Fornvännen’s Summer Issue On-Line

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Shortly after Fornvännen 2012:1 reached subscribers on paper, issue 2011:2 has now been published on-line. Get thee there, Dear Reader, and read for free (not dearly)!

  • Joakim Wehlin on why some of Gotland’s mightiest Bronze Age monuments were built next to the island’s single megalithic tomb of the Early Neolithic.
  • Karl-Magnus Melin on ancient wells.
  • Torun Zachrisson makes an interesting suggestion as to where the church of Birka may have been located.
  • Jürgen Beyer tries to make sense of some semi-literate 16th century epigraphy in Plattdeutsch on Gotland.
  • Tryggve Siltberg criticises Anders Andrén’s view of Medieval social structure in rural Gotland.
  • Staffan von Arbin & Hans Linderson present the Medieval shipwreck in Jorefjorden (you read about it here first!)
  • Herman Bengtsson identifies the architect’s portrait in Uppsala Cathedral.
  • Magnus Green traces the fate of some English ecclesiastical embroidery in a Swedish rural church after the Reformation.
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He’s Not Annoying

Juniorette: “So Thomas had his semla cream bun and he said he liked it, but later he threw up.”

Me: “Thomas? Is he a new boy in your class? Haven’t heard of him before?”

Juniorette: “No, he’s not annoying. Not very.”

My Recent Mead-halls Book Available On Open Access

The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities is over 250 years old and consists almost entirely of professors of the humanities and social sciences. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s a sleepy organisation. For one thing, the Academy is a signatory of the 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. And so the venerable paper journal I edit, Fornvännen, is one of the first and most successful Open Access journals in the Swedish humanities. Increasingly, the Academy is also putting out the paper books it publishes as Open Access versions half a year after the original printing. And so I am now proud to present my recent book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats for your downloading pleasure. All you’ll ever be likely to want to know about Östergötland province’s Dark Ages nobility collected in one book! And scholars will appreciate the convenience of being able to search the text. Download a PDF, order a hardback book, or both! (Here’s a local Sb copy of the file for good measure.)

Boardgame Review: Pergamon

i-3b620a4d1c2ab098b17f961f86409d12-pic890889_t.jpgThere are some good archaeology-themed boardgames out there. None depict archaeology as an activity directed towards the gaining of knowledge. Let’s look at the top three on Boardgame Geek.

  • Tikal has a pretty absurd premise. A number of archaeological expeditions reach an area of jungle-covered ruins in the Yucatan peninsula at the same time and realise to their surprise that they all have permits to dig in the same region. The expedition leaders react to this coincidence by ordering an all-out plunderfest where everybody tries to get as much fine loot as possible, employing the locals as manual labour.
  • Thebes really makes fun of my whole profession. Sure, you play the role of an early 1900s archaeologist who does research in libraries and goes to the areas of ancient civilisations to do fieldwork. But the goal of the game isn’t to find out about it past: it’s simply to become as famous as possible. When you dig, half of what you find is termed “useless junk” and you don’t even bring it home from the site. You just look for “treasure” that you can exhibit in European capitals. And one strategy that works is to simply go to as many conferences as possible and make sure everybody knows about you — even though you never dig.
  • Lost Cities is a fine two-player card game decorated with a thin veneer of archaeological practice. You mount archaeological expeditions to up to five forgotten civilisations, one of whose imagery is heavily influenced by 1st millennium Scandinavia, and try to secure funding from fickle donors who will reward you lavishly if you find anything good but also punish you if you fail. Quite what the victory points you amass here represent isn’t spelled out.

I recently bought a new archaeology boardgame simply on the strength of the theme and its decent BGG rank. A 2011 release from Eggertspiele in Germany, Pergamon received its first review on BGG in February of last year. It was designed by Stefan Dorra (none of whose many other games I have played) and Ralf zur Linde (whose 2009 co-designed game Finca I like).

