Urban Decay and Renewal in Marrakech

I saw something odd in Marrakech recently. Along the main avenues there was a considerable amount of construction going on. But also properties right next door that had clearly been vacated years ago without receiving new buildings. And newish buildings and shop space that were boarded up. Freshly painted fronts of closed restaurants that looked like they’d opened and failed within the past year, right on downtown main street.

Moving out a few blocks from the main drags, there were entire abandoned buildings. And in the Medina / Old Town, buildings that had been abandoned so long ago that they were in ruins, roofless. Right in the middle of extremely densely developed urban quarters. Add to this the townspeople’s timeless habit of using abandoned properties as no-fee garbage dumps, and you can imagine the squalor.

What are the economics of this? Our recently published guide book described an ongoing demographic takeover of the Medina where foreigners are buying up the old riad houses and renovating them as holiday homes. In the face of this demand, the locals are selling out and moving to the suburbs. So there is some demand for properties in Marrakech. But it seems weak or inefficiently mediated. Very alien to me, coming from a country where we only occasionally see severely dilapidated buildings way out in the countryside.

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Aard Turns Six

Yesterday the 29th was Aard’s sixth birthday, but I was busy making Småland elk meatball lasagna and playing boardgames so I forgot to post. The State of the Blog is good and I have lots of year-end entries to write, as well as a stack of archaeomags to comment on, and hopefully I will get the finder’s permission to publish some photographs here of a mind-boggling new Danish find that Aard regular (since at least July 2011) Jakob tipped me off about the other day.

Overcast weather has caused me to spend most of my Christmas vacation indoors. I’m looking forward to some crisp and sunny January days when I can hit the golf course on my skis. And to interviewing for a job where the application reviewers have for the first time ranked me #1…

How are you spending your holidays, Dear Reader?

Archaeology Should Resist Newswire Relevance

In recent years there’s been increasing numbers of archaeological research projects that reference climate change as part of what they want to study. This is at the same time wise and a little silly. It’s wise because science should serve the concerns of society, and because if you want research funding it’s a good idea to latch onto themes that people outside of your narrow speciality care about. But it’s also a little silly because it’s such transparent pandering to the funding bodies. I was taught about the threat of the greenhouse effect as a kid back in the 80s, and no archaeologist cared about climate back then. All in all, though, I think this climate orientation in recent archaeology is largely innocuous. We’re all under-funded and we follow the money.

But the other day I saw something that gave me pause. I forget the details, but this was not an announcement of a future project that sought funding. It was a press release regarding an archaeological project’s findings. (Was it in Latin America?) And hey presto – these colleagues of mine have found reason to believe that ancient climate change was the cause of changes in the archaeological record they’ve observed. This is deeply scary to me. If archaeologists’ interpretations of ancient societies vary with whatever occupies our interest today, then I think we should pack it in as a scientific discipline and just call ourselves miners of ancient art for museums.

If you come across an archaeological interpretation with newswire relevance, Dear Reader, my advice is to disregard it as a scientific mayfly.

Update 23 January: Robert Muckle comments on this blog entry at Anthro News.

Seven Years Of Blogging

Remember blogging? It was really big back in 2005. My wife and her journalist friends all took it up. And eventually I did too — a bit more than a week before Christmas that year. A year later I got onto Scienceblogs. And look at me now, seven years down the blogging line. Still enjoying myself! Traffic has been down since we upgraded to WordPress back in spring, but it’s slowly recovering.

Are you still doing things you started in 2005, Dear Reader? What things?

Nice Try, Science Publishing Group

Science Publishing Group is another scam Open Access journal publisher or academic vanity press. Yesterday they sent me a form-letter invitation to submit papers or become member of an unspecified editorial board or become a peer reviewer. “Join us!” But they don’t even publish an archaeology journal. The closest they get to one is a godforsaken excuse for a journal named Social Sciences. It allegedly caters to everything from law to anthropology.

The best part is that they sent the letter to my Academy address. The one I use when editing Fornvännen, a rock-solid paper and OA archaeology journal with 106 years of back issues. Sorry guys, you picked the wrong dude.

Update same evening: The editorial board of Social Sciences has twelve members and apparently no Editor-in-Chief. Only one of the twelve has filled out his CV page on the site, making him the best candidate if you would like to contact the journal. He is a professor of nanotechnology in Cheboksary. The journal’s web site however gives his specialities as “Knowledge Discovery in Database, Data Mining and its using for scientific and applied research, Social Science and Social Management, Family relations and Educational Management”. Awesome.

