Halland Archaeology Journal

Back in February I wrote about a new issue of Halland County Museum’s periodical Utskrift. And now I have already received two new issues! I’ll talk a little about #12 here as I haven’t read #11 yet.

The volume is an homage to Lennart Lundborg on his 80th birthday. Lundborg is a beloved figure in Halland archaeology and a former employee of the museum. Fittingly, five of the twelve papers deal with the Bronze Age in Halland province, the man’s main field of study, and three with other aspects of his work, including the many comics he’s drawn!

The three longest papers (all 14 pp.) are a report on an undisturbed but sparsely furnished Early Bronze Age barrow inhumation by the late Tore Artelius, an essay on Bronze Age art by Joakim Goldhahn and a report on a soapstone casting mould for an EBA dagger blade by Ola Kadefors.

Artelius’s report is refreshingly down-to-earth and demonstrates fine fieldwork, but it contains a piece of slightly spurious reasoning. He says that a) the barrow was unusually well preserved, with an intact brim, and b) it was unusually large, 25 m in diameter. Then he compares it to other large coeval barrows in the province. But the barrow only had a large diameter because the flat brim was still there to be measured, which as he points out is very unusual in Halland. Looking only at the tall central part of the barrow, it was in fact a barrow of ordinary size.

Goldhahn points out that geological shapes and patterns in stones and outcrops that we can see today could also be seen during the Bronze Age, and that there are cases where Bronze Age rock art clearly incorporates or references such pranks of nature on purpose. But in my opinion he then overstresses the point in a pretty pretentious manner. Goldhahn goes on to say that John Coles once failed to document such a relationship between nature and art “probably because he embraces a dichotomy between nature and culture with its origins in Descartes’ 17th century philosophy which then was strengthened and solidified during the 19th century Romantic era” (p. 46). In fact, Goldhahn clearly embraces the same dichotomy since he too distinguishes between shapes caused by geological happenstance and shapes caused intentionally by Bronze Age rock carvers. The difference between him and Coles is just how narrowly they define their remit when documenting rock art. Goldhahn, who is a sensible man, would never document something vaguely boat-like in the geology of a cliff unless there were clear human-made carvings or structures nearby.

Kadefors does a good job of presenting the dagger casting mould and has even located a dagger in the museum stores that fits well enough in it. Kudos for that. But he makes this really weird argument about whether the object should be called a sword or a dagger (p. 66). The blade’s length is only 23 cm. But Kadefors decides to call it a sword because he has somehow decided that a dagger, Sw. dolk, is not a weapon, and the blades cast in the mould were only useful as weaponry. This is just wrong: daggers are weapons by definition. And it makes the rest of the paper difficult to evaluate since we aren’t told whether he always means “swords + daggers” when he says “swords”, or just sometimes when he feels like it. Kadefors’s grasp of the language is further shown to be slipping when on the same page he uses deponi (“landfill”) for depÃ¥ (“hoard”) and bronset (“the bronze medal in sports”) for bronsen (“the bronze alloy”). Linn Mattson also hits us with bronset on p. 90, and I wince and groan.

As with last winter’s issue, thus, Utskrift still does not have a competent copy editor who can save contributors from looking silly. I certainly wouldn’t accept the colloquial verb modifier -andes for -ande like Utskrift does, but that may be a dialect thing. This criticism is not an attempt on my part to score another copy editing gig, by the way. As I wrote back in February, “This task should be entrusted to someone’s retired school-teacher aunt next time.”

Alf Ericsson always writes something interesting though. In his six-page contribution he introduces us to “mill hogs”. Apparently, grain mills and hog pens have always gone together because pigs get fat quickly on the mill’s by-products. This is visible in Medieval taxation records, where millers are often required to pay their taxes in grain and fattened hogs. The next time you excavate a Medieval mill site, Dear Reader, make sure to look for the hog pen.

