Going to Minnesota

Less than a month now! Dear Aard readers Heather Flowers and Erin Emmerich of the University of Minnesota have invited me to speak there in April. My wife will accompany me and interpret whenever we run into someone who speaks only Mandarin.

Now, Dear Reader: can you offer me further Minnesota speaking gigs to help fund the trip? Pointers to Scandy associations that I should contact? I could speak about pretty much anything Scandy, not just archaeology. Heather has already given me an awesome contact list.

Update 13 March: I’m bumping this entry along month by month to gather more reader suggestions. Our schedule is taking shape:

  • Wed 6 April. Afternoon, touch down at MSP.
  • Thu 7 April. Afternoon, American Swedish Institute tour.
  • Thu 7 April. Late evening, bar get-together with the Minnesota Skeptics at the Duplex Bar.
  • Fri 8 April. Lunch, speak at Archaeology Consortium (U Minn archaeology grad students and faculty) on Bronze Age sacrificial sites.
  • Fri 8 April. Evening, gaming night with Ian Light and other members of the Anthro Club.
  • Sat 9 April. Speak at U Minn undergraduate anthropology conference on the Migration Period Scandy gold binge and its Merovingian Period hangover.
  • Sun 10 April. Morning, appear on Minnesota Atheists radio show with Greg Laden.
  • Sun 10 April. Brunch at Q Cumbers.
  • Mon 11 April. Afternoon, take off home from MSP.

Hot Rectal Peat Douche

“The main strength of the book lies in the description of the numerous ways in which peat was utilised in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author clearly proves that peat is a fascinating substance with qualities that made it suitable for a wide variety of tasks, from horse bedding, to soap and paper manufacture and as a soil improver and building material. In the UK and Germany its properties were even promoted in health spas, with treatments such as immersion in hot electrified peat and the even less enticing hot rectal peat douche.”

Richard Brunning reviewing Ian Rotherham’s 2009 book Peat and Peat Cutting in the journal Landscapes 11:1 (2010), p. 108

Many Sb readers have a hard time getting onto the server right now. I have trouble posting. This is apparently due to DDoS attacks. The reading problem can be circumnavigated by accessing Sb through Google Reader or similar services.

Draft Bill Threatens Future Quality Of Swedish Contract Archaeology


In Sweden, as increasingly in the entire industrialised world, the cost of archaeological rescue excavations rests upon the land developer. This is known as “contract archaeology” or, euphemistically, “mitigation”. Here it’s largely an affair within the public sector: most of the fieldwork takes place because of state road and railroad projects, and most of the contracts are picked up by state or county organisations. Though private foundations and limited companies do operate here, Swedish contract archaeology is mainly a question of routing money from taxpayers to public-sector archaeologists via a circuitous path.

When Swedish public money is spent, a market competition mechanism like that in private business has increasingly been used in recent decades to ensure maximum bang for the buck. All public jobs above a certain expected cost must be put out to tender. For each new stretch of highway, the National Road Administration’s people knows e.g. what quality asphalt they need in what quantities and by what date. They decide what they need and they haggle with contractors for it. But there’s one exception to this system: contract archaeology.

Land developers are required by Swedish law to buy archaeology. The County Archaeologist decides the quantity they have to buy, that is, how much evaluation and trial digs and, finally, how many square meters of final archaeological fieldwork. And the County Archaeologist also decides the quality, that is, how many archaeologist hours and specialist analyses the developer will have to buy per square meter.

The reason for the exception is that while asphalt quality is an easily gauged and mission-critical parameter in the success of a highway project, the quality of the rescue archaeology is not. If the road engineers hire a more expensive asphalt company, the road improves. If they hire a more expensive archaeological contractor, the road is unchanged, but the project gets finished later, which is really bad for them.

But individuals and private firms are also forced to buy a certain amount of archaeology in Sweden, mainly to prepare for the erection of houses. Share holders in private companies of course watch the bottom line, and if the company staff makes unnecessary outlays, the share holders get pissed off.

This explains why contract archaeology cannot be put out to tender in the manner of asphalt work: the people forced to buy contract archaeology have strong incentives to ignore the quality of the product. They have very good reasons to go exclusively for a low price and a speedy delivery, quality be damned. And yet, the whole of Swedish archaeology is now up in arms because a Government draft bill (departementspromemoria) suggests that archaeology’s exception to the tender rules should be removed in order to increase competition.

