The Winged Man of UppÃ¥kra

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UppÃ¥kra near Lund is Scandinavia’s largest 1st millennium settlement site and may (for some definitions of “town”) have been the first town north of Germany. Its finds are absolute top-quality and occur in vast numbers. For many object types, there are now more specimens from UppÃ¥kra only than we used to have from all of Sweden. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some 7th/8th century brooch types from the site, and I always read news about the ongoing investigations at UppÃ¥kra with great interest.

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Now they’ve found something unique again. Rolf Petré calls it a mount, possibly for a small exclusive box. The style is in my opinion definitely 8th century (not late-10th as Petré suggests). The piece is unlikely to depict a Judaeo-Christian angel as Christianisation hadn’t come very far in Scandinavia at the time. But as the UppÃ¥kra team notes, Norse mythology offers two immediate interpretations: either a god wearing Freya’s magic falcon cloak, or Wayland the Smith wearing the feathered cloak he made to escape from his captivity with King Niðhad. The second option is attractive, I’d like to add, as we actually have a small exclusive 8th century box bearing Wayland’s image: the Franks Casket.

Congratulations (and huge envy) to the colleagues who get to dig at Uppåkra for a living! Note that thanks to them, this find has an exact, undisturbed stratigraphical context.

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Introducing the Aardvarchaeology Store

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Those free Nigerian scam t-shirts never materialised, but still, the affair prompted me to get some excellent merch art made and set up a web shop. A good thing about this is that now I can offer all three designs submitted by Jim Allen, Stacy Mason and Joe Hewitt!

Dear Reader, hie thee over to Ye New Shoppe and check out the wares! If there’s any item you’re missing and onto which one might conceivably stick the art, then please tell me and I’ll try to add it to the lineup.

Now I want you guys to send me pics of yourselves wearing Aard t-shirts and/or swigging beverages from Aard mugs!

Gothenburg Book Fair

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I visited the Gothenburg Book Fair for the first time because of my new book. The Academy of Letters needed people to put on the Researcher’s Square stage, and conveniently one of their staff had just published a book with them – me. When the local organiser saw me she did a double take because I was way younger than she had come to expect from the Academy.

The book fair, as I understand it, exists to let publishers and writers communicate with each other and their customers, and also to entertain and inform these customers. The main convention hall is packed with display booths and throngs of people. Often someone in the booth, preferably a celebrity, talks to the standers-by on a mike, and so the din is pretty awful. Giving my 15-minute stage presentation felt like I was at a cattle market, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the audience reacted as if they heard what I said and found it interesting. (You have no idea how much audience love you can get just by not reading from a script.) I also had ample time to check out the booths of those few organisations that interest me and talk to acquaintances, and spent most of today handing out leaflets for the Swedish Skeptics. My voice, already shaky from a cold, is in shreds.

Largely, I felt about the book fair like I feel about the magazine racks at news agents. Sooo much stuff that I don’t give a damn about or feel actively hostile towards. In fact, I find that the whole Swedish-language media business is of little interest to me, which made it all the more incomprehensible how the reading public adores a lot of these writers and journalists and broadcasters. There was just any number of these strictly Swedish celebs around, people on bar stools in booths that I am aware of but do not give a flipping shit about. I don’t know if their books are any good and I am not tempted to find out because they treat themes of no interest to me. So the best moments of my Gothenburg stay were time spent with my skeptical peeps and other friends.

Thinking about it though, I realise that the reason that I’m so down on the Swedish media is that I can’t help receiving them to some extent full-spectrum, indiscriminately. I would hate the UK media if I lived in the UK and the US media if I lived there. It’s just that with them, from here, I can partake selectively. The great majority of Anglophone media products, that would leave me bored or angry, never cross my horizon.

Medal For Planting Spruce On Barrows

The top official in charge of protecting and making accessible the archaeological record in Sweden is titled Riksantikvarie, “Antiquarian of the Realm”. In English, this title is usually translated as “Custodian of Ancient Monuments”. How should a person act in practice as custodian of ancient monuments?

Everybody understands that you need to keep people from damaging sites & monuments through digging, ploughing, dynamiting, covering, and graffiti. But you can’t just declare a site out-of-bounds and leave it to its own devices: pretty soon it will become so overgrown that it is unrecognisable and thus neither accessible nor likely to be understood as valuable. In recent decades, the preferred method in Sweden has been to cut down bushes and saplings, leave some sparse tree cover and make an agreement with a local farmer for grazing. If no livestock is available, you have to mow the site regularly.

This method was developed in the early 20th century. Prior to that, Swedish archaeologists (who tended to have an urban bourgeois background) didn’t quite understand how vegetation and the cultural landscape interact. For instance, in 1874 the Royal Academy of Letters awarded its silver token to Carl Johan Peterson of KÃ¥rby in Östergötland, because he had planted spruce all over a mound cemetery. This gets horrified winces when you tell it to colleagues of today. But there’s a wrinkle to this famous story. Peterson planted the spruce to protect the mounds, not to make them look nice. Maybe they were threatened by ploughing, which would have been even more damaging.

My buddy Robert Danielsson (who wrote the book on heritage site management and gave me information about Peterson’s silver token) notes:

“Spruce actually does less damage than for instance birch since the root system keeps to the topsoil and is comprised of fairly few, thick and shallow roots. The trouble with spruce is its tendency to fall over. The idea that birch might be good for sites is a misapprehension as a great number of roots reach to every depth and perforate everything around them. The best tree is the oak that does fairly little damage with its vertical root. From an historical perspective, spruce is also unsuitable since it is a relatively recent arrival in our flora.”

