May Pieces Of My Mind #1

djupsjön
Spent a cold moonlit night in the shelter at Djupsjön on Sörmlandsleden’s stage 13 near Nykvarn.
  • I’m playing Freeciv and it’s all coming back to me after all these years.
  • It’s a good year for bumblebees in Stockholm. ❤
  • Harbour seals (Sw. knubbsäl) raise their young on the shore. But they descend from a species that did this on snow-covered sea ice. Harbour seal fetuses still grow a coat of white fur, then change colour in the womb.
  • I ignored the simple shaft-hole axes when I studied Bronze Age deposition sites, because the axes look the same in the preceding period and most aren’t from the BA. But here’s a case where one has been deposited in a typical BA location: at the narrows between two lakes. A few km to the north-east is Ekudden with its large and beautiful lakeshore bronze hoard, dating from Per. III, 1330-1100 cal BC.
  • I’ve resumed work on an old paper that I abandoned many years ago because of a book project. And for the first time I’ve found use for the word processor’s outliner. I’ve always kept the headings structure in my head before, but now I found myself with no overview of what I was doing.
  • Fadedpage.com offers free ebooks that are out of Canadian copyright. Which is more recent books than e.g. in the UK and US. I just got the fifth James Bond novel onto my Kindle.
  • My brain is going full Slavic. I don’t even flinch when presented for the first time with the word zwłaszcza, “especially”.
  • You know the meme pic with the guy whistling after another woman while walking with his girlfriend? That girlfriend is sooo pretty.
  • Sweden starts vaccinating boys as well against HPV! Excellent news for women’s health. Also protects the boys against genital warts.
  • The Sibyl’s Tea and Coffe Shop in Stockholm reports that their business has not collapsed, it has just rearranged itself to a greater proportion of online mail order sales.
  • One morning this week a family member called to me, look at the neighbour rabbit! It’s changed its coat! Turned out that a young hare was hanging out on the back lawn. Two hours later the ginger rabbit was there instead.
  • Tardigrades are multicellular, but just barely. Big ones consist of 40,000 cells.
  • Wen’t hiking for two days near Nykvarn with my boardgaming buddy Markus:

 

A Swedish Perspective on COVID19

Our departmental webmaster in Łódź asked me to write this piece from 23 April about my impressions of the Swedish response to COVID19. I’m posting it here too.


As I write these lines I have been distancing myself from society for 39 days, since Monday 16 March. Voluntarily, because I live in Sweden. Our government’s approach to containing the pandemic has been discussed quite a lot internationally. Before I go into that, let me describe my personal experience.

The big change for me is not that I work from home. That’s what I’ve done mostly for many years as a research scholar without a university office. Instead, the biggest thing is that my 16-year-old daughter’s high school lessons are now all online, so she is also home all day, five days a week. We get along really well and it’s frankly an improvement of my circumstances. Another change is that I have only been once to central Stockholm and the Academy of Letters’ research library, and currently the library is closed except by special appointment. And I buy groceries for my elderly mother. My father and his wife have stubbornly turned down my offers to shop for them.

My work has continued as planned, without any major frustrations. I have a pretty good library of my own, the most important Swedish archaeology databases have been online for decades, and these days you can get a lot of new journal papers in PDF format online or simply by emailing one of the authors. I’ve submitted three pieces of writing in these quarantine weeks.

When I take walks and cycle in the Erstavik woods nearby I meet more people than usual. We nod and say hi to each other, but we keep our distance. My parents also go out walking a lot. In Sweden, most of us feel that we need to avoid crowds, but not necessarily sit indoors and wait. My boardgaming group still convenes every weekend, but we have moved to my buddy’s house that is better situated for people to reach it on foot or by bicycle. Nobody wants to use public transport much. We figure that us meeting three “unnecessary” people every week won’t change the progress of the pandemic, and it does a lot for our mental well-being.

As for the official Swedish policy, I understand that the main difference to what other countries do is that going out and meeting people isn’t actually forbidden here. It’s just very strongly discouraged, for reasons that are very clearly explained. And events with more than 50 participants are forbidden for the time being. Some important reasons for this policy, as I understand them, are:

