Grassroots Archaeology Conference

I spent most of last weekend in Blankaholm, a small village on the Baltic coast of Sweden between Kalmar and Västervik. My colleague Michael Dahlin (who keeps the Misterhultaren blog) lives there, and this weekend was the fourth time that he headed the annual Blankaholm conference on Swedish east coast archaeology. There’s nothing quite like it that I know of: a true grassroots event, gathering amateurs with no formal training, amateurs with archaeology degrees, trained professionals and even a few pros without formal training. 25 hours of talks, discussion, book trade, communal meals and socialising among ~60 like-minded folks. Lovely!

Of the talks, I particularly enjoyed Kenneth Alexandersson’s about Early Mesolithic sites with organic preservation under a metre of sand from a sea-level transgression, Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay’s about Neolithic sites on Öland, S-G Broström’s and Kenth Ihrestam’s about the enormous and game-changing Casimirsborg rock-art finds they made last year (reported on here), Veronica Palm’s about a well-preserved 18th century tar production site and Joacim Wehlin’s about a furnished inhumation from the very earliest Iron Age on Gotland. The audience also received my own talk about my Bronze Age sacrificial site project enthusiastically.

I had the pleasure of renewing loads of old acquaintances and making new ones. I’d never met Michael Dahlin or Pierre Petersson of the AHIMKAR blog live before. Great guys! On Saturday night I played Thebes, the cynical archaeology game, with colleagues for the first time, while a bunch of lithics dudes were looking at quartz and drinking beer at the next table over. And I had Sunday breakfast at cozy Blankaholms gästgiveri with Magnus Reuterdahl of the Testimony of the Spade blog and other charming colleagues. It was my first Blankaholm conference, and the whole experience provided a great energy boost!

See also Magnus Reuterdahl’s blow-by-blow account.

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Viking Arm Ring Re-Imagined

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Here’s another artisan taking inspiration from archaeology: Ted Bouck made the above arm ring out of brass sheet, punch-decorated and silver-plated it. Ted comments, “I left the perimeter wave from stamping because I liked the organic look. The diamond with dot inside is a period stamp, though not from the York armring. I did not want to make my armring an exact duplicate.” He is currently working with new versions of the Small Punched type of domed oblong brooch that was common in south-east Sweden in the early 8th century.

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Below is the original: a gold arm ring from the Vale of York hoard, dated tpq AD 927, now in the British Museum.

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Viking Hoards Around Stockholm

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Being a prehistorian, I tend to see Stockholm as a cancerous growth. It has expanded for the past seven or eight centuries from small beginnings on an island right where Lake Mälaren debouches into the Baltic. In this process, the city and its suburbs have ruined or covered up great swaths of a pristine rural landscape and archaeology. Sitting on the border between the Medieval provinces Uppland and Södermanland, Stockholm has even managed to rearrange the country’s provincial borders. A new-fangled Stockholm county now covers large chunks of the two older provinces.

An expanding city is, in the long term, an archaeological catastrophe. But Stockholm’s expansion has also thrown up quite a number of sites and finds that would not have been known hadn’t it been for the tumour. So in the short-term perspective, the city is both a blessing and a curse: it giveth and it taketh away archaeological data.

The other day Torun Zachrisson at the University of Stockholm kindly gave a me a good term paper written by one of her students, Caroline Nordquist. It’s about the five known Viking Period silver hoards in and near urban Stockholm, that came to light in 1735 (Finnboda), ~1779 (Bägersta/Enskede), 1829 (LÃ¥ngholmen), 1892 (Inedalsgatan, Kungsholmen) and 1913 (Royal Inst Tech). Nordquist focuses on the Finnboda hoard which was found in my home municipality of Nacka.

There are several interesting points in the paper. One is that these hoards concentrate at the Mälaren / Baltic narrows, much like the ones along the StÃ¥ngÃ¥n-Åsunden waterway south of Linköping that I write about in my forthcoming Östergötland book. Another is that hoards turned up near central Stockholm with some regularity until 1913, shortly before mechanical excavators replaced spades. In all likelihood we’re still ruining hoards, it’s just that we can’t see them come out of the ground any more.

And then Nordquist offers two actual pieces of solid news in the paper. She has rediscovered an obscure published reference to the near-exact location of the 1913 hoard from the Royal Institute of Technology: near the rear right-hand corner of the main brick building, where the observation tower is. And she’s solved the conundrum of the Finnboda hoard’s weight introduced by Henrik Ahnlund in a 1966 paper.

Like most hoards found in the 1700s and early 1800s, the Finnboda hoard is not preserved in its entirety. And there has been some confusion as to how much silver it originally contained: either 0.8 kg or 7.6 kg. If the latter were true, the hoard would have been extremely large for the area. Ahnlund says that in a 1735 manuscript, one Johan Helin reports the weight as 1 skÃ¥lpund and 25½ lod. In 1736, says Ahnlund, Helin then gives the weight as 572 lod. Ahnlund notes with pleasure that these weight figures are identical, which means that Helin must have been talking about a single hoard. But they’re not identical. 1 skÃ¥lpund and 25½ lod is 57½ lod, not 572 lod. What was Ahnlund thinking?

Turns out it’s a typo. 57½ and 572 are suspiciously similar. And, notes Caroline Nordquist, on mid-20th century Swedish type writers, “½” and “2” are on the same key. So the Finnboda hoard weighed 57½ lod, that is, 0.8 kg.

