Bellman’s Pale Rhenish

Dear Reader, please try saying “ENSKTBLEH”. Yes, six consonants in a row. ENSKTBLEH. OK? Now sing it, loudly and happily. Go!

I’ve spent three happy days at the first ever Picture Stone Symposium in Visby, listening to papers, moderating some bits and giving a presentation of my own that went down pretty well. And one evening I was reminded of a) that I’m a weird singer, b) that one of C.M. Bellman’s least felicitous phrases occurs in one of his best-beloved song lyrics.

During a reception Thursday night in the Picture Stone Hall of the Gotland County Museum, a UK colleague asked me and a lady whose name I didn’t catch to sing something in Swedish. She suggested Bellman’s Bort allt vad oro gör, “Begone All Troubles”, and we went at it. Now, I don’t have great vocal range, defined as the number of notes between the lowest and highest ones I can comfortably sing. But my main problem is where that range is on the scale. My high tenor is out of phase with most people’s ranges, so when this lady intoned the song, she put it right in a spot where I couldn’t do the whole thing without frequently switching octaves. Sigh.

“Begone All Troubles” is about relaxing and sampling wines. And this is where Bellman makes the singer go ENSKTBLEH. Vad det var läckert! Vad var det? Rhenskt bleckert? Oui, Monseigneur. “This was really good! What was it? Pale Rhenish? Yes Sir.” RhENSKTBLEckert. Silly drunken poet.

The word bleckert fell out of use more than a century ago. It is a cognate of “bleach” and Sw. blek, “pale”. The vintage may still be around though: apparently it was made in the area between Coblenz and Andernach. What’s it called nowadays?


By the Great Pharaoh

When annoyed, my dad (born in ’43) will sometimes use a pretty awesome expletive that has largely fallen out of fashion. Men dÃ¥ fÃ¥r han väl se till och ordna det dÃ¥, för höge farao! “So he’d better make sure to get it done then, by the Great Pharaoh!”

This expression belongs to a common category of mild Swedish curses where a word similar to something nastier is used. Farao is similar to fan, “devil”. Likewise, we’ll say jösses (Jesus), tusan (a thousand [devils]) and sjutton (seventeen [thousand devils]) . Meanwhile, Swedish doesn’t even have a word for “bugger” and the activity seems not to have been spoken much of until recently.

Enigma at Dawn

Dear Reader, help me interpret this odd situation.

It’s 5:40 in the morning. I’m on my way to the commuter train. Passing the vacant lot of the closed school that burned in ’06, I first see a van that stands with flat rear tyres backed into the leca gravel that covers the house foundation. It bears the logo of a housing company and looks slightly beat up.

Then I see a grizzled long-haired man kneeling in the gloom under a tree next to a partly dismantled red four wheel motorbike. Its seat is on the ground. The guy is frantically tearing up tufts of grass as if he’s dropped some small part of the bike. With his right hand he holds a small LED flashlight. He ignores me. I’m short for time and I feel a little uneasy, so I offer no assistance. In two hours or so, lots of people will be walking this path.

What was that about?!

Me and My New Book


Rundkvist, Martin. 2011. Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats. Elite Settlements and Political Geography AD 375-1000 in Östergötland, Sweden. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien (KVHAA), Handlingar, Antikvariska serien 49. Stockholm 2011. 165 pp. ISBN 978-91-7402-405-0.

The Swedish province of Östergötland has long been recognised as one of the 1st millennium’s political hot spots. Splendid single finds, though never before surveyed comprehensively, offer a rough idea of where elite settlements might be sought. But not one of the ostentatious manorial buildings where the era’s elite lived has been identified in the field. This book aims at beginning to remedy this regional absence of mead-halls, being an investigation of the internal political geography of Östergötland during the period AD 375-1000. Good candidate sites are identified in nine out of c. 155 parishes. Apparently they were occupied only rather briefly by magnates, and there is little sign of continuity anywhere.

