Local newspaper SkÃ¥nskan recently published a highly credulous account of amateur archaeologist Bob Lind’s outlandish interpretations of an Early Iron Age cemetery in Ravlunda parish. I wrote them to complain, and staff writer Karsten Bringmark asked me for a statement. Which made it onto the paper’s web site, and possibly into print as well?
- Yesterday I did 5.5 more man-hours of metal detecting at the “Hall of Odin” site in VÃ¤stmanland with Per Vikstrand. No prehistoric finds: just a piece of a 15/16/17th century brass cooking pot.
- Bob Lind’s craziness is once more repeated uncritically by a local Scanian newspaper.
- I had a nice chat with the panel of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast this morning. At 9 pm EST, i.e. 3 am local time. Which was not a very good idea, seeing as my wife was trying to sleep in the next room. But I think the show will be good. Hear Rebecca Watson say “Suckle the teat of the Mother Goddess”!
- There’s a vote on to delete an entry about me from English-language Wikipedia, on the grounds of insufficient notability. The basic problem seems to be that the entire subject of Scandy archaeology is non-notable to people in the US.
- Instead, Alun of Clioaudio and Archaeoastronomy has written a panegyrical entry about yours truly on the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy website!
- The full contents of Kalmar-based Bronze Age scholar Dag Widholm’s Festschrift is available on-line as one big PDF file. Don’t miss Elisabeth Rudebeck’s paper about the Ales stenar signpost debacle, where she includes the complete text of a Wikipedia article on the subject, largely written by someone you know!
Local newspaper Ystads Allehanda reports on new fieldwork in Ravlunda by amateur archaeologist Bob G Lind and retired geology professor Nils-Axel MÃ¶rner. The last time the two enthusiastic gentlemen interfered with the Iron Age cemetery in question, they were reprimanded by the County Archaeologist. Now they are clearing brush from the site in order to make their imagined Bronze Age calendar alignments clearer.
Future plans include magnetometry mapping. MÃ¶rner is quoted as believing that this technique will allow the pair to map individual ancient footprints in the subsoil, because in his opinion, magnetometry maps “compressed earth”. Lind, meanwhile, is no longer content to strip off the top 80 cm of earth across the site, but is now advocating a full meter’s worth.
Asserts MÃ¶rner, “Finds show that Greek boats came here to get amber. This was sort of the Hong Kong of the Greeks.” Indeed. And, I hasten to add, Atlantis was in Atlingbo parish on Gotland.
Thanks to LL of Arkland for the heads-up.
Update 14 April: Ground-penetrating radar survey under way, hypotheses still wacky, local press still credulous. Thanks to Tobias for the tip.
As chronicled here in many entries over the past months, computer consultant, New Age author and homeopath Bob G. Lind has carved out his own niche in Swedish amateur archaeology with controversial interpretations of Scanian archaeological sites Ales stenar and Höga stenar. Another Bob Lind is a famous US folk singer. Yet now I’ve learned that Bob G. Lind is a singer and a song-writer too!
My Malmö colleague Ingela Kishonti has kindly sent me scans of the cover and labels of a 45-rpm vinyl single that Bob G. put out in 1978 on NCB/K.M.C. Records. (This does not appear to have been be the same as the current UK hip-hop label of the same name.) The A-side is a song of Bob’s own with the self-explanatory title “Hej Angelie”. The B-side is Bob’s Swedish lyrics sung to Alex North’s theme song for the 1976 TV series Rich man, poor man (which was based on Irwin Shaw’s novel of the same name). The TV series aired in Sweden under the title De fattiga och de rika. Both tracks were arranged by Anders Neglin, who would later go on to score several successful Swedish TV series and produce albums for many big Swedish pop acts.
This disc is of course a fine cultural artefact in and of itself. But what makes it absolutely priceless is the title of Bob’s Swedish lyrics to the TV theme song: Dröm men ändå verklighet. He should have this printed on the cover of everything he’s ever written! It means “A dream, but still reality”.
The Scania County Archaeologist has had an independent contractor assess and document the damage done to an Early Iron Age cemetery by Lind and former geology professor Nils-Axel Mörner. The men’s interventions will be repaired and the site’s protected area will be enlarged, but no charges will be pressed. It’s an unusual case as Lind made his unauthorised interference with the site known through a press release!
Here are a few choice quotations from contract archaeologist Lasse Wallin’s report. I translate:
“The amateur archaeologist has issued a press release where he enumerates 55 stones on the central hillock, that is, within and immediately outside registered site 169. This may be compared to the Sites and Monuments Register’s “c. 19 stones”. Furthermore, eight stones on the eastern hillock are used in alignments, as are two on the western one. Many of these stones have clearly been excavated or de-turfed in the past few weeks. A number of pits have also been dug, of which some have been backfilled. Their depth seems to have been 0.1-0.2 meters. In two shallow pits, about 0.05 meters deep, flat stones have been placed. These stones apparently mark the centres of stone circles someone has envisioned.”
“Repairing the damage to the site is important as the uncovering of selected stones according to a preconceived idea gives a doubtful impression of the monument.”
