August Pieces Of My Mind #1


Fisksätra torg

  • I know you all have a general deep respect for my thoughts. But note that additionally, these are in fact august pieces of my mind.
  • DNA identifies a previously unknown second cousin to my grandpa. The guy was born out of wedlock so despite a pretty intense and sustained genealogical interest in the family, we haven’t known about him.
  • GameInformer dot com interviews my son Samuel about his high-profile Nintendo video game archaeology project. Very proud geek dad!
  • One of my tasks today is to visit a Somali mosque to talk about the importance of voting. My main line of argument is that there is one demographic category that politicians are really, really interested in catering to, and that’s people who vote.
  • Apparently water skiing on a single ski is one of those things you only need to learn once.
  • Weather suddenly and temporarily switches from drought and heat to thunder, pouring rain and centimetre hail!

July Pieces Of My Mind #3


Skydebanemuren, Copenhagen

  • Mother, there is a lady on Twitter who posts pictures of hyena poo.
  • Skydebanemuren: found an incredible neo-Gothic structure at one end of a little park. Turns out it’s one of the world’s most over-decorated bullet traps from back when the park was a rifle range.
  • Enviro-hotel equals massive ethno-kitsch overdose. The bamboo, the natural materials and the ethnic idols invite us to imagine that we’re eco-friendly tribespeople. But the leather furniture and the hunting trophies reveal that we’re actually colonial officers and administrators. And on the stereo, Norah Jones croons that she doesn’t know why she didn’t come.
  • Our hotel is next to an international women’s counselling centre and a strip club.
  • The US president is tweeting threats in all caps at the leader of Iran.
  • In A.C. Clarke’s 1961 story “Before Eden”, scientists find life near one of Venus’s poles, then dump a bag of picnic waste (paper cups, cigarette butts, possibly latrine) at the site and contaminate it irrevocably.
  • I spoke to Erik Andersson of the Fandompodden podcast about archaeology, scifi and fantasy.
  • My daughter follows several youtubers. I have now explained to her what a tuber is: a fleshy root or rhizome.
  • I just ordered the Player’s Handbook for an enthusiastic young lady who played her first D&D sesh the other day. Funnily for me, she got into D&D by listening to a podcast of people playing. I read recently that the game has never sold better than it does now!
  • Copy editing a journal paper where the author writes “this thing is interpreted as” when they mean “I interpret this thing as”. Nope, you ain’t getting away with that.
  • Dan Carlin of the excellent Hard-core History podcast says “Robinson Caruso”. Such a great singer, with an audience of one!
  • Sudden epiphany: the title of Erasure’s 1992 covers EP, Abbaesque, is a pun on “Arabesque”.

Urban cormorant settlement. It ain’t pretty, but they’re an indigenous species and the birds themselves look super cool. Fugleøen, Sortedams Sø, Copenhagen.


Sjællands Odde


Grand piano, Poul Henningsen 1931. Danish Museum of Art & Design, Copenhagen.

July Pieces Of My Mind #2


Found an unusual club house ruin while geocaching on the hill west of Nacka. It’s a roofed crevice in the bedrock.

