See You at ImagiCon 2

I’ll be at the ImagiCon 2 speculative fiction convention in the burbs of Stockholm on Saturday the 17th. I’m chairing a panel discussion on time travel and paradoxes at 15:00, and I’m on a panel about interstellar law at 21:00. Any Aard readers there, please make yourselves known!

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Weekend Fun

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I took Friday off from work and drove with my friend Anders to Avesta, an industrial town in Dalecarlia, where our friend Pär and his lovely wife, both teachers, have recently settled. We spent the afternoon and evening walking in the sunshine, admiring their house, eating like kings, listening to some pretty far-out and eclectic music (including Earth, Heino, Om, Demis Roussos and Sunn) and playing the Swedish 70s board game Marinattack. It’s notable for coming with an electronic device that replaces dice and outcome tables. They kicked my ass five games in a row. The shame!

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Then on Saturday Anders and I returned to Stockholm where my son and I went to the Retro Gathering vintage video gaming event. (He made me take him to it!) There was a surprisingly large number of attendees and a surprisingly large percentage of them were women. I ran into my friendly one-time editor Jonas Svensson that I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years. During the early 90s I made some extra money writing reviews and making translations for a couple of video game magazines, Nintendo Magazinet and Super Power. My perspective on the games — being an archaeologist and a non-video-gamer — was a bit strange. For instance, when reviewing a 1991 Defender clone for the SNES, Darius Twin, I remember explaining who Darius the Persian king was and informing my 12-y-o readers that he was actually named Dārayavahush.

As I write this I have two Spotted Dicks steaming on the stove and two loaves of bread in the oven. Tomorrow the two most beautiful girls in the world are coming home from China. Tonight, though, is gaming night. And we are not playing Marinattack.

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Burnt Mound Near the Sea

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Small mounds consisting of burnt stone are a signature feature of Bronze Age settlement sites along the coasts of southern Sweden. They were the subject of my first academic publication in 1994, though I’d hardly even seen one, let alone dug one. This I have finally begun remedying today, when I did another day of volunteer digging with my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell.

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Mattias and Roger started out as pioneer investigators of the Mesolithic archipelago that is now a bunch of hill tops in the southern part of inland Stockholm county. Their emphasis has shifted though: it’s still the archipelago and shore-bound sites on the edge of the open sea, but last month when I reported on their work they were way downhill in the Middle Neolithic. (Shore-displacement means that downhill equals later.) And now they’re in the Late Bronze Age!

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I joined them on Ornö island today. The fact that the place is still an island means that it was way, way out 2600 years ago. Kjell Linnér found the Bronze Age sites of Ornö in 1978, and he worked with us today. There are two clusters of visible structures on the island, all just above the 20 m a.s.l. curves, and probably in use when the shoreline was at 15 m, c. 600 BC. Both clusters were at the inner ends of long sheltered inlets at the time. Most are little burial cairns, but there are also two burnt mounds.

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M & R had found three grind stones in the mound, just like the one I picked up at Älvesta in Botkyrka in March ’08. I found a fourth one today, and some pottery, burnt bone and charcoal. Strangely, there isn’t any certainly knapped stone on the site. These people most likely did not have access to enough bronze to use it for all their cutting tools. But they didn’t knap quartz or flint on Ornö. The guys have found a Pitted Ware site (pre-metal) a few hundred meters off, and it’s full of knapped quartz. I wonder what Late Bronze Age seal harpoons looked like.

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5th Century Rune Stone Found

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Most rune stones are written with the late 16-character futhark and date from the 11th century when the Scandies had largely been Christianised. Their inscriptions tend to be formulaic: “Joe erected the stone after Jim his father who was a very good man”. But by that time, runic writing was already 900 years old. It’s just that inscriptions in the early 24-character futhark are much less common. And when you find them, their messages are usually far less straight-forward.

My buddy Frans Arne Stylegar reports in a series of blog entries [12345] on the discovery, less than two weeks ago, of a 5th century rune stone at Hogganvik in Mandal municipality, Vest-Agder county, Norway. Nothing similar has been found in Norway since WW2. And it’s an exceptionally long inscription — 63 runes!

The message hasn’t received detailed philological treatment yet, but so much is clear that the stone was erected by one Naudigastir in memory of a man who may have been his proto-feudal lord (or was it the other way around?). It is thus the same genre of memorial text as the 11th century rune stones that are so common in the Stockholm and Uppsala area. And it’s going to give the runologists a lot to think about.

