Viking Farmer’s Rest Disturbed by Badgers and Potatoes

Spent the day digging with my friends Mattias Pettersson and Roger Wikell like so many times before. I like to join them on their sites for a day every now and then (2007, 2008, 2010). The two are mainly known as Mesolithic scholars, but I have been with them on a Neolithic and a Bronze Age site as well on previous occasions. And this time they’re straight up my own alley of research: they’re digging the largest of the Viking Period burial mounds in Tyresta hamlet’s southern cemetery. Measuring eleven meters in diameter and about one-and-a-half in height, it’s a pretty imposing structure placed on the apex of the cemetery hill within view of the hamlet.

Viking Period burial mound with collapsed badger set

The Tyresta Foundation funds the excavation because they want to enhance the cultural attraction of this well-preserved rural milieu on the edge of a forest preserve. And the County Archaeologist gave them permission because the mound has been badly damaged by a potato cellar dug into it centuries ago. Using my new metal detector I soon found that the entire mound is strewn thickly with nails or similar small iron objects. Some may be from the disturbed eleven centuries old cremation layer at its heart, but most are probably from the superstructure of the cellar and later trash accumulation.

Sieving for cremains

When the guys de-turfed the mound they found the remains of a long-abandoned badger set on the side opposite to the cellar. The badgers’ spoil dump forms a wide fan of charcoal-darkened earth down the slope of the mound. And after I gave up on the metal detecting I spent the afternoon digging and sieving this fan. We found a lot of cremated human bones, a clench nail, a tiny bit of pottery and (as spotted by osteologist Sara Gummesson) a fragment of an antler comb. This is clearly stuff that the badgers have excavated from the mound’s core and deposited outside their set. In order to date the burial all one would have to do were to send one of the bone frags to a radiocarbon lab. But the Foundation wants something to exhibit on site, and they want the mound reconstructed. So on the dig goes. I hope for some fun surprises in what remains of the burial. But it’s most likely a male one as no beads or molten copper alloy from jewellery have shown up yet. Male cremation burials of this period are rarely rich in the area.

Antler comb fragment with incised dot-circle decoration

Has the Home Guard been playing with their guns here? Dimensions 37 x 7 mm and 23 x 12 mm

Apart from nails, my only detector finds were two bullets from a hunting rifle, one in the turf strip left on the section baulk across the mound under excavation, another in the spoil dump of an active badger set in a nearby smaller mound. Funnily they don’t show the damage you’d expect if they’d been fired into the ground, and I found no cartridges. The larger third bullet that the guys found looks like somebody with a Dirty Harry fantasy has been target practising here. Maybe a member of the Home Guard who used to meet nearby. Can somebody identify the ammo?

Update next evening: Comments Dear Reader Franz J, “The smaller bullets are both full-jacketed military rather than hunting projectiles. These long blunt bullets date 1890s to perhaps 1930s – later bullets were shorter and sharp-pointed. They could have been fired when new or 50 years later. … 6.5mm was the Swedish military caliber from 1890′s to 1960s. The fatter bullet appears unjacketed (solid lead alloy) and may be 12.17mm caliber from the Remington rifles the Swedish Army used 1867-1890s, but military ammo differed little from hunting ammo for black powder rifles.”

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Skeleton Printouts On The Ground

Here’s a novel way to present a cemetery excavation to visitors.

At Broby in Täby, one of the world’s most runestone-rich spots, is the 11th century inhumation cemetery of the famous Iarlabanki family. My colleague Lars Andersson of Stockholm County Museum’s archaeology service has been excavating it bit by bit for years. Many graves are exquisitely preserved. After finishing each piece of the site he covers it again with the original ploughsoil, leaving no visible trace of his interventions. How do you present such a site to the many visitors? (Täby is an affluent suburb of Stockholm.)

Lars has had photographs of the graves in their finest prepared condition printed onto tarpaulin fabric by a company that otherwise makes the rain-proof advertisements hanging from highway overpasses. Every time he opens a new piece of the cemetery he puts the printed tarps of all the graves of earlier seasons in their spots on the ground using an EDM total station. And so when outreach officer Jennifer Shutzberg shows the site she can walk from grave to grave and demonstrate to people just what they were like and where they were even though the bones and small finds have been in museum stores for years. Well done Lars!

More Silly Humanities Idealism

Yet another case of that silly and damaging humanities idealism.

Last month the Daily Beast listed archaeology among the thirteen most useless major subjects at US colleges, as measured by employment opportunities and earnings potential. Bradley T. Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society, objects. He argues that archaeological knowledge is valuable to the long-term sustainability of a civilisation, and so the subject should be more highly valued. Whether true or not, this is beside the point. Daily Beast didn’t list subjects that they think should by rights be poorly paid or offer few job opportunities. They’re performing a valuable service in warning their readers about college majors that do in fact lead to poor pay and offer few job opportunities.

Lepper allows that our subject “certainly is not a career path for anyone who wants to get rich”. I don’t know anything about the Ohio job market, but I suspect that this is a grave understatement there as well. It would have been more accurate and honest to say that archaeology is not a career path for anyone who wants to get employment relevant to their college major. That is, anyone who wants a return on their investment of time and funds during college.

