February Pieces Of My Mind #3

Husby in Glanshammar.Viking Period tanged arrowhead.
  • Movie: Tenet (2020). Ostentatiously confusing high-speed techno thriller where people and things can flip their time arrow. Watch out for future you running around backwards with a gun that sucks up bullets! Grade: OK.
  • I bought some RPG scenarios for $16. I expect them to entertain at least five people for at least 32 hours, not including my game-master prep time that I also enjoy. That’s pretty good value!
  • Dreamed that I found three big 11th century runic inscriptions on a rock outcrop. Unrealistically, they were on the concave scars from when runestones had been knapped loose.
  • Once I’ve gotten vaccinated, I’m going to ask everyone I like if I can hug them.
  • Wonder when the first churchyard excavation with comprehensive genome analysis of all individuals will appear.
  • There’s a helicopter on Mars and it runs Linux.
  • You’ve seen the two reports from Aska’s ploughed-out cemeteries. Here’s our big report from last year’s excavations on the huge platform mound between the cemeteries. It includes main text by myself and Ola Lindgren, osteology by Rudolf Gustavsson, paleobotany by Jens Heimdahl, beautiful photographs of gold foil figures and other finds by Björn Falkevik & Cheyenne Olander, finds conservation by Max Jahrehorn and plans by Jon Lundin.
  • WTF is Academia dot edyuuu doing? They’re emailing me reminders of papers I downloaded from them ages ago! Why oh why!?
  • I am extremely pleased that my skill set is useful to the Örebro County Museum. They have use for someone who can write fast for a popular audience, give off-the-cuff lectures and direct a metal detector survey, and who is a complete small finds nerd. I work 30% for Örebro in parallell with my research position in Łódź, and I expect to be writing international journal papers under my Polish byline about Örebro County archaeology.
  • Bond villain Dr. Julius No knew already in 1956 that smoking causes lung cancer.
  • The microphone on the Perseverance rover is great! Next time, let’s have a SPEAKER on Mars, blasting tunes across the red dusty plain!

February Pieces Of My Mind #2

“I usually paint slim young men, but this time the customer asks for a neckid lady, so I’m just going to paint one of my usual boys with a girly hairstyle and enormous fake-looking boobs”
(Lekythos by Alkimachos, 470/450 BC, Museo Archeologico di Siracusa)
  • In the 70s, adopting an orphaned child was cheaper from a poor country than from a rich one. For this reason, skin colour in 70s adoptees correlates with family income and social class in Scandinavia. (Possibly later and elsewhere too.)
  • For the first time, one of my same-age buddies has become a grandparent. If my son follows my own schedule, then I’m a bit less than four years from becoming a grandpa.
  • I haven’t written any fiction in years and years, and here I am now, having a blast writing an RPG scenario for Ashen Stars!
  • Meteorological spring reached Stockholm on 15 Feb last year. And now the forecast promises a minimum night temperature above freezing from Sunday on. Can’t wait!
  • Suddenly remember this US election where one candidate counted on the voters being a) homophobic, b) ignorant, and accused the other candidate’s sister of being a THESPIAN! (shock, horror)
  • The petty royals at Aska played hnefatafl with gaming pieces made from Norwegian whale bone. And there are identical gold foil figures at Aska in Östergötland and Borg in Lofoten on Norway’s North Atlantic coast.
  • Wonder if game developers and players know that Valheim means “Home of the Slain” and is a rare Norwegian surname.
  • “Rihanna sparks backlash after wearing Ganesha pendant in topless photo”. Yeah, because nudity is completely unheard of in traditional Indian religious art!
  • [posh accent] Two slightly… DISTORTED guitars!
  • Yay! New Mars rover landed safely and is talking! Full of new instruments with better capabilities to look at traces of past life!
  • Another reason to be happy: the ICU admissions for COVID-19 in Sweden’s most populous county were about 15 people last week. At the peak of the first wave in April, that number was 124. And at the peak of the second wave in December, it was 57.
  • The weather forecast for Sunday predicts a top temperature of 7°C. I’ve celebrated Midsummer at that temperature. Mixed feelings between my longing for spring and my concern over climate change.
  • I think it’s pretty science fictional that when the Dean sends everyone email in Polish, I can just click one button and get the whole thing in Swedish.

