Kon Tiki Airport Restaurant


I’ve written a bit before about Thor Heyerdahl’s hyperdiffusionism and the status as a Norwegian national hero he still enjoys despite being completely discounted as a scientist. Last time I passed through Oslo airport I discovered this Kon Tiki-themed restaurant with a faux Ecuadorian Bolivian stele. I think what Heyerdahl interpreted as a full beard is more likely to depict a decorative face plate hanging from the man’s nose. And anyway, a beard is of course not evidence that a man is a civilisation-bearing Übermensch from Europe.



Tricking the Devil In 17th Century Norway

In the 90s, Norwegian death metal musicians were notorious for Satanism, violent crime and church arson. One of these twits burned down the stave church of Fantoft, which though moved in the 19th century had originally been built in about 1150. Any one of my atheist buddies could have told them that it’s OK to like churches even if you don’t like the Church. And by the way: which is the more evil world view from a Christian perspective: Satanism or atheism/materialism? At least the Satanists believe in a higher power that has the decency to fight with the Christian god over people’s souls.

Anyway, Satanic dealings were nothing new to Norway at the time. My Kristiansand colleague Frans-Arne Stylegar offers the following find from the archives of the Vest-Agder County Archaeologist (and I translate).

The vicar Søren Sode [active in the later 17th century] allegedly had the Black Book, and with its aid he could both bind and unbind the Devil. But one Sunday when he was at the church in Birkenes, the Devil got loose at the vicarage. This happened because of the girl who cleaned the vicar’s study. She got hold of the Black Book and began to read it. She happened upon the spell to unbind the Devil, and before she knew it, Old Nick was in the house.

The vicar’s wife was not afraid, because she knew what to do. Old Nick must be given work to do until her husband came home. First she told the girl to take all the duvets out of the house, cut them open and empty out the feathers. Then she told Old Nick to collect all the feathers again. This took some time, but before long all the feathers were back in the duvets. But Old Nick threw the duvets across the river, and there they remained.

Then she told him to build a bridge across to Dønnestad out of river sand. He collected a lot of sand and stretched a rope across the river. But the river came and destroyed the rope because one end of it reached into the water. Old Nick tried again, but the rope broke and floated down the river. The sand ended up at Hamre hamlet, and that is how the sands of Hamre came to be. Seeing that none of his work was successful, Old Nick was angry and raced up the valley towards Birkenes, probably to see the vicar.

Sode, who was just standing in the church pulpit, realised that something was amiss at home. He hurriedly interrupted service and headed back. Just outside Høygilts Moner church he met Old Nick. The vicar said, “If it had not been for women and children, you would still have been standing there as a gargoyle. But now it will be the hole for you.” And he forced the Devil into the earth next to the road. Later people would always throw stones and sticks there, accumulating a mound of many materials. It was called the Throw, and it can still be seen.

This story was told to local historian A. Stensvand by tailor Henning Hobbesland in about 1855. Stensvand added,

“It almost seems like Søren Sode would let the Devil loose for fun. But once he came to the vicarage and demanded a horse race against the vicar. Sode accepted. Whoever lost would have to give his horse to the winner. The race took place at dusk and went towards Kjevig. The vicar won. But when Old Nick was supposed to hand his horse over, he accused the vicar of cheating. Sode’s horse was not an everyday race horse, but Sleipnir with eight feet.”

Sheep In Cabbage


I am making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l, a dish whose name has a kind of brutal literality, meaning “sheep in cabbage”. It doesn’t ring quite so harshly in Swedish, as we have no separate word for mutton, using the same word for the animal as for its meat. I’m making fÃ¥rikÃ¥l because I had it in Oslo a few weeks back when I happened to visit that city on the day following the great Sheep In Cabbage Day, which has been celebrated on the last Thursday of September since 1997. (Here’s a basic recipe. Opinions differ as to whether you should use black pepper or allspice, and possibly add bay leaves and thyme.)

