Radiation Phobia and Wolves

For the past few days, Swedish skeptics have been shaking their heads in disbelief over Mora municipality’s office for the environment. The office had taken the complaints of a man with radiation phobia seriously and demanded that all radio transmitters in the area be turned down or re-pointed to ensure that the man’s house would not receive more that 50 nanowatts of radio – an extremely low value. The thing about radiation phobia (or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” as it is called by sufferers, “electricity allergy” in Swedish) is that it is all in one’s head. These people have real symptoms, but they can’t tell whether a wire is actually live or a transmitter is on. It’s a psychosomatic ailment. But the office for the environment chose to ignore this information.

Yesterday we learned that cooler heads have prevailed in Mora and closed the man’s case without further action. But local newspaper Dala-demokraten then broke an even sadder and more bizarre story. A family in the same county has moved out into the deep woods to get away from all electrical equipment and installed shielding of some kind (à la tin foil hat?) all around their house. At least one of these poor people clearly suffers from radiation phobia. But despite all their attempts to get away from radiation, the malady persists. And they have a theory about why that is.

It’s the wolves. Wolves wearing radio tracking devices.

The family has made portable extra shielding to stave off the wolf radiation, but it hasn’t helped much. And yet, the county officials who have looked into the case have found that there aren’t even any wolves with tracking devices in the area. And of course, even if we put a tracking device on the phobia sufferer, s/he wouldn’t be able to tell if it were on unless it had a little lamp on it.

A good basic health care rule is that do by all means describe your symptoms, but leave it to a qualified non-fringe medical professional to determine what’s causing those symptoms.

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The Dancing Beasts of Hvirring

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Here’s a cool new detector find from Hvirring in central Jutland, Denmark. I’ve never seen a piece like this before: measuring only 45 mm in length, it must be a top mount for something – box, horse yoke, staff? But the motif, four dancing gripping beasts, and the style they’re executed in, place the thing firmly in the 9th century. Note the little round ears and the cross-hatching on chest and rump.

Thanks to Dear Reader Jakob for the tip-off.

Recent Archaeomags

Current Archaeology #260 (November) has a piece on the Roman baby burials at Yewden villa in England. Excavated in the 1910s, they have long been suspected to represent infanticide. Now Simon Mays has been able to prove that this is indeed the case by means of new osteological methods and comparison with other burial sites. People have wondered if the site was a military brothel. Since it’s a rural high-status habitation, this seems rather unlikely. But Mays suggests that if the child murders were spread out over three centuries, what sets Yewden apart is mainly the tenacity of the custom. There are indications that the same thing went on at other sites as well, but more episodically.

I met Mays once, at a conference in Riga in 1996 when I was a 24-y-o PhD student. He gave an interesting talk on infant burial in Roman Britain, and I asked if the skeletons could be sexed, which might say something about gender attitudes. He replied that they could not, but that he hoped to be able to do so soon. I nodded and said “Yes, that would be quite a breakthrough”, which for some reason drew a laugh from the audience. I suppose they found my young self a little over-earnest or self-important. But Mays did not laugh. And now he has sexed ten of the Yewden babies with DNA! Their sex ratio is fairly even.

Current Archaeology #2610 (December) has a good piece on cave archaeology in Northern England. I was saddened to learn that most of the area’s caves were dug out and robbed of their stratification in the 19th century by “antiquarians”. Pockets of remaining sediment prove that their faunal record goes back to the Pleistocene. Too bad we saw nothing similar at my little cave dig in Pukberget back in August.

Alderney is a small island in the English Channel that I hadn’t heard of before. Jason Monaghan, museums director for Guernsey, presents the evidence that a small fort on Alderney is one of the best-preserved Roman fortifications in the world. The reason that it hasn’t been recognised as such before seems to be partly that Alderney has seen few visits from archaeologists, partly simply that the thing is unbelievably well preserved. Archaeologists expect ruins.

