The Director General Responds

It seems that my comments yesterday on the small issue of signage at Ales stenar touched a nerve regarding something bigger, having to do with the National Heritage Board’s overall societal role in relationship to archaeology and public outreach. Lars Amréus is the Board’s Director General, an archaeologist and Qaisar Mahmood’s boss. He has kindly written a guest entry in response to mine. My comments will follow in a later entry.

—–

I’m a regular follower of Dr. Rundkvist’s blog. I often find it both interesting and engaging. Above all, I appreciate that Dr. Rundkvist is an ardent advocate for knowledge, fact and scientific method, which I believe is hugely important in our times of “fake news” and “fact resistance”.
Therefore, I was surprised to read Dr. Rundkvist’s blog entry about the archaeological site Ales stenar, since it contains several errors, some of which could easily have been avoided with some simple googling.
The entry has been written out of the assumption that the Swedish National Heritage Board (RAÄ) owns or manages the site. This is not true. For some time now, this has been the responsibility of the Swedish National Property Board, a government agency whose primary purpose is to manage and disseminate information about historic buildings, landscapes and ancient monuments of Swedish national importance. Consequently, there is no RAÄ staff working at the site, and RAÄ is not responsible for the information presented at the site.
The County Administrative Board of Skåne has decided that a sign presenting what might be described as “alternative facts” about the site should be allowed to be displayed. Dr. Rundkvist criticizes RAÄ for not appealing this decision to court. However, the fact of the matter is that there is simply no legal ground for RAÄ to appeal.
As an archaeologist, it is sometimes frustrating to see how archaeological sites are used for various purposes: political, personal and otherwise. But perhaps we need to remind ourselves that in the other end of the scales lays Freedom of Speech. In an open and democratic society people do have the right to say many things; even incorrect, stupid or repulsive.
Some of us may be surprised, and perhaps even saddened, by the decision of the County Administrative Board to allow “alternative facts” to be presented at Ales stenar. But until proven otherwise, it must be considered as a decision that rests on Swedish law.
Regardless of what some may believe, it is not the responsibility of RAÄ to be the judge of which interpretations are correct, incorrect or perhaps partly correct when it comes to archaeological sites in general. The information presented at each site is the responsibility of the owner/site-manager, in practice often in co-operation with the County Administrative Board. As far as I know, there is no formal way of bringing on-site information to scrutiny by a national expert authority.
The wider discussion of the interpretation of archaeological sites lies, of course, with the scientific community as a whole. It would be highly inappropriate, and indeed impossible, for a government agency such as RAÄ to act as a judge in matters of academia.
Finally, I strongly resent that Dr. Rundkvist implies that decisions at RAÄ are made (by a named official) based on (his claimed – not proven) political preferences. RAÄ is an agency under the Swedish government and by the rule of Swedish law. Dr. Rundkvist presents no evidence to suggest decisions have been made outside the mandate given to the Board. Given the main purpose of his blog, he should stay clear of presenting such theories without evidence to support it.

Lars Amréus
Director-General
Swedish National Heritage Board

 

Advertisements

National Heritage Board Abdicates Again At Ales Stenar

Bob Lind has yet again managed to get the National Heritage Board to abdicate its responsibility at Ales Stenar, a beautiful 7th century AD burial monument near Ystad in southern Sweden. Bob has self-published odd interpretations of the site that have found no traction among professional archaeologists. He has kept vigil at Ales stenar for decades, lecturing to visitors, ranting at the municipal guides and occasionally attacking them. He has a very large sign on site, next to the National Heritage Board’s, with permission from the County Archaeologist. My colleague Björn Wallebom has criticised this, and the local paper ran a critical article yesterday, quoting myself and others.

In 2007 the National Heritage Board’s representative Ewa Bergdahl said on this subject,

There isn’t just one single truth. This place is so incredibly more complex than previously believed, … You have no privileged position with us just because you do research at a university

And this tiresome old post-modernist anti-science relativism persists at the Board. This time it’s Qaisar Mahmood, my buddy from Leftie and refugee volunteering circles, who says stupid things to the press without the benefit of any archaeological training.

