The Wee Folk Under the Cairn

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Rock art in southern Scandinavia generally dates from the Bronze Age and depicts boats, long war canoes with lots of oarsmen. Here are some recently found ship panels at Casimirsborg in northern SmÃ¥land, the new big dot on the country’s rock-art map.

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Although rock art is some of the most intriguing source material Bronze Age people left behind, we have a perennial problem tying it into its wider societal context and understanding it. There are few examples of rock-art motifs repeated on bronze artefacts, and few examples of rock-art located in or near other kinds of Bronze Age remains such as graves or settlement sites. The most common link between the art and its society is when recognisable bronze artefacts are depicted in rock art.

Besides ships there are many other motifs, among which one of the most common is a pair of footprints or shoes. Many scholars interpret them as a symbol of someone who must not be depicted.

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Joakim Goldhahn of the Linnaeus University has published voluminously on sites where rock art is incorporated into graves. Besides heading the survey that located the above ships, he is now investigating a burial cairn sitting on top of a rock-art panel full of child-size footprints, an extremely rare occurrence. It’s hard to say how much time passed from the completion of the carvings to the day the cairn was erected, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the cairn wasn’t placed on top of the carvings by chance. (All the carvings in the pictures have been filled in with non-permanent white paint for documentation purposes.)

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Photographs generously provided by project team member Emelie Svenman.

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Gingerly Trying Out Twitter

I’ve been staying away from Twitter for fear that it would eat my life. But I guess I have at least to try it. So, Dear Reader, feel free to follow my tweets! And tell me who I should follow. Ideally, I want people who tweet something really witty like every second day and who shut up when they have nothing worthwhile to say.

Clifford Simak and the Interstellar Matter Fax

i-1e5948009f1f465975aea838cbf7e6d7-waystation2.jpgInformation is easier to move than matter. A good way to travel between the stars would be if you had a matter scanner at one end, an instant information transmitter, and a matter assembler at the other end. Then you could fax yourself across the galaxy. James Patrick Kelly’s award-winning 1995 story “Think Like A Dinosaur” revolves around this idea. More specifically, it’s about what happens to your original once you’ve assembled a copy somewhere else.

I’m re-reading Clifford Simak’s 1963 novel Way Station for the first time since I was a boy. To my surprise I find in ch. 12 that he’s got this interstellar transportation method too. He just notes that your original dies, but doesn’t specify how. I wonder if he was the first to come up with the concept.

Funnily, Simak has a dualistic view of mind and body: “Moments ago the creature in the tank had rested in another tank in another station and the materialiser had built up a pattern of it – not only of its body, but of its very vital force, the thing that gave it life.”

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Ford of the Hind

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The dams in River EskilstunaÃ¥n at Hyndevad regulate the water level in Lake Hjälmaren. Around 1880 when they were built, and the lake lowered, the river bed was temporarily laid dry. A major prehistoric sacrificial site was discovered, and luckily geologist Otto Gumaelius was there to document it. (He used the finds to date events in the watershed’s recent quaternary geology.) The landscape has since been thoroughly messed up at Hyndevad, but still I went there yesterday to get a feeling for the place. I wish I had the resources to lay a few lakes and river stretches dry.

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Platoon

The local cub scouts had asked me to accompany them on a forest walk to give them some culture and history. And so I guided them in the evening sun to the singing of blackbirds along the wooded southern shore of the Baggensstäket narrows. History is thick there.

  • Early and Late Modern sea-lane tavern.
  • Napoleonic era small fort.
  • 20th century cemetery.
  • Early Modern customs station.
  • Viking Period cemetery.
  • 1719 battlefield.
  • 1905 memorial celebrating the 1719 debatable victory.
  • Early and Late Modern cemetery.
  • And all the while across the water, Boo Manor with more Viking Period burials, a rune stone fragment and a shipwreck found recently in the shallows and largely destroyed by dredging.

There was a also a bit of personal history for me. One of the scouts, an unusually pretty and accomplished young person, turned out to live in the house where I grew up, and in my old room!

Fornvännen’s Autumn Issue On-Line

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The full text of Fornvännen’s October issue, 2009:3, has come on-line thanks to our excellent cyber cowgirl Gun Larsson.

