Beautiful Vendel Period Jewellery

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I’m happy and relieved. A 73-page paper that I put a lot of work and travel into and submitted almost five years ago has finally been published. In his essays, Stephen Jay Gould often refers to his “technical work”, which largely concerns Cerion land snails and is most likely not read by very many people. Aard is my attempt to do the essay side of what Gould did. The new paper “Domed oblong brooches of Vendel Period Scandinavia. Ørsnes types N & O and similar brooches, including transitional types surviving into the Early Viking Period”, though, is definitely a piece of my technical work.

The most iconic Viking Period jewellery type is the tortoise brooch. They’re big clunky things worn pairwise on your clavicles, fastening a dress with built-in suspenders over your shoulders. A number of standardised types were mass-produced during the 9th and 10th centuries, reflecting Viking Period Scandinavia’s beginning urbanisation and the concomitant changes in how craft and trade was organised. The standard work on tortoise brooches is Ingmar Jansson’s 1985 PhD thesis Ovala spännbucklor.

Far less well known are the 8th century ancestors of the tortoise brooches, belonging to the Late Vendel Period. Much smaller domed oblong brooches in fact show up already about AD 700 and develop a bewildering variety of styles and design that lasts a few decades into the 9th century before standardisation takes over completely. They’re lovely, almost every one of them unique. There has been no concerted study of them – until now.

I finished my own PhD thesis on social symbolism in Gotlandic burials of the 1st Millennium AD toward the end of 2002. The preceding year I had been to the Sachsensymposium in Lund and seen the amazing metal detector finds from UppÃ¥kra. That project’s leaders were handing out artefact categories for study to various scholars, and I signed up for two brooch groups: the 6th-7th century snake-shaped ones and the 8th century domed oblong ones. I did this for two main reasons: I wanted to get into the metal-detectors & elite-settlement field of research and I hoped to establish a new university affiliation in Lund after my viva. Note the sociology of science aspect.

I began data collection on the two brooch groups in September 2002. My 25-page paper on the snake brooches was swiftly completed and published in late 2003. But the domed oblong ones took more time: there’s a greater number of them and they’re spread over a much larger area. For the second paper I ended up travelling to Lund, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Tromsø, Uppsala, Helsinki, Mariehamn and Ribe. I photographed and measured hundreds of brooches and read reams of obscure literature.

I have mixed feelings about this paper now. From a scientific point of view, I’m very proud of it. It is solidly empirical work with good statistics, I think my arguments are clear, there are two properly done seriation chronologies in it, and at the end is a detailed catalogue that will be useful to students of 8th century Scandinavia indefinitely. Rundkvist 2010 will be the one-stop-shopping reference for this kind of jewellery. I wish more research archaeologists were doing this sort of thing with their research time instead of being such… humanities writers.

From a career-strategical point of view, however, I have to say that it was a failure. The two brooch papers took 2½ years to write and were for all intents and purposes my post-doc project. I chose a type of investigation that is not common or fashionable these days, because it suited my scholarly ideals and it was encouraged by a well-funded research project with friendly directors at another university. But as it turned out, the longer paper took five years to appear because one of the directors fell gravely ill for a time. And the work did not open doors for me as I had hoped. I still have no affiliation with a Scandy university. Instead Exeter and then Chester in England have taken me on as visiting researcher.

Anyway. I never counted on writing an entire book on Östergötland’s elite settlements of the 1st Millennium before the domed oblong brooch paper was published. I had no idea that by the time the paper appeared, I would have finished up my 1st Millennium projects and turned to Bronze Age studies. But now it’s out, on paper and on-line, and I am much relieved.


Rundkvist, M. 2010. Domed oblong brooches of Vendel Period Scandinavia Ørsnes types N & O and similar brooches, including transitional types surviving into the Early Viking Period. Hårdh, B. (ed.). Från romartida skalpeller till senvikingatida urnesspännen. Nya materialstudier från Uppåkra. Uppåkrastudier 11. Dept of Archaeology, University of Lund.

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New Dendro Dates and Provenances for Norwegian Ship Burials

ResearchBlogging.orgA new paper in the Norwegian journal Viking offers exciting news about two less-well-known ship burials from the Avaldsnes area in Rogaland on the country’s west coast. Being poorly preserved, they have been difficult to date. Bonde & Stylegar now show with dendrochronology that these are the earliest dendro-dated ship burials in Norway!

  • Storhaug. Ship built c. 770. Burial in 779.
  • Grønhaug. Ship built c. 780. Burial in c. 790-795.