In Pergamon, the players are German archaeologists in 1878 who compete over excavations at the site of the same name in modern-day Turkey. Here you are only partly competing for fame or fine finds as in the above-mentioned games. Each victory point instead represents an unspecified number of visitors to the Pergamon museum in Berlin. The visitors only want to see well-preserved objects, they prefer older finds over newer ones, and they soon lose interest in stuff that’s been around the museum for a few months. So during each of the game’s twelve monthly rounds, you compete for funding, dig for stuff, reassemble broken objects, and exhibit them in the museum. The dig itself is shown as a kind of mining operation, where the various crews apparently burrow horizontally into the side of a tell.

The game seats two, three or four, is playable to a smart 7-y-o, and takes about an hour depending on how experienced everybody is. The pieces are nice chunky cardboard with a pleasing design, as is the board. There is little down time unless someone gets Analysis Paralysis. There is ample opportunity for strategic planning and decision making. You can get Pergamon for €19 or $32 + p&p depending on where you are.

All in all, a pretty short but still meaty game with an easily understood theme, playable to Muggles but also enjoyable for the game geek. An excellent gift to the archaeologist in your life, who will appreciate the ironic museological slant to it all: whoever gets the most punters to his display cases wins.

Birds Prophesying Spring

For the past two weeks I’ve been hearing more and more birdsong. The bullfinch is singing his characteristic snowmelt ditty, and the woodpecker is making territorial drumrolls. Some other species of small bird is having these noisy cocktail parties where they fill a tree and chatter for hours. But the winter is far from over yet. We have lots of snow and it was -9ºC this morning. It must be the lengthening daylight that triggers those bird brains. And today two magpies have started fussing absentmindedly about the big nest outside our bathroom window.

Oldest Human-Made Object in Space

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The recent launch of the Curiosity Mars rover has quietly broken the record for oldest human-made object in space, and instantly pulled numismatics, the study of coinage, into the Space Age.

Prior to the launch, the oldest human-made object in space was the Vanguard 1 satellite, which was launched in 1958 and operated until 1964. Now it is a coin!

American geologists have long used copper Lincoln pennies as scale indicators in photographs. All the Mars rover missions are geology projects conducted at a distance. And so, as a homage to professional geology tradition, a 1909 one-cent coin is attached to Curiosity’s camera calibration target.

Being over a hundred years old, the coin is from a time sufficiently far from the present that industrial and conflict archaeologists already routinely excavate and document its remains. As far as I know, this is the first time that an antique is launched into space (disregarding stuff astronauts have brought into orbit and then back home again).

Update 15 Feb: Long-time Aard regular Lassi Hippeläinen points out that in 1999, some cremated remains of planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker were sent to the Moon, and he was born in 1928. In my opinion, burnt human bones do qualify as artefacts, but they were made at cremation, not when Shoemaker’s original baby skeleton formed.

17th Century Pastoral Novel

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As a schoolboy I read the first original play performed publically written in Swedish, Urban Hiärne‘s Rosimunda (1665). Me and my friend Tor loved the absurd spelling, the odd changes that had occurred in the sense of many words and some of the comical one-liners. Recently I learned that about the same time Hiärne also wrote the first novel in Swedish, Stratonice (1666-68). Rosimunda deals with bloody intrigue at the Italian court of the conquering 6th century Lombard king Alboin. Stratonice is instead a pastoral romance set in the age of Alexander the Great. It is strongly derivative of the era’s pastoral fiction on the Continent.

Both of Hiärne’s works apparently conceal a subtext about his attempts to woo a certain young lady of high birth, which strikes modern readers as a liiittle iffy when we consider that Rosimunda premiered in Uppsala when Hiärne was 24 and the girl in question 12. (She in fact ended up marrying someone else.) Students at the time cultivated a courtly pastoral fandom based on the output of German pastoral literary societies, which encouraged lyrical devotion to unavailable females. Celadon, a main character in Stratonice, was also Hiärne’s alias in those circles.

Here’s a translation into modern English of Stratonice’s first two paragraphs (complete text here) just to give you a feel for what it’s about. I’ve deconvoluted the syntax and chopped up some of Hiärne’s longest sentences.


