to interpret such sites is to build a replica and burn it to the ground. It improves our understanding of the sites and it allows us to evaluate whether the replica was close to the originals or not. (See Iron Age houses in flames. Testing house reconstructions at Lejre, Lejre 2007).

But the Prins Willem wasn’t set on fire by its owners, as far as known. I hope it was an accident and not an act of vandalism. (Nobody seems to have been hurt.) The original sank off Madagascar after 13 years. The replica survived for 29 years.

Photograph by Peter van Aalst.

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Shakespearean Murder Case

A woman in New Hampshire allegedly bludgeons her eight-months pregnant friend to death. Then she performs an amateur C-section on her victim, delivers the baby and assumes maternal responsibilities for it. After a week she and the baby girl, who is in fairly good health, are apprehended by the police at a homeless shelter. There is no report as to whether baby-stealing was the motive of the murder or just a humanitarian afterthought.

I’ve Made News in Västergötland

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My recent talk in Trävattna parish hall, Västergötland, was covered by two regional papers. Rune Torstenson has kindly scanned the items for me. The headlines read “Power once originated in the mead-hall” and “Searching for ancient power-wielders”. To read the articles, click on the images.

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Wasp Nest

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Dear Reader, if you are a wasp, do not attempt to nest in my house. You will only Release the Fucking Fury, said with a bad Swedish accent. I will plug your nest’s entries and vacuum your workers as they return from foraging. Do not sting my chin, the only bit protruding from my raincoat. Do not nest in my house. That is all. Thank you.

Update next day: Dear Reader, if you are a mouse, do not attempt to forage for food behind Samarkeolog’s fridge.

My Libraries

Inspired yet again by the Carlquist & Järv anthology of library history I mentioned recently, I decided to write something about the libraries of my life. I’m fortunate in that I have always been able to take libraries for granted. I feel at home in them.

Learning to read at age four or five, I may have been taken about that time to some forgotten library in Greenwich, Conn. But the first one I remember and one of the two most important ones in my life so far is Saltsjöbaden public library, located at the Dump, Tippen, the local mall which took its name from being built on the site of a former dump. My mom took me to the Dump library at age six and got me a library card, and then for years helped transport loads and loads of books between the Dump and our home. An early favourite of mine was Philippa Pearce‘s Minnow on the Say. And there was Irmelin Sandman Lilius, Tove Jansson, and as I grew older, Hans-Eric Hellberg, J.R.R. Tolkien, and more and more science fiction such as Robert A. Heinlein, Clifford Simak and Arthur C. Clarke.

From age twelve to eighteen me and my geek friends spent most of our recesses in the library of Saltsjöbaden samskola (“co-ed school”, a designation that had by that time of course long been meaningless). We flipped through magazines, read 17th century poetry for the funny spelling, played Vector Race, wrote absurd poetry and chatted with the punk chicks. I don’t remember finding many good books on the shelves, but a friendly high-school senior had a huge impact on me right at the start by simply lending me a grocery bag full of American paperbacks just when I’d run out of fantasy in Swedish: Raymond Feist, David Eddings, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Piers Anthony.

During my early twenties I was even an amateur librarian, being head of the Stockholm Tolkien Society’s book guild and caretaker of its fantasy library. “Library” is bibliotek in Swedish, and so of course I named the library Bilboteket.

The second really important library in my life is the Library of the Royal Academy of Letters, one of Scandinavia’s largest research libraries for archaeology and adjacent disciplines. I’ve used it regularly for almost two decades, and getting any work done there is somewhat complicated by my tendency to run into people I know. On my way to Vitterheten I always buy cake enough for at least two people, as there’s invariably someone to share with.

Another library where I have always found it hard to concentrate is the Stockholm University Library. There are simply way, way too many pretty girls there. And though I pass by the Royal Library every Monday on my way to work at the Academy, I only use it on the rare occasions when I need a book that’s not available at the Academy’s library.

With my local, Fisksätra public library, I mainly interact in two ways: I frequently donate books and magazines, and I collect the inter-library loans I sometimes order over the internet there. But I never read there. It’s close to home, and they don’t have many books I want to read: I care little for Swedish novels, the Anglophone ones they carry are mainly in translation which I avoid, and for reference purposes I use the net.

Chanterelle Season

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Yesterday saw the season’s first mushroom expedition. A bit early for real diversity, with only four edible species collected, but on the other hand we found quite a lot of chanterelles.