  • Tarzan was named for the little community of Tarzana, not the other way around.
  • Holy shit! I just realised that my Kindle contains the complete searchable offline-available Oxford Dictionary. 0-:
  • Got the ranking list for the last academic job I applied for (13 months ago), the last I plan to apply for. For once I have no complaints, though I am not on the shortlist. The first two names on the list are the ones I expected to see, and solidly qualified people who deserve the job. The shortlist is also refreshingly non-ageist, dominated by much older folks than usually get lectureships.
  • A French memory. The husband of my language exchange supervisor looks North African. I ask him if he’s a Muslim (which would still be exotic to me in 1988). He says “Non, je suis chrétien”, which confuses me since I take it to mean that he’s from Crete.
  • So I hear a lot of you are wondering how I’m holding up on the purity of my sacred Germanic cultural heritage. I’ll just say this: I’ve got ONE LITRE, and believe me, I’m not making this up, ONE LITRE of gratuitous sesame oil in my kitchen.
  • In a real D&D dungeon, the inhabitants of the first room would alert all the others when the party entered. The party would have to either fight or chase 75 forewarned adversaries at once on each dungeon level.
  • Saw an Arctic loon up close for the first time today. Popped out of the lake 3-4 metres from me, grunted quietly, dove again, came up almost as close by, swam off. Such beauty!
  • Outing to Mariefred by steam boat and steam train: photos here!
  • Rode five railways and tram lines in 2½ hours on my way from Mariefred to Fisksätra.
  • There are X-ray and gamma ray pulsars too. How cool!
  • I just tried to turn the page in a paperback book by poking at the right-hand margin with my finger.
  • I’ve just signed on to work for the County Archaeologist in Linköping from mid-September to the end of the year. I’m going to take care of the Vadstena branch of the EU’s SHARE project, “Sustainable approach to cultural Heritage for the urban Areas Requalification in Europe”. Vadstena is a Late Medieval town that grew up around the mother convent of the Bridgetine Order in an area that had an extremely pronounced elite presence already from the 9th century on.
  • One of my childhood’s favourite authors has died. Thank you for the books, Christine Nöstlinger!
  • New begging method: a woman was wandering around the grocery store with a chicken, asking shoppers to buy it for her.
  • Tried some Hershey’s chocolate, did not like its indistinct taste and mushy consistency. Thought it was a Chinese knockoff. Turned out to be made in Mexico for the US market. I guess each country has its own varieties. I’m a Marabou man myself.
  • Ours is an astonishingly ugly lawn.
  • My meditating technique is based on the initiates concentrating on the sound of them waggling their own ears.

Iceni Coin Iconography Reassembled

This is cool. The Iceni tribe of East Anglia had their own Mediterranean-inspired coinage c. 50 BC to AD 60. But the coins were always smaller than the dies. In his new book, John Talbot has identified coins from the same die, photographed them with the lighting from the same relative angle, and stitched the pics together — recreating almost complete images that nobody has seen in 2000 years! (From Current Archaeology.)

July Pieces Of My Mind #1


Gift from the sea.

  • I just refrained from making an obvious lewd pun about a co-worker’s significant other. (An old buddy commented on Fb, “Who are you and what have you done with the real Martin?”)
  • Movie: Stardust (2007). Rom-com in fairytale land, aimed squarely at fans of The Princess Bride. Grade: Good fun!
  • In her 1976 poetry chapbook Walking in Cornwall, Ursula LeGuin mistakes a 1798 park folly for an oddly small Medieval castle. (Present from Birger!)
  • The music producer Mark “Flood” Ellis, who re-mixed lots of Depeche Mode songs in the 80s, got his nickname as a young studio assistant because he always made lots of tea fast for his boss. The other studio assistant was called Drought.
  • The Italian word for development, which shares the etymology of the English word, is sviluppo. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
  • As an archaeologist I don’t think in terms of art or treasure. In fact it causes my discipline major problems that other people do, because it tends to destroy archaeological context.
  • Playing soccer against people from a country with no horizontal ground just isn’t fair.
  • I keep and use found cutlery.
  • Got into an exchange about Indiana Jones and such. Several seriously worded post-colonialist comments. Realised that it’s not that I don’t agree with them, it’s that as a Swedish archaeologist working in agricultural non-Saami Sweden I just don’t give a damn.
  • Evening quiet broken by loud incessant whooshing noise. Turns out to be the cars on the nearby 60 kph road. Lots of people still driving at 22:40. *sigh*
  • I’ll remember 2018 as a varied professional year. I’ve made maps for a historical corpus project, I’ve taught high school languages, I’m currently coordinating vote canvassing, and now I’ve been offered a job in heritage management for the final months of the year. While I’ve been doing all this I’ve also been the managing editor of an academic journal. Not a one-trick pony!
  • Swedish pizza cooks are almost all male.
  • Executive producer: Philip Capice.
  • Taught wife & daughter to set fire to shit using a magnifying glass. Literally: a bird dropping full of sunflower seeds.
  • Got a comment here on the blog from someone with good self-confidence. “You have an interesting blog as I will stay connected.”
  • According to Junior, the Japanese voice in the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast jingle says “自動でお風呂を沸かします”, “Jidō de ofuro o wakashimasu”, “Heating the bath automatically”.
  • The Medieval Swedish word for the first light breach-loading artillery pieces was føglare. This was a loan from Low German and originally meant “fucker” — slang, the etymology being “birder, birding, to bird”.