Speaking Schedule Oct/Nov

  • Wednesday 5 Oct. 17:00. About Fisksätra before the 1970s housing development. Fisksätra shopping centre, HAMN project office.
  • Thursday 13 Oct. 10:00. About Bronze Age sacrificial sites. Uppsala, Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3, Dept of Archaeology.
  • Monday 17 Oct. 18:30. About pseudoarchaeology. Stockholm, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 5, lecture hall D2, Swedish Skeptics.
  • Thursday 27 Oct. 14:00. About the late-1st millennium aristocracy. Norrköping, Saltängsgatan 7, Senioruniversitetet.
  • Thursday 3 Nov. 14:30. About the new media. Kristiansand, Vestre Strandgate 7, Radisson Blue Caledonien (!) Hotel, Norwegian Archaeologists Annual Meeting.

And buy an Aardvarchaeology t-shirt or mug now! Any day now you may find yourself without any clean t-shirts or mugs!

Norway’s McVeigh Murders

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening on Twitter and news sites, following the information that came out of Norway about the terrorist attacks. At current count, a madman has murdered 87 people, most of them teens he mowed down with an automatic rifle, and injured a similar number.

The killer targeted the Norwegian Labour party and is an Islamophobic opponent of a multi-cultural society. I am a Labour voter and a member of a multi-cultural family. People of 70 nationalities live in my neighbourhood. The ancestry of my friends is all over the map. I always keep chicken meatballs in my freezer because several friends of my daughter have Muslim parents.

When it comes to violence like this, the question of sanity becomes moot. The act is all the diagnose we need. Most people who share the 22 July killer’s opinions never harm anyone, because they are not insane. All we can really do is try to keep guns and explosives out of the hands of madmen. It’s akin to installing a lightning rod on your roof.

All those bereaved people. All those traumatised hundreds of Labour Youth campers. So sad and pointless.

Recent Archaeomags

Skalk’s first issue for 2011 opens with a great article by Mr. Bronze Age Religion himself, Flemming Kaul. It deals with two wooden votive helmets found in a bog on Lolland in Denmark. Their closest parallels are from a big multiperiod deposit of pre-Roman metal helmets found at Negova/Negau in Slovenia. One of the latter carries an extremely early inscription in Germanic, the name Harigasti, which makes the link to the Uglemose find even more interesting.

Kaul shows further parallels from coeval situla art where boxers compete for similar helmets. And then comes a passage that made me laugh (and I translate):

“Thus there is no doubt that helmets like these served as sporting trophies. And among the Greeks such trophies, like cauldrons on tripods, could be deposited in a temple as part of the temple hoard. The 26 helmets from Negau may similarly have been a collection of sporting trophies kept in a local sanctuary, where as the generations passed helmets were added one by one. Shortly before 100 BC the Cimbri or some other Germanic tribe came by, stole the helmets, dedicated them to Harigast [their god of war?] and deposited them as a sacrifice. The Cimbri, as it were, robbed the local boxing club of its trophy collection.”

Moving on, I also liked Pernille Pantmann’s and Inge Bødker Enghoff’s piece about a well-preserved and well-excavated Bronze Age settlement on Zealand where bone preservation was particularly fine. The median length of the codfish eaten there was 55-60 cm which shows that these people did a lot of deep-water line fishing from the boats we see so often in the rock art of neighbouring regions. And the site has rich deposits of metalworking debris too. Good stuff!

Current Archaeology #251 came with the excellent news that a privately owned album of excavation photographs from Sutton Hoo’s mound 1 has come to light. This is extremely valuable as the dig was hasty and the detailed documentation of the ship remains was lost during WW2. The photographers were two school teachers on holiday, Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack.

An interesting idea reached me via a book review: Barry Cunliffe and John Koch’s anthology Celtic from the West is devoted to the proposition that the Celtic languages entered Europe from the West via IE-speaking early metal prospectors who came by boat around the Iberian peninsula. Only later would Gaul and Central Europe have been Celtified. Interesting indeed! The fact that our oldest evidence for Celtic languages is from the South-East is of course because that was where literate Greeks were around to document the language situation.

Another cool tidbit is that Roman sites in the UK and 19th century sites with imported Classical sculpture have local living micropopulations of Mediterranean land snails!

Current Archaeology #252 celebrates the 200th episode of Time Team and takes an in-depth look at the geophysical underpinnings of the show. How else would one get a good overview of a site in three days of fieldwork?