Ancient Swedish Fishers Put Human Heads On Stakes

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The Mesolithic is the period between deglaciation and the introduction of agriculture in Europe (up to about 4000 cal BC in my parts). Within Swedish research into this period in recent years, no single site has been able to compete with the small town of Motala in Östergötland county. Located at a series of rapids on the main waterway from Lake Vättern to the Baltic, the spot has always been important for fishers and travellers. Its Mesolithic record has gained the limelight thanks to major railroad construction in an area with waterlogged sediment that preserves organics. Thus any number of beautiful bone and wood finds, and of course the bone boner covered here before.

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Now my old colleague and buddy Fredrik Hallgren of Stiftelsen KulturmiljövÃ¥rd has gone public with some awesome finds that have only been known from a blog posts and Facebook updates. Here’s their press release, mercilessly edited:

Archaeological excavations in 2009-2011 in Motala have unearthed a unique Mesolithic site with ceremonial depositions of human crania in a former lake. The skulls have been treated in a complex ceremony that involved the display of skulls on stakes and the deposition of skulls in water. The skulls have been radiocarbon-dated and are 8000 years old.

The rituals at Kanaljorden were conducted on a massive stone pavement constructed on the bottom of a shallow lake (currently a peat fen). Some crania were fairly intact while others were found as isolated fragments. The more intact ones represent eleven individuals, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls have had wooden stakes inserted all the way from the base to the top. In another case a woman’s temple bone was found inside the skull of another woman. Besides human skulls, the finds also include a small number of post-cranial human bones and bones from animals, as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler.

The skull depositions at Kanaljorden are clearly ritual in character. The next step is to find out if the human bones are relics of dearly departed that were handled in a complex secondary burial ritual, or trophies of defeated enemies. The archaeologists hope that the ongoing laboratory analysis [stable isotopes] will give clues as to whether the bones are the remains of locals or people with a distant geographic origin, and if they represent a family group or persons unrelated to each other.

I haven’t read the bone report, so I’m not sure if they have any positive evidence to suggest that the skulls were defleshed before being put on the stakes. Their date puts them about 2000 years before the world was made according to Christian fundies. And don’t diss my ancestors, OK? This is a sacred mystery to all of us who are as one with the Swedish soil. I am going to demand the right to grind these bones to a fine powder and drink it down mixed with mellanmjölk, semi-skimmed milk. Because such is the ancient custom that I just made up among us ethnic Swedes.

Hot Troll/Cow Action in Big One Magazine

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Bamse magazine is one of Sweden’s most beloved childrens’ publications, with a readership mainly about age 10. Its title character’s name does mean “The Big One”. But still, I must say that I was as surprised as Bamse himself and the squirrel when I saw what that troll is doing with such glee to the cow on the cover. Also, I wonder if those are silicone udders.

Recent Archaeomags

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Here’s a quick look at the most recent windfall of popular archaeomags that has reached my big black mailbox. I’ve decided to terminate a few of the complimentary subscriptions, so these rundowns will be shorter and/or less frequent in the future. If you want, Dear Reader, you can check back at the five instalments I’ve written since late December: 23 Dec27 Jan15 March30 April14 June.

  • To me, the high point of Archaeology Southwest #25:2 (spring ’11) are two aerial photographs of the Gran Quivira / San Buenaventura mission pueblo in central New Mexico (pp. 6-7). Here is a major Native American pueblo settlement with many very large kivas (round underground ceremonial rooms), all uncovered and neatly preserved – and at one end of the thing are two whopping big cathedral ruins built of exactly the same local stone. What a strange and intriguing historical situation in the 17th century, when Spanish monks supported by armed forces latched onto a local proto-urban culture and diverted its surplus resources to new religious and political ends.
  • Skalk’s August issue (2011:4) presents some new funny gold foil figures and tiny figurines from Bornholm, probably deposited in the 6th century. The figurines are finer versions of the ugly little gold man from Lunda in Södermanland, but some of the foil figures are really strange. They’re not the usual rectangular piece of embossed foil, but the rarer foil cut-out figures – with an oversized face embossed on the chest/belly region (pic above). This face looks distinctly Roman to me. I wonder what they used as a die. Also, I enjoyed a piece by Inge Adriansen on the adventures of the Isted lion, a piece of repeatedly moved 1862 public sculpture caught up in the ethnic tension between Danes and Germans in contested Schleswig.
  • British Archaeology #120 (Sept/Oct) notes that one of the decapitated Vikings found in a Dorset mass grave in 2009 had the horizontal filed grooves on his front teeth that have started to crop up in Viking populations everywhere. Apart from that, I must confess that what mainly caught my eye in this issue was the toothsome young lady operating a magnetometry rig in Stratascan’s advert. Babes always sell, I guess.
  • In Current Archaeology’s October issue (#259), don’t miss the piece on the seventeen 1st / 2nd century altars to Jupiter found in 1870, buried in pits near the Roman fort of Maryport on the coast of Cumbria. Documentation was sketchy at the time, and the idea has been that the altars were ritually decommissioned or hidden. Recent re-excavation of the site showed that in fact, they had been used quite unceremoniously as post packing for a major timber building in the 4th century. I’d like to see the entire ground plan of that thing!

Rode A Paunchy Plane

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Rode a funny plane to Visby: an ATR 72-500. It’s a 1997 version of a French 1988 design with two propellers whose six blades curve rearwards. The rear undercarriage sits in bulky pods on the fuselage, right below the wings. Makes the plane look like it’s got a beer gut. And its cargo bay is right behind the cockpit! Pleasant ride though.