Laptop Has Replaced Umpteen Specialised Devices

Junior’s been through an extended period of various lighter ailments that have affected his school attendance record (but not his grades) considerably. I believe this may be partly due to his sedentary lifestyle. He’s thin as a rake, like his old man, but also like his old man he’s not exactly spending his free time on a rugby court. I need to take him cycling.

My wife worries about the amount of time Junior likes to spend on the computer. I think it’s more a question of him not exercising rather than what he does specifically while not exercising. And I’ve realised that he actually does pretty much what I did as an adolescent in the 80s, but using different tech – all in one box.

  • Watch TV
  • Phone a friend
  • Play games
  • Read
  • Write
  • Listen to music
  • Paint

A young person who divided their time between these pastimes in a more traditional manner would hardly be seen as obsessive or sedentary.


Fishing and Sacrifice at Must Farm


“The river channel at Must Farm, with bronze age fish traps and weirs, logboats and many bronze objects. The roddon is raised land formed from old river silts.”

I wrote in January about the Must Farm / Flag Fen Bronze Age dugout boats at Peterborough, England when Current Archaeology covered them. Now British Archaeology has done likewise (the two mags’ staff must bump into each other at British excavations all the time judging from their coverage), and there’s a beautiful plan drawing in issue #123 (March/April). It fascinates me, as it has such relevance to my current research.

The dig at Must Farm covered a silted-up stream channel. I knew from the CA piece that there was both everyday items and votive deposits at the dig. But the BA plan shows just how intimately (or indiscriminately) they intermingled. There are sunken boats, fish traps, V-shaped fish weirs (one apparently made using an old boat), and then everything is completely dotted with sacrificial metalwork. Century after century, these people were sacrificing expensive objects made of imported metal in the same stretch of river where they fished every day! I really wish I could have a similar site to work with. And one like nearby Bradley Fen please, where a waterside habitation platform caught fire and fell into the river with its entire complement of pottery and furniture in situ!

Continued fieldwork at Flag Fen is currently the subject of an innovative crowdfunding effort. Check it out!

El-Mag Crank Gets Galileo Argument Wrong

I got a letter with criticism from a man who believes in electromagnetic hypersensitivity and thinks I should too. Most of the letter is the Galileo argument, where the letter writer refers to an anthropologist whose ideas were, in his view, once highly respected until they were taken apart by critical thinkers. I should be as critical of the current medical consensus regarding radiation phobia as these thinkers were of the anthropologist, says the letter writer, because the current medical consensus has been paid for by the telecomms industry. In other words: it’s a conspiracy.

But who, then, is this anthropologist whom the letter writer selects to represent a mainstream scientific consensus that may soon be toppled by independent critical analysis?

Thor Heyerdahl.

It’s sad but also absolutely priceless.

Weekend Fun

I had some bad news about two Boomer dudes that I know and like(d): one died of lung cancer the other day, and the other was diagnosed with leukemia. But apart from that I had a pretty good weekend:

  • Played Eclipse again, got royally whipped.
  • Gave a talk and did some debating at a skeptics’ event in Eskilstuna, met loads of friendly people, all while wearing a suit and tie because I was heading directly to the following do afterwards.
  • Celebrated my oldest friend’s 40th birthday. Met lots of surprising greying 40-y-o versions of his friends that I haven’t seen much since leaving the Tolkien Society back in ’98.
  • Had lunch at a restaurant with old friends from the SKOM on-line forum to celebrate another friend’s 41st.
  • Stood for a long time listening to the year’s first blackbird evensong.

And you, Dear Reader?

Self-Referential Ethan Miller


I’ve been following Californian rock singer and guitarist Ethan Miller off and on since Comets on Fire‘s 2002 album Field Recordings from the Sun. I love his singing and psychedelic song writing. And so recently the song “Nomads” from the 2008 album Magnificent Fiend (with Miller’s current band Howlin’ Rain) has been playing in my head. I couldn’t quite make sense of the lyrics, so I checked on-line, and found them (perhaps predictably) to be stonerishly meandering. But also bluntly self-referential in a way that is either really stupid or neatly self-ironic. You be the judge, Dear Reader.