“To possibly restore the site, in the sense of returning it to its original state [on the day of the last burial, one imagines] would be impossible without a very thorough investigation with non-destructive methods, and perhaps an excavation. Such a radical restoration would be neither feasible, nor, in our opinion, desirable.”
“Fig. 8. Digging damage at 7. No stone was found at the desired spot!”
In other news, I have learned that Lind is not only an amateur archaeoastronomer, but also a practicing homeopath. Why am I not surprised?
Update 11 January: Clas Svahn covers the report in Dagens Nyheter.
- Standing stones are unlikely to mark cemeteries. (They are in fact enormously common in early-to-mid-1st Millennium AD cemeteries in Sweden.)
- Many of the stones in the new cemetery Lind has been spinning his astronomical yarns about hardly protrude above the turf. The reason, he says, is that the ground level in the meadow has somehow risen 80 cm since the stones were put in place, and nearly buried them. (This simply doesn’t happen. Our geology doesn’t work that way.)
Please, bona fide amateur archaeologists of Scania, you can’t let Bob Lind act as an example of your community like this! He’s a complete embarassment.
Thanks to Sven-Åke of Arkeologiforum for the link.
Bob Lind chalking some apparently quite genuine cupmarks, a ubiquitous type of Bronze Age rock art.
Alternative archaeoastronomer Bob Lind (note that I do not call him an unhinged man with crackpot theories) felt himself vindicated this past summer by the Swedish Heritage Board. On a set of new visitors’ signs, the Board didn’t actually endorse Lind’s alternative interpretation of the stone ship of Ales stenar, but the signs recounted his ideas alongside the scholarly consensus interpretation without taking a stand on the issue. This was enough to make Lind a very happy man.
Now, local Scanian media report (here, here and here) that Lind has moved on to a new project of grandiose scope. No longer is Lind reinterpreting a famous, scenic and well-preserved ancient monument. He has found a previously unknown “monument” of his own — and it’s 180 meters long!
Independent archaeoastronomical researcher Bob G. Lind’s theories about Ales stenar put the entire academic elite firmly in their place. His new discovery makes Ales stenar pale in comparison.
“Without any doubt the largest one ever in Northern Europe!”
A 180 meters long stone setting, shaped in an extremely intricate way according to the various equinoxes [!] of the year.
“I was walking in this great big meadow with friends and instinctively felt a tension. [And with the aid of aerial photography:] Suddenly I saw the entire big picture. My measurements confirmed all theories. It was a highly exact solar clock and also a sacrificial site.”
To top it all in this giant structure, there is a magnificent phallus.
Most of the many stones that form the cult site reach c. 60-80 centimeters into the ground, while many only protrude a few decimeters above the surface of the modern soil.
This is good news. When Bob Lind unveils an interpretation that is so plainly nuts
and doesn’t even touch upon a real ancient monument, it will be easier to repair the damage done to the public’s perception of the area’s archaeology by the Heritage Board’s new signs at Ales stenar. There’s even an endorsement by dowsing-rod enthusiast and former geology professor Nils-Axel Mörner, whose very name is a solid guarantee for high-grade woo.
Those journalists really don’t know jack shit about archaeology.
Thanks to Hexmaster for the links.
But thankfully, Clas Svahn at Dagens Nyheter offers a far more skeptical perspective.
Update 10 December: Oh great. Turns out that Lind hasn’t actually found a new site after all. He’s just stumbled upon a small and rather mundane Early Iron Age cemetery that’s been known to scholarship at least since the 1930s. David at Arkeologiforum identifies it as registered site Ravlunda 169:1. The site is known to local tradition as Höga stenar, “the tall stones” or “the mound stones”. Lind, however, calls the place “the stones of Heimdallr”. How cosmic.
Update 12 December: Clas Svahn at Dagens Nyheter gleefully reports that Lind hasn’t in fact discovered anything new.
As discussed here in a recent entry, there has long been a conflict over Ales stenar, a prehistoric stone ship monument in Scania, southern Sweden. Scholarship has argued that like all other large stone ships in southern Scandinavia with ample space between the standing stones, Ales stenar was built as a grave marker (or perhaps assembly site) in the late 1st Millennium AD. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed the date. On the other hand, amateur archaeo-astronomer Bob Lind has led a vociferous campaign asserting that the ship is several thousand years older than that and originally built as a calendarical observatory. It’s been one of Sweden’s most publicised battles between skeptics and woo-mongers. But not one academic archaeologist believes in Lind’s interpretations. His model has been taken apart in great detail and shown to be baseless.
Recently the National Heritage Board replaced the visitor’s signs at Ales stenar with four new ones, all measuring about a square meter. Few archaeologists have seen them yet as the site is in a remote location. My dad, however, is vacationing in the area. He just called me and read the signs out over the phone (and he took the above pic: click for higher resolution). Bob Lind’s interpretations are described in a noncommittal manner, on the template of “archaeological scholars have deduced that blah blah blah, while the amateur Bob Lind believes that bleh bleh bleh”. Mention is made of the fact that the stone ship’s length axis is orientated roughly toward sunset on the summer solstice and sunrise on the winter solstice. This, alone, is not enough to make the thing work as a calendar, a fact which is not mentioned.
