Obsolete Portable Music Players


These are my obsolete portable music players. A post-1985 cassette player, a 2000 minidisc player and a 2002 iPod whose sole means of communication with the outside world is a firewire socket. In the 90s I didn’t listen much to music while on the move. Since 2006 I use a smartphone as my mp3 player.


Don’t Miss the Geminids

Tonight the Geminid meteor shower peaks. My wife and I were out last night and saw loads, about one big fat shooting star a minute. Don’t miss the year’s best meteor shower! It’s because the Earth passes through the sandy exhaust trail of a comet. Tomorrow night will be good as well.

Home-Made Sausages


Part of the Swedish Christmas celebrations is that many people turn to traditional cooking. Yesterday my dad’s wife & mine made sausages. They were really nice, way better than their limp and grey pre-cooking appearance suggested. But they were hardly traditional, containing mouflon and elk in addition to the pork (“whatever’s in the freezer”) and being seasoned liberally with garlic.

Fun with a Big Drill

A scary but pretty funny accident happened in central Stockholm the other day. A work crew was drilling for a geothermal heat pump when suddenly the drill went into an open subterranean cavity. There wasn’t supposed to be one there according to the plans they had been given for the job. When they tried to get the drill out, it stuck.

And then a subway train full of people hit the dangling drill bit head on.

Nobody got hurt.

Locked Inside an Ethics Box

You know these contrived situations you’re supposed to imagine yourself in prior to discussing some problem of ethics? I came across one in a recent Radiolab episode that reminded me of why I don’t like thinking inside those boxes.

It’s wartime. You’re hiding in a cellar with your infant child and a bunch of other people. Soldiers are poking around and killing everybody they find hidden. Everyone in the cellar except the baby understands that you need to be quiet. You know that the baby is going to be noisy and you know that if the soldiers find you they’ll kill everybody. The only way to make sure the baby keeps quiet is to kill it. Do you?

This one’s not only contrived, it’s also a no-brainer. Of course the best thing to do is to kill the baby, because it’s dead in both of the possible scenarios, while in one of them everybody else in the cellar survives. That’s a simple and completely unrealistic box to be in, ethics-wise.

In high school my class was once divided into groups and given the following conundrum to ponder. It’s contrived, but it’s ethically more interesting than the previous one.

You and a bunch of people are in a life boat with little food and water. You know that unless you push somebody overboard, you’re all going to die. The people are somebody old, somebody young, a convicted criminal, a nice guy etc. Who do you bump off?

My group replied, pragmatically, that there is no way for us to be sure of the need to push somebody overboard, so we’ll just sit tight and wait. But still, it might have been interesting to discuss who deserves least to live. Somebody in my group argued that it would be fairer to shove the oldest person in order to give everybody in the boat a chance to live to old age.

In reality, people do end up hiding in cellars with babies or sitting in life boats with no water. But they never ever have the kind of certainty about their options that those conundrums presuppose.

Reform English Libel Law

i-9ef68053d189b224e898ad86ff1e75c9-libel reform.jpgIn mid-2008, UK science writer Simon Singh fell afoul of the weird and archaic English libel law. After he wrote in The Guardian that chiropractic lacks scientific support and that such treatments are bogus, the British Chiropractic Association sued him for libel. And in England, a libel case is always a major pain for the defendant regardless of whether he wins or not. He has to prove that he’s innocent (!), the damages are 140 times as high as in other European countries, and even if you win it costs you huge sums of money, loads of time and loads of stress. (Also, the law promotes international libel tourism, where people in other countries can bring cases against each other to English courts.)

But Singh didn’t settle. He fought back, and has expanded his motivation to include the reform av English libel law. I’ve had his campaign’s sticker, “Keep Libel Laws Out of Science”, in the left side-bar for months. And yesterday, Singh wrote to his supporters to ask us to sign a petition not specifically about his case, but about English libel law in general. English PEN, Index of Censorship and Sense About Science are jointly behind it. I signed up immediately. Check it out!

[More blog entries about , ; , .]

Mulled Wine and Waning Family Ties

i-e03ae3f2f0f6b0eed74357f3c7160c03-mulled wine.jpg

Around this time of year, Swedes like to throw little brief daytime parties with mulled wine and ginger bread cookies. Usually they’re on weekends, of course. In my mother’s family there’s been a tradition for decades of organising mulled-wine parties for the descendants of my maternal grandfather’s parents.

