Where Are My Readers Based?

Over the past 4½ years I’ve made a habit of calling out on my blog whenever I’ve planned trips abroad, in the hope of meeting up with readers. As far as I can remember, the only times when this has actually led to any meetings were two years ago when I went to a) a science blogging conference, b) a skeptics’ conference. Those encounters would have taken place regardless of whether I’d shouted about my trips here beforehand or not.

So now I’m taking the opposite approach. Instead of first deciding to go somewhere for a non-blog-related reason and then hoping to meet readers there, I’ve used Google’s traffic stats engine to check where my readers are, and then I’m going to try to find a way to travel there and meet you people. Below are the Top-20 regions for Aard readership outside of Sweden (absolute, not relative to population) over the past year.

But not all readers are of course the same. I’m mainly interested in the regulars, not in people who end up here once only when they’re surfing for porn or wondering about the etymology of the expression “batshit insane”. Therefore, I have weeded out regions where the medium time spent on an Aard page is in the first quartile. Here’s the resulting list.

  1. California
  2. England, UK
  3. Maine
  4. Oulu county, Finland
  5. New York
  6. Maryland
  7. Ontario
  8. Texas
  9. Minnesota
  10. Washington
  11. Illinois
  12. Ohio
  13. Oregon
  14. Western Australia, Australia
  15. Indiana
  16. Florida
  17. Michigan
  18. North Carolina
  19. Virginia
  20. Missouri

So, it’s the US, England, Finland or Australia then! Could any regular who reads this from a region on the list please speak up? Who wants go give me a speaking gig?

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Snorkeling, Eels and Sample Bias

I’ve been fishing, swimming and walking the shoreline around my mom’s summer house for almost 30 years, and so I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of fish there are out there. Most of them I have only seen during fishing with nets, so it’s clear that the visible sample of fish species depends on your methods. I have never seen an eel.

Another thing I have hardly ever done around my mom’s summer place is snorkeling. But during the past week, seeing as it’s an unusually warm summer with unusually clear water, I’ve taken up that pastime. Of course, it’s not anything like the coral reefs of Eilat or the waters around Phuket, but still, it’s good fun to see what’s under those waves I’ve swum so many times.

I saw two fine pikes (Esox lucius, gädda), one of which was hiding its head under bladder wrack but leaving its rear exposed. I dived down and poked at the fish, and it zoomed away leaving a cartoonish cloud of disturbed bottom sediment. I saw a large bream (Abramis brama, braxen) grazing algae and watching me with a round eye. It left at high speed, tail fin working furiously, before I managed to poke it. It’s a herbivore, needs to move fast when large predators show up.

And I saw my first live wild eel (Anguilla anguilla, Ã¥l), right by our swimming cove. A big mutha, sinuously wavy, floating still just above the sand, pectoral fins moving lazily. Watched it for a long time, dived down, poked it, saw it swim away. We can’t catch eels with any of the equipment we’ve got, and so I’ve never seen one before. Lovely experience!

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Stone Age Dildo Found in Sweden

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Motala in Östergötland has been recognised in recent years as one of the richest Mesolithic sites in Scandinavia north of the current and former Danish provinces. Excavations in waterlogged sediment along River Motala ström have produced great numbers of bone and wood objects that have rarely been preserved elsewhere. Most are harpoon and leister points, but now a bone dildo (a boner?) has joined the growing collection. Measuring twelve by two centimetres, its size is perhaps not very impressive, and there are many non-dildoish uses for which it may have been intended. But without doubt anyone alive at the time of its making would have seen the penile similarities just as easily as we do today. If it is actually a pressure-flaker for fine flint knapping, then this would tell us something about how such work was conceptualised in terms of gender.

Also check out the photo gallery of recently found bone points from the site.

Thanks to my phallic friend Roger for the heads-up.

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Recent Archaeomags

Archaeology Magazine’s July/August issue (#63:4) has a lot of Old World articles which made it particularly interesting to me. We get Nabataean mausolea in Arabia, Europid Bronze Age mummies in Xinjiang, the Neanderthal genome, Greek temples in southern Italy, and a great feature on new developments in the urban archaeology of Medieval Jewry in France and Germany. As it turns out, Medieval Jews are to some degree archaeologically distinct from their Christian neighbours. But more importantly, their culture turns out to be distinct from recent Jewish culture and the Medieval written ideals of that culture on a number of points. Just as I am not a Viking, a modern French Jew is not interchangable with one who lived there in the 13th century, and he in turn did not live quite like the leading rabbis of his age wanted him to. The same reasoning may be extended to NAGPRA conflicts in the United States.

Having often complained here that there’s too much about ancient state civilisations in Archaeology Magazine, I was particularly pleased to find a piece on Scandinavian Prehistory, my own field of study. It concerns Stone Age seal-hunter settlements on the coast of East Botnia in Finland. But the article is marred by terminological and chronological confusion. The author, an English free lance, refers throughout to the period and culture as “Neolithic”, but shows no awareness of the fact that this label means something altogether different here than in most of Europe. Sure, the people under study here were sedentary and made pottery, but they grew no crops and kept no livestock. In fact, both sedentariness and pottery in East Botnia pre-date the introduction of agriculture to Scandinavia, and so have nothing to do with Neolithisation as it is generally construed.

Then there’s the issue of post-glacial shoreline displacement. This is a long-lived effect of the end of the Ice Age, and it is still very much an on-going process. But the article spins it as if life in Stone Age Finland still somehow reacted to the actual ice melt several thousand years after it ended. The headline (for which the author may not be responsible) reads “Bouncing Back from the Ice Age”, as if 4th millennium BC people in Finland remembered the Ice Age and were happy to have seen the end of it. So the lay reader is confronted with an image of an extremely early agricultural population living shortly after deglaciation, when in fact the archaeology referred to concerns hunter-fisher-gatherers living about the time of the first Sumerian city states.

