Migration Completed Successfully!

It is my intense pleasure to be able to tell you, Dear Reader, that Aard’s migration from Scienceblogs.com to WordPress.com went swiftly, got all the text and copied all the images. Some have been rotated, but they’re all here as far as I can tell — all the way from the first entry back in December of 2006! I didn’t have to do any arcane tweaks and no external plugins or scripts were involved. Phew!

One thing that has not been converted is links between Aard’s entries. I’ve done this by hand for the most recent entries.

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Good Recent Swedish Popular History

I don’t read much in Swedish. On a whim I decided to check what recent Swedish books I’ve read and liked outside work. Turns out they’re all popular history. Alla rekommenderas varmt för den som delar mina intressen!

  • Kring Hammarby sjö. 1. Tiden före Hammarbyleden. Hans Björkman 2016. Local history.
  • No, I’m from Borås. Ola Wong 2005. Eventful family history in China and among German-speaking Romanians, Banater Schwaben. (Yes, the title is in English.)
  • Svenskarna och deras fäder – de senaste 11 000 åren. Bojs & Sjölund 2016. On DNA and the post-glacial peopling of Scandinavia.
  • Det svenska hatet. Gellert Tamas 2016. On the Swedish Hate Party and Scandinavian terrorism.
  • Jorden de ärvde. Björn af Kleen 2009. On big landowners in the Swedish nobility and how they avoid splitting up their estates.
  • Newton och bibeln. Essäer om bibeltexter, tolkningsfrågor och översättningsproblem. Bertil Albrektson 2015. Essays on Bible philology by an atheist professor who served on the last Swedish state-sponsored Bible translation committee.
  • Finna dolda ting: en bok om svensk rollspelshistoria. Daniel & Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis 2015. On Swedish roleplaying-game history.
  • Äventyrsspel: bland mutanter, drakar och demoner. Orvar Säfström & Jimmy Wilhelmsson 2015. On Swedish roleplaying-game history.
  • Drömmen om stormakten. Börje Magnusson & Jonas Nordin 2015. On Erik Dahlberg and the great 17th century topographic work Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna.
  • Vid tidens ände. Om stormaktstidens vidunderliga drömvärld och en profet vid dess yttersta rand. Håkan Håkansson 2014. On Johannes Bureus and North European 17th century mysticism.

October Pieces Of My Mind #1

sickla

New stretch of tram line lets me ride from Sickla all the way to Solna shopping centre without changes.

  • Medieval account books were so common in Germany and considered to be so worthless, that into the early 19th century they were used as fuel to heat certain archives.
  • Got nominated to the municipal council. Not likely to be high on the list, but still, feels good to be considered useful.
  • I was shocked to learn that people who get elected onto the municipal council sometimes just flake out and never show up again after the first few meetings. Somebody pointed out that many people don’t live my kind of predictable, regimented life. But accepting and then flaking out from public office suggests to me that the person doesn’t even realise beforehand that they are not super dependable. Or that they don’t consider public office to be a big deal. Or that a reputation for dependability is unimportant to them. I’d be too ashamed to show my face in public for years if I did that. Which of course says something about the standard to which I hold others as well.
  • Wonder if Gygax & Arneson intended the similarity between a multi-level dungeon and Dante’s circles of Hell.
  • Fleetwood Mac were named for the members of the band’s rhythm section.
  • Ekonomistyrningsverket, the Swedish National Financial Management Authority, has operated for 19 years. I learned about it yesterday.
  • The CD of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever has a short spoken interlude in the middle in fairness to vinyl listeners who must flip their LP.
  • A magnet tells the Kindle to turn its screen on when the flap opens. I like this feature!
  • I wonder if Lowrance the GPS makers have an office in Saudi. Lowrance of Arabia.
  • The first I heard about the Japanese American internment camps during WW2 was when I watched The Karate Kid.
  • Intricate planning of middle-age napping and caffeine intake in order to be maximally alert when I drive home tonight from a speaking gig in rural Östergötland. The sequence will have to be: first go without caffeine so I get sleepy after lunch, then nap, then caffeinate two or three times over the afternoon and evening.
  • I love apricot marmalade on toast!
  • Which Dire Straits song about Asian food do you guys like the best? For me it’s “Wok of Life”.
  • I fail to see the greatness of Goodfellas.
  • The scalp distancer came off my hair trimmer. I now have a unique hair style.
  • I just learned that the University of Lund has a radiocarbon lab. This is odd because it opened in 1965 and I have worked in Swedish archaeology since 1992. They don’t seem to have much of a marketing budget. But come to think of it, I believe I’ve seen analysis ID codes starting with “Lu-” in the literature now and then. Good to know what it means!
  • A sad thing about the enormous wealth of GPS tagged metal detector finds coming out of Scandinavian plough layers these days is that there is absolutely no funding for anyone to study them. They go straight into storage oblivion.

September Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Ben Aaronovitch = Benjamin Aaronson wrote The Rivers of London. I wonder if it’s a pen name for my grandpa’s grandpa Aaron Benjaminson, who was a farmer in Tanum.
  • Two students are trying to play verbal chess while digging. The board is in their heads.
  • “Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy / But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine / Oh my Lola” /Ray Davies
  • Sudden thought: Christianity is a 2000-year extension of a state of spiritual emergency that Jesus thought would last a year or two.
  • Sweden has recently reformed its coinage. Convenient for me and the students: when it was time to seed trenches B and C with fresh coins before backfilling, for once we had lots of recent issues.
  • Talked about books with a dinner party dominated by Swedish non-geek journalists. Almost no overlap of references. Someone read the country’s biggest newspaper’s recommended books list out. Nothing rang a bell with me. I pay no attention to Swedish-language publishing, particularly not as regards mainstream fiction.
  • I’m kind of surprised that nobody’s tried to buy my loyalty. People have demanded it on the flimsiest of grounds, but nobody’s willing to pay. The stupidest case was the asshole Norwegian professor who told me to shut up online because I was hurting the workplace environment at his department. The one he was keeping me from employment at.
  • Just taught 7 Wonders to nine Dutch and Spanish students. Phew!
  • Threw out some hooks, and lo & behold, I got a nibble right away!
  • Public transport apps really make your movements across town incredibly efficient. I could never have come up with these combos back in the days of paper time tables.
  • At the Museum of World Culture: benumbed and queasy from a context-less global kaleidoscope of dissociated fragments.
  • The charcoal from the hearth the students excavated earlier this week is alder, Alnus sp. This is good news because alders don’t live for very long, and so the risk of a high intrinsic age is low when we get a radiocarbon date. (The centre of an oak trunk is hundreds of radiocarbon years older than this year’s fresh growth.)
  • I just deleted the automatic reminder in my calendar that has had me checking the academic job ads every third Monday for 14 years. *bliss*
  • Fun idea for a Rechthaber with a lot of spare time. Apply for all academic jobs in some field and systematically & immediately publish all applications and evaluations online to invite public scrutiny. In Sweden the authorities can’t refuse to divulge any paperwork having to do with public-sector hiring.
  • My new buddy the Palestinian engineer from Homs tells me his brother is at university and doing super, super poorly. On purpose. To avoid graduating and getting conscripted into Assad’s army.
  • This is very weird. I no longer have any reason to improve my archaeological qualifications. If anything, I may one day have to re-train completely to become a licensed librarian or teacher. But I no longer have to publish or perish. It’s been one of my main drivers since I was 22.
  • I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in Norwegian’s time-table accuracy from Gothenburg to Stockholm in the past three weeks. First week the flight was 6 hours late. Second week, 3 hours. And yesterday only ½ hour!!!

