How To Get a Mink Skeleton in a Weird Way


My friend Eddie the pagan goldsmith has inadvertently discovered an unusual way to acquire a clean mink skeleton. Here’s what you do.

  1. Set some crayfish traps in a lake.
  2. A mink will break into one of the traps to get at the crayfish, get stuck and drown.
  3. When retrieving your traps with their catch, fail to find the one the mink has thrashed around in.
  4. Since you have lost the trap, crayfish and other scavengers will have ample time to clean the mink’s bones.
  5. The following year, set the traps again along the same lake shore. When you retrieve them, find the trap you lost last year.
  6. The mink’s skeleton will be clean but still partly articulated by sinews.

Mika’s Place for Underwear


11-y-o Junior bought his first own album last Saturday: Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much. (My own first was Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward, bought at age 12 in ’84 or ’85). It’s an excellent record once you’ve gotten used to Mika’s queeny (and Queenish) style of singing: catchy studio pop. And Junior has this awesome “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” mishearing of one of the songs. When he told me about it and played me “By the Time” I couldn’t hear it any other way either.

“By the time I’m dreaming
and you’ve crept out on me sleeping
I’m busy in the place for underwear”

What Mika actually claims to sing in the liner notes is:

By the time I’m dreaming
and you’ve crept out on me sleeping
I’m busy in the blissful unaware

Marzipan Gold Hoard

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In 1995 a gold hoard was found at Vittene in Norra Björke parish, Västergötland. Its contents had been amassed over two centuries, and it was committed to the earth in the 3rd century AD. A fine book on the find and subsequent settlement excavations has recently been published and is available in full on-line.

Below is a picture of the Vittene hoard. Above is a picture of a replica of the hoard made of marzipan and gold leaf by Sören Elmqvist for the 1995 Christmas market at the county museum.

Thanks to Niklas Ytterberg for the tipoff.


Motte and Bailey and Limburger Cheese


I type this in the hotel lobby while waiting for the train just across the street that will take me to Brussels. The conference closed at 13, I had sandwiches with my colleagues and then set out again for the countryside south of town to grab me a geocache. On the Mergel ridge I saw a motte (an 11th/12th century fortification mound), and I suppose the remains of its bailey might also have been visible if I had entered the pasture it sits in. I’ve only seen one of those before, in Oxford.


Then I crossed the Jeker stream on a foot bridge by a mill and entered farmland. Apple orchards, pastures full of cows, vineyards, fields of maize and sugar beets. And at St. Lambert’s spring I finally found what I had been looking for, signed the little book, grabbed an effigy of Homer Simpson that wanted to travel, and returned to town on tired feet.

Stocking up on food for the afternoon and evening, I bought some of the famed local Limburg cheese as well. I’ve never had it before, but it seems to be potent stuff. I was scanning the display at the super market for something slablike or brickish, but when I found the Limburger the largest package turned out to be just a small 200 g cube. Breakfast tomorrow, and damn the consequences.

Update next morning: Airport security agrees: Limburger is a potential safety risk, so they confiscated it. Instead I bought some Chimay, which is nice but very mild.

Bus Ride up the Meuse

Sculpture fragment from the Cathedral of St. Lambert in Liège.

Today’s bus excursion took us up the river Maas/Meuse into Wallonia, Belgium’s Francophone part, where our first stop was Liège. The city looks pretty crummy, I’m afraid, with a lot of dilapidated and dirty buildings. The ironworks (?) outside town are grotesque in their gargantuan size and run-down brutal ugliness. It’s like a nightmare about the Ruhr. A must-see for industrial romantics.

In central Liège is a great big square that used to be the site of the Cathedral of St. Lambert. It got torn down 200 years ago, apparently to allow an unimpeded view of the new palace behind it. An exhibition under the square shows the confused jumble of wall foundations that remains of the Gothic, Romanesque, Ottonian and Carolingian versions of the cathedral. And under it all, the remains of an unusually large and fine Gallo-Roman villa.

