Bronze Age Talk on Saturday

i-d2d9cfcbfffb2246347bf5805f5b2a12-Pukberget spjutspets.jpgI’m giving a talk at the Stockholm County Museum in Sickla, Saturday at two o’clock, as part of a day seminar. The subject will be my on-going research into Bronze Age sacrificial sites, where I collaborate with the museum on fieldwork. Aard readers are welcome: just tell the organisers that I’m your estranged dad. And do say hi to me!

I’m a little nervous, though, as I’ve found out that I’m on immediately after a talk by my old coursemate Dr. Susanne Thedéen, a Bronze Age specialist, who is going to talk about pretty much the same theme! I try to console myself with the fact that she gave a talk about one of the subjects of my thesis last week, burial ritual and gender on Viking Period Gotland. But maybe she did that better than I would too? Anyway, after the seminar I’ll flee with Junior to the Stockholm Gaming Convention and drown my sorrows in boardgames. Any Dear Readers going there too?

The spearhead right dates from about 700 BC and was found in the Pukberget cave in Uppland.

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Hobbit Continuity Error

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his three main books in the order their contents happen in his fantasy world. But they weren’t published in that order. Young Tolkien writes the various component works of The Silmarillion, middle-aged Tolkien writes and publishes The Hobbit, old Tolkien writes and publishes The Lord of the Rings, then his son Christopher and Guy Gavriel Kay posthumously edit and publish The Silmarillion.

This means that the original readers of The Hobbit and LotR had no idea what Tolkien meant when he alluded to his unpublished mythology in those books. In fact, Tolkien doesn’t seem to have viewed The Hobbit as a serious addition to his world when writing it. He just embellished it with little bits of First and Second Age lore without worrying about whether the parts fit together. But as many critics have remarked, it’s the combination of the everyday folksiness of the hobbits with the high-fantasy elvish tragedy of the mythology that then makes LotR such a great book.

One of my favourite continuity errors in The Hobbit has to do with magic swords. In chapter 2, Gandalf tricks three trolls into staying outdoors until sunrise, whereupon they turn to stone. Afterwards the party loots the cave where the trolls once lived, finding various plunder including two jewel-studded swords. In chapter 3 Elrond takes a look at them and reads their inscriptions.

‘These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars. They must have come from a dragon’s hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago. This, Thorin, the runes name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin; it was a famous blade. This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore. Keep them well!’

A reader with access to the appendices of LotR and The Silmarillion may find it a little odd that Elrond mentions the fall of Gondolin but not the fact that the entire land mass where the city was located has sunk beneath the sea. But anyway: plunder from Gondolin was apparently taken east to the area where the troll cave is located and has probably been buried there until the trolls somehow got their hands on it. There is no indication that the two swords have been heard of since the First Age. Gandalf doesn’t recognise them, and Elrond has to read their inscriptions to place them correctly.

Now, in chapter 4 comes the continuity error. The dwarves camp one night in the entrance to a major underground goblin/orc lair on a mountain pass and get captured. When the orcs examine their captives’ belongings and find the sword Orcrist, we get this.

The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage when he looked at it, and all his soldiers gnashed their teeth, clashed their shields, and stamped. They knew the sword at once. It had killed hundreds of goblins in its time, when the fair elves of Gondolin hunted them in the hills or did battle before their walls. They had called it Orcrist, Goblin-cleaver, but the goblins simply called it Biter. They hated it and hated worse any one that carried it.

The orcs, brutish short-lived illiterates though they are, apparently have a pretty amazing body of oral tradition concerning old weapons. Because the sword Orcrist hasn’t been heard of since the fall of Gondolin, which at the time of Bilbo Baggins’s momentuous adventure with the dwarves and the wizard lies about 6,500 years in the past. But every single orc in that cave immediately recognises it on sight!

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Saint Paul Never Read the Bible

We interrupt this transmission for a piece of Christian chronology. Did you know that the Epistles of Saint Paul are the oldest writings in the New Testament? Did you know that Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written just about the time of Paul’s execution in AD 64/65? Though Mark had worked as a secretary to Saint Peter who was an original Apostle, none of the authors of the New Testament ever met Jesus of Nazareth.

Synthesiser Mind-Meld

Apples in Stereo mastermind Robert Schneider demonstrates his latest technical combo: a vintage 80s synthesizer hooked up to a recently released EEG game controller, which allows him to change the pitch of the synth’s output with his thoughts.

