Postcard from Hazor

My cousin Annika kindly forwarded me this postcard from a budding archaeologist just out of high school and on his first dig. I translate:


Hazor-Haglilit July 15th, 1990, 12:05 [Sunday]


Mainly I’m digging. At the same time we exchange some language teaching – my new Israeli acquaintances call each other “whitstevell” in passing [Sw. skitstövel, “shit boot”] (think about it and you’ll get it…), and I’ve learned things like makush (hoe), makushon (small hoe), benga benga (work, work!), yalla (faster!), malofofon (cucumber), and ma-eem (water).

I’ve got today off, and I have the typical travel anxiety, “Gotta see as much as possible now that I’m here!”. But I can’t be bothered. Not today, not with the heat. Instead I remain in the closed-for-summer Torah school where we are housed, washing (without visible result) my grimy clothes, writing a little, and I’m planning on finishing the book about Hazor I started reading yesterday (when I didn’t have the stamina to travel around either).

Hope your version of July is equally pleasurable!



What I find striking about this is that my hand writing and thought processes are pretty much still the same after 22 years.


DIY Strap Fastener For Samsung Galaxy S III

The people behind the Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone made an odd design decision. They got rid of the standard fastening point for a strap. And the backshells on the market don’t have a fastening point either. But I really want a strap to be able to pull my phone out of my pocket and to keep from dropping it. Here’s what I did.

  1. Get a shock-absorbing plastic backshell (I’m not talking about the cover of the battery compartment, but a secondary shell that fits onto the back of the phone when the battery cover is in place) and a strap or lanyard of your choice. (I prefer a short wrist strap.)
  2. Open up a paper clip and heat one end of it in a candle to drill two holes through the backshell. Repeat to widen the holes. Not too closely spaced and not too near the edge of the shell!
  3. Clean the uneven edges of the holes from either side with the point of a small knife or nail scissors.
  4. Stick a loop of sewing thread through the holes to pull the loop of your strap through.
  5. Stick the strap through its own loop, fastening it to the shell.
  6. Fasten the shell to the phone.

Fazer Chinaman Gone, Leaves Hat

Fazer's old packaging

Fazer has removed the cartoon East Asian from one of two versions of the packaging for their chocolate-covered puffed rice. Only the conical straw hat remains, an “abbreviated motif” as Karl Hauck would have put it. Tørsleff still has the guy on their gel agent. Gabob recently published the fine boardgame Wok Star which is full of cartoon East Asians.

Tørsleff's gel agent

Thinking about these images, I’ve decided that I don’t find them racist. The old Fazer and Tørsleff cartoons are certainly outdated, since few people in East Asia wear conical straw hats or queue hair any more. The Wok Star images are up-to-date. And none of the images denigrate East Asians in my opinion. Granted, it’s hard to understand why there’s a cartoon Chinaman on the gel agent, but the chocolate has rice in it and is named “Kina”, and the boardgame is about a Chinese family restaurant.

The Wok Star boardgame

I’m thinking that when Chinese cartoonists draw friendly caricatures of their own people, then they probably look a bit like this. If we can’t allow cartoons of people with non-Europid features, then we just make them invisible in part of the public space.

What do you think, Dear Reader?

Update same evening: Dear Aard regular Christina points to an ongoing fracas in Canada where a South Asian woman depicted on a draught for new paper money was replaced by a Europid woman.

Subway Ticket Booth Dream

In this guest entry, my friend Milka Zelić reports on the gritty realities of public transport in Slumberland:

It wasn’t enough that I had a rough time at work last night. When I finally got to bed I ended up working a second shift.

Because of construction work on the subway a temporary ticket booth had been set up in the home of an Ethiopian family on the Rinkeby council estate. I had to settle in with my cash register, stamp and stuff in their little bathroom, which could somehow accommodate an extra table and chair (pretty many chairs actually, I had some trouble choosing). I relieved a girl who said working there had gone pretty well. The door was closed and the passengers had to knock civilly on it to get in.

Then I was receiving passengers in the family’s kitchen and had to assemble hamburgers for them. Do you want dressing with that? Onions? Mustard and ketchup? What would you like to drink? I’ve got a Lite Coke here that’s gone flat, will that do you? But what are people supposed to drink from? I clean a few drinking glasses that turn out to be not glasses, but a vase and a wide-necked bottle, and then I give that task up.