Of great interest to me because of my current work is a piece by conservators Laura McLean and Stefanie White on a ploughed-out bronze axe hoard recently found and salvaged at Burnham in Essex by a detectorist. It was in a pot whose bottom part, with its bronze contents, was still in situ. Over a hundred pieces of metalwork including fifty socketed axe frags, eight socketed spearhead frags, seven sword frags, three sickle frags, two gouges and lots of casting waste.

I don’t know the English typochronology well enough to date the hoard (Ewart Park phase maybe?). But it’s certainly Late Bronze Age and not EB, given that it’s socked axes and not flanged ones or palstaves. And I believe the Brits never get the really short socketed axes of our per. V and VI. So my guess is that that this hoard should be Final British Bronze, 8th century BC.

CA’s international sister publication Current World Archaeology is out with its 45th issue. It’s a Southern Italy special, with little I can comment on, but there’s also a piece by Ellen Marie Næss on the Oseberg ship-burial skeletons. As we have seen here, they were reburied and recently disinterred again, and new osteological results await academic publication. But Norwegian colleagues of mine tell me that the new alleged findings are a little too weird to have been missed by the osteologists on the original Oseberg team. Per Holck has some explaining to do before we accept that all the ship-grave people he examines turn out to have strange deformities, like Morgani’s syndrome.

Archaeology Magazine is published in New York state. Issue #64:2 has a good feature by Lauren Hilgers on Han Dynasty rural settlements in Henan sealed catastrophically and preserved when the Yellow River flooded 2000 years ago. I must say though that I don’t like the Chinese habit of building exhibition halls over deturfed and cleaned archaeological layers to show them to the public. Of course all manner of plants and fungi immediately colonise the surfaces, and they have to spray them with chemicals. Better to do your dig, backfill and put the site under grass for the next excavator.

A piece on battlefield archaeology at Towton in Yorkshire (where armies clashed in 1461) is interesting but contains a baffling line of argument. The investigators have found shards of a small brass cannon. They have taken upon themselves to analyse whether there is residue of gunpowder and lead on the insides. There is, and so the investigators allow themselves to argue that the cannon was fired in the battle. But how on Earth do they think that the thing would have shattered and remained on the battlefield unless it had been fired!?

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Thor Heyerdahl and Hyperdiffusionism


Lately I’ve been thinking and giving some talks about Scandinavian pseudoarchaeological writers, that is, people who publish books on the past with unsubstantiated claims to scientific credibility. The beyond all comparison most famous of them is the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002).

Heyerdahl is mostly known not as an archaeologist, but as a great navigator, being the organiser of numerous projects where he would have a reconstruction built of some ancient boat and make an ocean voyage with it. Most famously, he travelled by balsa raft from Peru westwards to Tuamotu in 1947 (with my countryman Bengt Danielsson on board). What may not be apparent to everyone is that almost everything Heyerdahl did throughout his professional life was motivated by one overarching archaeological hypothesis: hyperdiffusionism.

Diffusionism is the view that ideas (such as tech inventions) travel. If I invent something good or interesting, then people who see it may pick up the idea and run with it, and the idea will propagate across the world like rings on a pond do when you drop a prosthetic silver nose into it. Ideas will diffuse like drops of watercolour in a glass of water. It is generally accepted among scholars that this does happen to some extent in real cultures, with the important caveats that sometimes inventors will try to keep their ideas from propagating, and in many cases potential receivers will refuse to pick up certain ideas. An important example of the latter is what happened to the diffusion of agriculture when it reached northern Germany. The Linearbandkeramik culture had agriculture, and their Ertebölle culture neighbours to the north were well aware of it, but they refused to copy it for a thousand years. They were happy to continue with their fishing and oyster-collecting Mesolithic lifestyle despite having an alternative. Apparently, people in the past did not always feel that steps that led in the direction of modern civilisation were very attractive.

Another important argument against diffusionism as a wholesale explanatory model is that if one group can invent agriculture / pottery / pyramids / irrigation / writing / metalworking, then clearly it wouldn’t be too hard for a similar group somewhere else to make the same inventions on their own. This has been proved to have happened, for instance with agriculture in the Americas, where the cultivated crops are completely different from the ones in the Old World. Biologists will recognise this as convergent evolution: every marine top predator throughout geological history ends up looking pretty much the same regardless of its ancestry, simply because of hydrodynamics.