Anybody played this boardgame? Is it fun?


Canoeing with the Rundkvist ladies.

June Pieces Of My Mind #3


My dad’s mailbox and English dogwood.

  • Funny how “illegible” and “unreadable” mean different things.
  • A drawer full of Jrette’s old crayons, markers, sticker albums and plastic beads has been sitting untouched for years as she’s put away childish things and approached womanhood. The other day I went through it all and collected the good kids’ stuff in a bag. This morning I cycled by a day care centre on my way to work and handed in the bag. Much appreciated!
  • A friend complains about last night’s date. “Dammit, I thought I was going to be a gynaecologist and instead I spent the evening as a psychologist.”
  • I have come to view paperback books as an irresponsible waste of trees.
  • Visibility was bad yesterday. Anticipating today’s improved weather, the County Tourist Administration has delivered several snow- covered mountains overnight for us to enjoy.
  • Confusing sweater. To either side is an inside pocket and an outside pocket layered one on the other. The outside one is accessed from the inside of the sweater, and vice versa.
  • My Mid-summer mountain hiking pics here.
  • Junior gave me a glass of his home-made elderflower cordial.
  • Found a 2013 issue of The Economist in the half-way hut between the Sylarna and Storeriksvollen hikers’ lodges.
  • Messy and confusing when a bunch of organisations send you money, all with the word “Salary” as the only identifier.
  • The Last Jedi is a silly film, but the bits that the conservative fanbois hate count among its strengths. Every scifi movie is improved by a Kelly Marie Tran. And I like Rogue One!
  • My excellent driving pupil Obaida passed his driving test, theory & practice!
  • Yesterday we had a look at Swedish plural imperative inclusive with mökom, “Let’s all fart!”. Now we move on to plural imperative exclusive with möken, “Y’all fart now!”.
  • Stockholm University explicitly moves funding from Elsevier subscriptions to Open Access!
  • Looking at Junior’s flowing mane, I’m sorry that I didn’t understand back in ~1990 how cool long hair is.

Excavation Report from Skällvik Castle 2016


Skällvik Castle, drone photo from the north-east with our trenches A-G indicated. By team member Jan Ainali.

Two years ago myself and Ethan Aines headed the first professional excavation at Skällvik Castle, a 14th century stronghold. It’s near Söderköping, across the water from Stegeborg Castle, and may be seen as a fossil of an itinerant castle that sat on Stegeborg’s islet before and after the period 1330-1360. Skällvik Castle was at various times owned by the See of Linköping and the Swedish Crown, and was at least used by the provincial Lawspeaker as well.

Some of our main results were these.

  • The written sources document activity at the castle in 1330-50. The coins we found extend that use period at least four more years to 1354. In 1356 there was a civil war and the nearby vicarage is known to have been attacked. This is a likely end date for the castle.
  • We identified the castle guards’ day room, warmed by the bakery oven, where finds show that the guards spent their off-time fletching crossbow bolts and gambling with dice for money.
  • We found a noblewoman’s seal matrix, dropped into the sea off the castle’s dock. Her full name and identity are unknown, but historians have helped us identify two men known from the written record who may be her father and her husband. There was still sealing wax stuck to the matrix under the verdigris.

Get the report from!

June Pieces Of My Mind #2


Ackee, rice, salt fish are nice. I’m skipping the rum though. (Ackee is a fruit whose flesh resembles omelet.)