Another exciting result is that we now know where the famous Oseberg ship was built. Dendro studies have shown that it was built about AD 820, repaired later with wood from the Oslo area, and buried in late summer 834 with the addition of a burial chamber built of Oslo-area timber. But unlike the other Oslo-area burial ships, the Oseberg ship was built somewhere else. Bonde & Stylegar have found that its timber grew in the Nord-Rogaland/Sunnhordland area on the west coast! They suggest that the Oseberg queen came to the Oslo area through a dynastic marriage after 820.

This is excellent work. I have only one point of criticism. Though the Oseberg ship was built in 820, that doesn’t mean that its owner need have moved to the Oslo area after that date. After all, it certainly wasn’t a one-way trip in that age of far sailing. She may have gotten married and moved south in, say, 800, and then received or gone to fetch herself a ship from her Rogaland folks long after the wedding.

And I hope the new dendro data will be published freely, as they should by all scientific standards.

Niels Bonde & Frans-Arne Stylegar (2009). Fra Avaldsnes til Oseberg. Dendrokronologiske undersøkelser av skipsgravene fra Storhaug og Grønhaug. Viking : tidsskrift for norrøn arkeologi, 149-168

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Runological Report on the Hogganvik Rune Stone

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Runologist James E. Knirk has published a report on the recently found Hogganvik rune stone. His transliteration is

[?]kelbaþewas:s(t)^ainaR:aaasrpkf
aarpaa:inanana(l/b/w)oR
eknaudigastiR
ekerafaR

His translation is

Skelba-þewaR’s [“Shaking-servant’s”] stone. (Alphabet magic: aaasrpkf aarpaa). ?Within/From within the ?wheel-nave/?cabin-corner. I NaudigastiR [=”Need-guest”]. I, the Wolverine.

So there isn’t actually an explicit lord-retainer relationship in the text, just a guy whose name includes the word for servant, thewar. It also occurs in two names inscribed on weaponry from Danish war booty finds.

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5th Century Rune Stone Found

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Most rune stones are written with the late 16-character futhark and date from the 11th century when the Scandies had largely been Christianised. Their inscriptions tend to be formulaic: “Joe erected the stone after Jim his father who was a very good man”. But by that time, runic writing was already 900 years old. It’s just that inscriptions in the early 24-character futhark are much less common. And when you find them, their messages are usually far less straight-forward.

My buddy Frans Arne Stylegar reports in a series of blog entries [12345] on the discovery, less than two weeks ago, of a 5th century rune stone at Hogganvik in Mandal municipality, Vest-Agder county, Norway. Nothing similar has been found in Norway since WW2. And it’s an exceptionally long inscription — 63 runes!

The message hasn’t received detailed philological treatment yet, but so much is clear that the stone was erected by one Naudigastir in memory of a man who may have been his proto-feudal lord (or was it the other way around?). It is thus the same genre of memorial text as the 11th century rune stones that are so common in the Stockholm and Uppsala area. And it’s going to give the runologists a lot to think about.

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Norwegian Ghost Mine

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From my buddy Claes Pettersson, pix he took in July at the abandoned Christian VI mine of Røros, Norway, at 62°N. It’s a copper mine that was worked from 1723 until shortly after 1945. Located near the Swedish border and far from the sea, this is one of the coldest parts of Norway, which means that the wooden structures don’t decay much through microbial action — they mainly just erode.
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Kuhnian Huns

Back in August I blogged about a manuscript where a scholar appealed to Thomas Kuhn’s old theory of paradigm shifts in order to evade criticism of their work. At the time I couldn’t give the real details as I had received the manuscript in my capacity as journal editor.

I’ve said before that I consider it an editor’s duty to correct muddle in debates, both in the interests of scientific advancement and to help contributors avoid looking silly. So I wrote to the scholar in question and asked her to work some more on her contribution, specifically to address more of her opponent’s substantive arguments. I also suggested that her reference to Kuhnian paradigm shifts was a poor argument.

This author doesn’t share my view on the matter, and I don’t have editorial veto, so the current issue of Fornvännen (2008:4) contains a largely unaltered version of the original manuscript by Lotte Hedeager, Chair of archaeology in Oslo, titled “Paradigm exposed: reply to Ulf Näsman”. The issue at hand is not of course tomatoes in Neolithic Ireland: it’s whether the Huns are likely to have ruled southern Scandinavia in the Migration Period.

‘However, Näsman makes a simple equation between data and historical fact by ruling out theory. A reply to his critique therefore requires an exposition of the two different academic approaches – or paradigms – involved, his and mine.’

‘Such a change of research paradigm took place in Scandinavian archaeology during the 1970s with forerunners in the 1960s, when a new so-called “processual”, theoretical archaeology replaced, or rather supplemented, an empiricist, non-theoretical positivistic research tradition […]. With the addition of a so-called “post-processual” paradigm from the 1980s onwards, we are now in a situation where practitioners of three different research paradigms still work side by side. This situation leads to competing and sometimes incommensurable interpretations of the past, and Ulf Näsman’s critical comments on my article exemplify just that.’

