In My Earbuds Lately

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The increasing number of podcasts I subscribe to has tended to crowd music out a bit from my earbuds in recent months. But I do have some good albums to recommend. Here’s what’s on my smartphone right now.

  • Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes. 2008. Folky guitars and complex vocal harmonies.
  • Heavy Blinkers. Better Weather. 2002. Bacharach-obsessed orchestral pop.
  • Jet. Shaka Rock. 2009. It rocks. And shakes.
  • MGMT. Congratulations. 2010. Psychedelic New Wave.
  • Midlake. The Courage of Others. 2010. More folky guitars and complex vocal harmonies.

I’ve run similar lists before in 2008 and 2009.

Then there’s a long list of recent albums that I need to get but haven’t yet, in some cases because the bands haven’t finished recording them.

  • Apples in Stereo. Travellers in Space and Time.
  • Big Elf. Cheat the Gallows.
  • Brimstone Solar Radiation Band. Smorgasbord.
  • Cathedral. The Guessing Game.
  • Coral. Butterfly House.
  • Dozer. Beyond Colossal.
  • Electric Soft Parade. No Need to Be Downhearted.
  • Fiery Furnaces. Widow City.
  • Howlin’ Rain. Howlin’ Rain and Magnificent Fiend.
  • Introduction. Santa Sets Sail for Saturn.
  • Mars Volta. Octahedron.
  • Nashville Pussy. From Hell to Texas.
  • of Montreal. False Priest.
  • Starlight Mints. Change Remains.

Dear Reader, given the line-up above, what other bands should I check out?

For more about music from Aard, just check out the music archive tag.

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Kjellén’s Blanket: Methods of a Rock-Art Master Surveyor

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Roger Wikell, Kenneth Ihrestam and Sven-Gunnar Broström during a recent documentation session with oblique lighting in Småland. Photograph by Emelie Svenman.

Many important categories of archaeological site are never discovered by academic archaeologists. In the case of wetland sacrifices, it’s simply because nobody’s figured out a method to look for them. We just have to sit around waiting for decades until one turns up in the course of some unrelated activity. But in most cases, our problem is actually that we aren’t good enough at the methods that exist, simply because we don’t spend enough time doing them. I’m thinking of field walking, metal detecting and rock-art surveying. The masters of these methods that I have worked with have all started out as hobbyists, even though a number of them are now recognised professional specialists.

The basic reason for this is probably that few people, including academic archaeologists, want to spend their weekends doing what they do at work. And nobody gets paid to put in the hundreds of hours it takes to get really good at field walking, metal detecting and rock-art surveying.

Yesterday I attended a seminar to the memory of one of the greats in Swedish rock-art surveying: Einar Kjellén (1903-2000). He was a farmer’s son and an auctioneer, and he happened to live in the Lake Mälaren area’s greatest cluster of Bronze Age rock carvings around the town of Enköping. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that he almost single-handedly created that cluster. Because although others were moderately successful in the vicinity, Kjellén worked almost entirely in four parishes and found hundreds of sites there. We don’t really know what’s outside his action radius.

Finding rock carvings is largely a question of vegetation and lighting. You need a stout brush and oblique single-direction light to bring out the often very shallow pecks and grooves in the rock. Yesterday, Kjellén’s daughter told us about one of his forgotten methods. Asked what the landowners thought of him, she replied that he was a well-known and respected figure thanks to his day-job, “But of course, some thought he was a little crazy, crawling around like that with a blanket over his head”. Most of us didn’t know what she was talking about.

For most of a Swedish summer day, there is no oblique light. It’s almost vertical and also diffuse. But Einar Kjellén had discovered that all he needed to get a patch of good light on a rock-art panel was the picnic blanket he kept in his car. You lie down on the panel, put the blanket over your head and lift one edge of it ever so slightly. In streams oblique light even at noon. To move the light source, just lift another part of the blanket’s edge. As Douglas Adams wrote, you need to know where your towel is.

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Recent Archaeomags

Archaeology Magazine’s May/June issue (63:3) has a good long feature by Jarrett A. Lobell & Samir S. Patel on North European bog bodies including some new finds: Lower Saxony in 2000, the Hebrides in 2001 (you may have heard about the weird re-interred bog bodies found under a Bronze Age house) and Ireland in 2003. One of the bogged-down Irishmen was found with a bit of metalwork, which is to my knowledge unique.

The piece that really caught my interest though was Eric A. Powell’s critical appraisal of a recent speculative History Channel program on the 19th century fake rune-stone from Kensington in Minnesota. I’ve written here before about the stone and the poor scholarly quality of the History Channel, and Powell’s piece is going into my clip collection for future reference.