Our responsibility is to present the image we think is right. It would be wrong if we took measures to exclude other images. … We have seen no reason to file a complaint against the County Archaeologist’s decision. We take responsibility for what is ours. Just because we don’t file a complaint it doesn’t mean that we support or open the door to other versions.

—–

Vårt ansvar ligger i att ge den bild vi tycker är rätt. Det är fel om vi skulle gå in och utesluta andra bilder. … Vi har inte sett något behov att överklaga länsstyrelsens beslut. Vi tar ansvar för det som är vårt. Bara för att vi inte överklagar betyder det inte att vi står bakom eller släpper fram andra versioner.

1. The National Heritage Board’s responsibility is to present the image that scientific consensus thinks is right. Nobody else’s. Certainly not its non-archaeological office staff’s.

2. The Board owns this property. Its staff are not taking responsibility for what is theirs.

3. The fact that the Board doesn’t file a complaint does mean that it supports and opens the door to other versions.

4. If someone wanted to post an equally pseudo-scientific sign about Odin that contained hints of extreme-right propaganda, then the Board would not allow it.

5. When the National Heritage Board allows a sign with a discredited interpretation at a high-profile archaeological site that it owns, then it is equivalent to public hospitals allowing faith healers to roam the corridors, tending to patients.

Qaisar, archaeology is a science. I do not get to speak for medicine, Latvian studies or meteorology. You do not get to speak for archaeology. Scholarly consensus is the arbiter of truth in these matters.

Update same day: Qaisar Mahmood and the Board’s Custodian Lars Amreus have responded briefly on Facebook and Twitter to my criticism. If I understand them correctly, their line is that the Board of National Antiquities does not in fact own Ales stenar, they recently handed it over to the National Property Board. This organisation has never made any claim to archaeological authority. And it creates the question, why then does Qaisar Mahmood of National Heritage talk to the press about Ales stenar? As I said, this is an abdication of responsibility.

And another update: Qaisar has given me a long public reply on Fb, and I’ll try to summarise it fairly here. He’s saying that my expectations of what role the National Heritage Board is supposed to play in Swedish archaeology are no longer supported by its directives from the Ministry of Culture. The Board has in fact not abdicated from any position of archaeological authority in the case of Ales stenar. It can’t abdicate, because it no longer makes any claim to such a position. Those are not its orders from our elected officials. I’m sure Qaisar knows what he’s talking about. I just shake my head and wonder, will the real Board of National Antiquities please stand up?

Signage at Ales stenar. Left: two copies of a sign from Ystad municipality and the National Heritage Board. Right: Bob Lind’s signs.

My blogging about Bob’s antics has grown voluminous over the years. Read it all here with a new category tag.

Mörner & Lind Digging Without A Permit Again

Here’s an interesting legal conundrum. The pseudo-archaeological power duo Bob Lind and Nils-Axel Mörner have been excavating without a permit again (as confirmed to me by the County Archaeologist). But the site they have chosen is a disused quarry of indeterminate age. Though protected by the letter of the current law, such a humble and probably not very old site would not in practice receive the full treatment afforded e.g. a prehistoric settlement site.

However…

Lind and Mörner claim that the quarry dates from the Bronze Age. So they have dug into a site they believe to be legally protected without securing a permit first.

I’d say that this is the equivalent of shooting somebody who is, unbeknowst to the gun man, already dead. No harm done. But there was intention to commit a crime.

(And about their suggestion that this is the quarry where the tallest stones in the Ales Stenar stone ship were quarried? The general Brantevik area with its many quarries was pointed out decades ago as a source of the stones by writers not acknowledged in the press release. And Lind & Mörner have presented neither dating evidence nor a petrographic analysis to support their claims.)

Ravlunda Cemetery Rebuttal

i-eb4efd06efe320ce1b3f6776d5190b62-hoga-stenar-efter-bob-lind.png

In 2009, geologist Nils Axel Mörner and Bob G. Lind (and a distinguished third author who was not consulted about having his name on the publication) had a paper published in Geografiska Annaler about the Ravlunda 169 cemetery. This was an outcome of the pair’s unauthorised digging at the site in 2007. The paper is a mess and shouldn’t have been accepted. Tellingly, the topic is archaeology and quaternary geology, while none of the authors is an archaeologist and the journal is about geography.

