Information Scientist Looks at Archaeology

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I just came across a pretty far-out book. On 1 December, Isto Huvila passed his viva for the PhD degree in information science in Turku/Åbo, Finland. His thesis is entitled The Ecology of Information Work (available on-line).

“The study explores an interface between the human patterns of information use and the methods of structuring and organising information and knowledge. The issue is discussed with a reference to information work in the domain of archaeology. The study refers to the notion of virtual realities as a prospective basis for a knowledge organisation system and discusses the question that whether and how a virtual reality based knowledge organisation system might enhance the practises of archaeological information work.

The study also presents for the first time a concise analytical description of work and information work within the domain of archaeology from an information science point of view. The study forms a solid basis for the future development of information systems and information services for archaeology and cultural heritage professionals.”


Huvila, Isto. 2006. The ecology of information work. A case study of bridging archaeological work and virtual reality based knowledge organisation. Åbo University Press. 401 pp. ISBN 951-765-336-0. Available on-line.

The Gold From Vittene

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As the first reader-submitted pic, my buddy Lars Lundqvist has sent me a snap of himself taken by Klas Höglund in October 1995. Lars is happy in this picture, the reason being that he’s just found the object he’s holding. It’s a large plough-mangled Continental gold neck ring of the first few centuries AD, and it’s part of the Vittene hoard.

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Swedish Rules for Archaeological Finds

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Linnea, one of the Salto sobrius regulars, asked two questions today on the Swedish archaeology mailing list that would be in my archaeology FAQ if I had one.

  • Who owns an archaeological find made by a member of the public?
  • Is it legal to sell archaeological finds?

Here’s how things work in Sweden, which to my knowledge has the world’s strongest legal protection for sites and finds.

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Send Me Archaeopix Please

Grrlscientist is showing this gorgeous picture of a snake that one of her readers sent her. She’s actually running sort of a photo publishing service, giving her readers’ photography a bit of exposure. I’ve got to try this myself.

Dear Reader, if you have taken a really good archaeology photograph that you’d like to share with your fellow readers, feel free to email it to me, along with information about the subject and how you’d like it to be credited.

Rich First Century Burials Found on Lolland

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A rescue excavation at Torreby on the smallish Danish island of Lolland has turned up two wealthy inhumations of the 1st century AD. One is an adult female with silver and gold objects including a finger ring, two S-shaped bead-string hooks, a pear-shaped filigree pendant and a “beaker”, as well as a large set of beads. The other is a boy of about 10 with spurs on his feet, a sign of hereditary status. Early Roman Period Lolland is known for the Hoby burial with two exquisite Mediterranean silver drinking cups sporting Homeric motifs in high relief.

I don’t know much yet, but here’s some information in Danish.

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Danish Dolmens

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The first type of megalithic tomb occuring in Scandinavia is the dolmen, a table-like structure built of huge stone slabs and covered with a barrow. They were built in the Early Neolithic, c. 3600-3300 cal BC, and then re-used for centuries afterwards as other megalithic tomb types came and went. Just the other day, the indefatigable Klaus Ebbesen published a hefty catalogue of 404 particularly well-preserved Danish dolmens and the finds made in them, lavishly illustrated with 19th century watercolours. Out of almost 400 pages, only about 50 are text, the rest being glorious data.

“Dolmen” is a funny word. It’s Celtic in origin, meaning “stone table” in Breton. (You only see the table once the barrow’s been removed.) In Swedish, it means “the stuffed cabbage leaf” (Gr. dolma), or “the penis”. Our word for the tomb type is dös.


Klaus Ebbesen. 2007. Danske dysser. Danish dolmens. Attika. 384 pp. ISBN 87-7528-652-1.

Chasing Ancient Kings

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Dear Reader, let me tell you about my on-going research.

Written history begins late in Scandinavia. The 1st Millennium AD is an almost entirely prehistoric period here. Still, Scandinavian archaeologists have long had a pretty good general idea about late 1st Millennium political geography. The most affluent and powerful regions show up e.g. in hoard finds and expensively furnished graves. The distribution of Romanesque stone churches from the 11th and 12th centuries appears to correspond closely with the political heartlands of the preceding centuries, and with where there’s good arable land for Medieval agriculture. We know where the petty kings held sway: Jutland, Funen, Zealand, Scania, Bornholm, Västergötland, Östergötland, Öland, Gotland, the Lake Mälaren provinces, the coastal provinces of southern Norway.

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Harsh Criticism From An Unexpected Direction

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Here’s my reply to the reader’s question about the effects of being harshly criticised by a colleague you respect.

I was a highly independent grad student. Some might say obstinate and unruly. This was due to a combination of my personality, my tender age and the science wars of the 1990s. I came to the university of Stockholm as a science major right about the time that Northern European archaeology fell into its belated infatuation with post-modernism and went badly anti-scientific for a while. At age eighteen, after fifty pages of Ian Hodder’s turgid Reading the Past, I decided I would have none of it. Science is based in empirical observation and expressed in clear, succinct language, or it is not science. And non-scientific approaches to the past is the province of historical novelists, who manage quite well without critical theory, thank you.

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An Archaeologist in Lab Coat Land

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Dear Reader, I’m really thrilled to be on Scienceblogs! You see, I’m the first second or third scholar from the Arts wing that Seed‘s let in here. Archaeology was long seen as an adjunct to historical research, which is why it’s classed as a humanistic discipline and not a social science. We reconstruct societies lost in the mists of time. But our source material is concrete and hands-on: no parchment codices, no taped interviews or questionnaires. Historians dig through archives. Archaeologists dig stuff out of the ground and try to make sense of it. And we can only do that with the aid of methods nicked from the natural sciences.

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