On My Mind, Sunday


  • I’m a single dad now for two weeks while my wife’s in China shooting interviews for a documentary series.
  • Aard’s been getting a lot of comment spam lately, and the filter isn’t working properly, so I’ve turned on comment moderation.
  • After digging in that cave I did four hours of metal detecting at the Lilla Härnevi hoard site because it has been ploughed and harrowed since April when we were there in force. Only one semi-worthwhile metal find: one of those fyrk coins of Queen Christina’s. Also two pieces of knapped imported flint, and Magdalena found a grindstone. No hoard bits.
  • I bought two LED lamps for the cave dig. When I put batteries into one of them it emitted a puff of smoke smelling of burnt circuitry. Never seen AA batteries do that before. The other lamp worked though.
  • 8-y-o Juniorette held her own against three adults at Hansa and Acquire yesterday.
  • Finished reading Erik Davis’s 2010 essay collection Nomad Codes last night. He’s a materialist who’s into non-believing spirituality and hallucinogenic drugs and who writes really well. Some really good stuff in there, despite (or thanks to) his alien world of thought!
  • I find that Twitter (follow me there) is robbing the blog of short entries. Below are some recent tweets.
  • Took the Beatles 3 yrs from “She loves you yeah yeah yeah” to “Lay down all thought, surrender to the void, it is shining”.
  • As an archaeologist, I dig while William Burroughs.
  • Are self-torturing Indian holy men sadhu-masochists?
  • You could prepare for a zombie walk by burying a set of clothes together with some pork for a year.
  • Visby house for sale with in situ Medieval burial under glass in basement.

What’s on your mind, Dear Reader?

Three Days Digging in a Cave


Few Swedish caves contain any known archaeology, and those that do mainly feature Mesolithic and Neolithic habitation layers. The Pukberget (“Devil’s Mountain”) cave near Enköping is a rare exception. In the mid-20th century a fox hunter crawled into the cave and felt his way around. His questing hands encountered something on a ledge which he put in his coat pocket. When he came out into the open air, he saw that he’d found a bronze spearhead and a horse tooth. Both are now in the Museum of National Antiquities. The spearhead dates from the Late Bronze Age, about 700 BC.

I’ve spent the past three days at Pukberget in a joint bid with the Stockholm County Museum to find further archaeology there. With my hard-working colleagues Magdalena Forsgren and Margareta Boije, I dragged a lot of equipment up the hill and into the cave, which is a beautiful maze of cracks between huge gneiss blocks formed when the hill shattered in some ancient post-glacial earthquake. We opened two square-meter pits in the floor layer, dug them down to rock (c. 35 cm) and screened the layers in lamplight. Sadly we found no sign of any human presence beneath the late-20th century hiker’s fireplaces with their tea-candle cups, broken bottles and pieces of smashed flashlights. Instead there was just a layer of clean beige sediment deposited before the ceiling rock started to flake. A half-metre square in the toss zone below the fine overhang outside one of the cave entrances proved similarly unenlightening. It was fun and exotic to dig in a cave, though.

As my fieldwork habits go, 2011 has been a good year from a variety perspective, with work at six different sites within one project. My luck has not been great though: hardly any relevant finds at all. This is not unexpected since I’m playing a much higher-risk game this time around. You can’t miss the 1st millennium graves I wrote my thesis about. The coeval settlements that I’ve worked with in recent years are also pretty easy to pick up. Not so with the sacrificial sites of the Bronze Age.

A Lot On My Plate

Feels like I’ve got a bit too much on my plate right now. Tonight’s boardgame night, so I need to get everything packed up before dinner. “Pack up what?”, I hear you say. Well, I’m spending the next couple of days digging & sieving test pits in a cave near Enköping where a Bronze Age spearhead has been found. While I’m there I’m also going to do half a day or so of renewed metal detecting at one of the hoard sites that proved non-productive back in April. The farmer has ploughed and harrowed the spot so new stuff may have emerged up into detector reach. During fieldwork I also have to host & chair a board meeting with the Skeptics and make sure somebody gets Juniorette to school and back every day for her first week of second grade.

The week after that I need to prepare a talk on the picture stones of Gotland, hand in a short book review and copy-edit the contents of the Skeptic Society’s quarterly. And then, 2½ weeks from now, I’m off to Visby for a symposium about those picture stones.

All I can do now is list the things I’ve got to do in priority order and focus on them one at a time. What about you, Dear Reader? Got a lot to fix these days?

Joe’s Aard T-shirt Design


Joseph Hewitt of Ataraxia Theatre is the artist who rendered almost the entire ScienceBlogs stable as zombies last summer. He has submitted the third t-shirt design, and when I saw it I thought, “Screw the reader’s poll, this is the one I want!”. So although I’d very proudly wear shirts with the designs by Stacy Mason and Jim Allen/Sweeney too, I’ve decided to go with Joe’s image. Keep your eyes open for a future sweepstakes.

Fixing the Shed’s Door


Earlier this summer I did some upkeep on the board fence, pergola and yard gate of my house. Swapped some rotten boards and beams, put on some paint, whacked a few nails back in that had crept out. Easy work since I didn’t have to design anything: I just measured the original parts and copied them with fresh material. And today I cycled to the builder’s store and brought a few short boards home to fix the door of the garden shed. The lower four boards were rotten. Pleasing work, not least because I noted the need myself and did the job in my own good time.