Ridiculous School Funding Drives

A perennial annoyance for me as a parent is the many odd ways in which schools force parents to organise the funding for trips and stays at camp collectively. The general idea is sound: it would not be fair to make the parents pay up front, because then the poorer families might not be able to send their kids. But our specific cases are ridiculous, because my kids’ schools cater to some of the most affluent communities in the history of the world. I’m by far the poorest of the parents involved, and I can easily afford to pay for my kids’ trips and camp stays.

What’s particularly silly is that a lot of the accepted ways to collect the shared funding are so damned inefficient. Imagine one of these moms who’s a district attorney or a neurosurgeon or head of marketing at a tech company. She may spend six hours baking cakes and selling them at a fundraiser in order to donate the meagre proceeds to the class. But she has a huge salary! She would be able to donate twenty times that sum if she just stayed at work for those six hours instead! And when I point this out at meetings I get these looks like I had suggested that we sell one of the kids into slavery.

And then there are the “jobs” intended for the kids. “Buy a bunch of candles / a box of olive oil bottles / a clutch of ‘easily sold’ salami sausages, and send your kid out to sell them to family and neighbours”. Of course all of these families end up “buying” most of the shit from their kid instead.

My suggestion is that we should quietly agree to buy 25 jars of blueberry jam, one per kid, and then pay $600 per jar to the class treasury. So far no takers, because there’s this perception that it is important for the kids to “deserve” their trip. As if our kids weren’t one big bunch of hugely over-privileged gits to begin with.

But this year I have finally managed to steer clear. After conferring with my ex, I just wrote the organiser of this year’s olive oil campaign:

Dear Mrs. So-and-so,

Junior’s mother and I are not willing to distribute any olive oil. But we will be happy to pay for our share. Please just tell me the amount and the account number.

Best wishes,

MR

Book Review: Erotic Refugees

I’ll tell you two things up front: this book is my friend’s first published novel; and I would have read it with great enjoyment even if I had no idea who the guy was. Paddy Kelly classifies it astutely as “Dick lit / Romantic comedy”: it’s Bridget Jones or Sex and the City, only from a male perspective. The plot revolves around the love lives of two young Irishmen in 00s Stockholm: one a neurotic recent divorcé and part-time single dad, the other a carefree ladies man. They’ve both ended up in Sweden for love, as “erotic refugees”. And here’s a freebie for future literature scholars trying to read this as a roman à clef: both main characters are based on the author.

Prose and plotting are tight and snappy, with a lot of good one-liners and no plodding stretches. The dialogue is pretty much pitch perfect: I don’t remember catching any false notes. The sex scenes are smutty enough to get your pulse up yet not explicit enough to move the novel into porn country. I must say I felt a little funny, reacting with considerable arousal to a piece of writing by a friend and fellow straight male. But then I thought, hey, he’s writing from memory and kindly letting his friends share bedroom situations of yore. Kelly is far too much of a gentleman to leave any clues in that would allow readers to identify the ladies in question. And no hard feelings are really there: it’s a female-friendly and wry book where even the psycho ex gets a sympathetic treatment.

Important period-specific motifs in the novel are the dot com boom and on-line dating. An important secondary concern that readers of Kelly’s blog and columns in The Local will recognise and appreciate is the humorous and sometimes exasperated commentary on Swedish society from an outsider’s point of view. Yet when one of Kelly’s characters returns to Ireland for a holiday, he realises that though his years in Stockholm have not quite made him a Swede, they have in fact changed him into something other than an Irishman.

All in all I warmly recommend this novel to men and women alike, particularly those now in their 30s and 40s, and particularly to readers with an active interest in the absurd contortions people go through to get naked together. Ladies, this book offers a candid view of the thought processes of the slightly over-sexed yet civilised male that so many of you know and love. Stockholmers, this is one of our time’s best tales of our fine city and the mores of its inhabitants.

Erotic Refugees is available as a download for the Kindle priced $5 or $2 depending on where you are. Kindle is not just a machine, it is also a free app for Apple and Android devices.

Inexplicable Millas Mirakel Lyrics

I’m bothered by odd redundancy in an 80s song lyric. Millas mirakel advises us that “It is better to light the fire of life than to never be allowed to be yourself”. Yes, and? That turn of phrase should compare two undesirable things, like “It is better to lose one toe than to lose both eyes.” Here Milla, who I might add is overall a strangely schoolmasterly and archaic pop lyricist, is basically saying “It is better to win the lottery than to lose both eyes.”

