Jungle-Covered Impact Crater

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The Vichada river in Colombia is a tributary of the Orinoco. In 2004 part-time geologist Max Rocca discovered that it skirts South America’s largest impact crater. It measures 50 km in diameter, nearly a third of the Chicxulub crater caused by the space rock that killed off the non-avian dinos.

This image visualises two important things.

1. Our planet is just another crater-pocked space rock, though here surface erosion acts much faster than on nearby worlds, and we have plate tectonics, all obscuring the impact scars. The Vichada example is a recent one, being less than 30 million years old.

2. Geological time is looong. Look at that meandering river doing a little detour around the crater’s edge!

There’s a good feature piece on the Vichada crater at the Planetary Society’s web site.

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Beautiful Vendel Period Jewellery

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I’m happy and relieved. A 73-page paper that I put a lot of work and travel into and submitted almost five years ago has finally been published. In his essays, Stephen Jay Gould often refers to his “technical work”, which largely concerns Cerion land snails and is most likely not read by very many people. Aard is my attempt to do the essay side of what Gould did. The new paper “Domed oblong brooches of Vendel Period Scandinavia. Ørsnes types N & O and similar brooches, including transitional types surviving into the Early Viking Period”, though, is definitely a piece of my technical work.

The most iconic Viking Period jewellery type is the tortoise brooch. They’re big clunky things worn pairwise on your clavicles, fastening a dress with built-in suspenders over your shoulders. A number of standardised types were mass-produced during the 9th and 10th centuries, reflecting Viking Period Scandinavia’s beginning urbanisation and the concomitant changes in how craft and trade was organised. The standard work on tortoise brooches is Ingmar Jansson’s 1985 PhD thesis Ovala spännbucklor.

Far less well known are the 8th century ancestors of the tortoise brooches, belonging to the Late Vendel Period. Much smaller domed oblong brooches in fact show up already about AD 700 and develop a bewildering variety of styles and design that lasts a few decades into the 9th century before standardisation takes over completely. They’re lovely, almost every one of them unique. There has been no concerted study of them – until now.

I finished my own PhD thesis on social symbolism in Gotlandic burials of the 1st Millennium AD toward the end of 2002. The preceding year I had been to the Sachsensymposium in Lund and seen the amazing metal detector finds from UppÃ¥kra. That project’s leaders were handing out artefact categories for study to various scholars, and I signed up for two brooch groups: the 6th-7th century snake-shaped ones and the 8th century domed oblong ones. I did this for two main reasons: I wanted to get into the metal-detectors & elite-settlement field of research and I hoped to establish a new university affiliation in Lund after my viva. Note the sociology of science aspect.

I began data collection on the two brooch groups in September 2002. My 25-page paper on the snake brooches was swiftly completed and published in late 2003. But the domed oblong ones took more time: there’s a greater number of them and they’re spread over a much larger area. For the second paper I ended up travelling to Lund, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Tromsø, Uppsala, Helsinki, Mariehamn and Ribe. I photographed and measured hundreds of brooches and read reams of obscure literature.

I have mixed feelings about this paper now. From a scientific point of view, I’m very proud of it. It is solidly empirical work with good statistics, I think my arguments are clear, there are two properly done seriation chronologies in it, and at the end is a detailed catalogue that will be useful to students of 8th century Scandinavia indefinitely. Rundkvist 2010 will be the one-stop-shopping reference for this kind of jewellery. I wish more research archaeologists were doing this sort of thing with their research time instead of being such… humanities writers.

From a career-strategical point of view, however, I have to say that it was a failure. The two brooch papers took 2½ years to write and were for all intents and purposes my post-doc project. I chose a type of investigation that is not common or fashionable these days, because it suited my scholarly ideals and it was encouraged by a well-funded research project with friendly directors at another university. But as it turned out, the longer paper took five years to appear because one of the directors fell gravely ill for a time. And the work did not open doors for me as I had hoped. I still have no affiliation with a Scandy university. Instead Exeter and then Chester in England have taken me on as visiting researcher.

Anyway. I never counted on writing an entire book on Östergötland’s elite settlements of the 1st Millennium before the domed oblong brooch paper was published. I had no idea that by the time the paper appeared, I would have finished up my 1st Millennium projects and turned to Bronze Age studies. But now it’s out, on paper and on-line, and I am much relieved.