Now Alun Salt and I have replied to Mörner & Lind’s paper, also in Geografiska Annaler. At the publishers’ request I have agreed not to put the paper on-line, but anyone who wants to read it, just e-mail me.

Salt, A. and Rundkvist, M., 2011. Letter to the editor: Sunset on Heimdall’s stones. A view from archaeology and archaeoastronomy of the Ravlunda 169 Iron Age cemetery. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, 93, 193-196. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0459.2011.00428.x

In other news, my Mead-halls book has arrived from the printers!!! Photo evidence tomorrow, complimentary copies will be mailed shortly, and I’ll put the on-line ordering link on the blog as soon as I get it.

Student Labour Wasted at Ales Stenar

It’s that time of the year again when little usually happens and Sweden’s loudest and most aggressive amateur archaeologist likes to get in the news. As mentioned here before, Bob G. Lind has managed to get my otherwise respected colleague Wladyslaw Duczko to join him and dowsing-rod geologist N-A. Mörner for some fieldwork near a lovely standing-stone ship in Scania, the famous Ales stenar, built in the 7th century AD. Duczko’s involvement solved the problem previously alluded to here, that when local bodies give Bob funding for fieldwork, they’re betting on a horse that can’t actually get a fieldwork permit.

The merry three believe, against all dating evidence from this and similar sites, that the monument dates from the Bronze Age. They are digging with Duczko’s Polish students within sight of the stone ship, but not close enough to harm it. Nor, indeed, close enough for their results to have any relevance for the dating and functional interpretation of the monument. They’re on a spot where there’s faint remains of a trackway down the erosion scarp above the seashore. Such an erosion scarp moves inland over the centuries. This means that the stone ship was much farther from the sea when it was built than it is now.

The placement of the track is contingent on where the scarp is currently located, and so the track can’t be very old. But Duczko & Co assume that the track was used to pull the stones to the site of the ship. So they want to date the track. If they can date it to a period before the Late Iron Age, their reasoning goes, then this will date the stone ship. This is really lame. Even if the track were Mesolithic in date, even if it were early post-glacial, then nothing would keep people in the Late Iron Age from plonking a monument down on or near the track. And there is nothing to suggest that the stones of the ship were really brought up the scarp along the track.

So what has the fieldwork shown? Touchingly, Duczko & Co emphasise that they have not found anything to date the track to the 1st millennium AD, as if this were an important result. Have they, then, been able to date it to the Bronze Age? No. The track remains undated and functionally unrelated to the stone ship.

I feel really sorry for the students who waste their time on this project. Scania is an extremely rich archaeological province, and there are so many amazing sites where these young people could contribute to new exciting discoveries, make useful contacts and learn something. Instead they’ve been lured onto a pointless dig devised by a crank with whom not one Scanian archaeologist is willing to collaborate.

The TT news agency called me about this and wrote a nicely understated treatment that made it into various papers: DN, SvD, GP. They got one thing wrong though. I didn’t say that every known large stone ship has been dated with radiocarbon. I said that those that have been dated thus have given consistent late-1st millennium dates.

Respected Swedish Archaeologist Joins Cranks

i-7a5336ac599e307da96a7a00c8b50e4d-duczko.jpg

To my horror, Ystads Allehanda reports that Wladyslaw Duczko has joined Nils-Axel Mörner on a project to excavate the famous Ales stenar stone ship.

Why does this pain me? Because while (as I have reported here before) geologist Mörner and his collaborator homeopath Bob G. Lind are Swedish archaeology’s most notorious cranks, Duczko is not. He is a respected senior archaeologist and known as an authority on Slavic silver jewellery of the Viking Period.

If I had heard that Duczko was going to excavate Ales stenar, I would have said “Well done, Wladde, I’m looking forward to seeing your results. Hope Bob doesn’t try to kill you.” But now he’s lending his academic credibility to a collaboration with the people who are just about the least qualified of all adult Swedes to take part in the excavations.