The Wallonian landscape is very nice in places once you leave town. The river runs below sheer limestone cliffs and rolling downs covered in deciduous forest that is just starting to turn its colours. But the vista is constantly marred by heavy industrial installations.

Thence to the small town of Amay. Its collegiate church has antecedents all the way back to the late La Tène (i.e. Pre-Roman), including a lovely 8th century sculpted sarcophagus of a lady who died in the early 7th century and was made a dynastic saint.

View from the hilltop settlement site of Thier d’Olne.

Thier d’Olne offered sandwiches and a Carolingian hilltop manor & church site with fortifications both of that period and of the pre-Roman. Great view down the valley to a huge nuclear power plant. I found a nice piece of a flint blade fieldwalking back to the bus, but I left it for future Belgian colleagues to find.

View from the Citadel of Namur

In Namur, finally, we saw the sad remains of the Medieval counts’ little castle on a high hilltop at a river confluence. In its walls have been found re-used Roman period grave stones, much like with the town wall in Chester. And I sent a thought to Blanche, daughter of Count Jean I of Namur, who was sent off to frigid Sweden and became Queen to King Magnus in the early 14th century. A children’s song is still sung about her. Rida, rida ranka, hästen heter Blanka…

What Am I Doing Here?


Yesterday’s paper sessions offered eleven presentations. I almost fell asleep several times. This was not mainly because four of the papers were in German and French which I have a hard time understanding when spoken quickly. The main reason was that few of my colleagues know how to perform an engaging presentation. Yes, you need to perform it. So here are a few suggestions.

  • Never ever read a prepared text out loud. Speak from brief notes or a slide show. It is better to have five lines of summary text in ball-point pen on the back of your hand than a manuscript.
  • Do you have reason to believe that a considerable part of your audience a) does not know anything about the subject, b) does not yet care about the subject? Then make sure that you start your talk by setting the scene with some background info (a few maps, a time line, a landscape view or two), and above all explain why you care. Why is your subject interesting?
  • When presenting a scientific study, do not rattle off data and descriptions. Start with questions, explain how you came up with them, and then present only enough data (in overview format) that you can make a plausible argument in favour of some answer to each question. If you have no questions or no argument, do not agree to make a presentation.

Luckily, osteologist Raphaël Panhuysen understands these things very well, and so I enjoyed his paper – regardless of the fact that the differences between various coeval Merovingian-period cemeteries in Maastricht is not something I would usually take an interest in.

After the end of the sesh I took a three hour walk on the southern outskirts of town, during which I had a walking dinner of fries & chicken and failed to find two geocaches. In Sweden, geocaches cluster in cities. In Maastricht, the caches avoid the city and cluster in hiking areas on its outskirts. To log a so-called multi-cache, in Sweden you will need to walk perhaps a few hundred meters from the first to the second and maybe the third point. Here, you have to hike several kilometres, and there may be ten points along the way. No thanks.

But it was nice to see some Victorian suburbs and the 16th century southern town gate. And waiting in line with working-class peeps at the chip shop, where everything is boiled in oil by a saftig woman with an air of world-weary authority, was a slice of a genuine Maastricht Sunday evening. Even though I got neither salt nor mayo with my fries.

What am I doing here? I always end up asking myself that at conferences. The boring papers and the lonely evenings or the evenings in boring company at restaurants and pubs.

Cute Train Lesbians

A funny intermezzo caught me Saturday on the train from Brussels to Liège. Across the aisle, two young pretty lesbian couples were seated. And they spent most of the ride necking furiously. I suppose that as a het male I might have been expected to feel some kind of perturbation or arousal at the sight. But in fact I mainly experienced a sort of avuncular tenderness toward the young ladies. Their joy made me smile. Any desire these shapely wenches might have inspired was checked by the evident fact that they weren’t interested in my kind. Then they got off (the train, you pervert) and left only a shiny green apple on the table. A few hungry bites had been taken from it.