I particularly like the non-glitzy surroundings. The guy is sitting in shorts and t-shirt on a beat-up couch, unshaven and with his hair poking out in all directions, looking like a stoner and showing off his bizarre invention. It’s very far from the Kraftwerk esthetic, yet some of the tech is decades later than Kraftwerk’s.

Check out the latest Apples album, Travellers in Space and Time! I’m currently listening to it randomly interleaved with, among other things, Cathedral’s latest effort, which makes for a pretty interesting contrast.

Thanks to Moomin for the tip-off.

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Two Queenly Careers

Through my reading I was reminded of two Scandinavian early-12th century queens whose careers are pretty amazing. Though originally probably unrelated, they became kin by marriage in several ways.

~1085. Margareta Ingesdotter born, daughter of King Inge I of Sweden. (Birth year unrecorded.)

~1100. Ulvhild HÃ¥konsdotter born, daughter of the Norwegian nobleman HÃ¥kon Finnsson of the Thjotta family. (Birth year likewise unrecorded.)

1101. As part of a peace agreement between the Kings of Sweden and Norway, Margareta marries King Magnus III “Barefoot” Olavsson of Norway. Thus her cognomen Fredkulla, “peace wench”.

1105. Margareta marries King Niels Svensson of Denmark. (Magnus having died two years previously).

~1115. Ulvhild marries King Inge II of Sweden, first cousin of Margareta and nephew of Inge I.

1130. Margareta dies. Ulvhild marries King Niels. (Inge II having died c. seven years previously).

1134. Niels dies. Ulvhild marries King Sverker I Cornubesson of Sweden. Ulvhild and Sverker have at least five children over the following years, of whom their son Karl eventually also becomes King of Sweden.

1143. Ulvhild and Sverker support the foundation of Alvastra monastery, one of Scandinavia’s first Cistercian foundations.

1148. Ulvhild dies.

Early Scandy historians tended to describe these women as a kind of prestigious fecund statuary that was traded to and fro among the era’s elite-male lineages. In modern scholarship, they are seen more as political agents in their own right, though the source material for their lives and actions is extremely sparse.

Ulvhild is particularly remarkable as she managed to become queen of Sweden, Denmark and then Sweden again. Her contacts, influence, wealth and experience were in all likelihood instrumental in making Sverker a successful king and the first member of a (not very long-lived) royal dynasty.

One thing that really gets me about these people is how briefly they lived, how little education they had and how young they were when they did the deeds that wrote them into history. Margareta and Ulvhild were younger than many history undergrads when each of them married her second king.

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At my wife’s suggestion, I quit work 1½ hour early today and cycled with her and the kids into the woods to pick mushrooms. Lovely sunny afternoon, and I can report that the hills between Lakes Lundsjön and Trehörningen are rich in boletes right now. Here are the species we got:

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Orange Birch Bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Copper brittlegill, Tegelkremla, Russula decolorans
  • Chanterelle, Kantarell, Cantharellus cibarius
  • FÃ¥rticka, Albatrellus ovinus

Respected Swedish Archaeologist Joins Cranks


To my horror, Ystads Allehanda reports that Wladyslaw Duczko has joined Nils-Axel Mörner on a project to excavate the famous Ales stenar stone ship.

Why does this pain me? Because while (as I have reported here before) geologist Mörner and his collaborator homeopath Bob G. Lind are Swedish archaeology’s most notorious cranks, Duczko is not. He is a respected senior archaeologist and known as an authority on Slavic silver jewellery of the Viking Period.

If I had heard that Duczko was going to excavate Ales stenar, I would have said “Well done, Wladde, I’m looking forward to seeing your results. Hope Bob doesn’t try to kill you.” But now he’s lending his academic credibility to a collaboration with the people who are just about the least qualified of all adult Swedes to take part in the excavations.

The County Archaeologist of Scania will in all likelihood not give an excavation permit to anyone who collaborates with Mörner or Lind. And I believe the land is owned by the National Heritage Board, which likewise will let them nowhere near the site with a shovel. But from now on, Wladyslaw Duczko’s academic credibility will be used to support some really weird fringe archaeology. Why, oh, why, Wladde? Didn’t you know?

Åsa M. Larsson and Fredrik Svanberg are also shocked and incredulous.