  • By design, Swedish law makes it really difficult to impose a long-term general curfew with sanctions against those who break it. It’s a civil liberties issue.
  • In the long term, we have to build herd immunity to the virus either by infection or by vaccination. We can’t afford to sit around at home until mid-2021 when scientists hope to have a vaccine ready for mass production. You can stop the pot from boiling over temporarily by putting a really heavy lid on it, but sooner or later the lid will fly off. It’s better to turn down the heat and let off the steam a little bit at a time. After a quiet period, there will be a second wave of the pandemic. How high that wave will go depends on herd immunity.
  • Swedish people largely trust our government, and our government largely trusts our scientific authorities. So when the government tells us that the scientists think it’s really important to avoid crowds, then most of us act accordingly. We don’t view this as a policy driven by ideology. It’s not a partisan issue. I would go along with it even if I hadn’t voted for the party that currently governs the country.
  • If you close daycare centres and schools for young children, then someone has to stay home with those children. That someone will often be their dad who is a nurse, their mother who is a doctor, or their grandmother. This will leave you with insufficient hospital staff and a lot more infected grandmothers in intensive care.
  • If you close down your national economy too severely for too long, then even if you don’t suffer many dead during the first wave of the pandemic, everyone will be in extremely poor financial shape when the second wave hits. This can prove lethal in itself.

Of course, there are particular problems in Sweden too. The most important one is that a lot of our very elderly people are in care homes, and the care workers there are generally poorly paid and cannot afford large apartments or cars. So it is a tragic coincidence: the people who run the greatest risk of dying from the virus are cared for by the people who have the greatest difficulty in distancing themselves from crowds: they ride the subway from their crowded homes to work. With predictable results.

A sillier problem is that people have been hoarding goods. First it was pasta and toilet paper, which is ridiculous because Sweden is well supplied with wheat and has one of the world’s largest and most efficient paper industries. The last thing Sweden will ever run out of is toilet paper. But when people calmed down about that, they started hoarding baking yeast. And apparently the one single company that makes yeast in Sweden does not have production capacity enough to capitalise on this sudden enormous rise in demand. But I am OK, I always have a couple of packets of powdered yeast sitting in the cupboard.

Last week was the first one since the pandemic reached Sweden that the number of new intensive care admissions for covid-19 shrank – by 11% . I hope this means that we’re past the crest of the first wave now. We can’t go back completely to normal until after the second wave. And whether our policy is better or worse or indifferent compared to those of other countries, nobody can tell until a couple of years from now.

Update 28 April: ICU admissions have continued to decline: -15% last week. We’re past the crest of the first wave. Phew!

Fryksdalen

Utsikt
View from Östra Ingersby towards a neighbouring hamlet

A bit more than two years ago I learned that my surname and patrilineage are from the Fryksdalen area in Värmland province. The family had forgotten all about this, probably as a result of my great grandpa and my grandpa both dying young. (My people migrated to Stockholm around 1900 from all over southern Sweden, so Fryksdalen has contributed only 1/16 of my stock.)

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to Fryksdalen to see the landscape around my ancestors’ hamlets — Persby and Östra Ingersby in Sunne parish, Svenserud and Bävik in Östra Ämtervik parish – and the churches where they celebrated their rites of passage. Turns out it’s a beautiful area, hilly to an extent that surprised me, being effectively the southern foothills of the great Scandy mountain range.

In addition to seeing the ancestral spots, we swam two of three Fryken lakes, took a guided tour of classic author Selma Lagerlöf’s home at Mårbacka, survived the crushing psychedelic art overload that is the Alma Löv Museum, and participated in Farmer’s Day at Gunnerud. Tractor racing, an informative study visit to 200 milch cows and roasted oat-flour pancakes with diced bacon! I also read a celebrated novel set in Sunne by Göran Tunström, Berömda män som varit i Sunne (1998) .

Here’s a photo album that will give you an idea of what the area is like.

lake
Lake Övre Fryken

Should Farmers Fear Archaeology?

Paul Hounam asks more interesting questions about how archaeology is legislated in Sweden.

Almost all farmers I talk to are terrified of archaeology. I was chatting to one at the weekend who found burning pits when building a barn but kept quiet. … To quote the farmers wife. “We don’t want to find anything and them show up with their diggers. Then we have to pay for it”. Another I spoke to last autumn said all the farmers around here (Southern Skåne) have found stone tools, but they’re all too afraid to tell LS and risk huge fees to fund excavations.

This is all misunderstood. The farmers Paul has spoken to have probably never actually come into contact with the current archaeological planning process. This may be because unlike other property owners, farmers are allowed to build stuff around the farm without a building permit. This means that there’s no automatic way for the County Archaeologist to help them get things straight.

Almost all contract archaeology is done because of highway and railroad projects, paid for with tax money by the Swedish Transport Administration. The amount of fieldwork done because of new farm buildings is minuscule. In order not to run into problems with archaeology, the wise farmer will buy an affordable archaeological evaluation of the building plot before renting a bulldozer. With half a day’s work, the archaeologist can tell if it’s a safe place to build or suggest a better alternative on adjoining land.