It looks a little tyred (Garden Society of Gothenburg)

Jes Wienberg Shot Down My Habilitation

Habilitation, docentur, is a symbolic upgrade to your PhD found in Scandinavia and other countries with a strong element of German academic traditions. You can think of it as a boy-scout badge. It confers no salary, but it opens certain doors including that of supervising doctoral candidates. Though formally handed out by the faculty, it’s impossible to get without support from your department, as I learned from my abortive attempt at the University of Stockholm in 2010. If on the other hand you do have the support of your department, it’s impossible to avoid getting your habilitation – a mere formality. Almost impossible to avoid.

After heading freshman archaeology for two years in Umeå, in February of 2015 I applied for habilitation there with the kind support of the department’s ämnesansvarige, professor Thomas B. Larsson. He asked me, as is customary, to suggest a few names for the external reviewer. Trying to be shrewd about it, I picked two people who had written enthusiastically about my work in evaluations for jobs, and then I tried to think of a third person. Somebody senior, somebody impartial, yet vaguely friendly. And I thought of Jes Wienberg.

Wienberg is a professor of Historical Archaeology in Lund. We’ve only met once and have never collaborated. He owed me nothing and I owed him nothing, but we had corresponded amicably for about 15 years. My first memory of contact with him is from 2001/02 when I got his permission to re-print a really good article of his in the skeptical pop-sci journal Folkvett that I co-edited at the time. In 2004/05 he helpfully commented on the manuscript of a pugnacious debate piece of mine that appeared in the journal META, published at his department. He went on to publish in the scholarly journal I co-edit and was always helpful with recommendations when I needed a good reviewer for some new book on Medieval matters. Wienberg was never a big presence in my professional life, but he was a friendly one. Until he accepted the task of reviewing my habilitation application. And delivered his verdict.

The process took more than a year. I wasn’t directed to send my publications to the external reviewer until May 2016. I mailed the hefty stack to Wienberg on 24 May, and then I got the whole thing back on 8 June. Right at the end of the spring semester, when there are so many exams to correct, grades to set and bits of admin to finish, Wienberg spent less than two weeks getting familiar with 846 pages of research into prehistoric archaeology, a field he is not active in. And his verdict was roughly this:

Rundkvist fulfils all formal criteria for habilitation. But I don’t like his methods of research. So I refuse to give him my recommendation.

Those who read Scandy can check here whether the above is a fair summary of Wienberg’s evaluation.

Wienberg’s behaviour caused much consternation at the faculty in Umeå. Nobody ever does this. Habilitation is a ceremonial act. If you’re asked to review work that you absolutely loathe, then you just don’t accept the job. “Sorry, I’m too busy right now.” And Wienberg’s value judgement of my stuff was completely beside the point, because those publications had already passed peer review and been published in high-profile venues. He wasn’t just questioning my work, he was questioning the insight of among others Thomas B. Larsson and two fellow professors at his own department in Lund who had accepted reams of my writing for publication.

But anyway, I never did get habilitated. A friendly old Umeå professor from a neighbouring discipline did his best at the faculty to effect a re-submission opportunity for me, but it came to nothing. Due to flagging student numbers I no longer worked in Umeå, and my support from the departmental staff was lackadaisical. One guy wrote me explicitly that the question of my habilitation was linked to what the playing field would look like the next time a professorship became vacant in Umeå. We climb over each other to reach the top.

And so I learned yet again that a career in academia is never about the formal rules for how stuff should work, never really about qualifications. It’s a tribal system of social patronage. I also learned, belatedly, not to trust Jes Wienberg.

Three Fortunate Young Oslovians

Oslo colleagues have asked me to give a fuller account of the spring 2017 hiring that I called the most egregious case I’ve seen. This is not because they’re trying to make the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History look good, but because they feel that I unfairly singled out a single hire, when in fact there were three. I’m happy to oblige. For one thing, I hadn’t even noticed that one of the three has no PhD.

Some background. Norway has a strong tradition of research performed at museums. Bergen’s museum, for instance, was doing major science long before there was a university in town. The førsteamanuensis positions at the Oslo museum that I’m discussing here have 40% research time built into them. Hear that, academics everywhere? A full-time, lifetime job with 40% research time. 20 people applied for those three jobs.

