Roger Wikell 1965-2019

roger

Roger visiting a runic inscription near his home in Sorunda (Sö 231) on 1 June 2019. Photo by Andreas Forsgren.

My dear colleague Roger Wikell died yesterday at age 53, from a heart attack while walking in the woods. Reading that sentence feels absurd. Roger was timeless, a tireless and ever-enthusiastic lover of archaeology, a hugely productive scholar. In addition to the human cost of a middle-aged family man with many friends falling away so abruptly, it is a major blow to Swedish archaeology. Because while other contributors to our discipline like to secure funding first and only then do research, Roger made constant empirical discoveries and wrote voluminously in his favourite fields regardless of whether he had any funding or not.

His main fields were Bronze Age rock art, Stone Age settlement sites with their knapped lithics, and Viking Period rune stones. But with contract archaeology as his main source of income, Roger excavated and wrote archive reports on all kinds of sites from every period of the past. There are 159 pieces of work to his name in VITALIS, the main bibliographical database for Swedish archaeology. I have about half of that, and I’m known to publish a lot.

When I got to know Roger in the early 00s he and his research partner of many years Mattias Pettersson were collaborating with a couple of scholars with PhDs. As I understood these collaborations, they were not on equal terms. Roger, Mattias and others provided huge amounts of new data from skilful field surveying, but they were diffident about writing their own analyses and sending them off to journals. They had preferred to be credited as collaborators by scholars with academic credentials. But this arrangement had started to chafe after 2000. The rate of output was too slow for Roger’s taste, and he wasn’t getting his ideas into print.

I am proud to say that Roger would later repeatedly credit me with telling him and Mattias to cut out the middle man and become independent researchers, PhD or no PhD. He liked to quote me saying that if you want funding, it’s more important to vara nypubbad, to have a recent publication to show, than to have letters after your name.

Looking at the VITALIS data, here’s how Roger’s output grew over time. (The figures include collaborations.)

1987-89: 3
1990-94: 2
1995-99: 7
2000-04: 6
2005-09: 46
2010-14: 68
2015 through May 2019: 28

This pointless cardiovascular accident in the woods has robbed us not only of a good man, a loving husband and father, and a friend of many. It has also most likely robbed the research discipline that Roger loved of over a hundred solid contributions.

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11 thoughts on “Roger Wikell 1965-2019

  1. Sadness.

    Is there an obvious reason his output dropped to less than 50% after 2014? I’m wondering if he was starting to feel less physically capable.

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  2. I never met him but I share at least some of the grief, I know what it feels like when there is suddenly an empty gap where someone used to be.
    Sometimes I wish I was a psychopath, so the passning of relatives and friends would not have any emitional impact.

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    • One of my old professors says that about Roman stoicism: reading Epictetus can help when he is gloomy, but not when he wants to decide where to focus his efforts next. Some of the ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature gets a bit existentialist too.

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