As for finding stone tools, South Skåne is completely solid with them. Finding more does not in itself occasion any archaeological fieldwork. If an archaeologist becomes curious enough about a site with stone tools to want to dig there, then the landowner pays nothing unless s/he is going to build something there. Landowners are not even under any obligation to allow archaeologists to dig on their land for research purposes. The County Archaeologist issues no excavation permit unless the landowner has already given their permission.

Is it not true that a construction company building a new road must halt work (creating more cost) and pay for the archaeological work carried out?

Firstly, construction companies do not pay for Swedish roads. The Swedish Transport Administration does, that is, us tax payers. As for getting unpleasantly surprised by archaeology and having to halt the project, that’s how it used to work until about 1985 in Sweden. Then evaluations became the norm.

These days, road engineers are instructed by the County Archaeologist to buy an eval map from a contract archaeological firm before they start even planning the road. The map has red spots on it. To the archaeologists, the spots mean “Cool stuff, dig here”. The engineers, however, design the road to slalom around the red spots for two very good reasons. One is that the Swedish Transport Administration is not intended as an archaeological funding body. The other is that the cultural resource legislation makes it a duty of all citizens to preserve our cultural heritage. We shouldn’t bulldoze the best bits if we can avoid it.

So if you want to build a new barn, e-mail the County Archaeologist and ask him to recommend a good archaeology firm that can do a dependable, affordable evaluation of your intended site. It’s not free, but it’s not super expensive either, it’s a tax deductible business expense, and it’s your legal duty as a land developer.

What Can A Research-Minded Metal Detectorist Do In Sweden?

Paul Hounam asked some interesting questions in a closed discussion group on Facebook. I decided to take the discussion here because it is of wider interest.

How difficult is it as an archaeologist to obtain permission (and funding) for a metal detecting survey of a site here in Sweden? As far as I understand the problem is funding the preservation and recording of finds? But what if people were willing to donate their own time (and b72) to help with such a project? Has it been tried before?

I am an archaeologist by trade and spent the years 1994-2017 mainly doing research. I have lost count of the times I’ve done what Paul asks about. I do know that for my 2011 book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats, myself and my detectorist friends investigated 17 sites.

For a research archaeologist with a PhD, to get a permit of this kind from the County Archaeologist you need two things: a plausible research agenda beyond “I think there’s cool stuff there”, and a plausible finds conservation budget. Conserving one piece of copper alloy currently costs SEK 2000 = $ 208 = € 185 = £ 160. Conserving iron is way, way more expensive. My usual M.O. has been to tell the County Archaologist the following.

“We will not dig on iron signals. We will re-bury everything we can date to after (e.g.) 1700. We have SEK 20 000, which means that we will stop metal detecting and go home when we have found 10 datable objects from before 1700.”

As for funding, if you are a productive scholar it is not difficult to get SEK 20 000 for such a project. And detectorists are super happy to help. I have the sites and permits. They have the skill and time. (Almost no professional archaeologists are as good at using a metal detector as a reasonably committed hobby detectorist, simply because we use our machines way less often.) It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Usually I just pay for simple lodging and breakfasts. And I make very sure to credit detectorists by name in my publications.

Hypothetically.. say I knew of an area rich in artefacts… Would it be possible that Länsstyrelsen would allow a team of self-funded / volunteer archaeologists to do a detecting survey on the site? With help from SMF, university students etc? Who ultimately makes that decision?

This can only happen if you have a respected professional archaeologist to head the fieldwork, a plausible research agenda and a plausible finds conservation budget. The County Archaeologist’ office (länsantikvarien) decides.

I quite often hear from detectorists who offer to collaborate with me on projects like these. I used to reply “Sorry, I can’t take research time to metal-detect your Late Iron Age site in Västergötland, because my current book project is about the Bronze Age in Södermanland”. Now that I am no longer subsisting on grants outside of society’s safety net, I simply reply “Certainly, just get me a lectureship at your region’s university and we will hit those fields like a swarm of locusts.” Sadly no detectorist has yet been able to endow an academic chair for me.

Overall, there seems to be a common misunderstanding among detectorists about why archaeologists do fieldwork, with or without metal detectors. We never go out to find random old stuff for fun. Mostly we go into the field to document and remove sites that are going to be bulldozed for a railway project. If we are among the lucky few who can do fieldwork just for research purposes (and aren’t busy writing theoretical fad verbiage instead), we target sites that can answer our project questions. A couple of times I’ve halted work on productive sites because the stuff that was popping out was irrelevant to my research yet was eating my conservation budget. The detectorists weren’t super happy. So if you have a super cool site full of delicious evidence for 15th century trade, then you need to find a funded scholar who works with 15th century trade. Or endow a chair for someone who’s willing to change their specialisation.