A Dristig & Drabanterna Retrospective

I recently reviewed Mattias Dristig’s card game NätTrollz. A man of many talents, he is also a band leader, and I have received three CD:s for review. There are 16 tracks total on these discs, which would in the age of vinyl have made them EPs unless some tracks had been super long. Much of the following will only be comprehensible to people familiar with Swedish folk rock, but I guess it’s never too late to go down that rabbit hole.

Dristig, I would guess, is a typical Swedish 19th century military name. When 300 new recruits showed up all named Svensson, Larsson or Nilsson, officers needed to be able to tell them apart. They would give the men short new surnames, many of which were manly adjectives. Dristig is an archaic word for ‘brave’. And his band Drabanterna are the ‘bodyguards’ or ‘henchmen’. So this band is pretty much named Braveheart & the Bodyguards.

A pair of musicians perform on all three discs: Mattias Dristig writes all lyrics and most tunes, sings his heart out and plays rhythm guitar; Kristoffer Åberg plays lead guitar, bass, banjo and more. Camilla Hederstedt sings backup beautifully on two of the discs. (Somebody give this woman a record deal!) Other members come and go, doing a fine job too.

The musical style is called progg in Sweden. It’s a 70s style, but it has nothing to do with virtuoso prog rock, odd time signatures or scifi cover art: it’s folk rock with politically progressive lyrics. On the 2017 sleeve, Dristig identifies four main enemies: neofascism, capitalism, patriarchy and the middle class! A graduate of Saltsjöbadens Samskola, your reviewer hunkers down a little self-consciously and becomes acutely aware that he’s a member of Sweden’s non-revolutionary Left.

I would compare this music primarily to Lars Winnerbäck, Stefan Sundström and Ulf Lundell, which may just be a sign of a life lived in Stockholm. Dristig & Drabanterna are based in Gothenburg, where the obvious references may be other ones. I don’t know the genre very well, so the reader beware: this is not an expert review.

  • 2008’s Kinesisk demokrati (yes, they appropriated the G’n’R album title) has four songs. #1 is about homelessness and sounds like The Clash. #2-3 are folk ballads in triple time, one about insomnia and depression, the other about media exhibitionism and quite similar to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. #4 is a piano ballad about depression and mental care facilities. Some fiery guitar solos here don’t recur on later discs.
  • The 2012 offering Fru K har kommit hem (“Mrs. K has come home”) ranges quite widely in style: it has two boogie tunes (#1, #4), two Swedish folk songs / visor (#3 in triple time, #6 in quadruple), one Greek-style folk song (#2) and one pop tune that reminds me of The Kooks (#5). Lyrical themes are anti-capitalism, alcohol, lost love, class hatred, environmental politics and childhood summer memories. Song title #5 translates as “The need for new environmental policies”, which is magnificently progg. Reminds me of the Norwegian metal parody band Black Debbath’s excellent tune “Åpent brev til sporveisdirektøren”, “Open letter to the director of public transport”!
  • The 2017 disc Kallt (“Cold”) with six tunes is the band’s latest release apart from two singles, as far as I can tell. It has two boogie tunes (#1, #5), three folk ballads in triple (#2, #3, #6) and one folk rock song. Lyrical themes are diminishing social solidarity, missing your loved one, loyalty to friends, political protest and breaking up.

All in all I’ll say that though it’s not my genre, I believe I recognise this as quality stuff in its genre. There’s a lot of boogie, a lot of folkie ballads in triple time and a lot of political agitation. I’ll be happy to buy a ticket the next time Dristig & Drabanterna play Stockholm.

Most of the band’s catalogue is available on Spotify and Deezer. As for information about them, they haven’t got a super focused internet presence, but you can check Dristig’s publishing website for news, and you can thumbs-up the band’s page on Facebook.

