My Bronze Age Book Is Out

Dear Reader, it is with great pleasure that I announce the PDF publication of my fifth monograph,* In the Landscape and Between Worlds. The paper version will appear in April or May. Here’s the back-cover blurb.

Bronze Age settlements and burials in the Swedish provinces around Lakes Mälaren and Hjälmaren yield few bronze objects and fewer of the era’s fine stone battle axes. Instead, these things were found by people working on wetland reclamation and stream dredging for about a century up to the Second World War. Then the finds stopped because of changed agricultural practices.

The objects themselves have received much study. Not so with the sites where they were deposited. This book reports on a wide-ranging landscape-archaeological survey of Bronze Age deposition sites, with the aim to seek general rules in the placement of sites. How did a person choose the appropriate site to deposit a socketed axe in 800 BC?

The author has investigated known sites on foot and from his desk, using a wide range of archive materials, maps and shoreline displacement data that have only recently come on-line. Over 140 sites are identified closely enough to allow characterisation of their Bronze Age landscape contexts. Numerous recurring traits emerge, forming a basic predictive or heuristic model. Bronze Age deposition sites, the author argues, are a site category that could profitably be placed on contract archaeology’s agenda during infrastructure projects. Archaeology should seek these sites, not wait for others to report on finding them.

Get the PDF for free from Umeå University, or ScienceBlogs!

* Though I’ve written at least one book chapter, on 8th century brooches, that’s considerably longer than my third book.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

25 thoughts on “My Bronze Age Book Is Out”

  1. Congratulations, Martin! Now, should I ever find myself on the southward-facing slope of a gravel ridge in Sweden I will know to look down and poke around a little.


  2. Thank you for the mention in the Foreword. One more of these, and I will start putting it on my CV.

    Martin, you may recall the site I told you about some time ago, the one with the rather grandiose and highly visible grave on it, which was going to hamper our efforts to prepare the site to construct housing, because the claimants were objecting to relocating the grave.

    Well, my (Chinese) geologist was out at the site alone recently doing some mapping, pushing his way through the thick, almost impenetrable undergrowth, when he stumbled upon…a big pot. A bone pot, which did indeed contain human bones. He hastily walked backwards away from the pot saying “Sorry…sorry…sorry…” and is now refusing to go back to the site unless I am with him to protect him.

    How can I protect him? Why, because I’m a Foreign Devil, impregnable to the evil of Chinese ghosts, and able to ward their evil away from those under my protection.

    He’s serious. He is not the first person I have known who has thought this way. I’m now trying to figure out a way I can turn this into some kind of profitable business – Ghost-Repellent Devil For Hire.

    But the even more serious thought is that, given that there is (i) a massive grave and (ii) at least one bone pot hidden amongst the thick vegetation on that site, we can be pretty certain that when we come to clear the vegetation, we will find plenty more human remains there. People have been using it as an unofficial (i.e. illegal) cemetery – free of charge, and very good feng shui. Very good feng shui for the deceased, that is – very bad feng shui for the living.

    And we’re going to build housing in amongst it all. Great.


  3. No, it’s like a large, heavy porcelain urn, with a loose cap-like lid that sits on top.

    The one my geologist literally walked into was already broken, which explains why he could see the human bones inside. It would take a heavy impact to break one – probably an accident, the kaolin miners not knowing it was there and running into it with their earth-moving machinery.

    Here is a Chinese Google search that my daughter has just done, to illustrate:


  4. They have to be big things to accommodate the skulls and thigh bones, obviously.

    If that link doesn’t work, I’ll have to pick out a few suitable pics and ref. those.


  5. I can’t explain the full logic of this, except to say that grave spaces are very expensive in Hong Kong due to the lack of land. However, I note similar practices at least in Taiwan.

    The corpse is buried in a pine wood coffin. After the passage of a suitable number of years to allow defleshing by decomposition, worms, microbes, etc., what is left of the deceased is dug up again. Having been through this with my mother-in-law, I can attest that after 14 years, the pine wood coffin had vanished completely, rotted or eaten away to nothing, and all that remained were Mum’s bones with some sticky black soil-like stuff adhering to them in places, and a valuable jade pendant that we had placed on a chord around her neck before she was buried – clear evidence that the grave had not been disturbed in the interim.

    The bones were removed from the grave and cleaned, and at that point there are two options – either the cleaned bones can be placed in a bone pot, and kept somewhere (stored in a temple, possibly, or even at home), or they can be cremated and placed in a much smaller container, which can be stored likewise. The jade pendant, now having acquired magical powers, was carefully removed and is now in possession of the oldest child.

    Why not just cremate Mum in the first place and avoid all this messing around? I have no idea, and no one could explain it to me. I console myself with the thought that I must be among a minority of people in the world who have seen their own mother-in-law’s skull. My wife commented that it was “very round” and her older brother said “Shandong people are like that.” I hadn’t realised he was into craniometry.


  6. I loved my mother-in-law dearly, and it was no burden to try to show respect for her in whatever way was deemed appropriate. If that meant burning grave offerings and a load of mumbo-jumbo, it was no big deal. When she was alive, she bent her customs and beliefs plenty of times to accommodate me.

    I am thinking that there are environments where this just wouldn’t work very well – cold dry environments where decomposition would be a very much slower process. I don’t know what people do in those environments. If it is cold and dry enough, or wet and mildly acidic as in bogs, the corpses will mummify.


  7. grave spaces are very expensive in Hong Kong due to the lack of land

    This is true in parts of Europe as well. A few years ago I learned that Austria generally only allows people to be buried in graves for 50 years. The reason I learned of this is because they made an exception for Erwin Schrödinger: because he is so famous, the authorities allowed him to remain buried for 100 years after his death.


  8. The pressure of urbanisation should make some NT version of catacombs a viable option. I don’t see immigrants from muslim countries (for instance) opting for cremation.


  9. Underground cemeteries are hugely publicly unpopular. Ancient catacombs may be interesting (although I’m willing to bet not too many tourists have a burning desire to tour through them), but descending some gloomy, scary tunnel to visit your loved one’s remains is a different ball game.

    We have been trying to gain public acceptance of the idea of underground columbariums, and it is extremely difficult. The most frequent demand is that there should be natural light – so you excavate some big subsurface cavern to house the boxes of ashes, then put a whacking great skylight in it to admit natural light, which totally defeats the original purpose of preserving the surface land for some other use.

    If people don’t like the funeral practices of their adopted country, I guess they always have the option of going back where they came from to die.


  10. The Observatory here are not mentioning it, and they normally do if something interesting is going to be visible, so it looks like not.


  11. Congratulations, Martin ! I’m definitely getting a copy. How much is the paper version anyway?

    Student number: 15098398


  12. Re. @ 17,
    I think the moon will rise while entering the penumbra section of the shadow, as seen from Hong Kong.
    — — —
    BTW, while you probably have little local bronze age deposits, I assume you have access to both late fossil strata (from the era when humans became upright), as well as fossils from the Permian era (when mammals became mammals) at the Karroo.
    Too bad the ice-age coast is submerged, there might be a full sequence of artefacts from the earliest humans to modern humans, as the South African coast is so favourable for fishing.


  13. #20 – They’re predicting cloud, which here means heavy cloud, as we are now just entering the tropical summer cycle.


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