Re-Used Picture Stone Paper On-Line

My paper on the re-use of Late Iron Age picture stones during that same period (mainly in late male graves) has been published in English and Swedish parallel versions of Gotländskt Arkiv 2012. That’s the annual of the Gotland County Museum. Have a look! Questions and comments are most welcome.


Recent Archaeomags

Current Archaeology #276 (March) has a feature on excavations for a new container port that’s being built at Stanford Wharf near the mouth of the Thames. The Iron Age and Roman Period archaeology proved quite lovely, with waterlogged salt-making sites, remains of a boat house, loads of pottery, even waste from garum fish-sauce making. But the reason for the excavation is also interesting.

Consider the terms “nature reserve” and “nature preserve”. Most of us probably think of them as bits of particularly fine nature that are fenced in and preserved. But at Stanford Wharf much of the archaeology was done because they were going to turn farmland into a nature reserve and the process would destroy the archaeology!

The fields in question have long been protected from flooding by a sea wall. They could have been turned over to nature by just leaving them untouched. But that would have produced shrubland, not a type of nature perceived as interesting or valuable. Instead the land has been converted into a tidal marsh through the expedient of removing the sea wall and bulldozing away half a metre of topsoil. The aim was to attract wading birds. So this “nature” reserve is actually a type of cultural landscape that has cost a great big sum of money to create, all as part of the overarching port project.

British Archaeology #129 (March/April) has a feature by Bronze Age scholar Dot Boughton on a subject that’s been much on my mind in recent years: Bronze Age metalwork depositions. Most such collections of metalwork has a fairly tightly focused chronology, with almost all component objects dating from the same phase in the relative chronology. In other words: when depositing bronze, people rarely sought out antiques. But there’s been a small group of problematic or poorly documented hoard finds (Danebury, Batheaston, Salisbury) that hint at a rare custom of curating ancient metalwork and burying it in chronologically mixed hoards. In Sweden we see this for instance in the Härnevi hoard whose site I metal-detected to no great avail in 2011. Now, thanks to an intelligent metal detectorist, for the first time in England such a find has been excavated under controlled conditions, at Tisbury in the Vale of Wardour, Wiltshire.

The Tisbury hoard consists of about 114 objects: mostly weaponry and tools but also some jewellery and sundries. The latest piece dates from the 7th century BC which is past the start of the Iron Age in England. But the hoard is dominated by bits from the Late and Middle Bronze Age, the oldest being a piece of an Early Bronze Age flat axe that pre-dates even the start of the South Scandy Bronze Age (being roughly coeval with our Late Neolithic Pile hoard). Boughton suggests that the hoard may have been kept and displayed in a “communal museum”. It reminds me of ancient Greek temple treasuries.

Boughton’s thoughtful piece is an interesting read, but given what I’m working on myself I miss a discussion of the hoard’s landscape setting in relation to watercourses, settlement sites and monuments of similar or earlier date.

As I’ve commented sometimes here on Aard, I don’t care much for archaeology outside of Northern Europe. The best way to explain it is probably that few professional electricians spend their free time studying the plumbing in the building projects they work on. So I was pleased to find Current World Archaeology #57 (Feb/March) venturing into Northern Europe with five pages about Crusader castles on the shores of the south-east Baltic. The piece’s emphasis on palaeo-environmental work will make it a good read for anyone with such predilections.

Vestfold Barrows and Mead-Halls

The Midgardsenteret visitors’ centre at Borre invited me to give a talk about my Östergötland elite settlement project. This went well, with a sizeable and appreciative audience last night. One gentleman explained that they had all learned Swedish from watching kids’ TV when they were little. Today I went on a royal Late Iron Age binge.

This is Vestfold, home of the Norwegian branch of the Ynglingar dynasty, with sites like Oseberg, Gokstad, Kaupang, Huseby, Gulli – and Borre. The ancient cemetery starts right outside the main entrance to Midgardsenteret with some low mounds of respectable diameter. And then, as you walk down the slow slope towards the shore of Viken, the place goes absolutely nuts with absurdly huge barrows.

