Weekend Fun


  • Went skiing twice.
  • Went skating on Lake Källtorpssjön at the Hellas sporting centre under the watchful eye of the Nacka radio masts. There’s a snow-ploughed circuit there, but it hadn’t been ploughed recently so there was a lot of snow to contend with, plus ice cracks and a stiff cold wind, so it could have been more fun.
  • Played two games of Pitch Car, two of Drakborgen/Dungeonquest and two of Settlers of Catan. Didn’t win even once, but had fun anyway.
  • Went around a number of neighbours doing the annual reading of their water meters for the housing-area administration. It’s part of a small voluntary overseer job that I’ve taken on because I like to know my neighbours.

And you, Dear Reader?





Great flocks of fieldfares (Turdus pilaris, björktrast) are hanging around Boat Hill, feeding off the frozen parkland rowan berries instead of migrating. They’re so ruffled up against the cold that they’re hardly recognisable as the streamlined summer birds we’re used to. Their cousins the blackbirds sit alone like big black apples here and there in the leafless underbrush, waiting for the singing season.


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Futile Land Reclamation

As part of the reading course I’ve set myself on Bronze Age sacrificial finds, wetland archaeology and landscape studies, I’m reading a new book whose title translates as “Swedish bog cultivation. Agriculture, peat use and landscape change from 1750 to 2000”. It’s about various ways that Swedes have tried to make use of wetland in the past centuries. The sites I’m studying are mostly in wetlands, and mostly they have been identified when finds have surfaced during the kind of projects the book covers. Its main focus is on the Swedish Bog Cultivation Society, that operated from 1886 to 1939.

It’s tragicomical reading, really. Because regardless of whether people were trying to drain and cultivate bogs, or if they were digging for peat and trying to process and sell it, there was a major disconnect between their high hopes and the actual outcome. Generally, these huge projects were undertaken, making huge dents into the ecology, for no long-term practical gain. And it took ages for them to realise their collective mistake.

The peat fuel couldn’t compete financially with imported coal. The reclaimed lands proved unproductive. The drained areas wouldn’t stay drained, because as the peat oxidised and compacted, the land would sink back down into the lowered water table. For 200 years there was just this enormous unfounded optimism about bogs on the part of big landowners. They had a completely erroneous vision and the capital to realise it. Middle- and small-size farmers generally opposed the projects because they didn’t have any extra capital and stood to lose a lot of wetland pasture to the drainage efforts. But really poor tenant farmers also did a lot of small-scale land reclamation: not because they had any grand vision but because they had more labour than land.

So much toil. So much destruction of the environment and the archaeological record. And all pretty much for nothing.

Svensk Mosskultur. Odling, torvanvändning och landskapets förändring 1750-2000. Ed. Leif Runefelt. Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry. Stockholm 2008.

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Anthro Blog Carnival

The eighty-fifth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at A Very Remote Period Indeed. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to Magnus at Testimony of the Spade. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. The next vacant hosting slot is on 10 March. It’s a good way to gain readers. No need to be an anthro pro.

And check out the new Skeptics’ Circle!

Two Puns

The Web helps you check if your ideas are original. Recently I’ve come up with two puns that proved to be unoriginal but still surprisingly uncommon.

Ronald McDonald is the Lord of the Fries.

The famous fantasy role-playing game should always be referred to as Dung & Drag. It amazes me that I haven’t thought of this before. Now I have this vision of greying drag queens in printed dresses and rubber boots, cleaning out the manure, shearing sheep and driving tractors.

Teaching the Late Iron Age in Visby


I type these words in a seafood restaurant at the main square of Visby on the island of Gotland. I haven’t been here for almost a decade. Today I had the rare pleasure of teaching undergrads. My old grad-school buddy Gunilla Runesson at Visby University College gave me four hours to talk about the Late Iron Age elite, which is what occupied most of my working hours from 1994 until last fall. So I got up at 06:15 this morning, rode a tiny propeller plane across the sea and did three hours on settlements and one hour on graves. Very nice students!


Afterwards I walked through the Medieval city and out to the former artillery regiment’s area where, for reasons of regional jobs policy, much of the National Heritage Board is based these days in a shiny new building. Johan Carlström showed me around the place as the sun set, I met my friend Lars Lundqvist and I chatted to a bunch of other colleagues. This is, for instance, where the country’s excellent on-line sites & monuments register is kept.