February Pieces Of My Mind #1

Skiing on Lake Dammsjön
  • I never expected stupid, ignorant and rude people to become such a political problem.
  • Latest bread batch: sourdough, leftover lager beer, whole grain wheat, sunflower seeds.
  • I sure hope the new Mars rover lands OK, but I don’t quite understand what it’s got to do with Perverse Ear Ants.
  • My kids and possibly myself should be around for the centennial of the first moon landing. That’s pretty scifi.
  • Movie: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988). Fatherless boy grows up in the projection room of his small town’s only cinema, forging a close relationship with the childless projectionist. Grade: OK.
  • I think the term “existential threat” should be reserved for situations involving Jean-Paul Sartre.
  • The Swedish magazine Vi used to have a page of reader-contributed jokes. It had a rewards ladder with several steps where you got paid more for a better joke. But there was also a bottom rung: “This is really awful. We’re sending an invoice.”
  • In rural rivalries, people used to say, “Those folks in Ögleboda are so stupid that they mistake flax fields for lakes”. I actually made that exact mistake once. When flax blooms it forms a pale blue expanse in the distance.
  • Here’s the smoking gun (see below). A strap buckle from a 15/16th century spur. If you see a knight around Vendel with only one spur on, then he’s the asshole who looted several of the boat burials at the church.
  • Ebook fans, check out Fadedpage.com where you can download fine digital editions of books whose copyright has lapsed in Canada. Which happens way faster than elsewhere. Hint, hint.
  • The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine knows about me! I’m a known entity! They know when I was born and that I’m an Ur- und Frühhistoriker!
  • A student asked me something and I realised that the field of Gotlandic picture stone studies is completely closed to contributors who can’t read German. At least until someone translates the 984 pages of Lindquist 1941-42 plus Oehrl 2019, or writes a study in another language that is comprehensive enough that it supersedes them. Na ja…
  • 2019 Feb 16: snowdrops. 2015 Mar 10: crocus. 2012 Mar 22: crocus. 2018 Apr 8: coltsfoot / tussilago. 2016 Apr 10: coltsfoot / tussilago. Longing so much for spring.
  • I’ve got an unusual task. I have to describe my research career as impressively as possible. But I can only refer to work I have published in journals or with publishing houses that are on a list put out by the Polish Ministry of Higher Education. And the Ministry is almost entirely unimpressed by Scandinavian archaeology journals and publishing houses.
  • I want a society that de-incentivises skill in the handling of money.
  • 2.6% of Swedes have received at least one dose of a COVID19 vaccine. During February and March, enough vaccine will be delivered to give an additional 21% one dose.
  • Feeling smug, remembering colleagues I debated with 25 years ago about what archaeology should be, who have since had little impact on what archaeology is.
  • Thinking about Shanks & Tilley, I’m reminded of the “Alan Sokal Academic Left” to which I count myself. We’re academic Lefties who seek scientific truth first, and want to further Leftie political causes second. You can’t right a societal wrong if it’s impossible to determine if the societal wrong has any objective existence.
  • I never read the forewords to anthologies or magazines that consist of summaries of the contents.
  • A failed attempt to read Sven Delblanc’s 1967 novel Nattresa reminded me of how much I hated Joyce’s Ulysses with its oblique and allusive method of not telling a story. I am now much relieved to be reading Ian Fleming’s 1958 Dr. No.
  • Movie: Dunkirk (2017). The evacuation of Dunkirk in all its smudged and ragged glory. Grade: good!
  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is now online for free, more than 18,000 entries!
  • Rubbish: field archaeologists dig it up and theoretical archaeologists write it down. Paul Bahn, Bluff your Way in Archaeology.
Strap buckle, c. AD 1500, found at a depth of 45 cm in boat burial 11 at Vendel Church.

Boardgame Review: Nättrollz

As blogging has assumed a lower profile in the minds and habits of Internet users, creators and publishers have sent me fewer review copies for Aard. Looks like the last time was over nine years ago, when I reviewed the Italian boardgame Beer & Vikings. (Sadly it never made much of a splash, having only 78 ratings on the Boardgame Geek website today.) But now I am happy to report that I have received two games for review. Let’s first look at the Swedish 2017 party card game NätTrollz by Mattias Dristig. It’s from the publisher Eloso on a licence from Dristig’s company Vildhallon.

Fluff & flavour text
This game is about Internet trolls, as its Swinglish name suggests. A game consists of the players having five pointless discussions on an online forum, each of which ends when someone posts a cute cat video that distracts the participants. The cards have funny flavour text which becomes familiar during your first game.