British Archaeology #121 (Nov/Dec) and Skalk 2011:5 provided good everyday reading but nothing I feel compelled to comment on.

Airport Runestone

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I’ve written before about the archaeological landscape surrounding Arlanda International Airport north of Stockholm. Following on yesterday’s post about the fake archaeology in Oslo airport, here’s a piece of landscape that has been moved inside Arlanda’s terminal 2. It’s an 11th century runestone commemorating one of the men who died on Ingvar the Far-travelled’s disastrous expedition to the east. The stone was found in 2000 when the road to the airport was widened, suggesting an impressive age for the road. Placing the runestone in the airport terminal ensures its protection from the rain and freeze-thaw cycle, and also makes it maximally accessible to the public. I think this is the sort of heritage the Norwegians should be displaying at their airport too.

“Gunnar and Björn and Torgrim erected this stone after Torsten, their brother. He died in the East with Ingvar. And made this bridge.”

Kon Tiki Airport Restaurant

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I’ve written a bit before about Thor Heyerdahl’s hyperdiffusionism and the status as a Norwegian national hero he still enjoys despite being completely discounted as a scientist. Last time I passed through Oslo airport I discovered this Kon Tiki-themed restaurant with a faux Ecuadorian Bolivian stele. I think what Heyerdahl interpreted as a full beard is more likely to depict a decorative face plate hanging from the man’s nose. And anyway, a beard is of course not evidence that a man is a civilisation-bearing Übermensch from Europe.

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In My Earbuds Lately

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Here are some albums that I’ve been listening to lately. (The previous peek into my listening habits is from May 2010!)

  • Daikaiju. Daikaiju. 2005. Virtuoso instrumental surf rock.
  • Dungen. Skit i allt. 2010. Psychedelic 70s prog.
  • Graveyard. Hisingen Blues. 2011. Bluesy and psychedelic 70s metal.
  • Jobriath. Jobriath. 1973. Piano-heavy folk/glam rock.
  • Jobriath. Creatures of the Street. 1974. Piano-heavy folk/glam rock.
  • Karaboudjan. Sprodj. 2001. Heavy instrumental prog metal.
  • Mercury Rev. See You On The Other Side. 1995. Psychedelic art rock.
  • OK Go. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. 2010. Funky new wave guitar pop.
  • Sleep. Sleep’s Holy Mountain. 1993. Stoner rock.
  • Voodoo Trombone Quartet. Voodoo Trombone Quartet. 2005. Funky lounge pop.
  • Voodoo Trombone Quartet. Voodoo Trombone Quartet… Again. 2009. Funky lounge pop.

Kensington Runestone Faker’s Signature Found

i-99e17a64e823299d6c7b23c48f713e2b-KensingtonRunestone-225.jpgThe Kensington runestone of Minnesota is a rather obvious 19th century fake. But in a recent paper in Saga och Sed 2010, Mats G. Larsson shows something less obvious: the hidden signature of the stone’s carver, who also was its finder.

Olof Öhman came from Forsa in Hälsingland, central Sweden. He claimed to have found the stone among the roots of an aspen tree he had felled with his son. Now Larsson points to the unique rune for Ö on the stone, which is an O with a small N inside. This looks a lot like O-n, an abbreviation of the man’s surname. And as it turns out, Öhman came from a farmstead named Ön, “the island”, which is likely where his name came from. This is pretty suggestive. But the clincher is found in some simple cryptography.

Öhman owned a copy of the book Den kunskapsrike skolmästaren, which contains a short section on numeral cryptograms. One of the first things that stick out about the Kensington inscription is the unparallelled preponderance of numbers in it. They form the following sequence:

8 – 22 – 2 – 10 – 10 – 14 – 13 – 62

To get a comprehensible message, Larsson flips this sequence over:

62 – 13 – 14 – 10 – 10 – 2 – 22 – 8

The inscription has twelve lines. Larsson counts the words from the left on odd-numbered lines and from the right on even-numbered lines, arriving at the following:

62: öh
13: mans (jumping up to the penultimate line when the end of the last line is reached)
14: fan
10: vi
10: ved
2: hade
22: ved (jumping down to the second line when the end of the first line is reached)
8: sten

“Öh mans fan vi ved hade ved sten”, or in English, “The Öhmans found. We kept/collected firewood at the stone.”