The County Archaeologist of Scania will in all likelihood not give an excavation permit to anyone who collaborates with Mörner or Lind. And I believe the land is owned by the National Heritage Board, which likewise will let them nowhere near the site with a shovel. But from now on, Wladyslaw Duczko’s academic credibility will be used to support some really weird fringe archaeology. Why, oh, why, Wladde? Didn’t you know?

Åsa M. Larsson and Fredrik Svanberg are also shocked and incredulous.

[More about Technorati Tags: , ; , , .]

Fringe Archaeologist Reported to Police for Threats, Harassment

i-b131168b4562c440d9fddc801028dc95-bobglind500.jpg

The most dedicated man in Swedish fringe archaeology is at it again. I’ve reported on and off about Bob G. Lind’s antics in Scania (12345), but it’s been a while now. I didn’t write about the time when he interpreted a dotted line on an old map as an alignment of standing stones that had been removed, nor about his recent statement to the effect that his new discoveries would topple the current Swedish government once he presented them. But now Bob’s made the news again and Ystads Allehanda has the story.

Ystad municipality has temporarily cancelled its guided tours of the Ales stenar stone ship (a Late Iron Age grave monument), reported Bob to the police for threatening and harassing the site guides, and hired a security guard. Bob believes that this particular stone ship is a Late Bronze Age calendaric observatory, and he’s run a loud and aggressive one-man presentation at the site for many years. It seems that his interest is currently not directed towards his other project, where he interprets a nearby Early Iron Age cemetery as yet another Late Bronze Age calendaric observatory.

Thanks to Anders Ljungberg for the tip-off.

[More about , ; , .]

An Account of the Lund University Creationism Debate

This past Sunday the Department of Archaeology at the University of Lund organised a public debate about creationism and archaeology. One of the invited speakers was Young Earth creationist Mats Molén, who should not in my opinion have been lent academic credibility in that manner. Universities should teach students about pseudoscience and why it is not science, but they should not let pseudoscientists teach.

Lund is far from my home and I didn’t attend the event. But I wrote the non-creationist participants beforehand and suggested that they familiarise themselves with creationist debate tactics such as the Gish Gallop, of which at least one of them had never heard before. And yesterday I asked the moderator of the debate, my colleague Dr. Björn Magnusson Staaf, how it went. Here’s his reply, which I reproduce with his permission (and I translate):

It went OK. Molén didn’t hijack the debate. The issues discussed were largely about a scientific basis for knowledge and spiritual belief and the boundaries between them. In my opinion Björn Petersson (practical philosophy) and K.G. [Hammar, ex-arch-bishop and professor of theology) laid things out well, while Mats [Molén] skidded around quite a bit. Hardly surprising perhaps that those issues aren’t his forte. His main point was that the scientific establishment is excluding him and that the reason is that evolutionists and atheists won’t let him in. When I asked him if this doesn’t sound a lot like a conspiracy theory he replied that it isn’t. His reasoning is thus quite similar to Bob Lind’s regarding Ales stenar, that is, the guys are collecting a lot of strength from portraying themselves as persecution victims who are kept from speaking the “truth”.

What I find constructive about the debate was that it showed quite clearly that science needs to be footed on a solid positivist basis and that the logical foundations for how we construct interpretations and arguments need to be stringent, where a clear distinction is made between hypothesis and empirical observation. Hypotheses might be impossible to prove, but the reader must be able to decide if they make sense or not (as you can see, I’m influenced by C.S. Peirce and pragmatism). In scientific arguments like that God definitely has no place, as was emphasised by K.G. Hammar.

To those lucky enough not to have experienced the Science Wars in Scandy archaeology, I should point out that Magnusson Staaf’s self-identification as a “positivist” is quite provocative. The term has come a long way since Comte‘s day, and I believe that what Magnusson Staaf means here is that he supports rational scientific inquiry and the Enlightenment project, as opposed to post-modernism and epistemological relativism (“constructivism”). His nod to pragmatism is difficult for me to understand in this context as that philosophical movement is explicitly anti-realistic, denies the distinction between facts and values, and says basically “We can’t know what’s real, let’s just find out what works”.

As for “evolutionists” banding together to keep creationists out of the universities, I’m sure that it’s completely true. Universities have quality control systems in place that act to keep all kinds of pseudoscientists out (except in the Humanities and Social sciences faculties, where standards are lax and thinking often fuzzy).