On Scandy shores, Populär Arkeologi 2010:2 opens with four pages on the Stensborg Early Neolithic ceremonial site, covered here (and here) before by yours truly who even put in a tiny bit of volunteer work at the site. The writers are my buddies Lars Larsson & Sven-Gunnar Broström, and I like their piece a lot.

Another one of my buddies, Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay (his name may call to mind an effete aristocrat from Alsace-Lorraine, but in fact the good doctor looks like an Irish biker and is a committed digger) reports on an Early Neolithic calf sacrifice on Öland. Anyone who follows the Kalmar archaeology group blog to which Ludvig contributes of course read this interesting piece already in February.

There’s something about my archaeo buddies that makes them blog and write for the general public. Claes Pettersson has a good piece about 17th century forged coins in Jönköping, but Aard readers saw that particular find already last June.

Makes me wonder if Aard, with its 1000 daily readers and its lead time of a few days, isn’t a pretty good venue to publish these things in if you know you’re not going to get paid anyway. Maybe I should start accepting guest entries in Swedish, put them below the fold and write short intros in English. Anybody out there want to try it out?

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LinCon 2010 Gaming Convention

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My two days with Junior at the LinCon gaming convention in Linköping turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I had lots of fun myself, and as a geek dad I was extra happy that Junior took to the whole thing with such gusto. On Thursday evening, for instance, he was play-testing a convoluted unpublished sci-fi board game with some guys in their 20s and 30s while I sat at another table some ways off and played simpler games with my friend Hans and others. Dad proud.

Everybody at the convention was uncommonly friendly and open, as gamers often are. Most of us looked pretty geeky, but not everyone was a bespectacled male, by far. Plenty of ladies and children too. And I was amused to see that the rave-synth-Goths attending the convention managed to look a little nerdy too despite being in full sub-cultural panoply.

One group of charming people had set up camp in the entry hall, treating everybody to free tea. Another group grilled humanely priced burgers for the conventioneers on a charcoal fire outdoors. And the people at the free S.A.R.Z. board game bar amazed me with their friendliness and willingness to teach us games. The acronym means Swedish-Asian Roleplaying Zone (though these days they do board games instead), and as a member of a Swedish-Chinese household I felt right at home with the Cantonese Swedish guys.

I played twelve different games. My favourites were:

  • Alibi Saknas: HerrgÃ¥rdsmordet. Story-telling card game where the players collaborate at piecing together an exceptionally lurid whodunnit plot. According to the rules, the player who has the most fun wins.
  • Hey! That’s My Fish! / Pingwin. Jumping from one hexagonal ice floe to another collecting fish. I like the way all the penguins finally end up in the drink.
  • Ticket to Ride. Build a railroad network. Ranked #56 on Boardgamegeek.com.
  • Tigris & Euphrates. Dominate Bronze Age politics in Mesopotamia. I brought this myself. Ranked #10 on Boardgamegeek.com.

And eight others were also pretty good:

  • Badaboom. Card game where goblins get shut up in a dungeon and have to live-test bombs for their Overlord.
  • Enkounter / Kaleidoscope Classic. Abstract, tiles.
  • Munchkin. Card game, fantasy parody.
  • Kogworks / Mechanix. Abstract, cog wheels.
  • Pentago XL. Abstract, 5-in-a-row on a mutating board.
  • Rabbit & Carrot. Card game demanding fast addition skills and reflexes. Gets the adrenalin going.
  • Spank the Monkey. Card game, build absurd junk towers to discipline an unruly simian.
  • Through the Desert. Sex toy-coloured camels divvy up a hexagonated desert, scoring water holes and oases.

Organisation wasn’t great at LinCon this year. The web site advertised a bus service between Stockholm and the convention but never told us when or whence the bus would leave. The program folder told us roughly what was going to happen when, but in order to learn where you had to visit the reception desk. Definitely a problem at a large convention like this. But thanks to Hans, the S.A.R.Z. people and many friendly gamers, we kept ourselves pleasantly occupied.

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Facebook Fail

Facebook has turned up security a notch and effectively locked me out when I’m on the road.

I have hundreds of Fb contacts that I don’t actually know and wouldn’t recognise if I met them in the street. Mention their names to me and they ring no bell. This is partly because of this blog, partly because skeptics around the world like to have exotic Scandy contacts. Now, Facebook notes that somebody’s trying to log onto my account from an unfamiliar location. Imagine what happens when it starts to show me pictures of random people from my contact list, with a selection of seven names each to choose from.