  • Dammit. Starting to miss archaeology pretty bad. Almost as bad as I miss my toddlers.
  • Who are you today? I’m LARPing a middle-aged pillar of the community.
  • A young Roma woman waiting with me for the bus pointed to my paperback, then to the sky, and said “Jesus? Good!”. I replied, friendly, “No, it’s Ursula LeGuin”. She nodded, asked me for a handout, then had a loud staccato screaming argument with her nearby friend.
  • Started working as an archaeologist 26 years ago today. I went on to other things in February and now I’m only doing archaeology at 25% of full time.
  • Pakistani dads in beige kurta-kameez bringing their toddlers to leisurely cricket practice on the municipal sports field.
  • To all students of meta-archaeology and current attitudes to ancient monuments, I would like to offer the International Festival of Fisksätra, which took place today. It attracted several hundred people for many hours and took place immediately next to the Fisksätra Viking cemetery. Two or three of the participants were aware of the cemetery. It is unknown and meaningless to almost all modern inhabitants of Fisksätra. I believe that this is a typical attitude to ancient monuments, and I feel that this argues strongly against studies of meta-archaeology and current attitudes to ancient monuments.
  • I brought a bag of bones from Iron Age graves to one of the first dinners with my Chinese future parents-in-law. Their daughter told me strictly not to mention any graves, just “studying ancient cultures”.
  • Swedish stores and cafés increasingly refuse cash payments. Digital currency. I like it.
  • Though I agree in principle, I have trouble understanding the emotional resonance of the debate over who should be addressed as “Dr.”. Because in Sweden no man or woman is ever referred to with that honorific except as a joke.


Weekend Fun – Fantastika 2018 – International Festival

20180616_162032 (1)

One of the least archaeologically visible events at Fisksätra’s Viking Period cemetery was Saturday’s visit by a fine Jamaican food truck.

It’s been a fun and intense weekend!

On Friday the Fantastika 2018 scifi con opened, conveniently located half an hour’s bike ride from my home, and I moderated a panel on Ursula LeGuin with my old friend Florence Vilén, Saara Henriksson and Markku Soikkeli. My wife came home from China, and two friendly con-goers that I know from my years teaching in Umeå stayed in our guest room.

On Saturday morning I fed my Umeå friends breakfast and then we went to the con where I gave a talk about Medieval castles. Thence back to Fisksätra for the annual International Festival, where I spent the day manning the Labour Party’s tent and canvassing for votes. Then back to the con and sit on a panel about empires in scifi and fantasy with the charming Linda Carey and my old friend Anders Blixt, moderated by my friend Hans Persson, had dinner with my old friend Erik Andersson and gave him an interview for the Fandompodden podcast. And back home to water the garden.

On Sunday morning I fed my Umeå friends, cycled back to the con, attended Hans’s geocaching meetup in front of the venue, bought some used paperbacks (Ryman’s Air, Roberts’s Salt, Reynolds’s Revelation Space) and listened to an interview with Mike Carey, a lovely man whose fine novels about Felix Castor the exorcist I enjoy (Aard regular Birger Johansson gave me those). Then I cycled back home, went skinny dipping in our nearby lake with my wife, napped for almost two hours, and drove the Labour tent & sundries back to my workplace. After dinner my Latvian Viking reenactor friend Artis Aboltins, who is visiting Stockholm for work, came by for coffee and sandwiches and to pick up a table he’d ordered for his sailing boat.

Oh, and Junior texted me that he’d namedropped me when talking to archaeologists at Slussen’s Open Day on his way to the Scifi Book Store, and my excellent Syrian driving pupil Obaida passed his driving test. ❤

All very good stuff! Dear Reader, what did you do?

Excavation Report from Birgittas udde 2016

Birgittas udde

Birgittas udde with our 2016 trenches. Plan by Ethan Aines.

Two years ago myself and Ethan Aines headed the first professional excavation at Birgittas udde, a small Medieval stronghold. It’s on a promontory into Lake Boren near the town of Motala, on land belonging to Ulvåsa manor. One of Ulvåsa’s first known inhabitants was a young strong-willed 14th century noblewoman who would one day become Saint Bridget of Sweden.

Our main results were these.

  • The stronghold was built c. 1250-75, long before Bridget’s day.
  • It was never used much, being kept in shape as a refuge but rarely inhabited.
  • It sits on a Mesolithic settlement site coeval with the famous Motala sites nearby.

Get the report from!