Iron Age Multi-Burial Contains People From Different Centuries

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Here’s something new in burial archaeology!

In 2008 a cremation burial of the Pre-Roman Iron Age was excavated at Skrea backe near Falkenberg in Halland province. It’s unusually rich for its time, being housed in a continental iron-and-bronze cauldron and containing three knives, an awl and 5.3 litres of burnt bones from a lamb, a sheep, two pig’s trotters, a bird and three people.

I’ve never seen a knife-handle like that before, with an iron-rod frame, but I’ve never really worked with the period nor with Halland so that counts for little. A bizarre detail though is that a foot bone from the sheep has two pieces of thin iron tube inside. I think they may be the remains of two solid iron rods whose surface layer was altered by the pyre’s heat, their innards rusting away.

All of this is very nice but not unheard-of before. What’s new with this burial is that the excavator has had bones from all three buried people radiocarbon-dated, and they turned out to have died at different dates over a span of about a century! A man of ~35 and an adolescent of 10-14 have been disinterred and cremated along with a woman of ~55 around 150 BC, long after the first two people died. Or their bones were curated above ground. Cool!

(A 100-year gap is too long among Iron Age porridge eaters to represent a marine reservoir effect.)

Update 4 February ’11: Writes Per Wranning, one of the excavators: “… there are two (identical) dates from the child, one from the woman and one from the man. The first date we got was for the child, but selected from non-determinable material [i.e. they knew the sample was from the child but not which bone in its body]. As this date was slightly confusing — the person in question appeared to have died at least half a century before cauldrons like this appeared — we decided to re-date all three individuals. Our funds at the time could only cover one analysis per individual.”

Read osteologist Anna Kloo Andersson’s report on-line. Thanks to Niklas Krantz for the tip-off.

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The Glossies Tell Me I’m Not A Man

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I’ve felt largely like an outsider since I was a kid, but these days I rarely experience the full force of it except when I visit a news agent’s and confront the glossy magazines. They carry hundreds of titles. And at a pinch I can maybe find one or two that might interest me mildly.

I don’t expect to find much of interest in the ladies section. The non-gendered mags are pretty few, and it doesn’t really matter to me that I don’t give a shit about interior decoration or design or antiques. What gets to me is the message the men’s section broadcasts to me.

“This is what interests men. If none of this interests you, you are not a man.”

The men’s mags are trying their very best to make guys about my age buy them. The editors study their target demographic and painstakingly make sure that the cover story is the one piece in each issue that will capture the interest of the 20/30/40-something male. Many titles are narrowly focused on a single topic of great interest to my peers. I think the people behind the mags know what they’re doing. They pretty much cover the topics the male (glossy-mag buying) Swede wants to read about. But me, not only am I unwilling to buy a magazine on any of these topics. It’s worse than that. In many cases I wouldn’t even care if the activities or classes of object these magazines cover came to an end today, never to be heard of again. (Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single woman who isn’t interested in the topics covered by ladies’ mags, but I’d be happy to be enlightened on this point by the Dear Reader.)

Waiting for the train at the Stockholm Sluice news agent last night, I copied down the following list of what the men’s mags mistakenly expect me to care about right now.

  • World War II
  • Poker
  • Wrestling
  • Men’s fashion
  • Michael Douglas
  • Cars
  • Microsoft Office
  • Old rock bands
  • Fitness
  • Football
  • Video games
  • Photoshop
  • Hifi
  • Gadgets
  • Golf
  • Boats
  • Motorcycles
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Guns
  • Whiskey
  • Spectacular criminal cases
  • Hockey
  • Tattoos

In other news, Dr. Fredrik Svanberg of the Museum of National Antiquities and the MUSEUM. NU blog has been kind enough to give me the Beautiful Blogger Award! Thank you Fredrik!

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Weekend Fun

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  • Watched most of the 1984 animated Miyazaki feature film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on DVD. Like others of his I’ve seen before, it’s visually stunning and has a pretty pointless story.
  • Sat outdoors and read, probably for the last time this year barring trips south.
  • Went to a friend’s birthday party, helped cook.
  • Watched Inception on the big screen. Good movie!
  • Played my twelfth game of Agricola and managed to win for the first time.

And you, Dear Reader?

Lazing On A Sunny Afternoon

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September unexpectedly turned warm and sunny. I’m a little under the weather and so can’t do anything very energetic. But reading a review copy of a new geology book for the blog in my yard, in the sun, with my dressing gown down around my midriff isn’t too bad.

Photo by Junior.

Swedish Populists Want Folksy Art

Immediately after the Swedish election the SD anti-immigration party made a major proclamation advocating policies copied from 1930s Germany – pertaining to the public funding of the arts.

Since the end of the war, the driver of a car is no longer known as an Autoführer, “car driver” in German. He’s an Autofahrer, a “car rider”. Other words have proved impossible to rehabilitate. A prominent one is völkisch, meaning “national”, “ethnic”, in some situations “folksy”. The Nazis loved folksy culture, music with a lot of tuba and Glockenspiel, traditional songs, leather shorts, hats decorated with a boar-bristle brush. And they hated Modernism, urban themes, decadence, to the extent that Entartete Kunst, “degenerate art” has become a household word and a badge of honour in art circles. Friends of mine who are into folk music tell me that Irish folk is huge in Germany because their own musical heritage carries too much baggage. It’s too… völkisch.

Now the SD anti-immigration party advocates increased funding for what was in the 19th century perceived as Swedish folk culture: local historical societies, folk dancing groups, folk music bands, the national Heritage Board (gee, thanks guys, but no thanks) and certain museums. On the other hand, they want to strip the funding from art that intends to shock, disturb or provoke. To decide what is what, the party wants to make Swedish art policies more centralised. The goal is to herd Swedish arts in a more “constructive, positive and socially beneficient” direction.