In the sixth year of Alexander’s reign, the great son of Philip, king of Macedonia, Thyrsis came from Corinth to Ephesus for the sake of the fair Castizane, whom he had long loved with all his heart. This Thyrsis was a servant of Parmenion and could not stay long in Corinth. But he had travelled a long way and was not far from where his brother Celadon, a shepherd whom he had not seen in a long time, was watering his sheep at a certain stream. And as Thyrsis did not have time to go to Athens, he wrote to his brother and asked him to come quickly to Corinth. Although Celadon had good reason to stay in Athens, brotherly love nevertheless caused him to start upon the trip. It was a cold and dry spring and there was little grazing for the sheep. Celadon, bringing ugly and starved livestock, endured hardship on the road. But his complaints were assuaged by the presence of his dearest brother before Phoebus had driven his tired horses into the Western Sea. And as Thyrsis greeted Celadon with true brotherly love, he would not let him go either before his brother had promised to accompany him to Ephesus – particularly as Parmenion employed three of Celadon’s brothers at his court and had ordered him to come. After three days with favourable wind they arrived at Ephesus in good health, but did not find Parmenion there. When Thyrsis learned that he had gone to his country manor about eleven kilometres from the city, he immediately went there across an inlet of the sea. Celadon, meanwhile, went to see his younger brothers, who greeted him with great joy. They had not seen him since a cruel plague had hit northern Nathaly, frightening these brothers and innumerable others away from the region. And so Celadon stayed at Parmenion’s court, seeing the sights of that famous city, particularly the widely celebrated Temple of Diana. After two days his brother Thyrsis came from Pelignum, where Parmenion stayed at the time, and asked Celadon to come with him there and kiss Parmenion’s hands. And so they went, bringing along Cobalus, Parmenion’s steward, who managed his court and servants. As this Cobalus was acquainted with Celadon and knew that he was not unskilled at drawing and painting, particularly portraits, he would not leave him alone before speaking to him of this.

When Celadon reached Pelignum along with his brother, he had to wait for about an hour in the hall before the august Parmenion was awake and dressed. Meanwhile he greeted Parmenion’s mother-in-law Selenista when she came in. She appeared to be a pious and meek person. Not long thereafter a veritable idol entered, who was beautiful beyond all description. Seeing her, Celadon was as if struck by lightning and felt an unexpected fire in his breast. But it died down considerably when his brother pointed out, as was shown also by the woman’s clothes, that she was of very high birth. She was the daughter of Pausanias, a powerful man, who was held above many other mighty men in the esteem of King Philip of Macedonia. He was the brother of Selenista and had joined Charon’s great army three years previously. Twelve months later his wife joined him, and so this Stratonice and her sister Sophonisbe were placed in the care of Selenista and Parmenion. And just as unexpectedly as Celadon fell in love, he fell out of it again, as when a handful of tow is set on fire and just as swiftly burns out. But he did not realise that a small spark of hope remained, telling him I know not what and encouraging him. Then he was called before Parmenion, who greeted him quite favourably and declared his wish to remain Celadon’s benevolent lord.

My Autumn’s And Winter’s Work

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Dear Reader Fiona asked me to write more about archaeology, which reminded me that I haven’t said much about what I’ve been doing in my study these past months. I find that the last time was actually in late August when I dug in the cave with Margareta and Magdalena.

So, what have I been up to during these months when no Swedish archaeologist wants to do fieldwork? I have:

  • Written the archive reports on my 2011 fieldwork.
  • Checked for fits between some copper alloy fragments we picked up at an Uppland hoard site and the hoard itself in the Historical Museum. We found no fits but two likely candidates for belonging to highly incomplete objects.
  • Distributed my Mead-halls book to colleagues and libraries across northern Europe.
  • Test-lectured for a teaching job that I almost got except they realised at the last moment that they didn’t actually have the money to employ anyone.
  • Written a popular account of the cave dig for the Swedish Caving Society’s journal.
  • Written two papers on the picture stones of Gotland: one about their re-use in the last phase of Pagan graves before the islanders started to build stone churches in the mid-12th century, and one on how to classify and date a picture stone that has lost its pictures, leaving only its dimensions and outline shape. Then I translated them into Swedish. Unusually, the same symposium report will be published in separate Swedish and English editions at the same time.
  • Edited two issues of Fornvännen.
  • Copy-edited a symposium report on the Swedish/Norwegian province of Jämtland before 1645. This wasn’t my own work but it was interesting and paid well.
  • Not done anything about the Bronze Age project lately except some reading.