Mats Peterson Malmer (1921-2007) would have been 100 years old on 18 October. If I had to pick just one archaeological hero, I’d pick Mats. It’s his clarity of thinking and writing. It’s his insistence on objective observation. It’s his uncompromising willingness to process enormously large volumes of material. It’s his wide thematic range. Mats’s 1984 debate piece “Arkeologisk positivism” was enormously important to me in grad school ten years later when I was surrounded by an evangelising post-modernist relativist orthodoxy.
In the Malmer retrospective reader volume Archaeology as Fact and Fiction (in English, 2016), Stig Welinder comments on Mats’s radically stringent and explicit typological methodology from 1962. It never become the subject of much debate: archaeology simply recognised it as sound and adopted it wholesale. The 2016 volume is an excellent entry point into Malmer’s wide-ranging work. It’s available on-line for free.
Mats has been proven wrong in some of his interpretations, most importantly regarding the arrival of agriculture in Sweden. Archaeogenetics have recently documented a large immigration wave at the time that would have surprised Mats if he had lived. But as a lifelong friend of the natural sciences, he would calmly have accepted the evidence.
In Tim Murray’s big 1999 collection of archaeologist’s biographies, there are only two Swedish names. One is Oscar Montelius, our most fruitful thinker and writer of the 19th century. The other is his 20th century counterpart, Mats P. Malmer.