One of the largest ones was quarried away for road-building in the 19th century, yielding the first known but poorly preserved major ship burial, dating to the early 10th century. There’s been debate over whether Borre is really the dynastic burial site of the Ynglingar whom Snorri Sturluson tells of in the Heimskringla. I’ll just say this. If that line of Viking Period kings was an historical reality – which no historian seems to question seriously – then there is no way in Hel that they would have allowed anybody else to accumulate a uniquely huge barrow cemetery anywhere west of the Scandinavian mountain range – let alone at Borre, smack bang in the middle of Vestfold. The minute another family tried to build their barrow number two, or a slightly too large barrow number one, their mead hall would be burning merrily and surrounded by the Ynglingar retinue on a cleanup mission, swords in hands. Also, each barrow at Borre presupposes control over huge labour, which equals political power.

I scaled all the major barrows and cairns including the isolated Fiddler’s Barrow to the south, saw the sunken traces of Bjørn Myhre’s 1980s/90s test trenches (no archive report, no publication), saw the tricorn, saw the site of the great hall foundations revealed by GP radar, and looked unhappily at the huge robber trenches in the barrows. I really hope they’re 13th century (and thus evidence for behaviour among people I study) and not 18th century (and thus modern vandalism). Then I checked out the unusually early and unusually oriented church nearby. That’s what the Borre family built after they quit erecting barrows. And finally I was shown the new mead hall reconstruction near Borre, huge and ornately carved in the Oseberg style, with a twelve metre roof and narrative relief panels on the four central roof posts. The tale of Beowulf is illustrated by the same Vendel helmet warrior images as grace Fornvännen’s cover!

After lunch the Midgardsentret’s master blacksmith Hans Johnny Hansen drove me to the Oseberg ship barrow, sitting next to a little stream at the bottom of a wide valley, the least monumental location possible. On past the Traveller’s Barrow to Tønsberg where H.J. showed me the new replica of the Oseberg ship – blew my mind! Also lovely replicas of the smaller Gokstad rowboats and a replica of another mid-size ship. The master smith, who personally made all the thousands of clench nails for the Oseberg replica, pointed at the brass screws holding this latter ship together and made skeptical noises.

I spent my last two hours in Tønsberg at the museum, checking out the Klåstad wreck of a 10th century trading ship, the collection of whale skeletons, finds from the two 12th century battlefields at Re and an exhibition about the resistance against the German occupation in the 40s. I was chilled to read an account by their regional leader of how two young local women were found through phone wire tapping to have taken lovers in the Gestapo. The resistance immediately kidnapped and jailed both women. “We were debating whether to terminate or deport them. But finally we sent them by boat to Sweden, largely because they had made themselves useful in jail, cleaning the place up and cooking for the guards. They later sent Christmas cards from Sweden to their lovers, which we intercepted, but they didn’t seem to abuse their situation over there. So I’m glad we decided to let them live.” After the war, the children born to such women during the occupation were infamously poorly treated.

History of the Swedish Boardgame Market

Karl Olausson has just submitted his Bachelor’s thesis in history: a study of the post-WW2 Swedish boardgame market. The material he’s used is largely interviews with people in our country’s boardgame business. Karl has kindly given me permission to put the work on-line (in Swedish). Here’s the abstract:

This essay is about the history of the Swedish board game-industry from the 1970’s to today. The essay focuses on the companies in the business and how they change during this period and about the causes of this change. This essay aims both at accurately describing the development of the industry as well as asking the question of what influence factors from outside of the industry have upon the change during this period of time. The material used in this essay is mainly extracts from interviews with people who have been working in the industry during the period, as well as literature on the subject and product-catalogues from certain years in the time-frame.

From this material I have outlined the basic history of the industry. From a nearly monopolized industry in the 1970’s to the global market of today with a wide spectrum of different companies competing for the attention of consumers. I have looked at the different kind of games that enter the shelves in the stores and what trends have come, like the party and trivia games, and what have gone, like the electronic board games and the DVD-board games.