Anyone with some knowledge about the issues at hand will recognise the whole thing from senator Jesse Helms’s attacks 20 years ago against Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano and other Entartete artists. It’s a breathtakingly naïve move that demonstrates yet again that the SD and their voters have very little education, poor souls. They are after all a party for the blue-eyed, blue-collar, disappointed, rural, jobless man.

Before you all get the impression that I’m a staunch defender of free publicly funded arts, though, let me tell you that I actually agree with the SD on one point here. They mention the possibility that the market, that is, the audience, could be given more say in where public arts funding should be directed. As I have discussed here repeatedly, I’m an aesthetic relativist, recognising no universal standards for good art. Just as I think boring archaeology is bad archaeology, I think art that is enjoyable and interesting to only very few people has little value and deserves no public support.

Non-populist liberal politicians in Sweden have floated a suggestion that citizens might be given an annual punch card for art events that would allow the audience to allocate public art funding. I like that idea. A lot of currently funded stuff would likely disappear and be mourned by few. But you can be equally sure that people would not put that money into local historical societies, folk dancing groups, folk music bands, the National Heritage Board and historical museums, no matter how völkisch all this is.

Swedish press coverage is here and here. A debate piece co-written by archaeologist Lars Amreus, head of the Museum of National Antiquities, is here. And check out this hilarious Danish TV skit inspired by that country’s anti-immigration party’s stance on arts funding!

Update 3 October: The federation of Swedish local historical societies also says no thanks to the SD’s proffered funds. “The homeland of the SD is not our homeland”.

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Swedish Election Results

Sweden held a general election yesterday, and it did not go the way myself and other lefties would have liked. Parliament has 349 seats, and 175 is thus a majority. Before the election, the various right-wing and centrist parties held 178 seats. Now they hold 192. But the conservative voters have not only become relatively more numerous: they have also diversified in their sympathies, propelling the brown fringe of the right-wing block into Parliament in the shape of a new populist anti-immigration party, the Swedish Democrats.

The Swedish conservatives are basically like the US Democrats. Their leader Fredrik Reinfeldt endorsed Obama before the US election. So not even they want anything to do with the anti-immigration party. This means that the right-wing block has effectively lost a few seats to a party that exists outside and to the right of the two main blocks in Parliament. Of those 192 right-wing seats, only 172 will actually be allowed to take part in government, leaving 157 to the leftie-green block.

There has been some concern that this might give the anti-immigration party undue influence since theoretically they might threaten to block governmental decisions they don’t like by voting with the opposition (157+20=177). But that would mean that they had to vote with the lefties, which is highly unlikely on most contentious issues.

Meanwhile, Reinfeldt is rumoured to be negotiating a deal with the Greens in order to eliminate any possibility of anti-immigration party shenanigans.

I’m a bit disgusted that ~6% of the electorate voted for the anti-immigration party. They’re bigger than the Christian Democrats and the Former Commies now. We had a similar party in Parliament during the 1991-94 period, and they made fools of themselves through inexperience and general stupid thuggishness. At the first opportunity, the voters unceremoniously threw them out. I expect no less for the Swedish Democrats.

As for my home municipality of Nacka, there was little change: most significantly the Soc-Dems that I voted for lost a quarter of their seats to other parties. The only real reasons for me to rejoice somewhat after this election is that my housing estate’s participation was significantly less crap than usual (though it did us no apparent good), and that the anti-immigration party remains unrepresented in our municipal hall.

Update 23 September: After various recounts and checks the final result of the election is right-wing block 173 seats, leftie block 156 seats, anti-immigration party 20 seats.

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Work or Play? An Unusual Stone Object

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Here’s a funny find. My buddy Tobias Bondesson sent me these pics of a gneiss or granite object he’s found, measuring 30 by 28 mm in diameter and 20 mm high. The find spot is near Lee church in northern Jutland (the current stone structure there goes back to shortly after AD 1100), and the metal detector finds go back at least to the 8th century. What do you think it is?

As Tobias points out, the shape and dimensions are exactly what you’d expect from a Viking Period gaming piece. But it’s the wrong material. Those are almost exclusively made of bone, antler or horse teeth.

I have an idea what this may be. I think it’s an unfinished spindlewhorl, where it remains to drill it through for the shaft before it can be used. It’s a little on the small side, but to spin thin sewing thread, this would be the right sort of diameter and weight. Stone spindlewhorls are common finds.

Thanks to Tobias for permission to publish his photographs.

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Travel and Talks in October and November

I’ll be travelling a lot in October and November and giving some talks. Aard readers in the afflicted cities, drop me a line and maybe we can meet up!

  • 16-18 Oct, TAM London.
  • 29-31 Oct, Oslo, Kritisk Masse: speaking about Thor Heyerdahl and other Scandy pseudoarchaeologists.
  • 4 Nov, Uppsala: speaking about pseudoarchaeology.
  • 14 Nov, Norrköping: speaking about the Late Iron Age elite in the area.
  • 29 Nov – 1 Dec Birmingham: Viking workshop.

Science Fraud in Swedish Transplantation Biology

A week ago, the Swedish Research Council’s expert panel for the investigation of suspected science fraud delivered its findings regarding Suchitra Holgersson, professor of transplantation biology in the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. The panel finds Holgersson, who joined the Academy two years ago, guilty of severe science fraud in several cases where she has fabricated data (published i.a. in the Blood journal) and distorted results, and also in that she has forged documents in attempts to mislead the expert panel itself during the investigation.

Professor Holgersson’s own PhD students blew the whistle on her. Being a woman and an immigrant isn’t any easier in science than anywhere else. But among Holgersson’s students, whose work has been compromised by her fabrications, are immigrant women too.

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