I’ve kept stats on who has gotten lectureships and førsteamanuensis positions in Scandy archaeology for the past 14 years. The median age of the hires is 43. Half of the hires are between 40 and 46. The youngest person to get one of these jobs since I started counting in 2003 was 32, at Uni Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, this past spring.

But yes, there were three hires. They’re 32, 35 and 39, that is, all three are exceptionally young. One worked at the museum when the jobs were advertised, another had worked there previously, and one of these two hasn’t got a PhD! A third one had a post-doc position at Uni Oslo’s main campus just across town, where this person had done their PhD (post-doc at your home department, huh!?). This one is also a long-term collaborator on two projects of the hiring committee’s chairman, who is a professor at the museum in accordance with the fine Norwegian rules for these things.

I believe that by the time they reach 45, two of these people will have strongly competitive CVs. (They’re getting paid to do research at 40% of full time, after all, and all three certainly seem bright enough.) My point in bringing them up is that in 2017 none of the three have this. There is nobody under the age of 40 in Scandinavian academic archaeology who can compete in front of a fair and impartial hiring committee with people who have published research voluminously for a quarter century. Because nobody starts publishing research at age 15. So it’s pretty damn egregious the whole thing.

Update 30 November: What about the other members of the hiring committee? I got interviewed by one of them for a job in Trondheim recently, and I call him Stony-face. In the recent case, the hiring committee (not including Stony-face himself) had ranked me #1. But the guy refused to even let me give a test lecture. And whaddaya know — in 2015, Stony-face co-wrote a book with the 32-y-o mentioned above.

Yeah, Screw You Too, Academia

I recently received a long-awaited verdict on an official complaint I had filed: there was in fact nothing formally wrong with the decision by the Dept of Historical Studies in Gothenburg to hire Zeppo Begonia. Since the verdict didn’t go my way, as planned I am now turning my back on academic archaeology. The reason is that qualifications don’t count in Scandyland.

Being friends with people inside, and preferably being a local product, is what gets you academic jobs here. I need to cut my losses and move on. I would call this post a burning of bridges if there were any to burn, but there are none. Fourteen years on this joke of a job “market” have demonstrated that it doesn’t matter whom I piss off now: there won’t be a steady job for me either way.

I’ve been applying for academic jobs all over Scandinavia since 2003. The longest employment I’ve been able to secure was a 6-month temp lectureship at 55% of full time – during one of three happy years when I headed freshman archaeology in remote Umeå. But time and time again, I’ve seen jobs given to dramatically less qualified colleagues.

Norwegian university recruitment is particularly ugly. There, rules stipulate that the “external” hiring committee has to be chaired by a senior faculty member from the hiring department itself – with predictable results. The most egregious case I’ve seen was not long ago at the University of Oslo’s archaeological museum, where a [uniquely young] recent [University of Oslo] PhD with hardly any publications at all got a steady research lectureship. She had been working closely with a professor at the museum. Who chaired the hiring committee. And who was once, prior to this, super angry with me when I complained about the Norwegian system on Facebook, haha! I’ve seen the same thing at the Oslo uni department and at NTNU in Trondheim recently. Local people with poor qualifications who could never compete anywhere else get permanent positions.

Denmark’s system is completely non-transparent. You don’t get a list of who applied and you don’t get to read their evaluations, like you do in Sweden and Norway. What tends to happen in my experience is that you get a glowingly enthusiastic evaluation, which feels super nice, and then they hire some Dane. The country has only two archaeology departments that produce these strangely employable Danes.

Finland’s university humanities used to be poorly funded. To boot they have recently been radically de-funded from that prior low level. The Finns understandably never advertise any jobs at all.

Sweden is no better than its neighbours. Our hiring committees for steady jobs are fully external, so that’s good. But you get steady jobs on the strength of your temping experience. And temp teachers are hired with no external involvement at all, like in the recent case of Zeppo Begonia in Gothenburg. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The Faculty of Humanities at this university, let me remind you, was severely censured by the Swedish Higher Education Authority back in May for many years of gross misconduct in their hiring practices. Local favouritism is the deal here.

