Future Archaeology of Gaming


Like everything else we make and use, gaming pieces form part of the archaeological record. I once had the pleasure of lifting a particularly fine set of 9th century hnefatafl pieces out of the ground. Now I have seen a set of 20th century mah jong pieces go into the ground.

The site of the burnt and demolished house near mine is now clean and ready for the new building planned there. But, as has often been observed, two important reasons that the archaeological record contains more small objects than large ones are that the larger ones are easier to find when you lose them and they get in your way if you leave them lying around intact. The mah jong pieces are in coarse sand with window glass outside the building’s erstwhile western wall. I tossed some of them together in a closer cluster and turned them over to expose the Chinese characters before taking this picture. One of them I gave to my wife, who identified it as the North piece.

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An Egoistic Perspective on the Pepsiblog Debacle

i-5553e5fef282dedd523590efea7e4174-seda laskburk.jpgI reacted to the news about the Pepsiblog debacle with a cynical smirk and a sinking feeling in my stomach. Though I am interested in health-related and environmental issues, they are not at the forefront of my blogging or my professional life. Of course it hurts the Sb brand and Sb’s journalistic credibility when the Overlords sell centre-column space to an agribusiness junk-food multinational. PepsiCo would be controversial among the SciBlings even if they just advertised in the sidebar. But to someone writing mainly about Scandy archaeology, skepticism, books and music, it’s not such a big deal.

Instead, the Pepsiblog mainly interests me as an indicator of Seed Media Group’s financial solvency. And that scares me. Things have been looking pretty grim backstage here at Sb since the late-2008 credit crunch. My impression is that Sb is SMG’s one remaining cash cow, but a cow whose owner can’t really afford to feed it. To me, the Pepsiblog looks like a desperate attempt to make that cow yield a bit more milk before she’s sent to become dog food and garden fertiliser. Or is it just to keep everybody alive for the last few weeks of a lean winter? After which the cow will be fed again? I don’t know and SMG ain’t telling.

Of course I’m proud to be a SciBling, associated with so many great bloggers. But above all, Sb means readers to me, quality readers and commenters. It means that I get a share of the huge and constantly growing traffic generated by Pharyngula, Dispatches and Insolence. It means that my blog has a Google PageRank of 7 out of 10. After 3½ years at Sb I have a lot invested in this URL.

So if you’re an Aard regular, let me tell you that you needn’t worry about me jumping ship or quitting blogging. What you may need to prepare for is upheavals if/when Seed Media Group finds that selling Sb’s journalistic credibility isn’t enough to keep them afloat, and they simply sell the whole cow.

Image by Seda of VÃ¥rby school.

Holographic Radar Detector Images Underground Metal Objects


A metal detector is very nice, particularly when there isn’t a lot of aluminium in the ground. Archaeology cannot do without it. But what I really want now is a holographic radar instrument. Still in the prototype stage, this technology is being developed by Tim Bechtel of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and colleagues, who primarily have land-mine removal in mind. It will image underground metal objects in 3D. Gimme gimme gimme!

And oh, how I hope that my country’s legislators will allow a responsible metal-detector hobby to develop here before holographic radar detectors hit the street.

Via BBC’s Material World. Quentin Cooper rules!

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The Remains of My Neighbour’s House

My house. It’s L-shaped; of its six walls, only these two lack windows.

In January, a house near ours caught fire in the middle of the night and was pretty much burned out. A malfunctioning electrical blanket on a couch in the living room was the cause. Nobody got hurt. But it was scary, because Boat Hill is all kedjehus, “chain houses”, separate nearly identical brick buildings with narrow roofed spaces between them, forming contiguous blocks. The house that burned was in the block next to ours, a stone’s throw away.

An identical house seen from the same perspective.

This morning they started to tear the ruin down, using a back-hoe with a huge clawed pincer. A lot of the furnishings were still inside. No attempt was made to separate materials. Me & Jrette saw a blackened dressing gown still hanging on its hook on the bathroom’s remaining wall. We saw the claw grab two wardrobes and crunch them up like an empty milk carton. Char-edged pages from a spy novel were strewn across the street. And I felt a little queasy, because as I said, the houses here are identical. That ruin is what my own house would look like if it caught fire and had to be demolished.

Here’s what the site of the burned house looked like on 8 July after the demolition and clean-up was done.