Rundkvist, M. 2010. Domed oblong brooches of Vendel Period Scandinavia Ørsnes types N & O and similar brooches, including transitional types surviving into the Early Viking Period. Hårdh, B. (ed.). Från romartida skalpeller till senvikingatida urnesspännen. Nya materialstudier från Uppåkra. Uppåkrastudier 11. Dept of Archaeology, University of Lund.

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Pray and Get Rich

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Being an atheist and a rationalist, I find most religious beliefs quite silly. But religious people vary hugely in their behaviour, and many do excellent deeds. Generally, I find it easier to respect the believer who lives by the core tenets of his faith, as all major religions have pretty reasonable ethical groundwork. Christian charity, for instance, is a fine thing.

On the other hand, I find idolatry and religious egoism particularly risible. And at a Chinese restaurant where I have been a regular for nearly 20 years there is a lovely example of both, as shown above.

Chinese Buddhism is a mess. It is a barely recognisable caricature of the original ideas. In China, religious worship is basically about praying to statues for stuff. And so we find this happy rotund Buddha holding a big honking GOLD COIN aloft to entice the supplicant with his incense sticks. “Pray and get rich!” Just like those sad, sad deluded people who fill midwestern megachurches in the US to hear the Prosperity Gospel.

Anthro Blog Carnival

The eighty-seventh Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is on-line at Anthropology in Practice. Catch the best recent blogging on archaeology and anthropology!

Submissions for the next carnival will be sent to Ciarán at Ad hominin. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me for hosting. The next vacant hosting slot is on 28 April. It’s a good way to gain readers. No need to be an anthro pro.

And check out the latest Skeptics’ Circle!

Weekend Fun

  • Friday night I unexpectedly found myself looking at dinner all alone. So I quickly arranged for a visit with friends to a Jamaican restaurant (I had jerk chicken), and after our meal Swedepat beat me and Dr Sandy at Race for the Galaxy.
  • Saturday was mainly chores, but in the evening the Rundkvist family (including 6-y-o Juniorette) played Dungeonquest/Drakborgen and of course got their characters soundly killed.
  • Sunday morning being extremely snowy and bright with sunshine, I went skiing twice, once with Junior and once with this awesome chick who likes to hang out with me.
  • Then in the afternoon and early evening I introduced Junior, Paddy K, Paddy Jr and Melliferax to the classic Swedish fantasy role-playing game Drakar och Demoner, “Dragons and Demons”. At the close of the gaming session, the characters were huddled behind the altar in the ruin of the Mountain Goddess’s shrine, wounded by goblin arrows and debating whether they should pay a visit to the large disgruntled troll in the desecrated crypt under their feet.

And you, Dear Reader?

Swedish Autism & Vaccination Lawsuit

Yesterday the parents of a 17-y-o Malmö boy who suffers from autism lost a case in the Swedish court of appeal, Hovrätten. They had sued their insurance company for not recognising their claim for compensation. The parents blame the boy’s condition on common vaccines, which would have entitled them to insurance money, while the company holds that autism is almost always congenital and never caused by vaccines. The court found the science presented by the defendant convincing and ruled in the company’s favour.

I’m glad that the judicial system values scientific knowledge. But I am saddened that this already burdened family would now have to pay the costs of a lawsuit they entered into on the basis of medical misinformation spread by the alternative medicine movement. Luckily the insurance company, Trygg Hansa, has announced that it will remit the debt.

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I Axed My Heat Pump and Now It Works Again

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There was a lot more ice in the heat-pump box than I had thought, a 10 cm cake covering its floor, but getting rid of it proved easy. All I needed was a screwdriver and a small axe. The hot air gun wasn’t much use.

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I turned off the power feed, took the hood off the thing, removed the rotor and hacked away the ice, taking care not to bash the fine heat-exchange lamelles lining the walls. The ice was laminated from the many defrosting cycles that had built it up, and it fractured into large easily manageable chunks. After reassembling the box I hacked away most of the remaining ice on the ground beneath it as well and put a piece of a cardboard box there to make ice removal easier in the future. Less than 20 hours after I put the cardboard there, about 0.2 litres of ice had collected on it after a lot of water had soaked into the cardboard. I shall have to get a plastic tray.

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