Retro Gamer

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I never was much of a game console nut. My video game crazes mostly played out on the PC. But I did play the Atari in the 70s, the C64 in the 80s and the NES and SNES in the early 90s, when I wrote for Nintendo mags and borrowed the hardware from my employers. The SNES was the last console I paid any attention to.

11-y-o Junior loves all kinds of video games, particularly on-line multiplayer ones like Roblox and Runescape. But he’s also installed emulator software on the PC and played a lot of old games that originally ran on machines he’s never actually seen. He’s got a Wii which allows him to download and play old Nintendo games cheaply. In fact, he’s so into the old stuff that he subscribes to Retro Gamer magazine. This is a mag where you’ll find long interviews with the people behind Spyhunter and Arkanoid. So now we’ve made an agreement to sell his disused Nintendo DS and its cartridges and put some of the money into a certain really old game console. It arrived today. It’s a SNES made in 1994.

Junior can get all the games he likes for this machine for free over the net and play them on the PC with an emulator. But somehow he feels that running real cartridges on a real SNES makes for a better experience. So tonight it’s been Super Mario World for him.

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Begonia Joined by Spontaneous Mushrooms

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When I left my PhD student office at the Museum of National Antiquities I rescued a couple of angel wing begonias. One has recently been joined in its pot by spontaneously appearing yellow fungus. Today four sizeable mushrooms popped up! And Dear Reader William identified them: they’re Yellow Houseplant Mushrooms, Leucocoprinus birnbaumii. That’s an eminently sensible name for a mushroom, by the way.
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Archaeological Fatherhood

Back in April of 2008 I mused that strictly chronologically speaking, at 36 I was already a mid-career academic since I started working at 20 and retirement age is currently 65. I’m still years from the age when people get academic jobs in my discipline, 41, but anyway.

Yesterday I had two experiences that opened my eyes to the fact that I am now an archaeological dad. By that I mean that there are at least two fields where work I once did is no longer the Stand der Forschung, but where vigorous new studies refer to and build upon my old stuff. I am a member of the parental generation in Swedish archaeology.

In 1992, about the time I turned 20, I finished an MA thesis about burnt mounds, weird Bronze Age structures consisting of fire-cracked stone mixed with apparent household garbage and often burials. It was published in Fornvännen two years later (and that contact with the journal’s editors became a life-changer for me). The title was “Burnt mounds with burials in the easternmost part of the Lake Mälaren area”.

Now I’m the journal’s managing editor. Yesterday I started copy-editing Anna-Sara Noge’s contribution to the up-coming winter issue. Her paper (based on this MA thesis of hers) is titled “Burnt mounds containing human bones in the region north of Lake Mälaren”. Where I had only anonymous bone concentrations in burnt mounds, she has complete osteological evaluations of all bones from a large number of mounds. She brings new data to the question why on Earth those Bronze Age weirdos were burying people in garbage heaps. And she agrees with what my friend Lars Lundqvist wrote in 1991 and I wrote after him: the modern category of “garbage” probably isn’t relevant when studying the society of Bronze Age Sweden.

In 1993 I spent most of the fieldwork season working on Magnus Artursson’s excavation of Bollbacken, a Middle Neolithic seal hunting site of the Pitted Ware culture near Västerås. As these sites go, it had an uncommonly landward location inside the great Baltic bay formed by the Lake Mälaren basin at the time. We found lots of post-supported trapezoid hut foundations, and I’m proud to say that as I digitised all the field plans over the following winter, I actually identified most of those huts myself since nobody had been able to see the big picture while we were digging. We also found a mortuary building which I dug together with Claes Hadevik, a number of Pitted Ware cremation graves (which were almost unheard of before Bollbacken), a Pre-Roman Iron Age cremation urn cemetery, and a single 7th century grave which was the sort of thing we had originally expected to dig. (We were actually called the “grave group” at the start of the season.)

At the time I had already decided to write my PhD thesis about Late Iron Age matters, so I didn’t ask to be given any writing duties on the Bollbacken archive report. In fact, I didn’t trust anyone else on the team to organise and register all the finds to a sufficient level of Ordnung, so I spent that winter as our finds and digitising man. Umm, kid, I guess.

And yesterday I received Åsa M. Larsson’s PhD thesis. She wasn’t on the Bollbacken dig, but a big chunk of her book is an in-depth study of the cremation burials and associated structures from Bollbacken! I can’t wait to read it!

Neither Noge nor Larsson is anywhere near young enough to be my daughter, and I certainly don’t claim any paternal authority in those two fields that I’ve been away from for so long. (I’m actually preparing to return to Bronze Age studies as a humble student.) But I’m very proud to see that my brain babies are having babies of their own now. That proves to me that the work I put in back in the day was worthwhile.

Stereophonic Hearing

Yesterday I had a clear illustration of how the brain determines the direction of a noise. I was listening to a podcast in ear buds when my wife asked me something. I took one bud out and talked to her for a while as the podcast continued to chatter in my left ear. Then the cordless phone rang. And I kept spinning around, trying to hear what direction the phone was in, but I couldn’t! You need two ears to pinpoint direction just as you need two eyes for stereoscopic vision.

Weekend Fun

  • Played the new German board game Finca that my friend Eddie the heathen goldsmith brought along. It’s an abstract system lightly dressed up in a story about harvesting and distributing fruit and greens on Mallorca of all things. Good fun though! Then we played Blokus, always fun too.
  • Took a sunny six-hour bike trip with my 11-y-o son, had kebab & fries, found three geocaches, failed to find two. It’s great when your kid is big enough that he can keep up for hours like that! Quality time.
  • Went to Circus Brazil Jack with my 6-y-o daughter. As usual a mix of the semi-desperately cheezy and the sublimely stupendous. The two acrobat acts were great! And they had a super-professional five-piece live band. It’s such a great analog form of entertainment when you can smell the horses and share the acrobats’ tension before a difficult trick. But circuses work differently these days: they need to sell a lot of knick-knacks and pony rides to make ends meet, and they can’t afford many stage hands. During the intermission even the top performers donned crew uniforms. I bought cotton candy from a gruff greying guy who later balanced two people on a seven-metre pole on his shoulder.

And you, Dear Reader? Any fun over the weekend?

Marsh Meringue

Here are two pieces of convoluted Scandy and English etymology that converge in my head.

“Marshmallow” was originally the common name of a plant, Althaea officinalis (Sw. läkemalva), from which a thickening agent was made. This agent was added to meringue foam to produce the toastable sweet pillows we all know and love. And so the sweet took over the name of the marsh-dwelling mallow plant.

On GÃ¥lö, the peninsula where I helped with excavations yesterday, is a place called Kärrmaräng. This means “Marsh Lagoon Meadow”, but the Swedish word for meringue is maräng, so “Kärrmaräng” looks like it should be read “Marsh Meringue”.

I wonder if Althaea officinalis grows at Kärrmaräng. It sounds like good place to light a camp fire and toast marshmallows.