So Olof Öhman probably told the truth when he said he found the stone while collecting firewood. And then he carved an inscription on it.

Larsson sums up (and I translate),

“… this is not strictly a case of forgery, but of a practical joke gone wrong through the gullibility of others. … Öhman himself may have been both surprised and a little disappointed to find that his hints about who made the inscription were never noted, and as time passed it became successively more difficult for him to confess. After his rune stone gained acceptance in wider circles through skilful marketing by others, it became almost impossible for him to come clean with his honour intact.

According to John Gran’s son [J. Gran was Öhman’s neighbour], Olof Öhman once expressed a strong wish to write something that would fool society, the people and particularly academics, towards which he was extra hostile. The end result of his prank was not however quite what he had hoped for: academics in the runic field were not fooled, but non-academics were.”


Larsson, M.G.. 2010. Vem ristade Kensingtonrunstenen? Saga och sed 2010. Uppsala.

FlemCon 2 Gaming Convention

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I spent yesterday in good company at the FlemCon 2 gaming convention organised by the S.M.A.S.H. gaming society at Södertörn University College. Juniorette was at a friend’s house and Junior is too cool for small cons these days.

Left you see me emoting the “nature red in tooth and claw” competitive theme of Dominant Species, a fun though somewhat drably produced 2010 boardgame about natural history. I played the mammals and got resoundingly beaten by the arachnids. For you gamers out there, Dominant Species is worker placement, no hidden information, hardly any book-keeping or resource management.

Most of the con-goers were undergrads and high schoolers, and I have never seen so many elaborate manga-inspired emo hairstyles and outfits in one place before. I was particularly interested to see a bunch of emo kids from Far Eastern and Near Eastern families. Kids with that background in my area tend more to the hip-hop style or traditional Muslim/Sikh dress, which signals a less integrated, more “ghetto” identity. It’s probably no coincidence that I met these masala emo kids at a university.

7 Wonders is a 2010 runaway hit game with resource management and card drafting, which means no down time. It’s never just your turn: everybody flips through a hand of cards at the same time, selects a card and hands the remainder to the player next to them before everybody reveals their choice. The game’s been on my wish list for some time, so imagine how pleased I was when I won a copy at the the con raffle! Many thanks to the organisers!

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Photography by Åsa Enström Garnström.

Iarlabanki Had This Stone Made While He Still Lived

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If we look only at contemporaneous written evidence and disregard kings, Iarlabanki Ingefastson is probably the most copiously documented Scandinavian of the Viking Period. But his name does not occur even once on vellum. His memory lives entirely in the many rune stones he commissioned.

Iarlabanki (Jarlabanke in modern Swedish) was a major landowner in Uppland north of Stockholm, and his lifetime happened to coincide with the great mid-to-late-11th century rune stone craze in that province. Iarlabanki was a Christian, probably only of the third generation, and like other monuments of the time, his testify to this faith. The inscriptions also commemorate projects like the building of roads, causeways and an assembly site, and state that Iarlabanki administered a territory corresponding to several Medieval parishes. This suggests that he was a royal bailiff and/or military officer.

Famed runologist and Custodian of Ancient Monuments Sven B.F. Jansson (Run-Janne, “Johnny Runes”) lived to see the rediscovery of several of Iarlabanki’s rune stones. Regarding the one that reports the man’s death, Jansson quipped, “After studying Iarlabanki’s rune stones for so long, we were all very sad to learn that he has passed away!”