Remarks on the Swedish Election Results of 2018

For some background see my entry from 4 September.

Parliament. The main result is that despite re-shuffling of the figures within the Left+Green and Right blocs, neither has gained a decisive upper hand. It looks like the Left+Green bloc has beat the Right bloc by only a few tenths of a percentile unit. It will be exceptionally difficult to negotiate a secure ruling coalition. No present party failed the 4% cutoff, and no new one got past it. Hate & Fear got 17.6% of the parliamentary vote, which is a bit more than in the last election but less than what the polls had us worrying about.

Stockholm county council. The Right kept their slight lead over the Left+Greens.

Nacka municipality. Again, reshuffling: the Right kept their solid lead over the Left+Greens with an unchanged seat count, but the Conservatives lost 5 out of 24 seats (on a 61-seat council) to the Centrists and Christian Democrats. No big deal for the Conservatives, I should think. Us Social Democrats kept our 11 seats, which is a considerably better result than what we saw in Parliament.

One of my main personal goals of the election season was to help push up voter turnout in my multicultural tenement housing area. We failed. In 2014, 67% of Fisksätra’s voters went to the ballot urn. In 2018, only 63% did. I’m pretty sure though that participation would have been even worse without the work we put in.

All in all, the canvassing work we’ve done over the past months gained us nothing in comparison to the 2014 election result. But it helped us hold on to most of what we had. To me personally, the most encouraging result in all this was that my kid voted for my party and ticked the box next to my name. Also, it looks like a family member of mine might just get a seat on the municipal council for another party…

I commented on the 2010 elections too.

Five Days to the Swedish Elections

For much of this year, and from May as a paid occupation, I’ve been working for the Social Democrats towards the elections on Sunday. Swedish politics has many parties which were until recently grouped into the Left+Green bloc against the Right bloc. Each bloc had roughly half of the vote. To explain this to an American, we basically had 50% Bernie+Nader voters and 50% Democrat voters – and the Democrats were our right wing. Mainstream Republican politics have no place in Sweden.

Things changed with the growth of the Hate & Fear Party, who are xenophobic right-wing populists: the Tea Party in US terms. They got 13% of the parliamentary vote in 2014 and will probably get 20% on Sunday. These voters have moved to Hate & Fear from both of the previous blocs in roughly equal proportions. So now polls are 40% Left+Green, 40% Right, 20% Fear & Hate.

Here’s a snapshot of how I see our Social Democrat chances.

Local government: Nacka kommun. For reasons of social demography, we have never governed this affluent suburban area since its current borders were drawn in 1971. I’m optimistic about us gaining several seats here, but I would be pleasantly surprised if the Left+Green bloc actually gained the municipal council majority.

County government: Stockholm landsting (mainly organises hospitals, old-folks’ homes and public transport). The current Right bloc majority here is slim. I’m pretty confident that we will gain the upper hand.

Parliament and national government: riksdagen & regeringen. This is going to be messy. Parliament currently consists of eight parties. The cutoff to get in is 4% of the vote. (If a party gets 3.9%, then those votes are not taken into consideration.) Three parties are barely over the limit in the polls. The leading party in the polls, us Social Democrats, has only about 25%. We have been able to govern Sweden for four years together with the Greens only because the Right bloc has refused to collaborate with Hate & Fear. The rule is that the Prime Minister after Sunday is whoever doesn’t meet with enough parliamentary opposition to stop her.

As I understand things from current polls, our best chance is to form a Centrist coalition that excludes parties on the outer ends of the Left-Right axis, breaking up both of the earlier blocs. A possible alternative is that the Right bloc sticks together and makes the deal with Hate & Fear that they have refused in the past four years. A lot of Right bloc voters would be deeply ashamed of such a move.

It wouldn’t give Hate & Fear a seat at the government table, but they would definitely receive something. This has already (infamously) happened in a few local assemblies, and there Hate & Fear have proved an unreliable ally. In Gävle, for instance, Hate & Fear helped topple the Left+Green leadership but then refused to support the Right bloc’s municipal budget. Also, not only is Hate & Fear erratic as a party, but individual party representatives are also uniquely prone to flaking out on their responsibilities or quitting the party entirely. The latter usually happens because they don’t like the party line of avoiding Nazi salutes and Islamophobic comments in public.

So the situation is volatile, and it’s a really interesting parliamentary election. Meanwhile, me and my party friends are busy canvassing. Sunday will tell.