Actually, on these new signs, the Heritage Board takes no stand as to the monument’s interpretation. It simply reports both sides — “teaching the controversy”, as it were. But Bob Lind feels that he has been personally vindicated. And two major newspapers, Dagens Nyheter and Sydsvenska Dagbladet (here and here), misrepresent the Heritage Board’s message, stating falsely that the Board’s signs officially endorse the sun calendar interpretation. The story angle in both papers is that of the single private man battling for years with unfeeling authorities until finally they give in and accept that he’s been right all along. This is not what has happened. But the current sorry mess was entirely foreseeable.
In my opinion, the Heritage Board has screwed up badly, and it’s gotten its just deserts from the media. The Board’s signs are a medium for science popularisation. This means that it’s the Board’s duty to report the best available science, making clear what the consensus among professional researchers is. If they were in the business of healthcare outreach, nobody would accept their reporting wildly divergent ideas from evidence-based and alternative medicine without taking a stand. Kajsa Althén of the National Heritage Board has abdicated her responsibility at Ales stenar, opting for non-scientific multivocality. Her headline is “Ales stenar — en pågående tolkning”, meaning “Ales stenar — an ongoing interpretation”. This misleads the public about the site’s scientific status. As regards Bob Lind’s interpretations, nothing is ongoing. That case was closed years ago as far as serious scholarship is concerned.
Meanwhile, Lind is sitting happily in his deck chair on site, giving an interview to a TV crew. I hope the people higher up at the Board learn from this sad farce. [Oh no, they’re not learning, on the contrary.]
For years and years, there has been an on-going conflict over Ales stenar, a prehistoric stone ship monument in Scania, southern Sweden. Scholarship has argued that like all other large stone ships in southern Scandinavia with ample space between the standing stones, Ales stenar was built as a grave marker in the late 1st Millennium AD. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed the date. On the other hand, amateur archaeo-astronomer Bob Lind has led a vociferous campaign asserting that the ship is several thousand years older than that and originally built as a calendarical observatory. People have actually come to blows over this in one of Sweden’s most publicised battles between skeptics and woo-mongers. But not one academic archaeologist believes in Lind’s interpretations. His model has been taken apart in great detail and shown to be baseless.
Well, archaeology isn’t just an issue for scholars and amateur scholars. Among the groups taking an interest in the subject are the authorities at various levels, primarily the National Heritage Board, Riksantikvarieämbetet. The Heritage Board is by no means staffed only with people who know anything about current archaeological research.
And now, according to Dagens Nyheter, the Board has replaced the visitor’s signs at Ales stenar with a new version stating that whereas Lind is wrong about the date of the monument, he’s right about its astronomical function! It just makes me want to bang my head against my keyboard.
How could this happen? Well, remember post-modernist hyper-relativism? Turns out the person behind the new signs is Kajsa Althén, one of notorious Stockholm ex-museum director Kristian Berg’s old cronies.
“Kajsa Althén observes that there is no final truth about Ales stenar or other stone ships. ‘It’s fun to see new knowledge appearing all the time’, she says.”
To understand what these words really mean, you need to have suffered through a lot of pomo garbage. Here’s my translation.
“Kajsa Althén believes that there is no final or single truth to be found in archaeology. ‘It’s fun to see new conflicting theories appearing all the time’, she says.”
This is a fucking disgrace. Dear Reader, if you happen to have any say at the National Heritage Board, please get those signs taken down ASAP. They have nothing to do with informed scholarship, being instead motivated by a pomo ambition to harmonise official viewpoints with current folklore. These people really don’t care what’s the truth about the past. In fact, they believe it’s unattainable.
Update 22 July: Kajsa Althén tells me in a letter that both her statements and the text on the signs were misquoted in the newspaper item. A lot of people are now keenly interested in finding out exactly what those signs say. It would be most illuminating if someone nearby could photograph the signs and send me pix!
Roger Lindqvist, the journalist who wrote the piece linked to above, tells me that he hasn’t seen the new signs. When asked where the information that the Heritage Board had endorsed Lind’s ideas came from, he replied that Lind’s work “is covered on the sign”. I hope to learn soon whether this coverage of Lind is in fact an endorsement, a critical distancing or a neutral mention. In my opinion, any mention other than a critical distancing would be comparable to selling Creationist tracts at the Grand Canyon visitor’s centre.
Sydsvenska Dagbladet reports that “now the Heritage Board has begun to agree with” Bob Lind. “Ales stenar No Longer a Mystery” is the headline. An interview with Lind has the headline “Rehabilitated After Ten Years”. And the wonderful thing about all this reporting is that no mention is made of how archaeological knowledge arises. The journalists are just happy to tell us that the State Board and County Council have now decided that Ales stenar is a calendar. Science by fiat.
Update 23 July: My dad happens to be on vacation in Scania. He just called me from Ales stenar (where Bob Lind is sitting in a deck chair and talking to a TV team) and read the new Heritage Board signs out to me. Pix are on their way. Turns out the media have misrepresented the signs’ message. More about that in a separate entry.