George Hrab Hits Scandinavia: The Golden Ticket Tour

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When skeptical darling George Hrab released his latest album, Trebuchet, he placed a golden ticket in the sleeve of one copy that went into regular distribution. On the ticket was Hrab’s phone number and a promise to come and play a gig for free at the venue of the recipient’s choice. When the call came, it was from a guy in Helsinki.

Upon Hrab’s mentioning this on his podcast, I suggested to my fellow board members of the Swedish Skeptics that we might make the trip worthwhile for the man and organise some Swedish gigs. Everybody liked the idea, and Hrab was happy to oblige. Then the Norwegian Skeptics got in touch and asked to get in on our scheme. And so, we’re hosting the Golden Ticket Tour!

Check out the live footage from Hrab’s Dublin gig on Sat 12 February!

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Valsgärde Shield Re-Created by Grzegorz Kulig

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David Huggins is a member of the Wulfheodenas Dark Ages re-enactment group. Among mid-1st millennium Scandies, a wulfheoden was a kind of berserker warrior, only one who identified with wolves rather than bears. David recently commissioned Polish master artisan Grzegorz Kulig to make a replica of a display shield from boat grave number 7 at Valsgärde near Uppsala, whose inhabitant was a 7th century petty king among the Swedes. I think this is a thing of astonishing beauty.

All archaeological museums exhibit the modern remains of objects that were once as beautiful as this. They should in my opinion make a habit of commissioning replicas to display along with the originals, showing visitors what the handicraft of the past was like before the iron rusted, the bronze verdigrised, and the leather & wood rotted away.

Looking closer at the shield’s iconography, note first that the quadrupeds surrounding the shield boss have bearded human faces on their upper legs. This human-beast ambiguity is typical for the period’s warrior ideology (cf. berserkers), and has been interpreted to mean that the beasts are actually shamanistic extensions of a warrior or god whose native form lies in a trance. And on the back side we encounter the ubiquitous Vendel Period beast trinity: counting from the top, the wolf, the boar and the eagle. Classic stuff from one of the era’s focal points of politics, religion and art.

Check out Grzegorz Kulig’s web site for more pics of his work! Gracjana Kulig (who is a silver smith specialising in filigreed jewellery) replies swiftly in excellent English to inquiries. And it only gets better when you consider that in Swedish, the word kulig is a common combination of kul and rolig, both of which mean “fun”.
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Comet Tempel 1 Re-Visited

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Recently my mind has been blown twice. First by listening to the first four songs on Funkadelic’s acid-drenched 1970 album Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow. Then by studying the above picture.

It’s comet Tempel 1. Up close in interplanetary space. And it’s been visited twice by different space probes: first Deep Impact imaged the comet on its way towards the sun in 2005 and shot an impactor point blank at it. Then the Stardust probe, originally designed and launched to meet with another comet, was sent to meet Tempel 1 on its way out again from the sun. Today Stardust imaged the comet and got a clean shot of the surface where the impactor hit 5½ Earth years ago. Science rules, Dear Reader, science rules.

For more Tempel 1 coverage, see Emily Lakdawalla’s blog at the Planetary Society.

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Kitchen Osteology

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I once wrote about a miniature køkkenmødding shell midden that accreted in our kitchen sink when we had oysters (image below). Another type of archaeological assemblage that occurs far more commonly in our house is the chicken or pork bone dump. The chicken bones usually don’t look very archaeological when we throw them out since they tend to be discoloured and still partly covered in soft tissue. But as you can see above, what remains after my wife has cooked pork broth on fläskben, cheap bony butchering leftovers, could be sitting in a tagged zip baggie on any urban dig.

Our boiled pork bones would be particularly interesting to an osteologist as my wife and other Chinese women in our circles like to gnaw them assiduously, sometimes even going so far as to chew the spongiosa structure inside larger bones. I’m not talking marrow here, it’s more like a petrified kitchen sponge that the ladies grind to sand between their teeth. I read somewhere that the reason so many Chinese people go into the restaurant business is that for the past several millennia, not one generation of Chinese people has been spared famine.

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A Narrowed Social Horizon at Facebook

Here’s something Leif Häggström sent me on Facebook, originally apparently written by one Abby Smith.

Have you noticed that you are only seeing updates in your newsfeed from the same people lately? Have you also noticed that when you post things like status messages, photos and links, the same circle of people are commenting and everyone else seems to be ignoring you?

Don’t worry, everyone still loves you and nobody has intentionally blocked you. The problem is that a large chunk of your friend/fan list can’t see anything you post and here’s why:

The “New Facebook” has a newsfeed setting that by default is automatically set to show ONLY posts from people who you’ve recently interacted with or interacted the most with (which would be limited to the couple of weeks just before people started switching to the new profile). So in other words, for both business and personal pages, unless your friends/fans commented on one of your posts within those few weeks or vice versa – you are now invisible to them and they are invisible to you!!

HERE’S THE FIX: Scroll down to the bottom of the newsfeed on the homepage and click on “Edit Options”, click on “Show Posts From” and change the setting to “All Of Your Friends and Pages” Note: This is the fix for personal pages but I am unsure of whether or not the business pages are set up the same way.

Simply posting an update about it won’t do any good because lots of your friends/fans already can’t see your posts by default. You’ll either have to send out a message to everyone on your list (which I’m not even sure business pages can do and is a rather tedious method) or post an event explaining the situation like this one and invite your entire fan base and/or friend list. You can also tweet about it hoping that most of your fellow facebookers are also on twitter.