Anybody here attend the debate? I’d like to hear what you thought of it.

Update same evening: Dear Reader Z reports:

Dr Björn: I was there and was impressed with the biblical scholars who explained to the creationist Molén and to the audience, that the Bible contains three different Genesis stories. (One in the book of Songs)
I didn’t hear much of the important stuff though, the philosopher in the panel almost whispered and was told to speak up a couple of times, but he seemed to forget immediately afterwards.
Not inviting a geologist and a biologist was a big mistake I think, even though i understand that you wanted to keep this debate afternoon in a quite scholarly neighborhood.
There seemed to be no time for discussing isotope dating, and reminding Molén that there are other ones/elements than C-14

The guy who saved most of the day was Ola Wikander. He posed the litterature and philosophical questions to the creationist, in a quite polite way, although not letting him get away.

As KG Hammar ones pointed out “Should Mats Molen do all the talking here? This almost feels like a wasted afternoon” (Molen really seems to enjoy his own voice (-; )

Good thing you interrupted him a couple of times.


In other news, I have taken down another snippet of ABBA lyrics routed through a group of non-Anglophone Swedish six-year-olds. You already know that “Voulez-vous” is “Oo nay boo”. Turns out that “Don’t go sharing your emotions” is “Hose dough hairy carry motion”.

Bob Lind Gets Grant

Affärs- och Kapitalnytt reports that the Scanian bank Sparbanken Syd has given an $8300 grant (SEK 50,000) for archaeological fieldwork and research: “a first instalment for excavations” at a cemetery in Ravlunda parish. Well done!

Unfortunately, the bank has chosen to give the money to our old friend Bob Lind, a homeopath and amateur archaeoastronomer with really wigged-out ideas. Bob has neither formal qualifications nor any excavation experience. On the contrary, he was recently reprimanded by the County Archaeologist for unauthorised de-turfing and addition of stones to the cemetery in question. So there is no way that Bob Lind will ever be given an excavation permit.

I wonder if the bank people realised that they were giving the grant to a person who will never be able to put it to fruitful use.

Thanks to Jesper Jerkert.

[More blog entries about , , , ; , , , , .]

Bob Lind Challenges Me to a Duel

Amateur archaeologist Bob Lind, whom I have often mentioned here in connection with his wild archaeoastronomical ideas, issued me a challenge today (and I translate):

Hello Martin!

I saw a statement of yours in yesterday’s Sydsvenska Dagbladet, where you encourage researchers to blog more, which you have certainly done yourself both regarding Ale’s stones and Heimdallr’s stones. And what rot it all is.

Since you have insulted me in writing to journalists and called me an arch-idiot [Sw. ärkeidiot] among other things, while also claiming that my research regarding Ale’s stones and Heimdallr’s stones is completely wrong, I hereby challenge you to a public debate in front of TV, radio and newspaper people.

In addition to the above, you have also slandered geologist Nils-Axel Mörner who has taken part in the investigations of Heimdallr’s stones. I am going to send a press release about the coming debate to the media, which you with your fine archaeological credentials surely will not find reason to complain about.

We will surely be able to agree on a venue for the duel on short notice. I have a flexible schedule. You can either call me or e-mail me your response.

Best wishes,

Bob G Lind
Independent researcher

I generally try to distinguish between issues and people, and I haven’t called Bob (or anybody else) ärkeidiot. This fine but somewhat outdated insult simply isn’t part of my otherwise reasonably colourful invective vocabulary. But I’d happily debate Bob on TV if any station wants to bring us together. It would surprise me, however, if another one of Bob’s press releases aroused much media interest. It looks more like he wants to organise a debate regardless of whether any media representatives will be there or not. I don’t see the point of travelling to some Scanian village hall and debating Bob in front of fifty locals. They’ve probably already read my opinions about his ideas.

But I think this is really about a major difference between Bob’s approach and mine. I don’t care passionately about the two sites in question, and I wouldn’t see my personal honour threatened if someone proved my ideas about them grossly wrong. Anyway I’m pretty sure that if current scholarly consensus (to which I subscribe) is one day thus proven wrong, then the new results won’t tend to support Bob’s views.