Thor Heyerdahl could not accept the idea of independent inventions, of convergent cultural evolution. His thinking wasn’t just diffusionistic on the small-to-middle scale. Every one of his boat trips revolved around hyperdiffusionism, being designed to show that it was possible, more specifically regarding the package of ideas that we call state civilisation. And that’s where he went wrong. Instead of searching for evidence that diffusion had taken place (e.g. Egyptian pottery in Mexico), he spent his life “testing” whether the needed sea travel could have taken place in antiquity. This is still apparent even in his last book, “The Hunt for Odin”, where he goes back to some euhemeristic ideas of Snorri Sturluson and argues that a real person named Odin brought civilisation to Scandinavia from the Middle East.

Thor Heyerdahl’s forays into archaeology were pseudoscience because he had a single favourite model that he refused to let go of. But he also displayed another typical trait among pseudoarchaeologists: hostility against mainstream academia. With Heyerdahl, we are looking at a man with a great many honorary doctorates, but no university degree. He was unwilling to work within the confines of science with its peer review, its debates and its career structure, and he got a lot done beyond that world. But while many Norwegians celebrate him as a national hero and a conqueror of the seas, one whose memorial museum is (tellingly) located a stone’s throw from the Viking Ship Hall in Oslo, scientific archaeology and ethnography and biology have all but forgotten him.

i-5bfd396ee9902e5ef823db0ebb37bbad-MR Oslo 31 okt 2010.jpg

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Two Queenly Careers

Through my reading I was reminded of two Scandinavian early-12th century queens whose careers are pretty amazing. Though originally probably unrelated, they became kin by marriage in several ways.

~1085. Margareta Ingesdotter born, daughter of King Inge I of Sweden. (Birth year unrecorded.)

~1100. Ulvhild HÃ¥konsdotter born, daughter of the Norwegian nobleman HÃ¥kon Finnsson of the Thjotta family. (Birth year likewise unrecorded.)

1101. As part of a peace agreement between the Kings of Sweden and Norway, Margareta marries King Magnus III “Barefoot” Olavsson of Norway. Thus her cognomen Fredkulla, “peace wench”.

1105. Margareta marries King Niels Svensson of Denmark. (Magnus having died two years previously).

~1115. Ulvhild marries King Inge II of Sweden, first cousin of Margareta and nephew of Inge I.

1130. Margareta dies. Ulvhild marries King Niels. (Inge II having died c. seven years previously).

1134. Niels dies. Ulvhild marries King Sverker I Cornubesson of Sweden. Ulvhild and Sverker have at least five children over the following years, of whom their son Karl eventually also becomes King of Sweden.

1143. Ulvhild and Sverker support the foundation of Alvastra monastery, one of Scandinavia’s first Cistercian foundations.

1148. Ulvhild dies.

Early Scandy historians tended to describe these women as a kind of prestigious fecund statuary that was traded to and fro among the era’s elite-male lineages. In modern scholarship, they are seen more as political agents in their own right, though the source material for their lives and actions is extremely sparse.

Ulvhild is particularly remarkable as she managed to become queen of Sweden, Denmark and then Sweden again. Her contacts, influence, wealth and experience were in all likelihood instrumental in making Sverker a successful king and the first member of a (not very long-lived) royal dynasty.

One thing that really gets me about these people is how briefly they lived, how little education they had and how young they were when they did the deeds that wrote them into history. Margareta and Ulvhild were younger than many history undergrads when each of them married her second king.

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Hogganvik Runestone Re-erected


The recently found Norwegian 5th century runestone of Hogganvik carries a memorial inscription and so might be expected to have stood on or near a grave. My buddy Frans-Arne Stylegar has excavated the site and sadly found no preserved burial, but he did find the original stone setting of the monument. This is a rare kind of knowledge, as many runestones have been moved around through the centuries. Now the runestone stands again, the site has been cleaned up, and the public is free to come see the most important early runic document to surface in many decades.

Photograph by Frans-Arne Stylegar. I have written here about Hogganvik twice before.