‘Ulf Näsman’s critique of my NAR paper exemplifies this paradigmatic difference of interpretation. This is already evident from the title, where he keeps “Scandinavia and the Huns”, but replaces my subtitle with “A Source-Critical Approach to an Old Problem”. It clearly signals two different paradigms: an objective, positivistic source-criticism is applied in order to deconstruct a theoretical, interdisciplinary interpretation combining history and archaeology. Näsman’s paradigm demands that such bold, theory-based (and thus subjective) interpretations be confronted by restrained, objective source criticism. As a result we now have two completely different interpretations of the same data. One may ask, how wrong is it possible to be? Or is it the very concept of “right or wrong” that should be discussed?’

‘To summarize: all of Näsman’s “neutral” and “objective” interpretations of the empirical evidence are as solidly anchored in a subjective historical research paradigm as are mine. The main difference between us is his lack of theoretical reflection (or consciousness), and consequently his lack of insight into his own theoretical paradigm. While we share a fundamental respect for and knowledge of the empirical data base of the Iron Age, we approach the interpretation of that very same database in a fundamentally different way. In this our discussion highlights and exemplifies basic mechanisms of Kuhn’s concept of research paradigms, not least their incommensurability.’

Repeat after me, please: “Poe. Moe.”.

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Norwegians Grade Archaeology Journals

The other day I took a look at how the European Science Foundation’s ERIH project grades journals in Scandy archaeology. Dear Reader Ismene pointed me to a corresponding list put out by the NDS, “Norwegian Data Support for the Social Sciences”. While ERIH recognises three impact grades plus ungraded journals, the NDS has only two grades plus ungraded. Here’s the list of relevant journals.

Grade 2

  • Acta Archaeologica
  • Fennoscandia Archaeologica
  • Norwegian Archaeological Review

Grade 1

  • Current Swedish Archaeology
  • Fornvännen
  • Journal of Danish Archaeology
  • Journal of Nordic Archaeological Science
  • Kuml — Årbog for Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab
  • Meta — Medeltidsarkeologisk tidskrift Defunct!
  • Primitive tider
  • Viking

ERIH and the NDS agree upon the top importance of Acta Archaeologica and N.A.R. But the NDS has a higher opinion of Fennoscandia Archaeologica and Meta than does ERIH. Conversely, while ERIH finds Hikuin and Iskos and L.A.R. to be important journals, the NDS seems entirely unaware of them. The fact that Primitive Tider and JoNAS are missing from the ERIH list is probably due do their subscription number requirement (>=200).

Anybody here read the Norwegian Archaeological Review? It’s apparently globally important on the level of Antiquity! Please tell me what I’m missing.

European Science Foundation Grades Journals

The European Science Foundation has a project called the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

… there are specifities [!] of Humanities research, that can make it difficult to assess and compare with other sciences. Also, it is not possible to accurately apply to the Humanities assessment tools used to evaluate other types of research. As the transnational mobility of researchers continues to increase, so too does the transdisciplinarity of contemporary science. Humanities researchers must position themselves in changing international contexts and need a tool that offers benchmarking. This is why ERIH (European Reference Index for the Humanities) aims initially to identify, and gain more visibility for top-quality European Humanities research published in academic journals in, potentially, all European languages.

Through a peer-reviewed process, ERIH is grading European journals in the humanities.

The ERIH lists will help to identify excellence in Humanities scholarship and should prove useful for the aggregate benchmarking of national research systems, for example, in determining the international standing of the research activity carried out in a given field in a particular country.

Suddenly, humanities scholars will have to start paying a lot more attention to where they publish. In Norway and other countries, a department’s funding is directly linked to the ERIH grade of the journals where its faculty publishes.

Grade A means global readership. Grade B means international readership. Grade C means national readership. Only good respected scholarly journals get graded at all. Here’s a rundown of grade A and B journals focusing at least to a great part on Scandinavian archaeology (not including e.g. Mediterranean archaeology practiced by Scandinavians).

Grade A

  • Acta Archaeologica
  • Norwegian Archaeological Review

Grade B

  • Current Swedish Archaeology
  • Fennoscandia archaeologica
  • Fornvännen
  • Hikuin
  • Iskos
  • Journal of Danish Archaeology
  • Kuml
  • Lund Archaeological Review
  • Viking
  • Archaeologia Medii Aevi Finlandiae Monograph series
  • Lund Studies in Historical Archaeology Monograph series
  • Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja Monograph series
  • Tor Graded despite being on hiatus since a decade!