  • Joakim Goldhahn (the guy heading the project where they found the sun chariot carving last week) shows that one of the carved slabs at Kivik, in Sweden’s most famous Bronze Age burial, actually made a temporary reappearance on site in the 19th century before getting lost again.
  • Johnny Karlsson interprets what the 11th/12th century settlement under the modern town of Södertälje was like from the cuts and species of animal bones found there.
  • Anders Huggert discusses Medieval Saami silver jewellery with Christian symbolism (see pic above).
  • HÃ¥kan Petersson and Niklas Ytterberg argue that the county archaeologists aren’t doing a consistent job of evaluating excavation project plans, and that we should go back to a centralised system.
  • Christian Lovén opposes a recent wide-ranging interpretation of Romanesque chancel apses. (Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, this is really interesting stuff.)
  • Maria Röstberg suggests that the Hemdrup runic staff belongs with a category of bronze and lead amulets in the realm of medical magic.
  • Rune Edberg shows that a couple of 11th century pendants from Sigtuna depict the Mother of God in the manner of Byzantine iconography.
  • Anna Holst Blennow questions whether an inscription on Forshem church in Västergotland is really about its dedication to a sacred patron, as previously believed.

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Lejre Excavator Publishes His Views on the Figurine

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Tom Christensen, who heads excavations at storied Lejre on Zealand, Denmark, has a paper about the lovely Lejre figurine in ROMU 2009 (full text on-line) and another one in the new issue of Skalk. Here he offers some well-chosen comparative material and presents his arguments for the figurine’s gender and identity. Everybody agrees that the figurine’s throne, with its wolf heads and pair of ravens, must depict Odin’s high seat Hlidskjalf. Everybody also agrees that the piece dates from the 10th century. But Denmark’s foremost experts on 1st Millennium dress (and myself) classify the person on the throne as unequivocally dressed in female garb. Christensen thinks it’s a male – most likely Odin. Here are his main arguments.

1.The upper ridge of what I call a collar or neck-ring is actually a moustache. Only the lower identical ridge is according to Christensen a neck ring.

2.The hanging arcs covering the person’s chest and belly are not, as I have suggested, four bead strings, but a gold collar from c. AD 500.

3.Only a man would wear a brimless hat / helmet.

Christensen then presents a figurine from Højby near Odense to support his case. This figurine has a prominent beard, a moustache and a brimless hat, but is otherwise completely nude, affording us a view of its petite penis. Everyone agrees that the Højby figurine is male. But it dates from before AD 500 and is thus irrelevant here.

My reply to Christensen’s arguments are that

1. Yes, it is funny that the Lejre figurine’s mouth and chin are covered by its neck ring. But it really doesn’t look the way moustaches are depicted in the era’s art. It’s a single object with two parallel ridges that continue round onto the back of the person’s neck, as shown by the eminent photographs published by Christensen.

2. Multiple bead strings were common in the 10th century. Migration Period gold collars are completely unknown from that time.

3. Brimless hats may be somewhat male-gendered today, but they were not in the Viking Period. And nothing suggests that it’s a helmet.

So I am still convinced that the figurine is a female. Christensen gracefully points out that even in the Medieval Icelandic version of the mythology that has come down to us, goddesses are sometimes allowed to use Odin’s high seat. And that’s the sort of scene the Lejre figurine depicts.

Tom Christensen commented here two weeks ago that the debate about the figurine has given him some insights about Swedish archaeologists’ selvforstÃ¥else. This term is difficult to translate exactly, but I think I’m not too far off the mark with “high opinion of their own importance”. I assume that I am one (or all) of the Swedes he refers to. The best reply is probably to quote something I wrote back in January: “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.”

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Nigerian Islamist Senator Outdoes Catholic Church on Child Rape Issue

It is of course a major issue of public discourse these days that the Catholic church has long systematically covered up child rape in the interests of the organisation’s public image. But to my knowledge, nobody has attempted to justify the rapes with reference to Catholic religious doctrine. The church’s attitude has roughly been “We think this is really nasty behaviour, but more importantly we don’t want any bad press”.

In Nigeria, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to marry. But senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, is under investigation for taking a girl as his fourth wife when she was allegedly 13 years old. He is said to have paid a dowry of $100,000 for her. Sani is an Islamist who, as governor of Zamfara state, oversaw the introduction of Sharia law there in 1999.

Sani denies that the girl was only 13 but agrees that she was under 18. However, he is not concerned with secular Nigerian law on this issue, which may strike the reader as odd given that the man is a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Nigeria. Said Sani to the BBC, “I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned … History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law. Even if she is 13, as it is being falsely peddled around.”

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