  • Chanterelle, Kantarell, Cantharellus cibarius
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum
  • Orange Birch Bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Red russula, Tegelkremla, Russula decolorans

As a Swedish journalist once wrote, paraphrasing the Scarlet Pimpernel:

They find him here
They find him there
They say they find him everywhere
Is he in Heaven or is he in Hell?
That damned elusive Chanterelle

Awesome Turkish 70s Psychedelia

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One of the major influences that combined to form Western psychedelic rock was traditional Asian music. But musicians in Asia picked up the vibe pretty quickly and started to play their own versions of it. Lately I’ve been listening to a great compilation of the stuff, and I’m particularly struck by the 1975 track “Gönül Sabreyle Sabreyle” (hear it streamed here). The band playing it is the brother trio Üç Hürel, “The Three Hürels”, and the song’s title would in English be something like “Oh Sabreyle, my heart, Sabreyle”. Reading up about the band on the web, I’ve learned that the Hürel brothers released only two albums before disbanding for decades, and that this track is on the second, more Western-styled one: Hürel Arsivi (1976). Calling them an Asian band isn’t strictly correct though, as they’re from Istanbul.

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The musicianship is great: just listen to the darbouka drum fills. Awesome. And youngest brother Feridun Hürel not only sings his heart out for the apparently cruel and unyielding or otherwise unavailable Sabreyle, he also plays the fuzz guitar solo and the electrified saz solo on the same two-necked instrument, and wrote the song. Talented guy! The song’s clearly a classic in Turkey: poking around I’ve found a number of covers, ranging from overdecorated 80s metal versions to a grizzled guy alone with a saz.

I tried machine-translating the lyrics, but I couldn’t get them to make much sense (“Assortment eating does not always go”, errr…). I’d be much obliged if somebody with the necessary language skills would translate them. Myself, I pretty much only know the Turkish word for “sausage”.

Update same day: Dear Reader Samarkeolog of Human Rights Archaeology came through with a translation! Turns out “sabreyle” is not the name of some dark-eyed Bosporanean wench after all.

Every winter has a spring
Every night has a morning
Enough now leave
The heart with a sword

Every rise has a fall
Surely one day the person will smile
Happiness is a work of patience
The heart with a sword

Grieving does not always go
Spring does not come without patience
This love is not enough for this world
The heart with a sword

Axes and Grain for the Neolithic Gods

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Sven Gunnar Broström, known as Stone Gunnar.

In June of last year I reported on my visit to a small research excavation directed by my Fornvännen boss Lars Larsson at Botkyrka golf club south of Stockholm. The Stensborg site is highly unusual by the standards of this part of the country: a place near the sea shore where some of the region’s first farmers congregated almost 6000 years ago and did some really weird shit. Sven Gunnar Broström, PhD h.c., one of Sweden’s most active and respected self-taught archaeologists, discovered it in the late 60s. Simply through fieldwalking he and Kent Ihrestam recovered and recorded 3000 finds, largely axes and axe-making debris, much of it exotic rock types, and much of it burnt. He also found some very nice Funnel Beaker, Trichterbecher, TRB pottery. Now he’s digging the site with Lars and Elin Fornander, one of the good archaeo-lab folks who took the time to hear Alan Sokal’s talk this last June.

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Imagine a big cultic bonfire on some forgotten equinox in the 37th century BC. Imagine tossing into it a big expensive polished flint axe you’ve traded for from the distant flint-producing areas in the south. See it turning into fireworks and flying into bits with a loud crackling noise. This was done with some regularity at Stensborg in the Early Neolithic. Ostentatious public consumption of exotic commodities on the northern edge of Neolithic Europe.

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Last year Lars’s team dug test pits and small trenches in the ploughsoil, finding more of the kind of stuff Sven Gunnar had collected. This year they’ve machine-stripped a few hundred square meters to check out what survives beneath plough depth. And they’ve been richly rewarded, not just with more of the same find categories and by burnt human bones, but with the most essentially Neolithic kind of find possible: litre after litre after litre of carbonised grain. It lies around the whole site, and pools in little pits with lithics and pottery and bones. This grain is perfect for radiocarbon, for palaeobotany, for inferring early agricultural methods through the species and proportion of weed seeds in it, and I’d be most surprised if there won’t prove to be enough DNA left in it to allow plant geneticists to identify where the seed grain came from. Lovely stuff.

And I had the pleasure to help fold up and truss the site tent for its horse-transport ride back to Scania. It’s one of the inflatable rubber military field hospitals Lars bought for the classic Skateholm dig in 1982. “Well whaddya know”, said Lars appreciatively, “you’re actually good for something besides blogging!”.