Sourdough and Sunflower Seeds

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We rarely buy bread. Instead I bake. Tonight’s production involved a 5-day sour dough and a bag of roasted sunflower seeds. Pretty good, though I overestimated the amount of salt on the seeds and overcompensated. The sour dough was just for flavour: I can’t wait for a proper lactobacillum leavening, so I put yeast in.

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Swedes Do, Normal People Don’t

Writes Dear Reader Bruce Paulson of Gillett, Wisconsin:

Your article the other day about rutabagas whet my appetite so on Friday I went to the local grocery store with a friend who was staying for supper. I unloaded three of them at the checkout counter where a teenage clerk started to examine them for an identity sticker. There was none. So she turned to her 65 year old supervisor and said, “What is THIS?” The supervisor said, “That is what they call a Swede turnip. Swedish people eat them, but normal people don’t.” The clerk then started to check the produce price list for Swede turnip and not finding it listed, stuck them in a bag and said, “With my compliments.” Being free they were especially good.

You just can’t put a price sticker on rutabagas.

Weekend Fun

Here’s what I did for fun this past weekend.

  • Watched Avatar.
  • Had a dim sum dinner.
  • Chucked out the Christmas tree, lopped off the branches and kept the trunk to bring to my dad’s place for firewood. (This doesn’t sound like fun? Well, my life consists of fun, work and chores, and anything related to Christmas trees has to be sorted under “fun”.)
  • Went skiing on the golf course.
  • Had friends over for dinner and a game of Power Grid.

And you, Dear Reader?


In other news, Chris O’Brien at Northstate Science has resumed blogging after a long hiatus. Chris is a zooarchaeologist (i.e. animal osteologist) and an outspoken atheist who writes a lot about US creationism. Check him out!

Hoards and Offerings

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Härnevi vicarage, Uppland. Large collection of bronzes, c. 600 BC. Packed into a belt box, wrapped in a leather garment and deposited in wetland. Found in 1902 during drainage digging.

In my work, I really prefer writing over reading, and in order to profit as much as possible from my reading while I remember it, I like to write while I read. Otherwise I just get sleepy and feel like I’m not really getting anywhere. So although I am still just getting acquainted with the research background of my Bronze Age project, I wrote the first couple of paragraphs for my next book today. (Note that I’m already writing in the past tense…)

Sacrificial finds form a fuzzy category that is at heart defined in negative terms: not found in graves, not found as part of the general culture layers at settlement sites. Attempts have been made to distinguish retrievable hoards from irretrievable offerings, the idea being that dry-land hoards are buried secretly and temporarily for mundane rational reasons, while wetland offerings are disposed of permanently to communicate with the gods and often for reasons of ostentatious display. While this dichotomy is an empirical reality in some areas (Levy REF), it is doubtful if the two classes of find should really be seen as exponents of two different modes of thought when we are dealing with a pre-monetary prestige economy (Karsten 1994:30-31). In other words: it is true that some of these finds could have been retrieved, and it is true that we often see different object types in those contexts than we do in bogs and rivers, but it is uncertain (and possibly untestable) whether the two classes of find were really deposited for very different reasons.

Studies of Bronze Age sacrifice have usually focused on bronze and gold metalwork. I have cast my net wider, seeking to identify sacrificial sites from the period and area in question regardless of what sort of materials have been collected from them. For example, the fen at Rickebasta in Alsike has yielded only domestic animal bones, radiocarbon placing them at about 800 cal BC. With a secure Bronze Age date in place, the main criterion for inclusion in this study has been the quality of contextual information, not what was sacrificed. It is not enough here to know on what farmstead’s land a find was made. We need to know precisely from what hill, field or bog the objects and/or bones were collected in order to seek common traits in the landscape location of the sacrificial sites.

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Anthro Blog Carnival

The eighty-fourth Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at the A Primate of Modern Aspect. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to Julien at A Very Remote Period Indeed. 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.

Made It Into Open Lab ’09

The Open Laboratory is an annual anthology of blog writings on science started by Bora over at A Blog Around the Clock. I was very proud to get pieces selected for the 2006 and 2007 volumes, and then I was miffed to not make the cut for the 2008 one. But now I’m proud again, because my blog entry “Making the Archaeological Record” from February has been selected for Open Lab 2009! This year’s volume is being edited by SciCurious over at Neurotopia.

Skiing in Sunshine on Lake Ice

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I just had to swap two hours of daytime work for two hours of evening free time and get out on Lake Lundsjön with my skis. It’s amazing, seeing the cliffs where we sim and sun bathe in the summers, but from an otherwise unreachable vantage point two meters above the water’s surface!

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When Labour Union Idealism Backfires

I support labour unions. Worker solidarity is the only way to keep wages above the barest subsistence level when you’re working for an employer who wishes to maximise profit. I haven’t been a union member myself for many years, though. The reason is that there is nothing a union can do for me. On an over-saturated labour market there is no way to organise a large enough percentage of the work-force to get any traction in negotiations with the employers. For each archaeologist who makes demands, there are always ten newly graduated young ones eager to work for peanuts. No union can improve our conditions before archaeologists become a scarce resource. Supply and demand.

The relationship between employers and employees is regulated through negotiation. Nobody forces them to offer us jobs, and nobody forces us to offer them labour. We need to seek the middle ground. And so, a labour union has to make pragmatically realistic demands and present them in a correct medium.

I don’t know if the demands put forward by brewery workers in Liège, Belgium, are pragmatically realistic. But I really laughed when I read about their tactics: learning that Anheuser-Busch is planning to reduce their European work-force by a tenth, the workers took the factory bosses hostage! Does anyone imagine that such an act will improve their situation? It’ll just get a few of those 10% thrown into jail instead of just sacked. Stupid bastards.

Then I read about some union demands closer to home. They’re eminently well presented: as reasoned opinion pieces in newspapers and on-line. But the demands look completely unrealistic to me.

For many decades (though it will change soon), foreign students have been able to study for free at Swedish universities – no term fees, just apply with the right qualifications and you’re good to go. This has also gone for PhD students. They have been funded from their home countries, usually at a level way below that of a fully funded native PhD student. And so the PhD students at a university department have had quite radically different living conditions. Funded by Sweden, you’re quite an affluent person. Funded by China, not so much. Most of the foreign students are funded by their home countries on the express condition that they return home after graduation.

Now the doctoral candidates committee of the Swedish Association of University Teachers is demanding that foreign PhD students be paid as much as native ones. This suggests that they don’t know how research projects are organised and funded. It’s tantamount to demanding either that the bodies that fund Sweden’s scientific research suddenly accept much less bang for the project buck, or that Swedish researchers quietly quit accepting applications from overseas students to join their labs. In the former case, since these PhDs have to leave Sweden after graduation, what the union advocates is actually a form of foreign aid funded with research money. But more likely, these people simply wouldn’t get a chance to study in Sweden at all.

This is exactly the same situation as when the Builders’ Union blockaded a school construction site in Vaxholm near Stockholm in 2004 on the grounds that the non-unionised Latvian workers there weren’t paid Swedish-level wages. Even if this was really done in the best interest of the Latvians (and it almost certainly wasn’t), it was a completely unrealistic way to support them. The Latvians were there because they accepted lower wages. If they had demanded Swedish wages, they wouldn’t have had a job in Sweden at all. Supply and demand. And as long as Chinese PhD students find the quality of free Swedish education acceptable, they will continue to come with their meagre funding – if we still let them in.

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