According to this suggestion, the County Archaeologist would only be allowed to decide which units are competent to take on jobs, and then the land developers would pick the bid they like for each job. Pretty much everyone on either side of the fence agrees that it would be entirely unprofessional for land developers in the public and private sector to go for anything but the cheapest option. The bill simply shows that its Conservative authors are blinded by an ideological commitment to market capitalism and don’t care about archaeology.

As I said, Swedish contract archaeology is mainly a question of routing money from taxpayers to public-sector archaeologists via a circuitous path. I believe that we could take some of the inefficiency and overhead out of this system by sending the money straight from the public coffer to the excavation units without shunting it through the National Road Administration. This would also remove the pretense that land developers care about archaeology and emphasise that the cultural heritage is a public resource. The County Archaeologists’ offices should still be allowed to decide on quantity and quality for each project, as they do today. But they should be made to conform to a national standard, as these things vary widely between counties under the current system.

More views of the increased-competition bill (please tell me if I’ve missed someone):

Recent Sb Flakiness Caused by DDoS Attacks

Dear Bloggers,

We have been forwarding reports from bloggers and users to our hosting service, Rackspace, over the past few days. After monitoring our traffic and these reports, Rackspace has determined that ScienceBlogs is experiencing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and has blocked a range of IP addresses involved. While this means that ScienceBlogs is now loading correctly for most users, the attack is still ongoing and other users may still encounter sporadic loading problems, or be blocked entirely if they were incorrectly included in these preventative measures.

We’re still working with Rackspace to determine how and why this has occurred, and to get the site 100% accessible again, but in the meantime, we’d like to collect IP addresses from users who are still experiencing problems. Please ask anyone who has brought this problem to your attention to send their IP address to webmaster@scienceblogs.com. If they have trouble locating their IP address, you can send them to this site: http://whatismyipaddress.com/

Please also let us know if you are having any trouble accessing the backend of your blogs.

Wes Dodson

Antiquity Archaeological Photography Prize


From the York office of archaeology’s equivalent of Nature:

Antiquity invites the submission of high-quality archaeological photographs for publication in the journal.

Two photographs will be selected and published each quarter. A judging panel will decide the best photograph published each year and a cash prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner.

Photographs must be sent as digital images at a minimum width of 135mm @ 300 pixels per inch and a maximum height of 165mm. All photographs should be accompanied by a short caption providing details of the site/artefact, when the image was taken, where the image was taken from, what are the circumstances of the site/find, the date of the site/find and technical specifications of the image.

Portrait orientated images are preferred.

Please send submissions to assistant [at] antiquity [dot] ac [dot] uk

There is no closing date for receipt of entries. Please see our website for 2009’s winning photograph (bottom of the home page http://antiquity.ac.uk/) [see above: Chris Doyal’s “Underwater archaeology off Haserot Beach, Old Mission Peninsula”]. The winning image from 2010 will be announced shortly.

All good wishes,

Martin Carver

Shores of Ancient Sweden

i-6dbead8ecaf69b12cbf30eb9c9fdd914-Vardinge 1000 BC 500 px.png

The National Geological Survey of Sweden has put an interactive deglaciation and shoreline displacement model for the country on-line for free. You can download detailed hi-res maps of your favourite parts of Sweden for 0-16 thousand years ago, and a few thousand years into the future! (But only at intervals of whole millennia.) Invaluable for Swedish prehistorians!

Above is the area between LÃ¥ngbro and Hjortsberga in VÃ¥rdinge parish, Södermanland, where I’m planning some fieldwork, as it looked in 1000 BC according to current knowledge of the shoreline displacement process. I scouted the area out last spring and found a cupmark boulder. It’s on a known settlement & burial site located on the southern shore of the long-gone lake in the middle of the map.

Thanks to Kenneth Alexandersson for the tip-off.

Bavarian Ancient Meteorite Hypothesis Refuted, Gently but Crushingly

I’ve told you before about the Chiemgau Impact Hypothesis, where a small group of researchers cultivate a minority view of a glaciogenic lake basin in Bavaria as a meteorite crater dating from the 1st Millennium BC. Here on Aard I’ve published a paper in collaboration with geologists Robert Huber and Robert Darga where we explain that it’s an unlikely fringe idea. And now a peer-reviewed paper (pay wall) has appeared in Antiquity where the hypothesis is refuted, gently but crushingly.

Gerhard Doppler and colleagues at the Geology Service of the Bavarian State Board for the Environment explain the geology of Lake Tüttensee and offer new radiocarbon dates from a drill core in the lake sediments, demonstrating that indeed, the basin formed at the end of the Ice Age just as every German geologist has known for a century or more.

