The Archangel Raphael. Recently uncovered mural in Kil church, Närke. C. 1250.
Today’s my 16th anniversary as editor of Fornvännen! Issue 2014:3 is now on-line on Open Access.
Fornvännen 2013:4 is now on-line on Open Access.
Spent Wednesday through Friday in Estonia at the kind invitation of Marge Konsa and the Institute of History and Archaeology in Tartu. Gave a lecture on computer-aided statistics for burial studies (here’s my presentation), then went to Tallinn, where Jüri Peets and Raili Allmäe showed me the finds and horrifically battle-damaged bones from the two 8th century Swedish mass burials in ships at Salme on Saaremaa. Also had time to meet with my grad school buddy Marika Mägi and do a lot of sight-seeing. Pics on Flickr!
The vibe in Estonia is optimistic and self-confident. Plaques about EU funding are everywhere. Much fewer run-down buildings than last time I was there, in January of 2002. But there is still a lot of squalor. The post-Soviet world has a particular kind of patchy microsqualor. I found a juicy bit just a stone’s throw from the seat of government and the country’s most expensive apartments. This comes not of poverty, but of uncertainty about ownership after property was nationalised and then de-nationalised. Decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, people still don’t quite know who owns certain property, and before they do, nobody will renovate it.
Graffiti in the Tartu University student jail, c. 1900.
Tartu is very much like Uppsala and Lund, down to the details of academic culture. Though mensur ritual fencing was never as big at the Swedish universities as in Tartu. I was interested to learn that among the student fraternities / nations there before WW2, there was a Jewish one with a proud Star of David on their velvet cap where other fraternities had similar symbols. Today only the more conservative and nationalistic students join fraternities, and they tend to be organised by academic subject rather that the origins of the members.
I visited the students’ jail in the attic of Tartu university, full of graffiti in German and Latin from c. 1900. There were five of these detention rooms, but four perished in a fire in the 1960s. Apparently the walls were frequently whitewashed, so with the right methods you could probably image many older layers of graffiti there.
On my way home I flew in an Air Baltic Bombardier DASH 8 from Tallinn to Riga. It’s a Canadian 1984 model.
Bombardier DASH 8 at Tallinn airport.
To help people understand that this is a coffee cup, we have decided to decorate it with instructive pictures of coffee cups.
As my buddy Marcus Widengren commented, “Now they only have to add the words ‘This is not a coffee cup’ and take Magritte to the next level.”
This is the view from the staff break room in the humanities building at the Kalmar campus of the Linnaeus University. To the lower left is the university building. I haven’t been here much during the 14 months since I began my stint as some-time lecturer at Linnaeus. Most of my teaching has been at the other campus in Växjö.
A few things surprise me about this break room. For instance, I am not used to having colleagues showing up and joining me for tea and a chat. It’s nice! Also I haven’t seen a training tower for sea captains anywhere else – top right in the picture. And perhaps most surprising is the fact that though my foothold here is tenuous, this is actually a university campus where I work. The lunch dude asks ”Are you a student?” before I pay, and it always gives me a little thrill to reply, ”No, I’m a teacher.”
Smørenge is one of the sites on Bornholm that keeps yielding mid-1st-millennium gold mini-figurines. But in addition to the 2D representations on embossed gold foil known as guldgubber, an artisan employed by the magnate family at Smørenge also made nude 3D figurines. The fifth of these was found by one of the island’s famously skilful metal detectorists in May, and she’s quite a revelation. Because representations of women are far less common than of men in Iron Age art, and nude women are almost unknown.
The Smørenge woman is wearing only a hatched belt. She has the prominent “seer’s thumbs” common in the era’s art, and all the female anatomy we know and love is clearly modelled. Lines depicting long hair are incised onto her head and neck. Notches on her upper arms suggest that she is intended to be tied with a piece of wire or thread. Her body’s overall curvature and her outstretched feet suggest that she is performing a back-flip, a motif known e.g. from the closely coeval Söderby bracteate hoard where a bearded man is seen doing acrobatics. She is 42 mm long and weighs 3 g.
The thing that commentators are wondering about is the odd cogged ridge along her spine. My guess is that she is simply a skinny acrobat whose vertebrae are visible as a line of bumps along her back.
René Laursen has a short presentation of the find at the Bornholm Museum web site, and a more detailed one in Skalk 2013:3 (June).
Bronze Age rock art along Sweden’s south-east coast is rich but not as varied as that of the famous west-coast region. One motif that we have been missing is the four-wheel wagon. It isn’t common anywhere except on one site, Frännarp in inland Scania (below right), but we have had none whatsoever where I am.
Wagons at Frännarp in Scania
The other day we got our first wagon: at the rich classical site of Himmelstalund on the outskirts of Norrköping in Östergötland province. According to period convention, it is depicted in a flattened perspective with the wheels seen from the sides and the carriage from the top. The drawbar is cut by a later ship (off camera), and it appears that there were never any draught animals. The wagon probably dates from the centuries about 800 BC.
This rock art is carved into the smooth surfaces left by the inland ice. The paint and chalk is recent. The red-painted figure above the Himmelstalund wagon is a pair of incomplete foot soles or shoes. The thin chalk lines represent two ships that appear to have been mostly weathered away before the wagon was carved. People returned to these panels and made additions for centuries.
Note that the person who painted the foot soles didn’t see the wagon or the faint ships! This shows how important it is to return to rock art panels regularly with skilled personnel for renewed study. In this case I can take a small amount of avuncular pride in the find, because Theres Furuskog is a long-time collaborator of mine who has done GPS surveying, fieldwalking and metal-detecting with me on many sites in Östergötland and Södermanland. She has also worked for years with cleaning and painting rock art. Her find is a prime example of how important it is to employ educated, intelligent and experienced people for such tasks.
Another fine first in east-coast rock art was the sun horse of nearby Gärstad, found in 2011.
My paper on the re-use of Late Iron Age picture stones during that same period (mainly in late male graves) has been published in English and Swedish parallel versions of Gotländskt Arkiv 2012. That’s the annual of the Gotland County Museum. Have a look! Questions and comments are most welcome.
Another one of the rare production dies for 6/7/8th century gold foil figures has come to light, again on Zealand! This is an unusual design depicting a lady from the front. She’s wearing a long dress, a cloak and two bead strings. She seems to be cupping her hands around a ring at her abdomen. The rings on her dress hem are quite odd. Parallels to the general motif and design are known from Eketorp on Öland (a foil) and Sättuna in Östergötland (a die). Congratulations to detectorist Hans, and thanks for doing other folks with an interest in the past a big favour!
Update 4 Feb: Aard regular Kevin points out that this Vendel Period lady looks just like a Dutch Christmas cookie! Image from 123RF.
A Dutch speculaas cookie.
Damn, I must have ridden those very train carriages thousands of times! The crash happened just four stops up the commuter train line from where I live. My wife and I went there this morning with our camera. Details here.
Update 21 January: On the basis of first reports and information from a former railway employee, I thought this was an ostentatious suicide attempt. Now there are indications that it was a horrific accident caused by the unsanctioned habits of train drivers. Apparently they routinely jury-rig the safety apparatus for convenience, and in cold weather, to keep the brakes from freezing stuck. This works fine as long as only trained drivers come near the controls. But the cleaning ladies don’t receive any driver’s training, and they too have to enter the cramped cockpit.