Danish pop-archaeo mag Skalk’s issue 2010:3 (June) is a little funny as it contains only one archaeological contribution, about the first Danish finds of Viking Period skeletons with decorative horizontal grooves on the front teeth. This custom has been surveyed by Caroline Arcini in the Swedish material, and it’s good for once to see our Danish colleagues picking up something useful from us. The rest of the issue covers historical duck-keeping, Henrik Ibsen’s inspiration for The Doll-house, marauding Swedish troops in 17th century Zealand, and Medieval church roof structures (covered in meandering and long-winded detail). More finds and sites next time, please!

Archaeology Southwest, published by the Center for Desert Archaeology in Tucson, Arizona, is behind schedule: I received issue 23:4 (Fall 2009) just the other day, and according to the Center’s web site this is the current issue. But I don’t mind: the mag is as good-looking and interesting as usual, this time concentrating on Classic Hohokam sites along the Gila River. People here subsisted on irrigation agriculture and built multi-story adobe buildings in the early 2nd millennium AD. One detail that endears this publication to me is that I seem to recognise their headline type face from one of Ursula K. LeGuin’s books.

Finally, Kinarapport, the journal of the Swedish-Chinese Assocation, takes a themed look at Chinese archaeology in issue 2010:2. The articles are largely written from the perspective of tourists, museum-goers and historians of past Swedish involvement there, but there is also a piece by Magnus of Testimony of the Spade about his work with the Yangshao culture of the Chinese Neolithic. This was a real and particularly early Neolithic with rice, millet and pigs.

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Ant Killer

Last summer I battled with wasps: this years it’s ants. Small black ones have underground nests in our yard, and they usually don’t bother us much. But a hot and dry summer recently inspired them to investigate our house, where they found two things they really like: sugar and water. When we returned from a trip to the archipelago, a busy ant highway stretched from the side door through a bedroom, a corridor, the dining room and into the kitchen, where the main destinations were our candy cupboard and the sink. Thousands of tiny insects.

I bought some insecticide. It looks like pale pink ice-cream sprinkles, and in fact consists mainly of sugar. But mixed into the sugar are two chemicals: one that makes the stuff taste awful to children and other large animals, and another that kills insects. It’s imidakloprid, a synthetic nicotine analog. I put a pinch of the stuff in each nest opening I could find out in the yard, and placed a small dish of it by the ants’ entry-point into our house.

It was frighteningly effective. After a couple of hours, that busy ant highway across our floor was gone. Our yard was also deserted. All that remained were a few dead ants. Apparently, most of them ran home when they started to feel sick. And none of them were of course smart enough to avoid the bait: they’d climb over the dead and dying to reach the stuff and gobble it up.

I love the smell of imidakloprid in the morning. It smells like… victory.

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Fringe Archaeologist Reported to Police for Threats, Harassment

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The most dedicated man in Swedish fringe archaeology is at it again. I’ve reported on and off about Bob G. Lind’s antics in Scania (12345), but it’s been a while now. I didn’t write about the time when he interpreted a dotted line on an old map as an alignment of standing stones that had been removed, nor about his recent statement to the effect that his new discoveries would topple the current Swedish government once he presented them. But now Bob’s made the news again and Ystads Allehanda has the story.

Ystad municipality has temporarily cancelled its guided tours of the Ales stenar stone ship (a Late Iron Age grave monument), reported Bob to the police for threatening and harassing the site guides, and hired a security guard. Bob believes that this particular stone ship is a Late Bronze Age calendaric observatory, and he’s run a loud and aggressive one-man presentation at the site for many years. It seems that his interest is currently not directed towards his other project, where he interprets a nearby Early Iron Age cemetery as yet another Late Bronze Age calendaric observatory.

Thanks to Anders Ljungberg for the tip-off.

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Next Week in Wales

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Next week, 20-23 July, I will work on a Universities of Bangor & Chester excavation in north-east Wales headed by Nancy Edwards and my friend Howard Williams. The fieldwork concerns the site of a 9th century memorial cross, the “Pillar of Eliseg“, mentioned here in February of last year. Having grown up with the Welsh-inspired fantasy fiction of Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, I’m thrilled to dig in Wales! I mean, the area of the site is named the Vale of Llangollen (“thlan-gottlen”), can you beat that?

Aard readers in the Wrexham/Chester area, give me a shout and maybe we can organise a meetup!

Bronze Age Book Review

I had two pages in the May issue of Forskning & Framsteg (Sweden’s equivalent av Scientific American) about recent books on the Scandinavian Bronze Age. I was happy to publish there, but not very happy with the rushed chop job the contribution went through without my involvement before it was sent to the printers. So, below the fold is an uncut review in Swedish of the following books:

  • Det 10. nordiske bronsealdersymposium. Trondheim 5.-8. okt. 2006. Red. Terje Brattli, Trondheim 2009.
  • Changing landscapes and persistent places. An exploration of the Bjäre peninsula. Jenny Nord. Lund 2009.
  • Bebyggelse och samhällsstruktur. Södra och mellersta Skandinavien under senneolitikum och bronsÃ¥lder 2300-500 f.Kr. Magnus Artursson. Göteborg 2009.

Continue reading

Enigmatic Sb Mastermind Starts Blog

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In the past few days I have received four e-mails from Adam Bly, founder and proprietor of Seed Media Group and Scienceblogs. OK, they were group mail sent to all the SciBlings, but four e-mails from him is more than I have received before in 3½ years at Sb. And now Adam has become a SciBling himself, writing at Science is Culture. Head on over and make him feel welcome! I’m going to follow the new blog with keen interest. Folks here have wished for a long time that they knew better what Adam is thinking.