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TAM London, Sunday

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I forgot to mention the variety show on Saturday night. It was headlined by comedian Robin Ince (you may have seen his MAGIC MAN DUNNIT clip) and offered a lot of funny and musical and skeptical and cynical acts of high standard. I was particularly impressed by high-brow rapper Baba Brinkman. Not only is he witty and knowledgeable, he also made me feel that hmm, rapping really can involve a lot of technical mastery. When I told him I like him not rapping about bitches and bling, he replied, “But I do, in other bits of my Darwin rhymes. I say that bling is peacock feathers evolved by sexual selection.”

Yesterday began with an ace performance by the talented and friendly George Hrab. Then we had an incisive talk by Glenn Hill who is the son of Elsie Wright, the woman who at 16 painted and photographed the 1916 Cottingley Fairies and inadvertently helped Arthur Conan Doyle make himself look silly. Hill spoke about that, but more about this recent anti-religion book Religion Explained in an Hour where he argues among other things that the founders of all the Abrahamitic religions were psychotics, and that it’s no wonder that they’re all so intolerant. I would add that Abraham was probably not only psychotic, but also a fictional character, and a really strange choice for an ideal mythical ancestor.

Adam Savage spoke entertainingly about Mythbusters, Tim Minchin the awesome singer & piano-player performed excellent songs and the “Storm” poem, and Phil Plait talked about asteroid and comet impacts with reference to Armageddon and Deep Impact. And a great time was had by all. I then spent the evening in excellent company: VoF forum regular Anders, Aard regular Jon Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, T’anta Wawa of T’anta Wawa Talks (above) and later Bendik & Marit of Hugs & Science and a whole bunch of other Norwegian skeptics. In fact, Norwegians were the biggest non-UK element at TAM London. I promised them that when the Oslo skeptics put on a conference, then at least 200 Swedes will attend.

The Amazing Meeting London 1 was a top-quality event. The only way it could have been even better is if they’d included a few more interactive bits, workshops & stuff. But my hat’s off to the organisers! Many thanks!

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TAM London, Saturday

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I’m at The Amazing Meeting London, an Old World instance of the skeptical conferences organised by the James Randi Educational Foundation. (Or more correctly, I am waiting for breakfast at my threadbare Bayswater hotel, where I sleep in a basement closet.) I came to London Friday night and started off with a few social hours with other Swedish skeptics at a pub. Yesterday was the first of two conference days, and I’ve been making acquaintances left and right. Apart from the locals, I’ve met a lot of Norwegians and Americans. Among the locals, these days, is Rebecca Watson. She promised me to get a decent broadband connection ASAP so the Skeptic’s Guide can go on undiminished.

We had excellent talks by Manchester physicist and UK TV celeb Brian Cox, writer and film-maker John Ronson (Of Men Who Stare at Goats fame), science journalist Simon Singh, atheist bus campaign organiser Ariane Sherine and science writer Ben Goldacre. James Randi, who had to stay home in Florida for medical reasons, fielded questions via Skype, psychologist Richard Wiseman emceed and did parlour tricks, and Simon Singh got the first UK JREF Award for his valiant fight against the frivolous chiropractic libel suit. Randi announced that the Million Dollar Challenge is not getting closed down after all.

With such luminaries presenting, I’m sort of relieved that there wasn’t room for me on the roster. Though I could probably have put something reasonably good together about “Palaeolithic” diet.

Today we have George Hrab, Glenn Hill, Adam Savage, Tim Minchin and Phil Plait on. Good times!

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Itinerant Editor

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I’ve been called in to help my friend Arne, retired art historian, whack a manuscript into shape. So the other day I drove down to the manor on Vikbolandet and spent 24 enjoyable hours there, writing and chatting and walking in the park.

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Skamby Visit, Farewell to Daub

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It’s always bittersweet to return to sites you’ve dug. I guess I’m particularly susceptible to this nostalgia since I tend to feel it very shortly after moving on from anything or any place. And since I usually only dig during the sunny season I remember my old excavations as summer country.

Two days ago I checked in with the boat inhumation cemetery at Skamby in Kuddby parish, Östergötland. Me & Howard Williams and his students dug there in 2005. The turf and flora have regenerated nicely over our trench and a flock of broad-snouted sheep now grazes on the cemetery hill. They seem to like lazing in the boat-shaped grassy hollow we reconstructed in the grave. When someone re-excavates it they’ll find neat drystone walls to the boat depression. They weren’t there originally, but team member Bryn Morris (a PhD student and big gamer) had grown up on a Welsh farm and knew how to build field walls.

Today was kind of an important day for the Skamby dig. I drove to the museum stores in Tumba and handed over the finds (except the gaming pieces, which are on display in Linköping) to the Museum of National Antiquities. Finally I’m rid of those 18.1 kg of burnt daub!

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