(And commenters, please don’t make the tired and baseless “archaeology gives you useful secondary skills” argument. Employers prefer people with useful primary skills.)

Sixth World Skeptics Conference

I’m at the Sixth World Skeptics Conference in Berlin, co-organised by the German GWUP and the US CSI. These conferences have been going on biannually since the mid-90s with a recent hiatus. It’s the first time I’m at a skeptical event in Continental Europe. With only 300 seats it’s not quite as planet-spanning as its name suggests, but it’s a good crowd anyway. Some impressions:

  • I prefer to be a speaker at conferences.
  • I’m doing some intensive networking for the Swedish Skeptics who sent me here.
  • Also talent scouting for the European meeting we’re organising next year.
  • It’s good to hear speakers who are not on the Anglophone circuit I’ve been following live and on podcasts in recent years.
  • Good venue, good food, lovely greenery in the courtyard.
  • Good schedule with ample opportunity to talk to people.
  • Open day for the public is a good idea when you’ve paid speakers to fly in.
  • Best talks so far: Eugenie Scott and Johan Braeckman, both on creationism.
  • Looking forward to: Rebecca Watson and Chris French.

Psychedelic Spam

Now this is how you sell pens!

The squaw had disappeared into the thick under growth, leaving a track Queen Elizabeth I 2010 Mont Blanc Limited Edition White Rollerball like a hippo in the snow. Bud could have overtaken her, of course, and he could have made her take the baby back again. But he could not face the thought of it. He made no move at all toward pursuit, but instead he turned his face toward mont blanc boheme bleu Alpine, with some vague intention of turning the baby over to the hotel woman montblanc hemingway there and getting the authorities to hunt up its parents. It was plain enough that Meisterstuck Classique Red Fountain Pen the squaw Boheme Paso Boble Dark Red Rollerball had no right to it, else she would not have run off like that.

Sb Soon on WordPress with National Geographic

ScienceBlogs was handed over to National Geographic long ago. Behind the scenes, work has progressed to migrate the site from Moveable Type to WordPress and put NG’s yellow-margins branding onto everything. And now the switch-over is imminent. Late May maybe? The new site is already up on an interim URL. I am now copying the past few weeks’ entries after the migration team copied the database for automatic transferral. Everything looks good except that I haven’t figured out the Scandinavian diacritic characters yet. Any shakiness and flakiness in the near future will no doubt be due to the move. But I feel we’re in good professional hands. One thing the move will mean for the Dear Reader is that you will have the opportunity to log in and use a picture by-line when commenting, effectively becoming more of a steady community member. Onward to glory!

Update 16 May: Good news. Crowd Favourite have solved the Scandy / German / French characters problem and promise to shrink the period for which we need to hand-copy entries from weeks to days.

Recent Archaeomags

Current Archaeology #266 (May) has a big feature on the Medieval and Renaissance version of Saint Paul’s cathedral in London. The current one designed by Christopher Wren, I learned, re-uses none of the earlier edifice’s fabric and is not even orientated on the same axis. It was the world’s first purpose-built Protestant cathedral, completed in 1710. What happened to the old cathedral? Well, first the Reformation, then a century of neglect while only the chancel remained consecrated, and then in 1666 the Great Fire of London. Finally Wren’s building crew tore down whatever was left.

Then a feature on the Late Roman cemetery of Lankhills at Winchester, where stable isotope analyses are advancing an old question of where in the Empire certain of its inhabitants came from. They were buried according to unusual rites along with uncommon foreign-looking belt fittings and brooches. The most recent excavations at the cemetery took place from 2000 to 2005, and in 2004 I heard Nick Stoodley talk about the isotope results at the Sachsensymposium in Cambridge (I wrote about it in Fornvännen). Nick suggested that the men with odd material culture were foreign-born and the women local, being their wives or daughters who wore foreign fashions. Now the report volume on these excavations is out, occasioning the feature piece. Turns out that yes, some of the Lankhills people came from various foreign parts (possibly including the suspected Pannonia), but their points of origin don’t correlate with the funny metalwork. Instead the men’s gear is now interpreted as status markers of officials at Winchester’s Imperial textile mill – a diverse group of people with both local and foreign roots.

From Current Archaeology #267 (June) I learned about a Bronze Age hoard found by an upstanding detectorist at Boughton Malherbe in Kent last August. Dating from the Ewart Park phase c. 900 BC, the hoard is Britain’s third largest, consisting largely of axes (socketed and winged) and domed ingots plus a generous sprinkling of sundries. It is the first member of a characteristic French class of hoard to surface in southern England. I wish we got these finds in Sweden too! But our laws allow no honest detectorists to operate without endless red tape. The last time anyone found a multi-object BA hoard in my part of Sweden and told an archaeologist was in 1980 when the military swept the Järvafältet shooting range for undetonated shells.

British Archaeology #124 (May/June) has six pages of reader responses to the acrimonious break-up of the Time Team television team. Good to see that people care! I’ve only watched one episode myself. And in another case of double coverage, six pages on Saint Paul’s. Apart from that, not much to catch my personal interest this time.