So, all the Scandy countries except Iceland have grade B journals. Acta Archaeologica is an annual published in Copenhagen, and it does have the kind of global scope required for grade A. I’m a little surprised though that N.A.R. is graded A. I’m really interested in Norwegian archaeology, and yet I have only ever found reason to read one or two papers in that journal in my 15 years as a professional scholar. It seems to cater mainly to the theory crowd with which I do not mix willingly. On the other hand, Norway has only one grade B journal, which is likely to get inundated with manuscripts now from Norwegians who would like to keep their funding yet continue to write about actual archaeology.

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Genius on the Edge

I worry about of Montreal’s musical motor, pop genius Kevin Barnes. He first got records out in 1997-98, when he was an elegantly naivistic singer of sad love songs. Then he shot like a lysergic rocket straight into Pepperland with four beatlesque albums in 1999-2004. On his 2005 album he suddenly said goodbye to his old band members, returned to confessional mode and sang the praises of married life and parenthood in Norway of all places. And two other new themes appeared: 80s-style electronica and deep depression. That’s where he still is.

With his recent album, Skeletal Lamping, Barnes has turned into a open-heartedly suicidal incarnation of early Prince. Yes he is extremely lewd, yes he is psychedelic, yes he has a plastic synth sound, and dammit I’m afraid the man’s gonna kill himself. I mean, look at this:

“… the hope of another wet nightmare is all we have to live for …”

“Why am I so damaged girl
Why am I such poisoned goods
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever

Why am I so damaged
Why am I so troubled girl
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever”

“Don’t be afraid lille ven of violence
I’m only poisoning you, not gonna stab you.
Don’t be afraid lille ven of my troubled mind
I’m just poisoning you a little
With my gloom”

There’s some early Bowie and late Lennon in the mix too, and everything’s overlaid with Barnes’s inimitable multitracked vocal harmony. The sunny Brian Wilson influences and Pepperisms are no more. And there’s no getting around it: we’re dealing with a severely depressed musician who somehow manages to release one brilliant album a year and go on tour regularly.

Barnes and his new (-ish) band are playing in Stockholm on Monday, and I’ll be there. He has recorded his latest few albums alone at home, producing reams of highly intricate studio pop. I look forward to hearing live versions of the songs! And I really hope it won’t turn out to be Last Chance To See.

Check out Rolling Stone’s recent interview with Kevin Barnes.

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Mad as a Potter from Lead Stalactites

Early experiments with tinned food led to a number of lead-poisoning cases, particularly among people who had nothing but tins to eat. Recent work by Norwegian researchers Ulf Aasebø and Kjell Kjær has documented yet another case, the hitherto mysterious deaths of seventeen seal hunters on Svalbard in 1872. Says Kjær, “Inside the tinned food we found so much lead, that it hung like icicles inside the cans”. This prompts me to re-run a blog entry from March 2006.


The hatter in Alice in Wonderland was mad as a March hare. Hares go nuts in the spring simply out of randiness. But hatters went mad for a less uplifting reason: mercury poisoning. Mercury nitrate was used to cure felt for hats.

Abraham Lincoln would also go nuts with some regularity because of the blue pills he took against depression. Elemental mercury was the secret ingredient.

Ancient metalworkers appear also to have suffered from heavy metal poisoning because of breathing the fumes from molten copper alloys. This is most likely the reason that Vulcanus, god of smiths, was pictured as physically handicapped.

i-70c30cce393b0c85200471b5736f8a38-jonkoping-keramik.jpgThese poor people were adults. But Swedish potter families used to suffer from wholesale lead poisoning, man, woman and child. My Jönköping colleague Claes Pettersson tells me that 18th century potters were infamous for their hot tempers, constantly getting into fights and doing jail time. Potters’ children were known to be sickly and prone to simplemindedness. This all had to do with lead-based pigments in the glaze on the pottery of the time. Firing a few months’ worth of pottery was a momentuous and festive occasion, perfect for a family gathering. But when fired, the glaze gave off toxic lead fumes. Poor kids.

One last tale of lead poisoning. In 1848, Greenland Inuit witnessed the zonked-out trek of a group of clearly cognitively challenged Europeans across the snow fields. They were the last survivors of John Franklin‘s ill-fated Arctic expedition: their ship had been frozen into pack-ice and most of them had gone barking mad. This was because of the hi-tech provisions they’d taken aboard: tinned food. Actually, the food was more leaded than tinned, the cans having been soldered shut with liberal amounts of lead.

These days, we know better. No lead in Tupperware. But still, Tupperware happens to have killed its share of northwest Inuit — through botulin poisoning. Northwest Inuit traditionally make and eat fermented whale blubber, a real treat, I’m told. But if you stick the blubber in a plastic box in the fridge, you create an anaerobic environment where few microbes will survive. Among those that thrive, though, are botulin bacteria. Don’t try this at home, kids.

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