I have also applied a theory of society affecting the board gaming industry and looked at if this is true of other factors than just the theme of games. I found that the theme of games is more affected by outside factors than the mechanics are. I also found that while the industry is competing with the quickly growing industry of digital games, board games still sell almost as much today as they did forty years ago. When it comes to the business part of the industry, the globalization and the new ways to fund and distribute products have affected the consumers more than the companies in the Swedish industry. The big Swedish companies still work mainly for a Swedish market and mostly in the same working methods as earlier.


It’s time we had a de-lurk around this here blog! The last one was over a year ago. If you keep returning to this blog but rarely or never comment, you are a lurker, Dear Reader, and a most welcome one too.

Please comment on this entry and tell us something about yourself – like where you are, what your biggest passion is, what you’d like to see more of on the blog. And if you are a long-time lurker who has de-lurked before, re-de-lurks are much encouraged!

Tech Note: Tagging Matters To Traffic

I’m happy to note that Aard’s traffic is now back at its pre-Wordpress level: 880 daily uniques in January. I believe this is due to three factors: more frequent entries, a small traffic peak thanks to the Hårby valkyrie, and above all my return to tagging.

I don’t know why I quit tagging. Just lazy I guess. Tags are the little clickable keywords you’ve been seeing at the bottom of entries lately. Google places great stock on them. If I understand correctly, the search engine will place a tagged blog entry much higher in the search results than an identical entry without the tags. Tags attract drive-by readers. And surely some proportion of them will become regulars.

January Pieces Of My Mind

Some recent Facebook updates of mine:

  • After four years’ living in this house I just stubbed my toe on the bathrooom threshold for the first time — painfully. Unusually, I was wearing semi-industrial hearing protectors on my way to the john — because also unusually two people were watching TV at the same time and so the sound was on (I can’t write with speech in the background). Now I wonder — am I unconsciously in the habit of using the acoustics of our rooms to remember where I need to mind my step?
  • To solve the US gun problem, impose a 1900% luxury tax on ammo. Let the people bear arms. And not afford to load them.
  • Juniorette reads Selma Lagerlöf on her smart phone.
  • Wikipedia is a blessing and a curse. One moment I was translating my extra mom’s tourist guide to Gotland. Some unspecified time later I realised I was somehow adding information to a Wikipedia article about an old building in Lund.
  • You know how non-story-driven real life is compared to fiction? It would be fun to re-mix some Agatha Christie novels so you get a book that begins with the last third of one Mrs. Marple book, has an unrelated interlude taken from inside another book, and ends with the first third of yet another book.
  • One of the more interesting kinds of contemporary archaeology I’ve come across: identifying found bodies using associated artefacts and DNA. But of course, this is not done by archaeologists, but by police forensic teams. I submit that any contemporary archaeology not involving the police is rather pointless.
  • Annoying how actors’ opinions carry much more media weight than those of the people who write their lines.
  • 1990: I meet someone’s kid sister a few times and think “She’s going to be pretty good looking when she grows up”. 2013: I come across a picture of the same person on Facebook and think “Yes, she was in fact probably pretty good-looking for a while after she grew up”.
  • 15,000 years ago, when Dogger Bank was dry land, the Thames and the Rhine were tributaries of a larger river flowing south through the valley we call the English Channel.
  • The Stockholm public transport web site won’t volunteer this information. But by taking the bus from Märsta commuter train station, I can get from Fisksätra to Arlanda airport for the same price as from Fisksätra into town.
  • 500 years from now, the difference between our era’s cyberpunk and steampunk will be hard to spot.
  • I remember Govindadatorn, the proselytising text adventure you could play 24/7 in the 80s through the front window of the Hare Krishna restaurant on Fridhemsgatan in Stockholm. Do you?
  • David Bowie’s method of kicking a drug habit: share an apartment with Iggy Pop for two years.
  • I have this visceral resistance against putting snacks into even the cleanest of ash trays.
  • Watched a biographical TV documentary about a business tycoon. When describing his early 90s heyday, they played a few bars of Atomic Swing’s “Stone Me Into The Groove”. This blew my mind. I am old enough now that the hit songs of my early adulthood are signifiers of a historic period, like jazz in a gangster movie.
  • Swedes often mistranslate Sw. “även” into Eng. “even”. This gives rise to unintentional humour. “In addition to growing potatoes he even grows carrots.” “I’ve worked as a teacher of physics and even chemistry”.
  • Free advice from an editor: the words “It is interesting to note that” are almost always redundant and should be deleted. We already know that you find that shit interesting to note, or you wouldn’t be writing about it. And the phrase makes a false generality out of something that’s really just your personal opinion.
  • Another empty phrase that should generally be deleted: “It could be argued that”.
  • Why does Congress have to re-authorize legislation? I’ve never heard of a “limited time only” law in Sweden.
  • I doodle absurdly on boiled eggs before putting them in the fridge. Junior just asked me if you can also boil an egg by doodling on it.
  • Two yellow hovercraft just drove past on the ice here. My dad’s telescope wasn’t powerful enough to determine if they had any fish on board, and if so what kind.
  • Anders Zorn was a painter and printmaker who specialised in curvy nude women. The Thiel art museum in Stockholm is currently juxtaposing his prints with photographs of skinny nude women by Nobuyoshi Araki. In my opinion, many of the latter images are simply competent porn, indistinguishable from what you’ll find on any girly site. This means that either Araki shouldn’t be shown in an art museum, or more quality porn should be shown there. Myself, I prefer not to be perturbed in that particular way by a museum visit.
  • One card in Magic: The Gathering is named Demonic Tutor. (It lets you select a card from your draw stack instead of drawing blindly.) It amuses me endlessly to call it Sw. “demoniska tutor”, Eng. “demonic car horns”.
  • Making heavy metal hand signs and singing loudly to myself: “Ja, vi elsker dette landet, som det stiger frem, furet, værbitt over vannet, med de tusen hjem.”
  • Grrr. Just noticed that someone miscorrected “Appendices” to “Appendicies” in my mead-halls book. Fucking Swedes.
  • Walked Juniorette home from a birthday party. Full moon, grimly cold, we went onto the lake and checked out our summer swimming place, named some constellations, took our bearings from the North Star.
  • I bought a $10 Mary Roach e-book from Amazon. Because the pirated file was a PDF that wouldn’t reformat to the window and the selected type size. And because it’s Mary Roach.
  • Why do people give percentages with a decimal? Adds no relevant information, clutters the writing.
  • I think the criticism of “speciesism” is silly. I divide animals into intelligent ones that should be afforded “human” rights and others that we can blithely kill and eat. I do however think that we should have empathy with smarter members of the latter category (e.g. mammals, birds) and avoid inflicting useless suffering on them.
  • I can never get used to the idea of creating jobs. I know it’s a crucial macro-scale political task. But I was taught already as a tiny kid that you don’t wait for the environment to conform to your wishes. You adapt to the environment. I don’t want anybody to create work for me. I try to make myself attractive to employers.
  • Bolsängen: an Uppland smallhold whose name (thanks to the Swedish method of making compund nouns) means “the sexual intercourse bed”.
  • The Poupon mustard brand got its name from the firm’s coprophiliac founder, who liked to encourage his staff with a friendly “Poop on, guys! Poop on!”

Another Gold Foil Figure Die from Zealand

Another one of the rare production dies for 6/7/8th century gold foil figures has come to light, again on Zealand! This is an unusual design depicting a lady from the front. She’s wearing a long dress, a cloak and two bead strings. She seems to be cupping her hands around a ring at her abdomen. The rings on her dress hem are quite odd. Parallels to the general motif and design are known from Eketorp on Öland (a foil) and Sättuna in Östergötland (a die). Congratulations to detectorist Hans, and thanks for doing other folks with an interest in the past a big favour!

Update 4 Feb: Aard regular Kevin points out that this Vendel Period lady looks just like a Dutch Christmas cookie! Image from 123RF.

A Dutch speculaas cookie.

A Dutch speculaas cookie.