The idea of a meteorite impact during the Iron Age has been advocated by the Chiemgau Impact Research Team (to which most of the authors of the Antiquity article belong) and has been eagerly taken up by the media. However, multiple geological, archaeological and astronomical arguments are contrary to this interpretation. Moreover, new data show that the Tüttensee basin originated not 2500 years ago but 12 500 years ago, i.e. at the end of the Ice Age. We can only conclude that the interpretation of the Phaethon myth by Rappenglück et al. (2010) is pure speculation.

The Chiemgau group, characteristically, respond with an ad hoc hypothesis: they suggest (without any evidence) that the sediment sequence studied by Doppler et al. actually formed beside the lake and has slid into the “crater” some time after an impact in the 1st millennium BC.

New Archaeopottery by Pablo Zalama


I’ve shown samples of Spanish archaeopotter Pablo Zalama’s Beaker Culture pieces before. Here are some new replica Roman lamps of his.


If only Swedish pottery had been this good prior to the High Middle Ages! OK, the burnished ware of Öland and Gotland in the Early Roman Period is good. And some of the stamped ware of Gotland’s Migration Period isn’t bad either. But when I read Thomas Eriksson’s recent & solid PhD thesis on our Bronze Age and Earliest Iron Age pottery, I almost wept at how ugly and poorly fired the stuff is.


Skiing Holiday, Broken Bone

Sweden is shaped like a ski, and people live mainly in the southern quarter, but in the other three-quarters there are many skiing resorts. I’ve been going there every few years since I was three. I’m not a competitive or particularly elegant down-hill skier, but I enjoy it and I can get down all kinds of slopes and I rarely fall.

In recent years my wife and I have taken the kids to one of the country’s southernmost skiing resorts, simply because if one of you is going to spend most of their time on the kiddy slope with a neophyte, then there is little reason to drive for seven hours one way. My wife had tired of Romme near Borlänge, so this year she did the booking and put us in BjursÃ¥s near Falun. It took us less than four hours to get there from Fisksätra, lunch break included.

BjursÃ¥s (“beaver sauce”) offers a modest number of ski lifts and slopes, and few of the latter are very long or steep. This was the year when Juniorette really became a serious skier, who ploughs down the slopes at considerable speed with little fear and few falls. And Junior is an excellent babysitter & skiing partner these days, so part of the time they zipped around on their own.

I don’t like gadget sports. I enjoy buying as little gear as possible, so this year I wore a cap I bought at the Great Wall outside Beijing years ago, a staff jacket from the VästerÃ¥s town paper that my wife got me when she worked there in ’99, a pair of gloves someone left at my house one gaming night, and faded jeans. But oldest of all was my actual skiing gear: given to me by my parents in ’88 and still sporting my childhood phone number written in my dad’s hand. Quality stuff, I just sharpen the steel edges now and then and I’m fine. The boots are actually the best I’ve seen, with a single open/close latch instead of the crazy Gigeresque alien armour current ski boots look like. (I remember now that I wrote about my gear last winter too.)

Anyway, to my dismay I broke one of my poles this year. I was in a sitting lift with a mid-slope station, and when me and Junior passed that station one of my poles got lodged against the wooden deck and bent. Aluminum cylinder, broke when I tried to straighten it. So goodbye 80s ski pole. Still, I did have one perfectly usable one left… So I went down to the rental shop and asked if they had any solitary ski poles of the right length. Sure enough, they did – and they gave me one for free. So now I’ve got mismatched recycled skiing poles and I feel pretty smug about not throwing away gear or money unnecessarily.

Distinctly non-smug is how I felt yesterday afternoon though when Junior came down a light slope at his usual sane clip, braked, fell over in front of me and broke his left arm. So we spent last night at Falun main hospital. But as my friend David the physiotherapist commented, if you must break a bone, break your radius. The ulna will keep it straight and it’ll heal just fine. In this case, we were particularly lucky about it: it’s a “green stick fracture” with no displacement of the bone ends at the break, which is pretty much the kind of fracture you’ll want if you must snap off your radius. And of course you’ll prefer to break your second hand, not your first.

Did you know that patients are no longer encouraged to carry their broken arms in a sling? Apparently this causes immobilisation, muscle atrophy and poor circulation, all of which prolongs and impedes rehabilitation. So Junior walks around with his plaster resting on his left-hand shoulder and uses his left-hand fingers for sundry small tasks. But he complains about difficulties when using the bathroom, and last night I washed his face for him the way I used to when he was a little kid.

Oh, and one of the slopes is named Pot Nook, HarsprÃ¥nget. Dalecarlian stoners…

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