Despite my critical remarks, all in all I found Utskrift #12 to be another fine read about a Swedish province with fine archaeology.

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Roman Mask Find Causes Legal Conundrum

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As noted before here on Aard, last winter a man handed in a 2nd century Roman cavalry parade mask to the authorities on Gotland, an island province of Sweden in the Baltic Sea. He says it was found illicitly in the 1980s by a recently deceased metal detectorist. The old man in question was a known nighthawk, and seems to have stuck a spade right through the mask when digging it out. Yet the mask has an excellent find context. The owner pointed to a Late Roman / Migration Period house foundation, my Visby colleagues excavated part of it this past summer, and they found a mixed metalwork hoard including missing bits of the mask. (This is unlike the case of the mask + helmet found in Cumbria last year, that was unearthed by a legitimate detectorist but sold at private auction without any legal protection because it was a single copper alloy object from a site with no other archaeology on it, at least not at the spot the guy pointed to.)

The mask is funny because someone with non-Roman ideas has blocked its eye holes with home-made metal eyes and irises. I imagine the mask re-purposed in the 4th or 5th century as the face of a wooden pagan idol, that is, the opposite of what has been suggested by Thomas Fischer for the Thorsbjerg mask.

But here’s an interesting legal conundrum. The guy who handed in the mask says that he was present when it was found. He is thus an admitted accessory to heritage crime. It was a long time ago, maybe he was a child at the time, maybe the period for prosecution has expired. But should he be punished? Or should he get the sizeable reward a bona fide finder is entitled to? One thing is what the law says. Another is what would be best for future heritage management. Let’s say the nighthawk who took a metal detector to that registered, well-preserved archaeological site 25 years ago was this dude’s dad, and he came forth with the find once the old man had passed away. It would be disastrous for public relations to punish him. Still, he said nothing for all those years about a find and a site that could have been a focus of research for decades by now. And a central legal principle is that crime should not pay. I hope there’s a way to take the mask into public ownership without giving the man either reward or punishment.

See the excavators’ account in Populär Arkeologi 2011:3, “Romersk paradmask Ã¥terfunnen. Unikt fynd lokaliserat till gotländsk socken”, by Johan Holm & Per Widerström.

Update same day: Dear Reader Johan points out that the guy has now made a complaint to the police, accusing Birgitta Gustafson, Head Editor of Populär Arkeologi, of libel because she hinted that the guy was accessory to a crime! Curiouser and curiouser.

Update 6 November: I’ve been contacted by the man who submitted the mask, and he tells me that he was not present when the mask was found, and did not even know the finder at the time. He fails however to explain why he did not hand it in when he received it from the finder’s estate in 1999. He does not seem to understand that he was legally obliged to. It remains my opinion that he should receive neither reward nor punishment.

Tricking the Devil In 17th Century Norway

In the 90s, Norwegian death metal musicians were notorious for Satanism, violent crime and church arson. One of these twits burned down the stave church of Fantoft, which though moved in the 19th century had originally been built in about 1150. Any one of my atheist buddies could have told them that it’s OK to like churches even if you don’t like the Church. And by the way: which is the more evil world view from a Christian perspective: Satanism or atheism/materialism? At least the Satanists believe in a higher power that has the decency to fight with the Christian god over people’s souls.

Anyway, Satanic dealings were nothing new to Norway at the time. My Kristiansand colleague Frans-Arne Stylegar offers the following find from the archives of the Vest-Agder County Archaeologist (and I translate).

The vicar Søren Sode [active in the later 17th century] allegedly had the Black Book, and with its aid he could both bind and unbind the Devil. But one Sunday when he was at the church in Birkenes, the Devil got loose at the vicarage. This happened because of the girl who cleaned the vicar’s study. She got hold of the Black Book and began to read it. She happened upon the spell to unbind the Devil, and before she knew it, Old Nick was in the house.

