A Day Spent With Diggers

Spent most of the day in Stockholm County Council’s building in town, where our new County Archaeologist Maria Malmlöf had convened a seminar for the region’s excavation units. The agenda was for everybody to present some highlights from last contract archaeology season in Stockholm County. These seminars have apparently been going on for years, but since I don’t work in contract archaeology I haven’t been invited before. This time a friend told me about the event, I asked the organisers if I might come, and they bid me welcome.

I really like events like these: it’s so rare for me to meet my local colleagues in any numbers. The last time I can recall was a rock art seminar in Enköping last May. But it’s starting to show that I haven’t been in the business for more than eight years: I didn’t recognise any of the younger just-graduated archaeologists at the seminar. But it was great to say hi to so many old friends, some actually going back all the way to my first undergrad term. And over lunch I made some new friends from the Archaeological Research Lab.

As for what was presented, I must say that if anything really cool turned up in the county last year (on a par with, say, the Mesolithic sites in Motala two counties over), they didn’t talk about it until I had left at half past two. A fragment of a Migration Period picture stone from a cemetery at Arninge in Täby is very nice, but not exactly unheard of, and nothing can really be said about what the image on the poor vandalised stone was.

So what interested me most was not what people had found but their methodology. Jim Hansson’s talk about how the Museum of Maritime History does underwater field evaluations and trial digs in Lake Mälaren taught me a lot. Underwater contract archaeology has really become an established part of the development process of late.

And Wivianne Bondesson, Cecilia Grusmark and quaternary geologist Jonas Bergman from the National Heritage Board’s Stockholm unit had my full attention when they described an evaluation in a bog scheduled for commercial peat extraction, Kvarnsjön at Tullinge in Botkyrka. Their work there was similar to some that I directed in a bog on Djurö in 2008, only unlike my team they actually found something interesting: well-preserved wooden structures.

And that leaves us with a heritage-management conundrum. Statistically speaking, judging from the small percentage excavated of the total area, and from the number of wooden structures found, the bottom of the Kvarnsjön bog must harbour hundreds of such structures. But we can’t machine off the peat and dig under it, because the peat extractors want the peat and can’t afford to have archaeologists extract it for them. So by rights, an archaeologist should be there all the time just doing an endless watching brief while the company digs the peat. Which might (I don’t know) make the operation unprofitable. Anyway, I plan to dig a lot of test pits in bogs this summer, so this unusual contract dig was of great interest to me.

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Weekend Fun

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  • Celebrated 100th birthday of my mom’s aunt, a sprightly and clear-minded lady who likes conversation and hugs and has no problem recognising her niece’s kids who rarely visit.
  • Attended concert with six kids’ choirs (including Juniorette’s). One of the choirs had five boys, the others <=1.
  • House-warming party at my buddy Moomin’s new place. Very happy to see the guy get a real home where he can entertain his friends instead of the dusty broom closet he slept in for so many years.
  • Watched the hit musical version of Kipling’s Jungle Book at the Stockholm City Theatre. Lots of references to movies and current topics, including merciless digs at the xenophobic Swedish Democrat Party. Frank N. Further from Rocky Horror as Bagheera! Good stuff.
  • Played boardgames: Hansa, Power Grid and For Sale.

What did you do for fun, Dear Reader?

Are Today’s Allergics Yesterday’s Survivors?

Before modern hygiene and housing standards, children died in droves of infections in the West. Now few do, but instead they are increasingly bothered by allergies, which are immune-system malfunctions. The current view among researchers is that there is a connection here. Live in dirt, and you will get infections that may kill you, but you won’t get allergies.

The Skeptikerpodden podcast has an interesting interview with bacteriologist Agnes Wold that touches upon about this issue. It made me wonder.

The kids who get allergies today: are they the ones who would have survived 200 years ago, or are they the ones who would have died? Or would there be no strong correlation between the outcomes if it could be tested?

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Halland Archaeology Journal

i-e3fa17d0b53adcc1b9736987d0893d5d-nmc33367av-lores.JPGUtskrift is a book-format archaeological research journal put out roughly biannually by Kulturmiljö Halland, the heritage management section and excavation unit of the Halland County Museum in Halmstad. The language is Swedish, with English abstracts and summaries. The first issue appeared in 1991, the eleventh in 2010, and that latter issue was generously sent to me by my buddy Leif Häggström who happens to be Utskrift’s current editor.