Then I walked back into town and made my usual round: the Eastern City Gate, Horse St., Cramér Sq., Beach St., St. Olaf’s ruin, the Botanical Garden, where I said hi to the Empress tree, Main Square with St. Catherine’s ruin. Everything a little ghostly and melancholy in the dark and snow, trees denuded. And here I am now, belly full of fish soup, bread and aïoli.

On the way there I rode a Handley Page Jetstream 32 (production start 1968), and on the way back a Focker 50 (production start 1987) with cool six-bladed propellers.

Here are the presentations I used: the intro and the Östergötland elite settlement one.

Weekend Fun

Had a lot of fun this weekend:

  • Went skating twice, once with each of my kids.
  • Went skiing with my wife.
  • Got beaten at Pitch Car four times by my kids.
  • Took the kids to a birthday party for a charming friend of mine, populated largely by former physics engineers who are now programmers.
  • Took my son to a concert with 50s and 60s pop tunes performed by a choir and solists.
  • Had post-concert dinner with friends & son.

And you, Dear Reader?

The Lejre Freya Miniature


Apparently the Lejre excavators still haven’t realised that the lovely silver miniature they found depicts an aristocratic woman who can’t be Odin, regardless of who may be the owner of the throne she sits on. A Danish news site contacted me today and asked me about the issue. Here’s what I said (and I translate).

In the art of the Vendel and Viking Periods, just as in today’s art, there’s a set of conventions for how men and women are depicted. Largely it’s a question of clothing and jewellery that real people used as well. The main difference is that Iron Age art only depicts aristocrats, so it doesn’t show us all kinds of attire used at the time. The Lejre miniature is dressed in a) a floor-length dress, b) with an apron, and c) with four bead strings on the chest. A, B and C are stereotypically female attributes that never occur on depictions of men. The figure has no male attributes. Ergo, it’s a woman.

The issue is already quite settled among scholars who study the period’s gendered imagery, Danes as well as Norwegians and Swedes. Just ask, for instance, Margrethe Watt, Lise Bender Jørgensen and Ulla Mannering. What I said here on Aard wasn’t controversial. I just happened to be the first to say something that every specialist in the field of Late Iron Age gender studies realises immediately.

Update 28 January: And here’s the story on Videnskab.dk, the Danish science news site.

Update 29 January: Ulla Mannering has written about the figurine in Weekendavisen and classified it as female. Lise Bender Jørgensen has told me in e-mail that she agrees. And just now Margrethe Watt wrote me (and I translate),

I’m 100% certain that it’s a lady. It is similar to a figurine from Trønninge in Denmark that you are no doubt familiar with. It has been illustrated repeatedly, for instance in Brøndsted’s Danmarks oldtid. I am convinced that the dress copies the “Byzantine” empresses’ dress with the hanging frontal piece (which can be seen in other elite female representations such as St. Agnes (also commonly illustrated, such as in Herman Hinz 1978, Zur Frauentracht der Völkerwanderungszeit und Vendelzeit im Norden. Bonner Jahrbücher 178)). The same combination of an “apron” and several bead strings is also seen in gold foil figures (a few of them actually illustrated in the pop-sci book about Sorte Muld).

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Contract Archaeology as Solution to a Clash of Interests

I’m reading the recently published 50-year anniversary volume of “UV“, the excavations department within the Swedish National Heritage Board. I worked my first fieldwork season for one of their regional units back in 1992. The book’s an interesting read as UV is the single organisation that has done the most archaeological fieldwork in Sweden. Ever. And it’s the country’s biggest archaeological employer. This arguably means that it is the country’s biggest producer of archaeological research. Yet it has no academic affiliation.

In Stefan Larsson’s paper about the organisation’s current and future role I came across an enlightening perspective (and I translate):

The way in which contract archaeology was created [in the 60s] had to do with the expansion of the public administration. There was a need for various kinds of “social engineer” to find solutions to problems and the goals formulated by politicians. Research and administration became instrumental and was directed towards attaining the chosen goals, regardless of the values these represented or possibly destroyed. […] When weighing various interests against each other, science’s social engineers had the task of delivering “recipes” for solutions to the politicians. The task of contract archaeology, specifically, became to solve the conflict between cultural heritage protection and societal development in the shape of e.g. investments in the infrastructure since both had been set out as political goals. (pp. 140-141)

Contract archaeology exists to solve an internal conflict among the goals set out by politicians. I think that’s really well put. Stefan Larsson is one of Sweden’s foremost writers on stratigraphical theory & methodology and has a home-made Iggy Pop tattoo.

Ersgård, L. 2009. UV 50 år. National Heritage Board. Sweden. ISBN 978-91-7209-544-1.

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