My First Trilobite

I’ve been aware of fossils since my dino fanboy days in Greenwich Country Day School, and I used to collect them in a small way on family trips to Gotland. Back home, I would put fossils in malt vinegar and see bits of shell emerge from the limestone matrix. But I never found a trilobite.

Trilobites are the best fossils. Detailed, complicated, and often complete, unlike for instance the crinoids I would find of which only bits of stem like corrugated cigarette butts remained. More structure to the trilobites than to the orthoceratites every Swede treads on in the limestone stairs and hallways of early 20th century public buildings. But trilobites are uncommon or absent from the strata along the coast of Gotland, so I never found one. Until not too long ago, on the front porch of my dad’s house near Stockholm.

In the 50s and 60s, there was a gardening fad in Sweden where people would cover their patios and garden walks with red Öland limestone. I grew up with that stone everywhere, and maybe there were trilobites in it though I never saw one. My first trilobite sits right outside my dad’s front door.

The Öland Red dates from the Ordovician, about 488–444 million years ago. I can’t tell what species the trilobite is. Can you, Dear Reader?

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New Migration Period Hoard

A few weeks ago my friend Tobias Bondesson and his fellow amateur detectorists Iohannes M. Sundberg and Tommy Olesen found a 3.5 kg silver and gold hoard from the 5th century AD near Roskilde in Denmark. They reported their find to the town museum, the hoard was lifted by experts and excavations are ongoing. This closed find, consisting of ~1500 pieces of metal and the pot in which they were buried, is of immense value to archaeology and numismatics thanks to the snapshot of coeval objects it gives us. This not just bullion: many of the objects are typologically distinct. I’d love to help identify all the bits!

Congratulations guys! My hat is off to you! As Tobias comments: this shows that the Danish system, where professional archaeologists treat honest detectorists with respect and invite them to collaborate, works.

Dynamic Map of Chinese Unrest

The Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo censors searches for the names of places where there are protests (currently Shenzhen). You could write a script that searches for the main Chinese cities on Weibo and plots the ones that are censored on a map. Presto, a dynamic map of Chinese political unrest! With data supplied by the Chinese government, no less. Who will do it first?

Update same day: Daniel Becking points to the highly informative web site Blocked On Weibo. It has a wide remit. The most recent entry explains why the two characters for “pantyhose” are blocked.

I Am Sailing

My dad’s a member of a yacht club in order to have sheltered jetty space for his motorboat. It’s not a fancy affair, most of the boats being small and decades old. But many of them are sailboats, and for the past ten years the club has been organising family-oriented mini races in the evenings. A few weeks ago they were a guy short on a boat where my dad is a sometime crew member, so he asked me if I wanted to come along. I sailed dinghies as a kid, so I know the basics.

My first race was on a rainy evening. I got wet and I got cold and I still enjoyed it. The second race was on a lovely sunny evening, and it was great. And earlier tonight on my third race I had the pleasure not only of fine weather and a good wind, but there were only three of us in a J/105 so I had some more onboard responsibilities. Also the adrenaline rush of fast tacking in a stiff wind. And beginning to learn what goes where on a bigger boat.

A race takes only about an hour and then there’s hotdogs and soda and light beer. People mill around on the quay talking while waiting for the hotdogs to get warm and the judge to get the results out of his spreadsheet. (Allowing for people to compete against each other using sailboats of different sizes, makes and models involves complicated math.) And though this is in a very affluent community and sailing is an expensive sport, the people in the club are pretty down to earth. My high-school gym teacher is there, sailing with his grown-up daughter. The vibe is amicable and unpretentious. These are people who, instead of hiring guards, keep a watch schedule and walk the jetties at night in person to keep thieves from stealing bits from their boats. I find myself enjoying their company. And the sailing.

Flew To Öland

Yesterday I went to Öland and showed my students some sites and landscape. We were joined by human geographer Carl-Johan Nordblom who knows all the post-Viking stuff. Lovely day! Though we couldn’t find our way to the best-preserved of the Resmo passage tombs. The land owner has tired of visitors and closed off the driveway from the main road.