The passenger I’m serving, a blond man who come to think of it is pretty attractive, is losing his patience. I can sort of sympathise since everything is taking a lot of time, what with the dish washing and my trouble with the register. It’s suddenly turned into an old model with hundreds of buttons and I can only press them at random. But he’s also being a bit unreasonable. Suddenly he doesn’t want a ticket for his sister after all (come on!) and deletes stuff from the receipt (he apparently knows exactly how the register works) and now he doesn’t even want to pay for his burger. I object to that, and… I guess about here is where I woke up.

Fiction Authors, Remember Who Your Narrator Is

I’ve blogged before about authors who write fiction in the first person past tense but clearly have no idea of in which situation or at what point in time their narrator resides while telling the story. This is one of the problems with David Tallerman’s 2012 novel Giant Thief. But what made me quit reading it was another problem: Tallerman forgetting who his narrator is entirely.

The book is set in a vaguely European world with giants and magic and a material culture apparently on the High Medieval tech level, just before the invention of fire arms. Yet the narrator’s voice marks him as a suspiciously modern fellow. And lo and behold, on p. 168 he describes how he makes his way stealthily down a dry stream bed, commenting that “It seemed at times like some surreal game”.

Really, Mr. Tallerman? Your Medieval fantasy thief uses a concept invented by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1903 and popularised by French writers and painters in the 1920s?

Carver On Education In Archaeology

Martin Carver in the editorial to the current issue of Antiquity:

If the PhD is an apprenticeship, why does it include no formal training in fieldwork—our method of recovering primary data? Quite apart from the fact that the world is already full of academics who don’t know how to dig (but think they do), not every doctoral student is destined for a job in a university. The commercial sector, as archaeology’s largest employer, needs their talents too—but it would help if they were trained. Six months in the field, out of 36 months in a library, strikes me as a minimum (leaving 30 months to write four articles).

Meanwhile what of the students who are not doing PhDs, but want to be archaeologists;
do they fare any better? No they don’t. It has become ever more difficult for promising young people to gain access to the profession. The old way was simple enough: you volunteered and received training in exchange for your labour. Now you pay to be trained or indeed, in some reprehensible cases, pay not to be trained. So what are you paying for?: to buy an experience without making any commitment to it, known in other walks of life as prostitution.

Mörner & Lind Digging Without A Permit Again

Here’s an interesting legal conundrum. The pseudo-archaeological power duo Bob Lind and Nils-Axel Mörner have been excavating without a permit again (as confirmed to me by the County Archaeologist). But the site they have chosen is a disused quarry of indeterminate age. Though protected by the letter of the current law, such a humble and probably not very old site would not in practice receive the full treatment afforded e.g. a prehistoric settlement site.


Lind and Mörner claim that the quarry dates from the Bronze Age. So they have dug into a site they believe to be legally protected without securing a permit first.

I’d say that this is the equivalent of shooting somebody who is, unbeknowst to the gun man, already dead. No harm done. But there was intention to commit a crime.

(And about their suggestion that this is the quarry where the tallest stones in the Ales Stenar stone ship were quarried? The general Brantevik area with its many quarries was pointed out decades ago as a source of the stones by writers not acknowledged in the press release. And Lind & Mörner have presented neither dating evidence nor a petrographic analysis to support their claims.)

Hubbard’s Caveman

Kai gave me this lovely piece of old Scientology propaganda. The 1968 book Scientology: A History of Man is a re-titled edition of something L.R. Hubbard completed in 1951-52 and disseminated under the title What To Audit. After the formerly secret teachings about Xenu the evil space emperor etc., this is probably the most widely ridiculed text of Scientology. But with the fine cover image (apparently painted by Hubbard himself) and the new title, the book clearly aims to say something about humanity’s ancient past – which is my job.

In the foreword Hubbard assures the reader that “This is a cold-blooded and factual account of your last sixty trillion years” and explains that he “began to search into the back track of Mankind some years ago”. Now, of course, we know that the Big Bang occurred only about 13.75 billion years ago, and talk about time before the beginning of time is meaningless. But to one with Hubbard’s science fiction background, sixty trillion must have sounded awesome.