There are quite a few people in Scandy academic archaeology whom I’d like to see driving a bus for a living. Zeppo Begonia is not one of them. He is a solid empiricist prehistorian of Central European origin whose work I respect and admire. If you ask me who should get research funding, I will reply “Zeppo Begonia”. I would like to see many more Zeppoes in my discipline. I think we should import them to replace some of our own shoddy products. But look at our respective qualifications for this measly one-year temp lectureship at 60%.

  • The ad specified that you needed solid knowledge of Scandy archaeology to do the job. I’m 45 and I’ve worked full time in Scandy archaeology for 25 years. Zeppo is 39 and started working and publishing here four years ago.
  • I have published five academic books. Zeppo has published one.
  • I have published 45 journal papers and book chapters in a wide range of respected outlets. Zeppo has published 23.
  • Zeppo and I have both been temp teachers for some percentage of four academic years.
  • I have published 29 pieces of pop-sci, including one book, plus eleven years of this blog. Zeppo has published no pop-sci.
  • Out of Zeppo’s research output, little deals with Scandy archaeology, but several of these pieces are co-authored with senior figures in archaeology at the University of Gothenburg. Hint, hint.

This, as you can see, is just ridiculous. And there is no legal recourse unless you are discriminated against on grounds of race, gender etc. The appeals board has proved to ignore qualification issues. Believe me, I’ve tried.

To finish off, a few words for my colleagues at Scandinavian archaeology departments. Have you published five academic books and 45 journal papers? Are you extremely popular with the students? Have you worked in Scandinavian archaeology for at least 25 years? Have you got other heavy qualifications, like an 18-year stint as managing editor of a major journal and 11 years of keeping one of the world’s biggest archaeology blogs? If your answer to any of these questions is no, then I would have your job if Scandy academic archaeology were a meritocracy.

The head of department, Helène Whittaker, has declined to comment on the case of Zeppo Begonia. I use this pseudonym for him to emphasise that he has done nothing wrong. He just applied for a job.

September Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Planting a gingko and listening to early Black Sabbath.
  • Sailboat owners around Älgö have a lot of trouble with their wind indicators. The local crows use them as merry-go-rounds, which messes them up.
  • Me: “I am daft today.” Autocorrect: “I am Daddy Toast.”
  • Friendly local fellow gladly gave us permission to stash our excavation gear overnight behind his garden shed.
  • Heavy downpour making loud whoosh noise on the roof.
  • Rented a van, collected excavation gear and two students, deposited gear at site, bought extra gear, had lunch, returned van, am now in no hurry to airport. Everything went as planned. (But then a storm hit and my flight was delayed for almost six hours.)
  • Went out of the house at 05:15 heading for Gothenburg, was greeted by a beautiful conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon in the south-east.
  • Opening three trenches today in Kungahälla’s Viking Period predecessor. Weights & spindlewhorls tell of trade & textile crafts.
  • Mars Society’s scifi writer debate panel on humankind’s future in space consists of four white men aged 62 and over. Ouch.
  • Have a feeling that a lot of web sites keep re-asking me if I’ll accept their goddamn cookies.
  • How can you figure out the average volume of a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire simply by counting them? I mean, you don’t know their total volume to begin with. Makes no sense. Lennon was clearly tripping.
  • The damn fire alarm in my hotel room has a bright green blinking LED that keeps me from sleeping. Last night I put a sticky plaster on it, but tonight I decided to take it down. Wearing headphones with loud riff rock in them. So I couldn’t hear the angry beeping from the alarm box in the hallway. So security had to come visit. *sigh*

A Female Viking Warrior Interred at Birka

In archaeology, we distinguish osteological sex from artefact gender. Osteo-sex is with very few exceptions (odd chromosomal setups) the same thing as what your genitals are like. Artefact gender is the material correlate of a role you play according to the conventions of your time: e.g. whether you keep your genitals in Y-fronts or lacy knickers. We judge these two parameters from separate source materials. Your skeleton can’t tell us anything about your gender, and your grave goods can’t tell us anything about your osteo-sex. They are in principle able to vary independently.