My ride Stockholm-Kalmar was a fun little flying school bus, the Swedish 1983 design SAAB 340, seating 34 people. I had a great view when we flew back north in the sunset, golden horizontal lighting bringing out the surface contour.

There was a little misunderstanding. I was listening to a podcast in ear buds on the plane and covering one ear with my hand to dampen the engine noise and hear what people were saying on the show. The white cords were plainly visible. The hostess then offered me ear plugs. This struck me as an odd thought.

Swedish Landscape Surprises

Taking a hint from George Hrab’s stage show, I asked my landscape history students to write me a question each anonymously on a small note. Or rather, I asked them to ”Tell me something that surprises you about the Swedish landscape you’ve seen so far”. This turned out to be a good teaching tool. I went through the stack of notes and discussed them with the students.

The Finnish and Canadian students aren’t surprised by anything at all. Their countries look like Sweden, because they have the same history of Ice Ages and a sparse population and are on the same latitude as Sweden. But 1/3 of the group are from the US, 1/4 are from East Asia, and 1/5 are from Germany. Here’s what surprises them – and remember, they’re mainly commenting on the Växjö region, a small town in a wooded province.

The most common surprise was how lush, green, pristine and “natural” Sweden is. Several respondents said the place feels so alive. To this I replied that yes, in August on a university campus where everybody’s 22 you would get that impression. But of course it also has to do with one of the two great Swedish landscape determinants: a low population pressure.

Many also wondered at the great many lakes, the flatness of the topography and the many boulders and visible rock outcrops. All of these things are due to the other great landscape determinant here: the Ice Age.

Swedish buildings are surprisingly low and widely spaced. Population pressure again.

A surprising number of houses are red. This is because brick was once fashionable and expensive, while wood and red paint was cheap and abundant. The classic red pigment used to emulate brick comes from the iron-rich tailings of the Falun copper mine.

Municipal planning is also a source of surprise. There are wide bike tracks everywhere, lots of benches in the parks, and the university campus is a separate area outside of town.

On Friday I’m taking the whole bunch on a field trip to Öland to see some archaeology.

The Protectionworthiness of the Cuddly

Facebook is swamped with pictures of cats at shelters that face imminent euthanasia. Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund has an ad on the Tradera auction site that says “Soft, Orange and Homeless” and invites me to support orangutan shelters.

There’s a reason that these campaigns don’t feature fish or lizards. And that reason is that cats and young orangutans happen to be cuddly and the size of human babies. But disregarding our parental reflexes, there is no more (or less) reason to mourn a dead cat than the chicken you had for dinner yesterday.

But I’m willing to believe that an orangutan is sentient or smart enough to fall under the same rules that declare a human life sacred. And so, probably, are dolphins, octopuses and certain parrots. This is a dangerous argument though, because it removes the duty to care for severely mentally retarded humans.

Pragmatically, if you want to collect funds for orangutan shelters, it’s probably a good idea to appeal to our baby protection programming rather than our intellects. But really, if it was a question of rational argument in the competition against other endangered species that need support, it would have been better if the WWF had written “This young orangutan is smarter than you were at that age”.

I really don’t know why the PR firm thinks the colour orange makes you more deserving of protection though.

State of the Blog

The dust has settled after Sb’s migration in late May from Moveable Type to WordPress. I’m glad we switched, but we lost a lot of traffic in the process. Mainly it seems to be due to changing URLs (the web address of each blog entry) that threw the search engines off and lost us RSS subscribers. In Q3 2011 Aard had 780 daily readers on average and a Google rank of 7. In Q3 2012 it’s looking to be more like 540 daily readers, and the Google rank is 6. Dear Reader, to keep things lively here, I’d be grateful for your help. In the following weeks, if you read something you like here, please hit the recommendation buttons up top for Facebook, Twitter and G+. Also, if you keep a blog, I’d appreciate a link now and then. Thanks!