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Hogganvik Runestone Re-erected


The recently found Norwegian 5th century runestone of Hogganvik carries a memorial inscription and so might be expected to have stood on or near a grave. My buddy Frans-Arne Stylegar has excavated the site and sadly found no preserved burial, but he did find the original stone setting of the monument. This is a rare kind of knowledge, as many runestones have been moved around through the centuries. Now the runestone stands again, the site has been cleaned up, and the public is free to come see the most important early runic document to surface in many decades.

Photograph by Frans-Arne Stylegar. I have written here about Hogganvik twice before.

Heretical Room Mate

My buddy Micke and his Japanese college room mate:

“I’m Ken Nakamura. Ken means ‘heresy’!”

“Really? That’s kind of… odd.”

“Yes! It means ‘HERESY’! Rike when you are never sick!”

“Ahaaa, you mean ‘healthy’…”

“Yes! Correct! What does your name mean?”

Archaeological Zombies

Image by Joseph Hewitt of Ataraxia Theatre.

Archaeology is a famously ghoulish pursuit whose practitioners are always on the look-out for dead bodies to gloat over. If we can’t find a grave, then at least we’ll try to get hold of animal bones from kitchen middens and sacrificial deposits. I’ve seen desperate Mesolithic researchers cackle with funereal glee over the toe bones of long-dead seals. Osteologists are of course the worst necrophiliacs of the lot. But nobody’s immune. There’s an anecdote going around about my old favourite teacher, where he lifts a pelvis out of a Middle Neolithic grave, licks his lips while turning the charnel thing over in his hands, and exclaims, “Now this was a very beautiful woman!”.

Less well known are the constant zombie encounters that archaeologists have to put up with. It’s not that we excavate a lot of zombies. Soft tissues decay rapidly, and once the main ligaments have dissolved, the zombie can’t really move any more. A de-fleshed zombie doesn’t automatically turn into an animated skeleton: those are mostly superstition. And cremation pretty much puts a dead guy in his place. No, the dead don’t rise much from the kind of sites we usually dig, unless you run into the rare lich king or barrow wight, or work in Egypt. Instead we tend to get a lot of recent zombies shuffling around our working environment.

It starts already at the university. Many lecturers turn into zombies scant years into their tenure, and non-zombies are rare among the adult education students in the night classes. I lost count of the times I had to flee from slavering carrion hordes down the nightmarish Modernist corridors of the South Buildings during my years at the University of Stockholm.

i-2413c9c34064a37937ec59d83d385bc1-fyllhammare.jpgThen you’re on your first training dig, and your co-workers turn out to be zombies. I remember this one excavation at Sanda in Fresta where a group of Samhall special-needs workers were employed for heavier tasks. They may have looked like park-bench drunks, and that confused me at first since I thought they were the main site staff, but soon it was all “Braaains… Braaains… Got a ciiiig’rette, buddy?” It’s simply stressful, what with all the digging implements around. Imagine what a zombie can do with a fyllhammare pointed hoe, right?

So you go on to grad school, and you need access to data and finds from old unpublished excavations. And sure enough: the retired fieldworkers controlling access to the stuff have all turned into zombies. How can you have a rational conversation about site plans and documentation methods with an old guy at a provincial museum when he’s trying to gnaw your arm off? It’s ridiculous.

Actually, museums are really the worst places for this. In the exhibitions, in the offices, and of course in every nook and cranny of the stores: it’s zombies, zombies, zombies. Those damp concrete tunnels beneath the Museum of National Antiquities… I shiver to think of them. At the very least you always have to get past some semi-decomposed colleague with a key card on a lanyard around her excarnated neck, rasping, “Wearrr glovessss when haaandling the fiiiindssss… Raaaahhh…”

As a profession, archaeology is second only to mortician work in popularity. I mean, most jobs don’t involve any handling of dead bodies at all, which means that you’ll have to get your kicks strictly in your free time. But nevertheless, before heading into the archaeology business, I think you should ask yourself, “Do I really want to be chased by zombies at work on a regular basis?”. Consider your alternatives. In the movie industry, for instance, the zombies are just normal people in scary make-up. You can have a cup of tea and a chat with them between takes. And you won’t have to endure the smell. Think about it!

And check out Joseph Hewitt’s open-source multi-platform robot game, GearHead!

In other news, the past three months were the best 2nd quarter for traffic I’ve seen so far as a blogger. Thanks guys!

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