The vicar’s wife was not afraid, because she knew what to do. Old Nick must be given work to do until her husband came home. First she told the girl to take all the duvets out of the house, cut them open and empty out the feathers. Then she told Old Nick to collect all the feathers again. This took some time, but before long all the feathers were back in the duvets. But Old Nick threw the duvets across the river, and there they remained.

Then she told him to build a bridge across to Dønnestad out of river sand. He collected a lot of sand and stretched a rope across the river. But the river came and destroyed the rope because one end of it reached into the water. Old Nick tried again, but the rope broke and floated down the river. The sand ended up at Hamre hamlet, and that is how the sands of Hamre came to be. Seeing that none of his work was successful, Old Nick was angry and raced up the valley towards Birkenes, probably to see the vicar.

Sode, who was just standing in the church pulpit, realised that something was amiss at home. He hurriedly interrupted service and headed back. Just outside Høygilts Moner church he met Old Nick. The vicar said, “If it had not been for women and children, you would still have been standing there as a gargoyle. But now it will be the hole for you.” And he forced the Devil into the earth next to the road. Later people would always throw stones and sticks there, accumulating a mound of many materials. It was called the Throw, and it can still be seen.

This story was told to local historian A. Stensvand by tailor Henning Hobbesland in about 1855. Stensvand added,

“It almost seems like Søren Sode would let the Devil loose for fun. But once he came to the vicarage and demanded a horse race against the vicar. Sode accepted. Whoever lost would have to give his horse to the winner. The race took place at dusk and went towards Kjevig. The vicar won. But when Old Nick was supposed to hand his horse over, he accused the vicar of cheating. Sode’s horse was not an everyday race horse, but Sleipnir with eight feet.”

Investing Your Twenties

A pop musician’s and a mathematician’s twenties are a precious part of their life. During those ten years of early adulthood, there seems to be a residual childlike creativity or randomness in the brain at a time when a person has had a chance to amass skills and experience. In some fields, the window in time when you will produce your best work is open only during your twenties. Take the Beatles, whose albums appeared when Lennon & McCartney were 23-30 and 21-28 respectively. Few would argue that either of them made a Beatles-quality album after the split, and looking at other bands, I wonder if they could have even if they’d continued to record together.

Since I think a lot about pop music and ageing (the first time I felt like an old man whose time was past was at ~22), I’ve been thinking about my twenties. What did I do with that finite resource, those ten years? Well, one common thing I did not do was try a bit of this and that. I was a professional archaeologist for the entire decade, if you count grad school as a professional activity. Luckily archaeologists do not bloom and wilt early. Two classic PhD theses that are mentioned among the best Swedish archaeology has produced were published when their authors were 35 (Ulf Erik Hagberg) and 41 (Mats P. Malmer).

As I wasn’t given a very well thought-out thesis subject, a lot of the work I put into the project had to be descriptive and enumerative rather than creative and analytical. One grumpy older colleague even told me I was squandering the best years of my professional life. But not being a pop musician, I can’t say that those years were of an unusual quality and should have been invested more carefully. Outside of work, I spent my twenties as I have spent my thirties, married and occupied with geeky pastimes, and I became a dad at 26. I guess I haven’t developed all that much since my teens, actually, which means that I am either a youthful or a stunted soul.

Dear Reader, to what did/do you devote your 20s? Are you happy with what you did/do?

Sheep In Cabbage

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I am making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l, a dish whose name has a kind of brutal literality, meaning “sheep in cabbage”. It doesn’t ring quite so harshly in Swedish, as we have no separate word for mutton, using the same word for the animal as for its meat. I’m making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l because I had it in Oslo a few weeks back when I happened to visit that city on the day following the great Sheep In Cabbage Day, which has been celebrated on the last Thursday of September since 1997. (Here’s a basic recipe. Opinions differ as to whether you should use black pepper or allspice, and possibly add bay leaves and thyme.)

