Tern Island

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Tärnskär (“Tern Island”) is a low seal-like grey cliff on the outer margin of the Stockholm archipelago. My buddy Dendro-Åke only goes there when an eastern wind is blowing, because if your engine dies and there’s any other wind, you end up on the other side of the Baltic.
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UK Contract Archaeology in Deep Slump

As pointed out here many times before, archaeology is a bad career choice as the labour market is tiny and ridiculously overpopulated. I mainly keep tabs on the academic subset of this labour market. But via Alun I’ve received news that UK contract archaeology, the business where you remove and document sites that get in the way of land development, is in poor shape because of the economic recession. The Institute for Archaeologists announces that one in six jobs in contract archaeology has been lost since the start of the recession, with more losses likely in the near future.

In Sweden, there has been a tendency for archaeological unemployment to vary in counterphase with that of other professions. In other words, when everybody else experiences a boom, we get a bust, and vice versa. This is because in a quasi-socialist state, the government usually invests in public works to combat unemployment during a recession, and public works generate a need for contract archaeology. But I guess it’s been a long time since the Labour Party in the UK advocated quasi-socialism. And judging from all the closed shops I saw in Chester back in February, the recession seems to have hit the UK much harder than Sweden. (My crappy mutual fund has gained 7% in the past two months, yay!)

But still, this is actually unimportant news to would-be archaeologists. Because when there are 10 000 archaeologists and 600 jobs, it makes no difference if 100 of those jobs disappear. The only reasonable way to do archaeology and have a good life is to work four days a week as a doctor / lawyer / engineer, and spend Fridays and weekends doing amateur archaeology.

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Hundreds of Iron Age War Dead Found

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Illerup Ådal in Jutland is known for one of Denmark’s largest and most well-excavated war booty sacrifices, most of it dating from the early 3rd century AD. (See my recent entry about the similar Swedish site Finnestorp.) As I’ve learned from my friend Tim Olsson’s new book about such sites, there’s a second find spot at Vædebro, right where the Illerup stream empties into Lake Mossø, a few kilometres from the war booty site. The artefact finds here are few, but the bones of 25-30 people were found about 1960, mainly robust men, some with battle wounds. And now the Vædebro site has exploded thanks to limited new excavations!

My buddy Martin Skoglund tipped me off about the sensational new find at Vædebro. Danish colleagues has opened a small trench and found the remains of 12-15 about 200 people! If the density of bones continues outside the little trench, this will be beyond comparison the largest find so far of probable battle dead to whom the sacrificed war booty has belonged. Scientific analyses of these bones (dating, geological point of origin…) will allow the war booty field to make a huge advance. Already one radiocarbon date points to the 1st century AD, which suggests that not all of the bodies have anything to do with the big weapon sacrifices.

For almost 150 years, Scandy archaeologists have tried to make sense of these defeated Iron Age armies from their beautifully preserved gear. Never have we really dreamed of finding the dead guys themselves like this. My heartfelt congratulations to project director Ejvind Hertz of Skanderborg Museum and his team!

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Norwegian Ghost Mine

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From my buddy Claes Pettersson, pix he took in July at the abandoned Christian VI mine of Røros, Norway, at 62°N. It’s a copper mine that was worked from 1723 until shortly after 1945. Located near the Swedish border and far from the sea, this is one of the coldest parts of Norway, which means that the wooden structures don’t decay much through microbial action — they mainly just erode.
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Swedish History Reenactors in Canada

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From Aard regular Christina Reid (she started commenting less than a week after the blog opened, bless her heart!), a few pictures from Mid-summer Eve at the Scandinavian Cultural Centre in Burnaby, British Columbia. Tina and her hubby are active in the Reik Félag reenactment group. And her brother is the singer of Viking/Tolkienian metallers Amon Amarth!

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We’re seeing two periods of Scandy history being celebrated here. Tina & hubby represent the Viking Period in the 9th & 10th centuries. The other people, the ones erecting a May pole, are into the rural culture of the 19th century, which is the main focus of open-air museums all over Sweden. Looks exactly like a Swedish May pole celebration, only with more of a passive audience around. I guess they don’t identify as Scandies.

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Photographs by Darlene Toews.

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Medieval Stockholm

I just finished reading Nils Ahnlund’s 1953 history of Stockholm up to 1523, which marks the end of the Middle Ages in Swedish historiography. Its 538 pages of text offer less concrete detail than an archaeologist might wish for, and I soon lost track of everybody named Anders Jönsson and Jöns Andersson, but it was an interesting read nevertheless. Here are a few of the best things I learned.

  • Now I finally understand why the inhabitants of Dalecarlia play such a large role in the city’s and country’s history. I mean, OK, there’s reasonable farmland up there, but it is way north and the growing season is correspondingly shorter. Why does every half-bit rebel leader through the centuries try to secure the aid of the Dalecarlians, specifically?

    Now I understand. It’s not about the farming up there. It’s about the mining, particularly the copper mine in Falun. Dalecarlia had an unusually large and rich population of mine owners, miners and metalworkers. And all of them depended on Stockholm to sell their products and supply them with imported goods. Stockholm and Dalecarlia were in fact integral parts of a machine whose purpose was to pump copper and iron onto the Continent via the Hanseatic league. If something bothered Stockholm, then the Dalecarlians were bothered too. Couldn’t somebody have explained that to me long ago?!

  • I knew that Medieval Stockholm was a tiny place, hemmed in on its island where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. But I didn’t know that time and time again, the town on the island and the heavily fortified castle at its northern end were in the hands of opposing political factions. Little wars were repeatedly fought between the town and the castle!
  • The Battle of Baggensstäket in 1719 was not the first recorded battle out in my neck of the woods. In July of 1518, during the run-up to the Battle of Brännkyrka, a skirmish was fought at Duvnäs between Danish cavalry belonging to Christian II and troops loyal to the Steward of the Realm, Sten Svantesson. I guess the Danes disembarked there because they couldn’t get through the Skurusundet passage into town.

    Another local piece of news to me is that Drevinge was used by its owner Tideman Rump (!), obit. c. 1331, as “a kind of private loading port”.

  • Finally, the thing that originally inspired me to read the book was to find out more about the Medieval farmsteads that have been obliterated by Stockholm’s post-Medieval expansion. I find it fascinating that much of today’s city area was like any other piece of Lake Mälaren countryside up at least to the 14th century. The names of these forgotten farms go back at least to the Viking Period, and some have left surviving pagan cemeteries.
    • Svaneby. Still farmed in the 15th century. Located near St. James’s church.
    • Väsby. Owned by St. Clare’s convent. Located near Hötorget square.
    • Ekeby. Donated along with Väsby to St. Clare’s in 1288. May have been located near Humlegården park.
    • Karleby. Owned by the arch-see. May have been located near Biskopsudden point on Södra Djurgården.
    • Vädla. Became the town’s first kungsladugård, Crown farm, shortly after 1400. Located immediately west of Nobelparken.
    • Kaknäs. Became merged with Vädla. Located near the broadcasting tower.
    • Medelby. Became merged with Vädla. Located on Ladugårdsgärdet.
    • Telgede. Bordered on Årsta. Located somewhere near Lake Hammarby.
    • Rörstrand. First mentioned in 1288. Located east of Karlberg on the lake shore.
    • Löing 1269, Lögiaboda 1499. Located west of Vanadisberget hill.
    • (Ersta on Södermalm is a late establishment named after Erstavik in Nacka.)

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