Each card has a drawing of an ugly internet troll by Jan Kustfält. Though the drawings are strongly formulaic and all the trolls look pretty much the same, I don’t mean that the art is lacking in skill. These are skilful caricatures of one really ugly person.

Game mechanics
NätTrollz is a trick-taking game with a lot of interrupt cards. Players of whist and bridge will understand if I say that in order to take a trick here, you need to have the special trick-taking card, and you can play it at any time out of turn order. Tichu players will understand if I say that this is Tichu, only you always play single cards, a trick always gets bombed repeatedly, and indeed the only way to win a trick is to bomb it.

The trick-taking card is the cute cat video. 9 cards in a deck of 82 are cats. If luck has it that you don’t get any of these cards, then you can take no tricks. For a chance to get more cat cards you need to draw more cards, which will often result in you ending the game with a full hand. And any card you’re left with after five tricks is negative points. There is no new deal between tricks.

The large number of other interrupt cards (16 out of 82) confuses gameplay quite a lot, since you can play them at any time, for instance three different interrupt cards in a row during someone else’s turn — or your own.

It says on the box that this is a party game, so it’s somewhat beside the point to say that NätTrollz is largely a game of chance with humorous flavour text and does not reward much re-play or tactical study. It’s fun for people who have never played it before, who don’t expect to play it again soon, and who have perhaps drunk a few beers. If you buy this as a gift, I’d say that the ideal recipient is a non-gamer who hangs out a lot in online forums occasionally plagued by semi-literate racist uncles.

January Pieces Of My Mind #3

International household: Han Chinese princess masters and internalizes Germanic bread culture.
  • So 45 might start a party of his own and become kind of a fascist Ralph Nader now? That would be GREAT for the Democrats!
  • What will my space detectives discover, what will they deduce about the small ship they found docked in a supposedly disused hangar on the Anaitis-17 space station, at the end of the previous episode? Stay tuned for tomorrow night’s Ashen Stars session!
  • First starry night in weeks and weeks ❤
  • I find myself using the local office software on my computer less and less because Google Docs has a better user interface. The one thing it can’t do is hyphenation.
  • When the first gravitational wave detector came online we immediately saw previously unseen things. Maybe one day another exotic instrument is invented and immediately picks up non-stop alien broadcasts, just like that.
  • The repeated interbreeding between Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans in the Late Palaeolithic kind of obviates any discussion of later “racial purity”. (-;
  • Half past four. Blue twilight in Fisksätra, gibbous moon rising.
  • First snowdrops.
  • It’s fascinating to think that since a) humans will not be around for ever, b) humans will never be able to sterilise Earth, there will definitely be a post-human species radiation on Earth, like after all the previous mass extinctions.
  • One of the sillier ways you can get hurt is when you slip on ice, make a huge reflexive flail to keep your balance, and stretch a pectoral muscle.
  • 143 small satellites from several companies launched on one rocket. Miniaturisation!
  • Animal testing for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals can be nasty. But if we abolished it, testing would probably switch to poor people somewhere around the world.
  • One good thing about being a secular modern Swede is that you never need to have fights with your teenage kids over their sexual activity. You just check that they understand about consent, their own and others’, and off they go to do their thing. ❤
  • I hardly ever cry except for when I listen to Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”. ❤
  • Check out Jr’s invention: replacing the battery-powered storage on a Game Boy cartridge with static storage!

Luxury Vaccine Tourism

Most vaccines are commercially available in Sweden. There are two vaccine clinics at the nearest big mall to where I live. Two months ago, on 5 December, I mused on Facebook, “Wonder when covid-19 vaccination will become commercially available in Sweden and what the price will be at first.”

This question met with really strong reactions. People accused me of having no solidarity with the sick and elderly, of being a bad Social Democrat, of undermining social healthcare. But I wasn’t suggesting that the vaccine doses secured by the EU from certain manufacturers should be taken out of that system and sold on the open market. Additional manufacturers will pop up, eager to market their products. And taking a vaccine is not like paying to get good cancer treatment for yourself while someone poor dies. Me getting vaccinated benefits the entire herd’s health, not just mine. And if I pay for vaccination outside of the social healthcare system, then that system saves some money.