This is why we shouldn’t have freedom of speech.

Finding And Classifying Forgotten Sites

I haven’t blogged much about my research lately. One reason is that I am only working with it at ~50% this academic year since I’m teaching in addition to my usual 25% editor’s job. Another is that I’m in an intensive desk-based data collection phase, which gives rise to a lot of hypotheses and hunches but not much in the way of analytical conclusions. Here’s what I’m doing.

I’ve got a great big database of about 400 Bronze Age finds from the Lakes Mälaren and Hjälmaren provinces. This sample is delimited thusly:

a) datable finds
b) that are not demonstrably from graves or settlements
c) which have enough location info that I know at least which hamlet’s land they came from. In many cases I know what land parcel within a hamlet, or even the find-spot’s coordinates to within a few tens of meters.

Most of these finds appear to be “deposits”, which may be called “sacrifices” if you decide to ignore a two-century-long debate over their interpretation.

What I’m doing now is to establish as exact location info as possible for each find, measure its distance to the nearest burnt mounds and rock art, and plot it on the Geological Survey’s interactive map of ancient shorelines and lakes. Finding sites often takes historical detective work, since the only information I may have is the name of a 19th century meadow or a measurement from a named but long-deserted crofter’s cottage that is no longer on the map. Most of these riddles I can solve on-line. Indeed, one reason that nobody’s done this before is probably that it would have taken way too much time and travel between libraries and archives.

Having pinpointed a site, I classify it into one of a few groups that I’ve come up with inductively. I’ve now done all the sites with known coordinates, most of the parcel-level ones and some of the hamlet-level ones. At this moment I have located and classified 101 sites which have seen only one documented deposition event each. They break down as follows.

39% are in Bronze Age lakes or near their shorelines.
23% are in the Bronze Age Baltic Sea or near its shoreline.
20% are in Bronze Age rivers and streams or on their banks.
8% are in Bronze Age bogs.
7% are well pinpointed sites without any interesting characteristics that I can identify.
3% are on inland hill tops.
1% are in sources.

In addition to these sites I have four that I regard as the key to the whole area of research. They are cumulative deposition sites, that is, places where people have returned repeatedly to deposit objects despite time distances that would make them unlikely to retain any accurate information about earlier deposition events. Rather than reflecting memories of individual events, these sites in my opinion demonstrate long-lived traditional landscape rules for where sacrifices should properly be made. And they share some important traits.

During the Bronze Age, each of the four cumulative sites was in or next to a river at the point where it entered and/or exited major bodies of water. At least three sites were white-water gorges with rapids or waterfalls. And all four were in settled areas, 1–4 kilometres from registered burnt mounds and rock art.

I look at the single-use sites in the light of the cumulative ones. Most are as you can see above associated with water, and an important rule seems to have been that deposition was appropriate at sites where a river or stream changed states. Put differently, if the water interrupts its steady flow to do something interesting, then that’s where you need to sacrifice an axe. This supports and extends the observation that my collaborator Christina Fredengren has arrived at by less data-crunchy methods and published last year: “… metalwork depositions were placed at exits of waters such as river mouths and the confluence (meetings) of different waters, sweet and salt”.

Image from Lenas fotoblogg.

Danish Journal of Archaeology

Mads Dengsø Jessen of the National Museum of Denmark wrote me to say that he and his colleagues are re-launching the old Journal of Danish Archaeology (1982-2006) as Danish Journal of Archaeology at Taylor and Francis On-Line. Three papers will hopefully come on-line before Christmas, and further ones will see rolling electronic publication from then on, with an annual physical print volume appearing in ~May.

Subscribers get access to the full back-catalogue of the old JDA, as well as new papers. You can also buy PDFs of single papers without subscribing, but this is jævle expensive. Whether Open Access alternatives will be available appears uncertain at the moment: T&F say yes, Mads says no. Either way, Mads invites interested scholars to submit manuscripts.

Turning to the people behind the re-launch, we find Eva Andersson Strand (Mediterranean ancient textiles), Mads Dengsø Jessen (Viking Period Denmark) and Felix Riede (Late Palaeolithic northern Europe) editing the journal. And on the editorial board we find a long list of very good people in Scandy archaeology, explicitly separated into the university, museum and heritage sectors.

DJA will hopefully become a serious contender with Fornvännen for good papers once its citation index has had time to rise. But good old Fornvännen is hard to beat — 107 volumes and counting, plus Open Access without an author’s fee, thanks to a comfortably funded 18th century royal academy.