Nevertheless, 1st millennium Scandinavians seem to have been quite conventional about this: mismatches between osteo-sex and artefact gender are extremely rare. The graves are clearly divided into osteo-female jewellery graves and osteo-male weapon graves. If you exclude cremated bones and poorly preserved inhumations that can cause misdeterminations, the number of mismatches shrinks even more. And when you do see a mismatch it’s typically partial: e.g. a male skeleton buried with a full set of weaponry and horse gear, plus a single ladylike brooch. I was until recently not aware of any well-preserved and richly furnished Scandy inhumation of the 1st millennium with a complete mismatch between osteo-sex and artefact gender. But now we have one.

Birka’s grave 581 is one of the famous chamber inhumation graves where this Swedish Viking town’s 10th century elite buried their dead. It has loads of high-quality weaponry and two horses. It has no hint of any female attire. And it has the skeleton of a person whose funny bent position suggests that, like in many other chamber graves, the individual was buried sitting on a chair and then keeled over inside the chamber.

In the 1970s, the skeleton had become disassociated from the artefact finds, and an osteologist (sadly uncredited in the paper discussed below) quietly identified it as female. In 2014 osteologist Anna Kjellström identified the bones as belonging to Bj 581, the famous weapon burial, and agreed that the skeleton is female. Certain archaeologists have replied that they don’t believe this because of the weapons. Others have suggested more diplomatically that maybe the bones represent two individuals, or that a male body was removed while still articulated. Others again have simply dismissed the whole issue with reference to 19th century sloppiness in keeping the Birka bones correctly labelled grave by grave.

Now a team of researchers, of whom I am proud to count half as my professional buddies, have sequenced the genomes of the bones. Yes, plural. To test if the skull and one arm are from the same person. There is only one person there, and just as Kjellström said, she’s biologically a woman. I am extremely happy with this investigation, because it gives us our first real female Viking, and it shows that osteologists can indeed judge osteo-sex correctly on well-preserved ancient skeletons. Very commendably, the paper is available online in full for free: Open Access.

Here’s a few notes.

  • The grave was selected for analysis because of the controversy over its osteo-sex. It is not a randomly chosen weapon burial that happened to prove female. If you pick a random Birka inhumation, this is not the result you are likely to get.
  • Assuming that burial furnishings speak directly about a person’s role in life (which is always debatable), we don’t know if the dead person was perceived as a cross-dressing woman, or just as a man. In other words, we have no way to tell if she was “out”. There are examples of both from later centuries, where for instance Joan of Arc never tried to pass as a man despite wearing armour and commanding an army.
  • The plan of the grave shows which bones were well preserved. This should be enough to counter the charge that maybe the skeleton currently labelled Bj 581 is not in fact the one found in this weapon grave. This the authors should have written a few sentences about. I take their silence to mean that having already published her arguments about this elsewhere, Kjellström considers the issue uncontroversial.
  • We still can’t rule out the early removal of an articulated male body. But such an argument ex silentio would demand that we place similar female bodies in all other weapon graves as well. We can’t just create the bodies we want in order for the material to look neat.

The “Discussion” section hasn’t been properly copy-edited.

  • I don’t know what “The archaeological material provides a reference for the Viking Age” means.
  • Because of the odd phrasing, I don’t know what the authors are trying to say about earlier scholarship here: “Although not possible to rule out, previous arguments have likely neglected intersectional perspectives where the social status of the individual was considered of greater importance than biological sex. This type of reasoning takes away the agency of the buried female.”
  • “Grave Bj 581 is one of three known examples where *the* individual has been treated in accordance with prevailing warrior ideals lacking all associations with the female gender” : “The” here should be “a female”.

Hedenstierna-Jonson, Charlotte et al. 2017. A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2017. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23308

I discussed the issue of shield maidens in 2013, the year before Anna Kjellström went public with her identification of the female skeleton with Bj 581.