Cold and gray clouds staining the sounds
Straining the weight of a sorrowful sky
Wool on the trees, dust on the eves
The bark on the pines is worse than its bite

All of the lines have been lies this far
There is a feeling I must keep from you

These lines are crawling snakes up your open legs
You wear them pale and fine
This is the line I’ll give you true as the dawn
While the furious eye on the sun is upon us

The way your breasts dance while we’re making love
Now that is a line penned by a divinely guided hand

Was the line “Now that is a line penned by a divinely guided hand” penned by a divinely guided hand?

Phew, Salami Is Not Spiced Adipocere


Adipocere / corpse wax:

a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. … a crumbly, waxy, water-insoluble material consisting mostly of saturated fatty acids. Depending on whether it was formed from white or brown body fat, adipocere is grayish white or tan in color. … The transformation of fats into adipocere occurs best in the absence of oxygen in a cold and humid environment, such as in wet ground or mud at the bottom of a lake or a sealed casket …



Salami are cured in warm, humid conditions to encourage growth of the bacteria involved in the fermentation process. Sugars (usually dextrose) are added as a food source for the bacteria during the curing process … Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria as a waste product, lowering the pH and coagulating and lowering the water-holding capacity of the meat. The acid produced by the bacteria makes the meat an inhospitable environment for other, pathogenic bacteria …


The True Steel of the Ancestors

Above-ground atomic explosions and reactor leaks during the past century have produced a pretty funny atmosphere full of exotic heavy isotopes. In radiocarbon calibration this error source is called “bomb radiocarbon”. A few years ago it was suggested that a person’s age might be determined through looking at the amount of various isotopes in some bodily tissue (was it the eye’s lens?) and cross-referencing it with the historic data on spikes and troughs in the abundance of various isotopes.

Now the always readworthy Chris Catling tells the readers of Current Archaeology #265 (April) of another way that our sloppy ways with fissile material impact our lives – our cultural heritage, specifically!

“Metal theft doesn’t just take place on dry land; law abiding divers have been reporting an increase in theft from the wrecks of HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, sunk by a U-boat in the North Sea on 22 September 1914 with the loss of 1,459 lives. … apparently the steel structure of the ships … [T]he amount of radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere has increased, and these get into steel, making it weakly radioactive when air is blown into the furnace …

Some forms of scientific and medical equipment (such as Geiger counters and radiation-detecting body scanners) need what is known as “low-background steel“, the chief source of which is naval vessels constructed prior to 1945 and protected from contamination by the North Sea …

(pp. 46-47)

Bronze Age Mortuary Cult In Viborg


Yesterday I went to Jutish Viborg by train, plane and bus. This took a bit less than eight hours. Exiting Aalborg airport into the icy sleet I managed to walk straight into the glass wind breaker outside the turnstile, banging my forehead and knee. Everybody around studiously avoided noticing my antics. On arriving in Viborg I found the museum, met some colleagues and received a key for the visiting scholars’ building at Asmild that I’m staying in. Then to the city library where there is warmth and (flaky) wifi, and where I am now sitting again. Wednesday ended in good company with colleagues at the Chinese buffet place The Great Wall. (I complimented the cook in bad Mandarin and asked about the mantou.)

Sadly I have a Danish language problem. I read it all the time and I can usually follow a public talk in Danish unless the speaker is from rural Funen. But I find it really hard to pick up more than about every third word of an informal multilateral conversation in a noisy environment. And people here don’t understand my Swedish very well either. So I’ve been speaking slow Swedish with many pauses and as many Danish words as I can remember, or falling back on English.

This morning was lovely and sunny. I walked across the isthmus into town and treated myself to a hotel breakfast and speedy wifi. Then a nice walk back clockwise around half of the South Lake to the South Mill where the seminar I’d come for was.