The journal has a funny title: Utskrift means “printout”, and I don’t know why they chose this. Possibly as a reply, another regional journal was once called Tidskrift. This simply means “periodical” but also more literally “writing on time”. It was a neat pun, but understandably they changed it – for the same reason as there is no soft drink named “Soft Drink”. These days that other journal’s name is Urminne, “beyond living memory” or “ancient memory”.

Turning to the editorial craftsmanship, I like Utskrift’s layout, the images and the print quality. I must however say with regret that Leif Häggström, a man who knows how to do almost everything in this world and does it well, cannot copy-edit, least of all his own contributions. This task should be entrusted to someone’s retired school-teacher aunt next time.

Utskrift 2011 offers nine archaeological papers and two obituaries of Halland archaeologists. The editor has written three of the contributions, Linn Mattsson two, Per Wranning one and a quarter. Most contributors are employees of Kulturmiljö Halland. It’s largely an in-house affair and involves no external reviewers.

The longest contribution (34 pp.) is right up my street thematically speaking. Lena Bjuggner et al. report on their work with the 1st millennium precursor of the town Laholm, an elite settlement and trading site of the kind that I’ve been chasing around Östergötland for years. They have found (p. 62, fig. 12) an 8th century domed oval brooch of the kind I’ve written about, closely similar to #540 in my catalogue (pic above). That brooch (Copenhagen NM 33367) was found at Humlebakken in Nørre-Tranders near Ålborg in Jutland. It’s not far by boat from Laholm. The size and decoration of these brooches indicate a date in the early-to-mid 8th century.

The find from Laholm calls to mind something that I wrote in my brooch paper (p. 172): “As the brooches under study do not form standardised types and as we have small groups of closely similar brooches (variants) from separate sites, any assignment of unique status must be provisional. Chances are that today’s unique piece may in the future be revealed as a member of a small cohesive group. This is particularly likely in areas such as Götaland [and Halland, I might add] where few brooches have been found at all.”

The second-longest paper (27 pp.) by Anders HÃ¥kansson and Christina Rosén is both archaeology and historical geography, treating the Medieval development of the village of Träslöv. This place has been eclipsed in the public mind by its old fishery site, Träslövsläge, which was Halland’s main fishing port in the past century. A solid study with good maps.

Linn Mattsson’s paper (20 pp.) treats a huge Early Bronze Age long-house, 45.5 by 11 m, that she excavated on the outskirts of Halmstad. I heard her present this site at the Nordic Bronze Age Symposium in Helsinki in 2009. Cool stuff.

The volume also offers shorter papers surveying wood anatomy and osteologically analysed animal bones, presenting Bronze Age and 19th century metalworking finds briefly, and a series of photographs from the 2008 excavation and conservation of the Skrea backe cauldron burial (previously covered here on Aard).

All in all I find that there’s a lot of interesting stuff being done by smart and capable people in Halland’s archaeology. I look forward to reading the next issue of Utskrift.

Update 7 February: Erik Rosengren, head of field archaeology at Kulturmiljö Halland, explains,

“The name ‘Printout’ came about because we had a lot of unpublished manuscripts lying around, and in 1991 there weren’t a lot of venues where we could publish them. So we simply put a number of WordPerfect documents together and pressed the ‘print’ button, and out came issue #1 that we photocopied and stapled together! Quite a few things have changed productionwise since that time, but the basic idea remains. The contents have never necessarily been about Halland or written in-house.[Also see this excerpt from Rosengren’s preface to the first issue.]

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Global Population Speak-Out

This time of year I’ve repeatedly been taking part in the Global Population Speak-Out, reminding my Dear Readers that a lot of humanity’s main problems could (and will) be solved by shrinking the planet’s human population drastically. It’s up to us: either we quit having enough children to replace the people who die, thus easing population down over centuries, or our numbers will crash catastrophically though war, famine and pandemics. In other words: let’s turn down nativity or we will see mortality turned up on us, each producing similar effects.

It is in my opinion unethical for anyone to sire/bear more than two children. If you want a third and a fourth kid, adopt. And support girl schools: educated women have fewer babies.

Previously on Aard about overpopulation: 2008, 2009, 2010.

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