Pondering a Professional Plan B

I’m a month from my 20th anniversary as a professional archaeologist and I’m considering my options. Unlike most people who make a living in my trade I have not worked much in contract archaeology and I have spent only a few months on the dole. Instead my main source of income during these two decades has been research grants from private foundations. Not big ones, but many of them. With a frugal lifestyle and no departmental overhead, I have produced more publications per krona than most. This has increased my chances of finding renewed funding. Publish or Perish has been my rule. Secondary sources of income have been 2½ years of grad school salary, 13 years of part-time journal editing, and even half a year’s pay made at Jeopardy.

Plan A for me has always been an academic job: to do research, dig and teach. I never got any of the rare entry-level post-doctoral jobs in academe, and now I am “mid-career” and no longer eligible for them. Starting autumn 2010, though, I’ve begun getting shortlisted for lectureships. And I know from stats gathered during my years of academic job hunting that 50% of everyone who gets a lectureship in Scandy archaeology are between 41 and 43½ years old. So having just turned 40, I’m thinking that plan A has four years of realistic life left. When I turn 44 I will again (and terminally) belong to a demographic that gets less than a quarter of all lectureships.

My current professional lifestyle isn’t sustainable long-term because older scholars aren’t as popular with small foundations and because I need to think about my pension plan as well. So I need a plan B.

I could leave archaeology for a full-time job in non-fic publishing on the strength of my years of journal and book editing. But I’d really rather not since that would mainly entail copy editing, proof reading and admin, tasks that I do mechanically. Let’s call that plan C. Or D.

The plan B that I’ve been thinking about lately, instead, is to start a one-man consultancy firm and offer contract excavation units to write up their small finds. I have no idea what the demand for such a service is like right now. I do know that just like I am not as good a field archaeologist as colleagues who have been digging full time since 1992, they are not as good at small finds as I am. But I am uncertain how much importance the units place on the quality of the finds write-ups in their reports. It might be that they would reply to my offer, “Sure, we think you would do a better job, but our main priority sadly isn’t quality but affordability. And besides, we need to keep Digger Joe here occupied over the winter since he’s already on staff”.

Anyway, I’m still not in that magic 3½ year window for lectureships, and I have seen some encouraging signs lately. So I guess I won’t be starting Rundkvist Archaeology & Text Ltd before 2016, at the earliest.


All My Readers are Descendants of Slaves

I was thinking about African American culture and how it still shows signs of these people descending from slaves, US slavery having been abolished less than 150 years ago. And I asked myself, what is that subculture going to be like a few hundred years in the future? Then it hit me. That’s where my subculture is now.

I’ve made the point before that all my readers are descendants of royalty. But a far greater percentage of our pedigrees lies with the slaves. All currently living members of the various European ethnic groups have ample slave ancestry.

Slavery was common in Iron Age Scandinavia and is particularly well documented for the era’s final part, the Viking Period. It survived into the High Middle Ages, though apparently at a far smaller scale. This was probably due largely to the 11th century introduction of Christianity. Sweden kept issuing Viking-style raiding fleets into the 13th century, but these operated within a Crusade framework against pagans on the eastern shores of the Baltic, and slave-taking does not seem to have been on the agenda. A 1337 law code finally made it illegal to enslave the child of Christian parents, and since no other religion than Christianity was tolerated, this effectively meant abolition within the ensuing generation. Meanwhile, internal colonisation on marginal land meant that by 1400 the grand-children of the last slaves, though nominally free, were tenant crofters on poor dependent farmsteads and worked for the grand-children of the last slave owners.

A difference from the US situation is that phenotypically, European slaves were not very different from their owners. Written Scandinavian sources do occasionally describe slaves as swarthy, but they dwell more on them being ugly, stooped, unwashed and uncouth. To recognise a Viking Period slave, you couldn’t look at his facial features, skin or hair. What gave him away was his bearing, his manner and his clothes. And Viking Period Scandies made no attempt to keep a tenuous colour line. Sons sired by aristocrats on their slave women could unproblematically be raised as lordlings.

Love and desire are largely colour blind among humans absent strong conditioning. African Americans of today don’t look like Western Africans (and not just because of slave-era rape). And as the centuries pass, I guess the difference between “white” and “black” Americans will blur even more, until racial profiling no longer works if a policeman wants to avoid giving the mayor’s son a speeding ticket too many. And so new subcultures will form.

Swedish Runic Corpus On-line


Here’s an extremely useful resource. The Swedish National Heritage Board has scanned the great multivolume corpus publication of Swedish runic inscriptions, Sveriges runinskrifter, and put it on-line for free. Currently as PDF files, but in the future there will also be a structured database. Though the PDF:s have been run through optical character recognition, they don’t seem to have been indexed on Google (yet?).

For an example, read about (p. 547 ff) Kalv’s runestone U 875 at Focksta in Hagby, Uppland, shown above.

16th Century Campaign Archaeology


My buddy Claes Pettersson is a field archaeologist in Jönköping and always has a lot of fun projects going. Last year he told me about an undocumented manor park he had studied through geophysics. Right now he’s digging bits of Jönköping’s obliterated castle. And recently he sent me an intriguing little fieldwork report (available on-line for free). It’s a piece of, not exactly battlefield archaeology, but campaign archaeology, which is rare.