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Weekend Fun


  • Had breakfast guests: a beautifully pregnant old friend and our old boss/buddy came at ten and I cooked us all a full English. Everybody who’s into the Gustavian / Georgian era and reads Scandy, read Kristina Ekero Eriksson’s new popular biography of Märta Helena Reenstierna, the Lady of Årsta! I read it in manuscript, and I loved it.
  • Played Lost Cities against my wife who is getting worrisomely good at it, and Puerto Rico and Space Alert against gamer buddies. The latter game is highly unusual. It’s a cooperation game played against the clock, with a twist I’ve never seen before: it includes an audio CD that gives you messages and keeps time in the game while everybody orders their guys around. Then, when the audio track ends, you run the “program” you’ve all co-created, and see if you’ve all beat the game or not. Think Pandemic crossed with Roborally and played against the clock. We were crap, but we had fun!
  • Cocktail party, and for the second time, Junior babysat Juniorette. It’s really a new chapter in life when your kids aren’t small anymore!
  • My mom cooked us dinner to celebrate her birthday.

And you, Dear Reader? What did you do for fun this weekend?

Church of Sweden Ineptly Tries to Smear Humanist Association

i-c7d3bd9e283ba4d4eedcae69c4204d8f-gerle.jpgThere’s a parliamentary election in Sweden on the 19th, and everybody’s hoping that the country’s little right-wing populist party won’t get over the 4% threshold needed to grab any seats. The “Swedish Democrat” party mainly offers a We Hate Foreigners ticket, with some Law & Order and Respect Your Elders thrown in to attract voters in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The SD is generally despised among mainstream political parties and the media. So I was surprised but entertained when I found the ailing Swedish Church trying to smear the Swedish Humanist Association by means of a far-fetched guilt by association involving the SD.

The Reverend Elisabeth Gerle works for the church’s secretariat for theology and ecumenics, and also teaches ethics at the departments of theology in Lund and Uppsala. A press release on the church’s web site advertises her forthcoming book, whose title translates to “Dangerous Simplification. Religion and Politics From the Perspective of the Swedish Democrats and the Swedish Humanist Association”. Here’s her argument (and I translate):

“The Swedish Democrats have strong xenophobic traits that many politicians denounce. With regard to the Humanists, though, the authorities and politicians appear blind to the fact that an aggressive hostility to religion also targets recent immigrants. Is it possible that the Humanists are paving the way for the Swedish Democrats?”

This is of course such poor logic that it borders on the unethical. Gerle’s argument is that if I dislike woolen hats in general, then this means that I am specifically and discriminatingly hostile to green woolen hats.

The SD are hostile only to certain ethnic groups. The Humanists are hostile to all religions. The only ways the comparison between the two organisations might work would be if either a) the Humanists targeted only certain religions, or b) the SD were hostile to all ethnic groups including Swedes. Neither is true. Furthermore, the SD wants to kick people out of the country. The Humanists want them to stay and become secularised like everybody else here.

The Dept of Theology in Uppsala used to share a staircase with the Dept of Philosophy. Philosophy undergrads often (unethically) removed two letters from the theologians’ sign in the entrance, changing Teologiska to –ologiska. Ologiska means “illogical”…

Via Olle Svensk Strand and Jens Runnberg.

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Newish Finds from Old Uppsala

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The view from my second investigation area. The great barrows were erected about AD 600.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday metal-detecting for my buddy John Ljungkvist on some of the most storied soil in Sweden: Old Uppsala. Archaeology and early historical sources unanimously point this village out as one of the Lake Mälaren region’s most important power centres from shortly before AD 600 until about 1250, when it was superseded by the nearby town of (New) Uppsala. My Östergötland project in 2004-2009 largely aimed at searching for that province’s unknown equivalent.


The view from my first investigation area. Old Uppsala church is the re-purposed remains of a larger 12th century cathedral. The green mound to the right is one of the platforms that supported the royal mead halls during the Viking Period.

John put me to work in two fields: one immediately below the monumental house platforms north of the church, one in a ploughed-out part of the famous barrow cemetery south of the church. Finds were plentiful but mostly not very old. I found copper coins from 1718 and 1721, another illegible one most likely from about 1700, and at the very end of the fieldwork, a mount from the butt-end of a 14th century table knife. I look forward to returning!

Finds pics below the fold.
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