Jane Austen LARP

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Though I played a lot of tabletop role playing games in the 80s and 90s, I’ve never been much of a live action role-player (LARPer). Just seems to be way too much preparation for such short events. So the only real LARP I ever took part in was in May of 1992 (it was called Saturday Night Live, ha-ha-ha) – until this past Sunday, when I tried again. And it was fun!

Boardgaming buddies head-hunted me for this extremely well organised LARP because they had a male deficit. The event was titled Kärlek och fördel, “Love and Advantage”. The idea was basically to collect all the main characters from Jane Austen’s 1810s novels at the same ball, “a social mine field” as one participant described it. The venue was the picturesque 1750s country house of Skärholmen.

Preparations weren’t too heavy. Most importantly, I read and enjoyed Austen’s 1814 novel Persuasion. I also grew sideburns, brushed up on the almost entirely forgotten country dances I picked up at Tolkien Society banquets 20 years ago, learned to play whist, borrowed a Regency outfit from another participant, and selected some Wordsworth and Coleridge poetry to perform. The organisers gave me a few pages of background info including my main “intrigues”, tasks or quests, for the evening. Then I was set.

I played a pretty unsavoury character, Mr. William Elliot, who ignores the son-less uncle whose baronetcy he is scheduled to inherit, who marries a woman of humble family for her money, and who upon his wife’s death decides to curry favour with his uncle again just to make sure he gets the title in due course. The main point-of-view character in Persuasion describes the man as a bit of an opportunistic psychopath, but we don’t really learn much about him except that he stares fondly at women in the street.

My tasks for the ball revolved around three women.

  • Cousin Anne. Try to charm her into marrying me.
  • The widow Mrs. Clay. Keep her from marrying my uncle, because such a union might produce a son who would rob me of the baronetcy.
  • The widow of a deceased friend of mine, Mrs. Smith. Keep her from telling cousin Anne how poorly I took care of her after my friend’s death, despite all he’d done for me.

About 85 participants spent the nine hours of the event talking (in character), dancing to live music, playing whist, performing & listening to music and poetry, and eating. Most people wore gorgeous outfits. Almost every unmarried character’s main motivation had to do with marriage. Time went fast.

As it turned out, I failed to win the heart of cousin Anne, much like in the novel. I almost managed to buy Mrs. Smith’s silence, but that player decided (quite correctly) that it would be more fun to cause a scandal, and so came into the parlour toward the end of the evening and threw a petticoat at me while yelling about my betrayal. Mrs. Clay did not charm her way into Uncle Walter’s breeches, but that was mainly because he decided to propose to the other widow, Mrs. Smith! As for my acting, such as it was, my William Elliot was of course very much more like Martin Rundkvist than the rather faceless man in the book.

Knowing that my chances with a cousin Anne who had read Persuasion were slim indeed, and having done all I could to warm her up, I reasoned as follows. Since William Elliot had loads of money, what he/I really wanted was just any young woman from the upper gentry. And one such presented herself with alacrity in the person of our host’s oldest daughter, whose biography copied that of Charlotte Lucas Lydia Bennett from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This young lady had once eloped with a man who soon ditched her, and then returned home in shame. So her family saw her as “spent” and unmarriable. But she and I soon came to an understanding. I spoke to the parents, I complimented the mother outrageously, the girl and I went on a starlit walk in the park, arm in arm, with her mother and brother as chaperones, and finally I proposed and she accepted. A union across novels, and a happy ending!

I might do this again as long as I don’t have to sew my own outfit.

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Photographs by My Durén and Susanne Baldefors.

Swedish University Invites Imaginary Bosnian Pyramid Crank

Swedish academic archaeology has a few hard-core post-modernists. Their attitude to the discipline tends to be meta-scholarly (they study people relating to the past rather than the remains of the past), radically knowledge-relativist (they reject rationalist science with its aim to gain cumulative objective knowledge about what the world is like) and influenced by Continental philosophy, sociology and “critical theory”. My attitude to these colleagues is such that if I were the one who decided who gets research funding and teaching jobs, they would all be doing fieldwork on highway projects or driving a bus. And this is of course in all likelihood a mutual sentiment.