It’s been an interesting day and I’ve talked to about a score of people, several of whom I’ve been corresponding with for years but never met before. Notable among the latter are Skalk’s editor Christian Adamsen, Bronze Age nestor Henrik Thrane and my fellow sacrificial finds scholar Lise Frost. The list of attendees numbers 55 people, mostly Jutish contract archaeologists and museum curators.

The theme was Bronze Age mortuary cult in the local cultural landscape. It is common knowledge that the inhumation barrows of the Early Bronze Age tended to be re-used for urn burial in the Late Bronze Age. But here we got to see how elaborate this re-use could be. Various structures were often built along the foot of such a re-used barrow, including paired post holes suggesting little wooden altars or pulpits to communicate with a given burial, large semicircular ditch features and entire post-borne buildings. Often LBA people actually preferred Neolithic barrows to the more recent EBA ones. Urn burials were not just inserted into a barrow’s fabric, but also often extended onto flat ground around it, particularly in the Early Iron Age.

Our charming host Martin Mikkelsen explained something that made me face-palm. Of course all ancient monuments sustain damage if you plough them. And if you plough over a BA barrow, you will destroy a lot of the LBA urn burials inserted into its upper layers. Keep at it long enough, and in the end you will of course hit the primary EBA burial too. But…

When the Danes realised these threats, they scheduled a lot of their best-preserved barrows, which meant that the farmers couldn’t plough over them. Instead they ploughed around them, since the visible monument was what enjoyed protection. (In bad cases they would plough the barrow square.) This means that a scheduled barrow is usually better-preserved today, but whatever was around it under flat ground is pretty much gone. Whereas an unscheduled barrow in tilled soil is usually hard to even find any more, but the subterranean LBA and EIA features around its foot are well preserved – because the farmer has ploughed out the barrow to form a protective layer of deeper plough soil over the flat ground features!

The landscape archaeological theme that ostensibly binds this series of seminars together (I reviewed previous report here) was almost entirely absent from the proceedings. One guy from Odense did make some comments on such aspects, but since Odense is on Funen I couldn’t quite understand what he said.

In other news, I received the brand new report from last year’s seminar, titled Bebyggelsen I yngre bronzealders lokale kulturlandskab (Eds Sanne Boddum et al., Viborg 2012), and an off-print of a new paper where they have radiocarbon-dated cremated bones from furnished graves to test the absolute chronology of the Danish Bronze Age. No big surprises turned up there, showing that Oscar Montelius got it about right in the 1880s by means of cross-dating with Mediterranean and Near Eastern written dynastic chronology. The main piece of news in Bronze Age chronology since then is that the period starts closer to 1700 than 1800 BC as Montelius thought.

I shall now buy some breakfast for tomorrow, eat some kebab and wend my way back to Asmild for an off-line evening of reading. Tomorrow I’ll hit the museum exhibits (to me, an archaeological museum is otherwise primarily a finds storage facility, where some objects can be unavailable for study because they are in the exhibition) and then take the half-past-five bus back to Aalborg. And I’ll try not to walk into that glass wind breaker again.

Weekend Fun

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  • Played Eclipse for the first time with my new Muscovite friends Anton & Maria and frequent guest Swedepat. This Finnish 2011 boardgame has become a runaway international hit and is currently ranked #7 on Boardgame Geek. It’s about interstellar colonialism: good fun, very neatly designed, and has a lot of inherent replayability. I look forward to future games. Guess which player ended up way ahead of the cluster of three stubble-chinned losers at the end…
  • Cycled in brisk & sunny weather for a second attempt at two recalcitrant geocaches. Found nada. How the great have fallen.
  • Had dinner at friends’ place and made the acquaintance of their recently adopted 2-y-o. Lovely, bright & cute!
  • As head of the Carthaginian forces, managed to lose the unloseable 217 BC Battle of Lake Trasimene in Commands & Colours: Ancients. One fatal mistake I made was to not leave any room for my front units to flee when their morale broke. Interestingly, I learned that my opponent for the evening, Max, descends from inhabitants of Gammalsvenskby, dislocated Estonian Swedish-speakers who mass-migrated from Crimea to Sweden in the 1920s.

What where the highlights of your weekend, Dear Reader?