This year my mom sent out invitations for the family mulled-wine party to take place at two o’clock on a Wednesday. This made little sense to me at first, since it would mean that hardly anyone with a job or kids would come. But then I thought about it and realised that, yes, this is of course completely in line with how a sense of family is constructed.

A family (Sw. släkt) is a temporary thing. (Unless you’re keeping track of an aristocratic patrilineage, a House of this or that.) In practice, it’s almost impossible to keep any sense of genealogical cohesion for more than three generations. These time-hallowed mulled-wine parties have been gatherings of generation 2 (one surviving member) and generation 3 (almost all of whom are now retired and free to party at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday) — but myself and the other members of generation 4 aren’t very interested or interesting to generation 3. In fact, while generation 3 are first cousins and played together all the time when they were kids, me and my second cousins in generation 4 have hardly ever met and have no strong bonds, not to mention the kids in generation 5 who have never heard of each other unless they’re on the same branch of the family tree.

What will happen in the next few decades is of course that generation 3 will go the way of their forebears and us members of generation 4 will no longer think of each other as family. Maybe we will still have family mulled-wine parties, but they won’t use the couple in generation 1 as a reference point. Instead the various branch-forming couples in generation 2 will form the anchors of independent families, which will live as social constructs for a few decades and then evaporate too, giving rise to new families. Genealogical continuity is an illusion.

Fornvännen’s Summer Issue On-Line

i-2931887860254c25b3d651eae3a54e8c-viking slave collar from birka.jpg

The July issue of Fornvännen has come on-line in all its free full-text glory less than six months after paper publication.

  • PÃ¥vel Nicklasson publishes his second paper on the forgotten early-19th century antiquarian, J.H. Wallman, and relays information about a Late Roman Period snake-head gold ring found in a highly unusual context.
  • Ny Björn Gustafsson analyses a poorly understood class of Viking Period ironware and builds a case for a chilling functional interpretation: they were slave collars.
  • Svetlana Vasilyeva, the most Swedish-speaking colleague we have in Russia, discusses the societal background to the Russian-influenced church art of Early Medieval Gotland.
  • Jens Heimdahl adds a new facet to his wondrously eclectic scholarly repertoire with a grand survey of henbane’s (bolmört, Hyoscyamus niger) prehistory and early history as a cultivated plant in Sweden.
  • Carl Löfving opposes some points in a review of his recent book on Viking Period western Sweden.
  • HÃ¥kan Svensson and Bengt Söderberg explain, with examples, why it’s simply not good enough anymore to perform contract excavations without the aid of a metal detector.
  • Mari-Louise Franzén and Eva Lundwall report on new technical findings about the Gerum cloak, a fine woolen garment from the Early Iron Age.
  • Anneli Nietenberg reports on studies of a sculpted slab found in the wall of a church in Västergötland.
  • Andreas Nordberg and Richard Grönwall continue their exploration of the Lake Mälaren area’s 4th/5th century chamber graves by presenting two that were excavated decades ago but have not been recognised before.

[More blog entries about ; .]

Antiquity’s Winter Issue


The on-line version of Antiquity’s winter issue (#322) was published just the other day. Here are some highlights (links to abstracts, papers then hidden by a pay wall):

  • A pair of “ornamental trousers” found in an exceptionally well preserved 1st century BC grave in the Tarim basin in Xinjiang. These fancy pants were apparently made out of a pictorial wall hanging looted in the 2nd century from a Bactrian palace.
  • An Early Neolithic Linear Pottery ceremonial centre on the Middle Rhine in south-west Germany whose voluminous causewayed enclosure ditch is full of cannibalised human bones and imported pottery.
  • The bone isotopes of the Medieval bishops of Whithorn in Scotland are compared to those of commoners buried around the same cathedral, showing that the episcopal boners actually do differ significantly in their diet and geographical origin, as expected. A very good test of the methodology.

Martin Carver, Antiquity’s editor, also offers a podcast where he talks about the new issue’s contents.

[More blog entries about ; .]

Anthro Blog Carnival

The eighty-first Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Spider Monkey Tales. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to Krystal at Anthropology in Practice. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. The next vacant hosting slot is in less than a month, on 30 December. It’s a good way to gain readers. No need to be an anthro pro.