Cornelius Holtorf of the Linnæus University’s Kalmar campus is one of these post-modernist stalwarts. To get a feel for his work, consider his studies of fake exotic ruins and ancient architecture found in animal pens at zoos and Las Vegas casinos. My opinion of this work is that to the extent that any academic should study these things at all, it should not be done on funding intended for archaeology. I’ve criticised Holtorf in print (2005a, 2005b, 2007), among other things on the grounds that he advocates friendly relations with pseudoarchaeological fantasists and charlatans (as in this 2005 paper of his). But of course, to a radical knowledge relativist, the difference between science and pseudoscience is simply a matter of sociology.

Cornelius Holtorf has now done something in line with his convictions, that is, something I consider extremely irresponsible and which causes me to palm my face and groan. He has invited Semir Osmanagić to speak at the university library in Kalmar.* Does that name ring a bell? The title of the talk is “The Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids in Context”.

Yes. Sad but true. Cornelius Holtorf is lending academic credibility to the Bosnian nationalist who believes that certain mountains in his beloved homeland are the world’s biggest and oldest pyramids, and that the Maya were space aliens from the Pleiades. This is von Däniken country.

The Linnæus University’s small but solid archaeology department is otherwise home to scholars whose work I admire and follow with great interest, including Joakim Goldhahn whose Bronze Age rock art project has featured prominently on this blog for years. These people must be deeply unhappy to see their workplace associated with Osmanagić. I’d like to think that the choice of venue, in the library, not one of the university’s lecture halls, betrays a small attempt to distance the Linnæus University symbolically from one of the biggest cranks in current European archaeology. But still, in years to come, Semir Osmanagić’s web site will proudly proclaim the recognition he’s received from the Linnæus University, Kalmar, Sweden.

* Tuesday 18 October, 14:00-16:00.

Johan Normark shares my opinion.

I Don’t Give A Damn About My Apple Products

Steve Jobs is dead, an unfortunate victim of cancer and quackery. I never paid him much attention while he lived. Nor did I ever care much about Apple’s products. “Aha”, I hear you say, “this is one of those ‘PC is better than Mac’ screeds”. Not so. Because I have been an off-and-on Mac user since the mid 80s. But I don’t care about Macs. Nor about PCs. I could go so far as to say that I’m a bit annoyed with recent versions of Windows. But it’s no big deal to me. These things all work well enough.

In ’84, my cousins’ first Mac introduced me to the mouse and the window environment. We drew in MacPaint and played Loderunner. They had a lot of gadgets, having turned me on to video gaming with their Atari console a few years previously. Then in the later 80s I played Uninvited and Dungeon of Doom with my friend Tor on his parents’ Mac+. My parents had a PC, and so do I still, running Win XP on the study machine and Ubuntu Linux on the home machine.

I did like the iPod when it came. I got the 2nd version of it in ’02 or ’03, 10 gigs with a Firewire interface, made after they got rid of the mechanical wheel but before they started making the miniature versions. Sure was a step up from MiniDisc! But getting music onto it demanded dedicated software, and you couldn’t get the files off it again. I never started using iTunes. Also, Firewire never really caught on and no later machines of mine have had it. So since I got my first smartphone in ’06, the iPod has been languishing in a drawer or Junior has been using it.

Also in ’06, I was issued a desktop Mac for my editor’s desk (yes, I have three desks; no, I do not have even one full-time salary). I still use it and it works fine. I’ve never been tempted to get an iPhone or an iPad, opting instead for Android handsets that are a bit cheaper and offer better integration with Google’s services. No, I don’t consider myself a Google fan either. If it works, who cares what brand it is?