No. Clue. I mean, people get tagged in images on Fb where you can barely see their faces. And in many cases I wouldn’t know even if I could see their faces clearly.

So I hope Facebook goes back to the drawing board on this one.

Contrary to Widespread Belief, There is a Spoon

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Yesterday I did another hour with my metal detector in the disused potato patch where I found a 17th century coin in September 2008. No luck really this time: the only coin I found dates from 1973 and the rest of the stuff wasn’t much older than that. But I did make one unusual find: a nickel-silver soup spoon from about AD 1900.

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It’s not an unusual kind of cutlery. The design, known as Gammal Fransk, “Old French”, is a perennial classic. But you rarely find complete pieces of cutlery in tilled soil. It probably ended up on the plot with garbage after cultivation ceased.

Nickel silver, by the way, is brass with enough nickel added to give it a silvery colour.

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A Likeness of Mohammed

Get this. Perennial provocateur artist Lars Vilks lectures about free speech at the University of Uppsala just an hour’s ride from my home — and is attacked by audience members chanting about Islam!

It’s time for a re-run of my own likeness of Mohammed from February ’06.


i-9f608c311c8d001c5af5ceb4f8bad0f8-mohammed.gifThis is a picture I just drew of a guy named Mohammed. Millions of Mohammeds have lived and still live on Earth. In order not to get harassed by religious bigots, I’m not telling you which one of them I have made a likeness of. (Historically, a lot of artists greater even than me have had no such qualms.)

But I’d like to offer the opinion that if your religious beliefs inspire you to burn and vandalise things other people hold dear, such as books or embassies, then this suggests that you are a bigoted moron and need to get a grip. [And likewise if you feel compelled to threaten university lecturers with violence.]

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The Future is Written in Fat-Bellied Red Across Every Morning Sky

Escape Pod episode #235 has been sitting on my smartphone since January because of its beautiful writing and archaeological theme. Jay Lake’s 2009 story “On the Human Plan” is told in a gentleman-rogue style reminiscent of Leiber and Vance, and is set in a far future Dying Earth environment with ambient magic-level tech that is also very Vancian. Here’s a choice snippet for all you diggers:

Anyone with a bit of talent and the right set of bones to throw can foretell the future. It is written in fat-bellied red across every morning sky. But to aftertell the past, that is another trick entirely.

I’m gonna hunt out some more of Jay Lake‘s stories.

A sad piece of news about Escape Pod is that the podcast’s founder and long-time editor, Steve Eley, is stepping down. He’s just had his second baby, so I really don’t blame him. Thanks for all your stellar (interstellar) work, Steve! And welcome back again one day when tiny Juniorette’s maintenance demands have come down a bit. Meanwhile, reknowned author and podcaster Mur Lafferty is taking over the captain’s seat on the space ship. I can think of no worthier successor!

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Schoolyard Sprouts Pagan Burial Monument

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Last year part of my daughter’s schoolyard was landscaped and fitted with new entertainments. The landscapers also built a stone circle right next to her classroom. (I attended that school myself in 1982-85. The building in the background was the council dentistry clinic where I was fitted with braces.)

Structures like these are known as domarringar, “judge circles”, in Swedish archaeology. They’re Early Iron Age grave superstructures dating from c. 500 BC to AD 500, each usually with a cremation urn buried somewhere inside the circle. The term “judge circle” comes from recent folklore (or antiquarian speculation?), which held that judicial assemblies once convened at sites like these, with one member sitting on each stone. I don’t know how old that idea is.

A number of details show that the judge circle at school doesn’t belong to their main period of construction. Firstly, when (rarely) there is a central stone in the Iron Age structures, it’s just one, not two. Secondly, while the Iron Age ones are pretty much perfectly circular and were probably drawn up with a central pole and a rope, the one at school is irregularly oval in outline. And finally, with twelve stones in the circle, the one at school doesn’t conform to Early Iron Age numerology.

Intact Iron Age judge circles have 7, 9, 11, 2*7, 2*9 or 2*11 stones. The same numbers recur in the knobs on amulet rings that women in certain regions wore in the 5th and 6th centuries. There’s at least one case where an amulet ring has been found in a judge-circle burial. The most common number of knobs is nine, and I’ve suggested that it might have something to do with the months of pregnancy.

Archaeology aside, Juniorette tells me that the school stone circle is quite popular, as can be seen from the absence of turf inside the circle. She describes three different games you play with it according to the number of available participants. One is named “The Singing Giant”.

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