Anyway, Expressen reported on 28 January that covid-19 vaccination is now sort of available in Sweden, or more exactly, on the Swedish market. And it costs a bit less than SEK 1 million = U$D 120,000 = € 99,000 for two shots. Pricey? Yes, but it includes airfare to Dubai, the UAE, India or Morocco plus luxury accommodation and meals for two weeks. So the market has spoken: if you pay more than $120,000 for two covid-19 shots today, you are not getting a good price.

Swedish social healthcare expects to offer people like me the vaccine for free in April or May. If I can get it legally and locally for less than $120 prior to that date, I believe I’ll go for it. Watch this space.

January Pieces Of My Mind #2

Meet our neighbours, Rabbit and Pheasant.
  • I knew Olle Sahlin for almost 40 years. He was my temp teacher first. Then a gaming celebrity. Then a Tolkien Society friend. Then the partner of my fiancée’s best friend and our marriage witness. We had a joint birthday party in ’96 when I turned two dozen and he turned two score. Then he did the typographic design on my PhD thesis. He was 64 when he succumbed to autoimmune disease, an unlucky genetic die roll.
  • We don’t worry about cadmium in plastics anymore like they did in the parenting magazine my mom subscribed to in 1979.
  • “The problem for the GOP is that every Republican on Capitol Hill needs the support of these protesters — and people like them — for survival,” a senior Trump adviser said. “Unless and until the party can find a message that is more popular with the white working class than Donald Trump, there is no bright future for Republicans.” politico.com
  • So funny what Americans call the “radical left”. The Swedish word for those policy positions is gråsosse, “grey social democrat”. You should see the European radical left!
  • There’s a Starmer waiting in the sky
  • Almost unbroken overcast for 6½ weeks. The weeks with the least daylight in a northern year. Because of the pandemic, I don’t leave my home area much. There’s hardly anything happening anyway. And no snow. So apart from the vaccination starting, this is the worst winter I’ve ever seen.
  • The various Slavic names for Germans and Germany go back to a word meaning “mute”. The ones who don’t respond comprehensibly when you speak to them in Slavic!
  • Looking at the entire dataset of presidential impeachments since 1776, roughly half of them have been directed at men named Donald.
  • H.P. Lovecraft idealised the 18th century Enlightenment and was highly skeptical of the 17th century Puritan religious orthodoxy that preceded it in his native New England. In his fiction, Puritanism is always bad. Even 17th century architecture is evil. Lovecraft lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Now I learn that the Puritans of the nearby mainland hated Rhode Island because it was not a religious colony! Period writers call it “the Isle of Errors”, “the sewer of New England”, and warn against profane “Rhode Islandism”.
  • Joey Santiago’s Twitter bio says simply “I have attended every show the Pixies have ever performed.”
  • Surprised and intrigued to find that H.P. Lovecraft’s obsession with degeneracy, backsliding, miscegenation, creolisation goes straight, word-for-word, back to local New England Puritan writings of the mid-to-later 1600s. They wrote about lapsing from Puritanism and Englishness.
  • While editing the journal Fornvännen, I dealt with a few rather difficult authors who didn’t like to get edited. One, I recall, had the idea that in a bibliography you must print the city of publication exactly as it is printed in the book. It was a good moment when I could see the coin drop in them after I explained “You are writing in Swedish. There is no reason for you to use the Finnish and Danish forms of those countries’ capitals’ names anywhere in this paper.”
  • Our back yard in Cos Cob, Connecticut, when I was 5 years old. Fireflies. Raccoons. Huge tomato. Small cucumbers. Climbable rock face. Interesting pieces of roofing felt blew off the neighbours’ abandoned gazebo.
  • Myself and Julia Schulte Koskinen have published our report on September’s fieldwork at the West Cemeteries of Aska in Hagebyhöga, home of the famous 1920 burial with the many silver pendants.
  • Biden to elevate top White House science post to Cabinet level!
  • Amazed by these morons who compare the mortality stats for 2020 with other years and conclude that covid-19 is no biggie. You may have noticed that we kind of didn’t behave quite like other years in 2020?!?!?
  • Density of granulated sugar: 850-900 g per litre. Icing sugar: 600 g per litre.
  • Fun fact: “This rewrites history” means “This is interesting additional source material”.
  • Osteologist Rudolf Gustavsson reports a preliminary result from the Aska platform mound: the highly fragmented bones from the capping stone layer laid down after the mead-hall was torn down include several human skull fragments. Can’t wait to do radiocarbon and ancient DNA on them! This is the third such skull find I’m aware of from Viking Period Östergötland. There’s also Herrebro in Borg parish and Ströja in Kvillinge.
  • About that deceased murderer & music producer. It’s pointless to classify people as good/evil. Our actions spring directly from nature and nurture. For this reason, when someone commits a gravely violent act, I always find it equally pointless that the court wants to find out if the person was sane and responsible for their actions. It’s completely beside the point. All we need to know is that this is a person who is prone to gravely violent acts and needs to be monitored.
  • I’m having a blast at work since I started at Uni Łódź and embarked on full-time research. Looks like I’m excavating at six sites this season!
  • C. 1700-1830 there was a form of poor man’s unarmed honour duel in America with the expected outcome that the loser got an eye gouged out or a nose, ear or lip bitten off.
  • Haha, this is awesome. 40 years after the American Revolution, many New Englanders were so unhappy with the USA that they seriously discussed seceding from the Union! They had been eclipsed by Virginian leaders and didn’t like all the Frenchmen, Spaniards, slavers and Native Americans that they were politically united with. See the Hartford Convention. (US folks no doubt learn this in middle school.)
  • In Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince and the Pauper there’s this scene. A soldier, just returned to London from years of imprisonment in France, rescues a 9-y-o boy dressed in rags from the boy’s abusive father. He then takes the child from the street straight up to his cheap hotel room and… decides on the spot to become a kindly foster father to the boy. I wonder if you could get this past an editor today, no matter if you pitched it as a book for grownups or for children.
  • The Soyuz is a dependable bus to orbit and back. Over 140 of them have flown since 1966. Good tech! Though not reusable.
  • When you take up gardening in an area with cold winters like Scandyland, your longing for spring reaches new insane depths. I spend absurd amounts of time thinking about rose bushes.
  • 1.4% of Sweden’s population has received the first shot since vaccination started 3 weeks ago. Risk groups first.