What about you, Dear Reader? Done any carpentry lately?

Swedes Confused About Slugs


All multicellular land species of life in Scandinavia are invasive: the area was covered by kilometres of ice until yesterday, geologically speaking. But some species are more recent invaders than others. Where I live, we currently have three species of large-bodied snail or slug: the Black slug (Arion ater, Sw. svart skogssnigel), the Burgundy snail (Helix pomatia, Sw. vinbergssnäcka) and the Spanish slug, (Arion vulgaris, Sw. spansk skogssnigel). That’s the order in which they arrived: the Blacks during prehistory, the Burgundians most likely during the Middle Ages, and the Spaniards from 1975 onward.

Now, both of our two species of slug vary a lot in their looks, and their ranges of variation coincide to such an extent that the public can’t tell them apart. The only rule seems to be that unlike the Spaniards, some Blacks are really coal black. Out of 1200 specimens of suspected Spaniards submitted to the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History in the 1980s, 60% were actually endemic Blacks. But they behave differently: the Spaniards are serious garden pests and not very cold-tolerant, while the Blacks are less problematic to gardeners but more hardy. Also, the Spaniards are notable for cannibalism, giving them the ominous vernacular name “Killer slug”, Sw. mördarsnigel.

To my annoyance, many people born after the Spaniards came to Sweden now don’t know that the Black slug exists and is no great problem for gardeners. Yesterday I saw a little girl kill a slug she found on a bike path. When I asked her why, she explained that it was a killer slug and must be killed, or it would ruin somebody’s garden. “Killer slugs are brown, have no shell and look like turds.” She’d never heard of the Black slug. When I explained that most slugs that look like turds are not killer slugs, she asked, “So how do I tell them apart?”. “You can’t”, I replied.

Ship Spotting

i-0f15ac9280078a390216413918d7197b-2011-08-03 10.39.27 lores.jpg

Last Wednesday this brig came past my mom’s summer house off Bullandö in the Stockholm archipelago. It’s the Eye of the Wind, built in 1911 at Brake in Lower Saxony and originally christened Friedrich. It’s featured in the 1980 movie The Blue Lagoon.

Did you know that there’s actually a ship spotting web site?

Stacy’s Aard T-shirt Design


Here’s the second t-shirt design suggestion, from Stacy Mason! Compare the first one from Jim Allen/Sweeney.

And Barn Owl has volunteered to distribute the shirts! So unless a third design comes my way soon, I’ll set up an on-line poll to decide which image goes onto the Aardvarchaeology t-shirts, and then place the order.

Current Archaeology’s August Issue

i-34762278f33e1a2f641ec956b2d647ee-CA257-cover.jpgI always enjoy reading Current Archaeology, both for the quality content and for the simple fact that it’s about the UK, an area whose archaeology I have some little insight into and a great deal of interest in. (My interest hinges largely on the many similarities with the Swedish record and my knowledge of the language.)

The cover story of the current issue (#257, August) treats contract excavations at a graveyard near the original Bedlam mental hospital in London, or the priory of St Mary of Bethlehem as it was originally known when founded in 1247. The burials actually don’t have much to do with the institution itself: Early Modern London had a great need for new cemeteries, and so one was established on reclaimed wetland next to Bedlam in 1568. It was used for about two centuries before being razed and built over.

At Richborough just south of Thanet is an important Roman shore fort and settlement with standing 3rd century walls, covered here in a feature piece. This may be where the first legions made landfall in AD 43. I was amazed to learn that the fort used to have an enormous marble triumphal arch, erected in the 80s AD to celebrate the conquest of Britain. (It was torn down after two centuries, the imported marble kilned to make concrete for the present defensive walls.) A Medieval chapel to St Augustine commemorates the supposed landfall here of another kind of conqueror – the Apostle of England.

Shaw Cairn in the Peak District is an Early Bronze Age monument that has yielded several burials with fine objects. Sadly, this is another case where weak late-20th century UK heritage law allowed poorly executed and unreported excavations (like Bamburgh Castle). The best has been made of the situation, with a publication of such data as survives and new excavations and geophys. But I was surprised to see this damaged 16 m diameter cairn now being trial-trenched in this day and age. Either you find funds to dig the mutha and get the big picture, or you leave it alone, I say. It’s not a bloody garden allotment.

Current Archaeology has a new editor, Matthew Symonds, and the mag still offers all the goodness we’ve come to expect. Only there’s this thing about copy editing, you know, where you find all the words correctly spelled thanks to the spell checker, but sometimes it’s the wrong words?

In the last issue we got “rights of passage” for rites of passage (plus another slip in the same article that I’ve forgotten). In issue 257 we get two doozies in the same text box on p. 34: “ridged” for rigid and “augurs” for augers. That last one is funny as an augur was “an ancient Roman religious official who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens”. The sentence thus turns out “The framework [of a Late Medieval hall building] was assembled on the ground with saws, chisels and [ancient Roman religious officials foretelling the future]”. Those priests cannot have augered well.

Update 10 August: Aaaand in the September issue, on p. 35, we have another “young person’s right of passage”. Come on people, should you really need a Swede to teach you English anthro terminology?