The back story is short and nasty. Sweden fought the Northern Seven Years’ War from 1563 to 1570 against Denmark-Norway, Lübeck and the Polish-Lithuanian union. The war ended in mutual exhaustion, with nobody gaining any territory – which was what wars were fought for at the time. So even at the time there was no way to justify the loss in lives, homes and livelihoods, though the Danes did get to sell the stronghold of Älvsborg (and Sweden’s access to the Atlantic) back to the Swedes at a steep price.

In the autumn of 1567, Danish general Daniel Rantzau headed a surprise attack on the then Swedish border province of SmÃ¥land with an army of about 6000. His objective was to lay the province waste and force the Swedes to the negotiation table, in sort of a miniature Hiroshima move. On 31 October Rantzau’s vanguard under Christoffer von Dohna reached a small wooden fort defended by about a thousand Swedes under Peder Kristersson Siöblad and blocking the Danish advance. After a brief skirmish the fort was taken and the Swedes retreated with severe losses. The skirmish bought them time to destroy an important causeway across a bog and evacuate and torch the city of Jönköping, which Rantzau would otherwise have made his army’s winter quarters.

The site of the skirmish and the fort was soon forgotten. But enough detail is given in Rantzau’s campaign memoir that local historian Harry Bergenbladh could point with some confidence to a likely spot in 1967. He, however, had no realistic way of testing his hypothesis as metal-detector battlefield archaeology had not yet been developed. This was remedied in 2010 when Claes Pettersson and his collaborators went out to test the waters. They found the heads of crossbow bolts, a Katzbalger short sword used by Landsknecht mercenaries in close combat and a 1563 Swedish coin. Fieldwork in 2011 added musket balls, pistol bullets, a spur and a horse bit, all in topographical situations that make sense in the context of how Rantzau describes the fighting. The Swedish sites and monuments register now contains its first 16th century skirmish site!

The report and the fieldwork don’t end there. The group has also done geophys on the site of a nearby church village that went up in smoke the morning after Rantzau’s army had bivouacked there, performed some less successful metal detecting on the poorly preserved site of another skirmish, documented relevant finds in private ownership locally, and mapped the smoking corridor of devastation that the Danes left behind by means of taxation registers from the period following the war. All in all a wide-ranging and innovative piece of Early Modern campaign archaeology produced on a slender budget!

Engkvist, S. et al. 2012. Getaryggen 1567. Delrapport för år 2011. Miliseum rapport 2011:1. Skillingaryd.

Rare Plane


Rode a pretty rare/air plane Bromma – Kallinge on Friday morning. It was a Saab 2000, a 1992 Swedish turboprop model of which only 63 where ever built. (Apparently they saw daylight in the mistaken hope that customers would want a turboprop this size, rather than the ubiquitous jets, and lost Saab a lot of money.) This one belongs to Golden Air. On the way back I rode one of those paunchy ATR 72-500s. Both models have their cargo bays right behind the cockpit.

Another Crappy Publishing Deal

Sigh. Another crappy publishing deal. This firm wants me to write a 500-word encyclopaedia entry and assign copyright entirely to them, with the right to re-edit in the future. And what do they offer in return?

A £30 book coupon and access to a paywall website.

I just can’t see why I would find this offer at all attractive. I don’t need the book coupon or the key to that paywall. (Indeed, the paywall thing is simply like getting a copy of a book you contribute to, only much cheaper for them.) It wouldn’t improve my CV noticeably to publish 500 words under this firm’s imprint or under the volume’s somewhat famous head editor’s byline. 15 years ago it might have.

So they offer me nothing I want, but they demand a gift of something I own – my copyright. And the right to fuck around with my writing in the future!

(a) The Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher for the full term of copyright and all extensions and renewals thereof the entire copyright in the Contribution and any revisions thereof, including but not limited to the right, by itself or with others, throughout the world, to print, publish, republish, transmit and distribute the Contribution and to prepare, publish, transmit and distribute derivative works based thereon, in all languages and in all media of expression now known or later developed, and to license or permit others to do so.

(b) The Publisher shall have the right to make such revisions, deletions or additions to the Contribution that the Publisher may deem advisable in the interest of space and uniformity of style and presentation, provided that the accuracy of the text is not impaired.

I’m turning them down. They’re a major profit-making company, not some academic society. And clearly academic writing isn’t a marketable commodity. I often write for free. But I resent having to pay a publisher in kind so they can sell my stuff.

Harry Martinson Talk


The Swedish Skeptics have received the 2012 Harry Martinson Memorial Prize from his birth municipality Olofström and the Harry Martinson Society. Martinson, a Nobel laureate, was a poet and prose writer who is particularly well known for his book-length science fiction epic poem Aniara. As chairman of the Swedish Skeptics I was invited down to Blekinge province where I spent Friday looking at archaelogy and doing some metal detecting with my colleague Mikael Henriksson from the County Museum — and on Saturday morning I delivered an acceptance speech and a talk (in Swedish) on Martinson’s relationship to science and popular enlighenment.

Sacrificial Sites: Sorunda and Turinge


Spring is late this year in Sweden, and the weather has been dreary. But now things have perked up, and suddenly I felt the itch to get out and check out some sites before the leaves and grass sprout in earnest and ruin visibility. So Sunday night I hurriedly checked through my database of Bronze Age sacrificial finds and picked out two nearby sites where the find spots are known to good precision. I printed out maps from the sites & monuments register and checked for coeval rock art & burnt mounds nearby. And I got the 1000 BC shoreline map for each site from the Swedish Geological Survey’s web site. So I was set for a field trip Monday.

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