Dating the Aska Mead-hall

When the 49-metre mead-hall on the Aska platform mound was torn down, people lifted the large useful stones out of the postholes and then backfilled them with the floor layer that had accumulated over the building’s lifetime. Last summer we collected samples of these fills and Jens Heimdahl identified carbonised grain in them.

On 12 January I received radiocarbon dates for four of these grains from prof. Krąpiec’s lab in Kraków. The dates are quite widely dispersed and demonstrate that there was a lot of old refuse in the floor layer by the time it was shovelled into the postholes. Thus the grain represents a long use period, perhaps the entire use period of the building. It’s not one brief grain-charring event.

If you want a short use-period for the hall (i.e. if you compress it as tightly as these four two-sigma date spans permit), then it was built in 650 and torn down in 880. If instead you want a long use-period (i.e. you inflate the use period as widely as possible within the date spans), then it was built in 590 and torn down in 990.

But we don’t have to rely on the carbonised grain alone. A 1980s trial trench through the platform secured articulated horse bones on the ground surface under the platform that gave a radiocarbon date in 660–880. These 220 years are quite a wide span, reflective of 1980s radiocarbon technology. But it’s enough to show that 590 is too early for the construction of the platform mound.

I sent a new sample from these horse bones to Kraków for analysis with today’s tech, and received the result on 15 January. That horse died between AD 670 and 770, which pushes the earliest possible date for the building project forward only a decade compared to what the 1980s analysis indicated. And one of the carbonised grains from the use-period of the building is likely to date from before 650.

A start date for the construction project around 660 is not surprising, given the building’s layout and the objects we found in the postholes. The new end date for the hall’s use-life after 880 is unexpected, however. The only finds we made that could point to any activity after 790 are a pair of whale-bone gaming pieces. I expect that as we empty more postholes this summer we will start to find more clearly datable Early Viking Period material. A few dirham coins would be most welcome, in fact quite expected given the radiocarbon dates and the elite context.