Key words
Archaeology, Early Medieval, Sweden, Östergötland, Viking, elite, political geography


And here’s how happy I was back on 6 March 2003 when the first volume of my PhD thesis was delivered from the printers:

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Ravlunda Cemetery Rebuttal


In 2009, geologist Nils Axel Mörner and Bob G. Lind (and a distinguished third author who was not consulted about having his name on the publication) had a paper published in Geografiska Annaler about the Ravlunda 169 cemetery. This was an outcome of the pair’s unauthorised digging at the site in 2007. The paper is a mess and shouldn’t have been accepted. Tellingly, the topic is archaeology and quaternary geology, while none of the authors is an archaeologist and the journal is about geography.

Now Alun Salt and I have replied to Mörner & Lind’s paper, also in Geografiska Annaler. At the publishers’ request I have agreed not to put the paper on-line, but anyone who wants to read it, just e-mail me.

Salt, A. and Rundkvist, M., 2011. Letter to the editor: Sunset on Heimdall’s stones. A view from archaeology and archaeoastronomy of the Ravlunda 169 Iron Age cemetery. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, 93, 193-196. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00428.x

In other news, my Mead-halls book has arrived from the printers!!! Photo evidence tomorrow, complimentary copies will be mailed shortly, and I’ll put the on-line ordering link on the blog as soon as I get it.

Nigerian T-Shirt Scam?

The t-shirt deal is starting to look like a Nigerian scam. The original offer was that I would get some free printed t-shirts from if I advertised about their site. Now have a load of this:

Do you have an American credit card? … I know that you’re getting the sponsorship amount off your order, but our site automatically charges every customer one cent as a security measure no matter what their total. Even my boss has to do this when ordering with the company card. I should have mentioned this earlier but did not think of it at the time. It’s a feature that some people find extremely off putting but others don’t mind. Do you mind?

A Nigerian scam (or advance-fee fraud) of course typically takes the form of an offer out of the blue for something valuable, like a million dollars (or a bunch of free tee shirts), with the condition that you need to give up something less valuable first, like $10 000 (or your credit card number). And Ooshirts aren’t willing to go through with the sponsorship deal unless they get my credit card number and one cent. The company has received decidedly mixed on-line reviews, and the positive ones tend to be pasted boilerplate text. So I ain’t going there unless Ooshirts clean up their act and take a straightforward approach to sponsorship.

Anyway, we have an excellent design for Aard merch now. I know about Dear Reader, are there other on-line merch shops I should consider? Most of you guys are in the the continental US, so that would be a good place to ship the shirts from.

Sun Horses

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Scandinavian Bronze Age art features a number of motifs having to do with the movement of the sun through the heavens during the day and the underworld during the night. Here on Aard, we’ve previously seen a recently found sun-chariot rock carving, which most likely depicts a wheeled bronze model. But more commonly, there’s a horse pulling the sun’s disc across the sky without the benefit of wheels. This motif is known from several rock art sites on Sweden’s west coast.

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Awesome rock art surveying team Roger Wikell, Sven Gunnar Broström and Kenneth Ihrestam have recently found the first two sun horses on the east coast. One is at Gärstad near Linköping in Östergötland (above), the other at Uggelbo in SmÃ¥land where Joakim Goldhahn’s project is active (below). The three have a paper about the Gärstad find in Fornvännen’s upcoming autumn issue!


I’m not one of those knowledge relativists who claim that the archaeological source material is constructed by the preconceptions of archaeologists. But I think these horses are clear examples of how important it is to have Roger & Co’s deep and wide knowledge of the iconography in order to find and identify the rarer motifs. A successful rock art surveyor does not just go around looking for scratches in the rock and filling them in mechanically with chalk. S/he needs to know what to look for. Several scholars had documented the Gärstad horse before without apparently reflecting on what the strange “antler” groove sticking out of the horse’s head might be, nor noting that the groove extends all the way to the large cupmark representing the sun. It pays to return to the archaeological record with new knowledge.