Moving on into the text however, it turns out that true to its original title, the whole thing is mainly about reincarnation, memories of past lives, “auditing”, the “E-meter”, evil “theta beings” possessing people, and how to become “clear” from these malicious spirits. We’re not dealing with named palaeontological or archaeological finds or sites. Instead Hubbard envisions people carrying memories of being various pre-human animals along an imagined Chain of Being, then the Piltdown Man (debunked by radiocarbon in 1953) and the Caveman on the book’s cover. This is the “history of man”. But Hubbard never explains the basis for his assertions, never refers to other writers or excavations or labwork other than in general nameless terms. He’s delivering Revealed Truth. The voice in this confused tirade of a book is authoritarian yet clearly slightly mad. (Insiders have reported that some of the material was actually dictated by Hubbard’s 17-y-o son after the father dosed him liberally with amphetamines.)

On the back cover is the blurb “Discover how to create sanity for future generations”. Flipping through the book I get the definite impression that the problem L.R. Hubbard was really struggling with was that of creating sanity for himself.

I Got A Uni Job

My professional goal since undergraduate days 20 years ago has been to divide my working hours between indoor research, fieldwork and teaching. And so I applied for my first academic job in June of 2003, shortly before my thesis defence. When I saw the list of applicants (this stuff is public in Sweden) and checked everybody in the bibliographical database, I was optimistic. I had way, way more publications per year after age 25 than anybody else! But the job went to a guy who was twelve years older than me. What counted wasn’t your output rate but your output sum: the thickness of your stack of published work, and your teaching experience. And later I realised that you also have to be between 41 and 45.

But I kept on applying endlessly all around northern Europe, all the while building my research portfolio and teaching a little here and there. After five years uni rules closed all opportunities reserved for junior scholars to me. (Though the people who get those jobs in Swedish archaeology aren’t actually junior. They’re middle-aged yet have recently finished their PhDs.) After seven years I began to get shortlisted for lectureships, though I didn’t get the jobs. And now, nine years and a few weeks after the deadline of that first job I applied for, I have been given my first uni job! Temping, but still!

During the autumn term, I’m going to teach Swedish landscape archaeology / history in English to exchange students at the Linnaeus University’s Växjö campus. To begin with, it’s ~100 paid hours. So my first uni job is less than three weeks long if recalculated into full time. But that’s an important start. Because teaching qualifications snowball: you get teaching jobs in relation to how many hours you’ve already taught. This job will more than double my uni teaching experience. And I suddenly realise something that seems very obvious.

An important reason that I haven’t gotten uni jobs before is probably that I haven’t paid much active attention to my teaching portfolio. I’ve concentrated on research and writing. Teaching certainly doesn’t bother me: students tell me I’m good at it. But I belong to a generation of Stockholm archaeology PhDs who never taught during grad school because the department didn’t have any external funds to let the permanent staff off from teaching duty. So we never picked up the kernel of that teaching snow ball.

Now it seems so clear to me. I should have been pestering academic personnel officers around Scandinavia informally on a monthly basis for brief temp teacher jobs like the one I just got. I should have started in 2003. I never really did that. Because I knew the way to the steady jobs I wanted lay in publications. I’ve pretty much seen temp teaching as a way for scholars to support themselves while treading water academically, one that I don’t need since I have research grants. And sure, a good publication record is a necessary requisite. But I believe, Dear Reader, that I will have reason to write more about how the snow ball of my teaching qualifications is doing in the future.

Name That Moth

Early this morning this little guy found a really good crack in some wood where s/he could sleep during the day. Unfortunately the crack turned out to be the space between the gate to our yard and the door jamb, so all day the sleeper has been see-sawing to and fro as we have opened and closed the door. I don’t know what kind of moth it is, only that it looks lovely. Can you identify it, Dear Reader? To narrow down the possibilities, note that this moth lives on the inner margin of the Stockholm archipelago at about N 59° 18′, E 18° 15′.

Update same evening: Johan Lundgren pinpointed the moth: it’s a Yellow Line Quaker, Agrochola macilenta, or as Ansa Messner adds, lädergult backfly in Swedish. They aren’t very common in August, preferring to fly during the autumn.