October Pieces Of My Mind #3


15th century angel in Vadstena Abbey church. Originally brightly painted.

  • Movie: Cloud Atlas. Intercutting between several tenuously interlinked stories, all with the same small cast in the main roles. Grade: interesting, fun, demanding!
  • In the 70s, as Richard Feynman put it, a lot of social scientists were engaging in cargo-cult science: aping the superficial trappings of hard science without actually being able to deliver its content. This is what we see now with psychology’s excellent & commendable reproducibility crisis, for instance. When I arrived in archaeology 15 years later, our fad theoreticians were no longer even aping hard science: they were openly hostile to the idea of any science being hard. And here am I, who would like both the cargo-cult science and the science-hostile knowledge relativism kicked off campus.
  • Talked to a couple of pro-Orbán (that is, normal) Hungarians. They explained quite frankly that an important reason for their anti-Muslim sentiment is that their countrymen all learn in school about the Ottoman Empire’s brutal treatment of Hungarians centuries ago.
  • Sudden realisation. IIRC, I’ve contributed to only one academic Festschrift, my thesis supervisor’s. This is pretty indicative of my relationship with powerful older colleagues through my quarter century as an archaeologist. I haven’t cultivated the patron-client relationships that determine academic careers. Another way to put it is that very few powerful older colleagues have impressed me, and that sentiment has been mutual.
  • Strange loud bassy noises outside. Can’t tell if it’s machinery or a rave party.
  • James Bond sleeps in long pantsless silk night shirts in Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever.
  • Part of what makes Ian Fleming’s novels so good is the loving descriptions of consumer goods: clothing, cars, weaponry.
  • Dear Jim Morrison, I don’t understand why this girl gotta love her man, nor in what way the world depends on her, nor how this will lead to immortality kthxbai
  • For the next 100 years, US political science scholars will be analysing episodes of The Apprentice, with The Shark Tank as comparative & contextualising source material.
  • My kid made me tea and told me about his linguistics & Japanese studies. ❤
  • In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond has lunch at a rural American highway diner. He thinks the juke box looks like something out of science fiction. Not like quaint 1950s design.

Breakfast in the great ground-floor hall of the Bjälbo kings in Vadstena. Subsequently used by nuns, war invalids, syphilis patients, mental patients…


I wonder what this 1793 stone mason thought about orthoceratites. He probably didn’t read Hutton. (Örberga church)


October Pieces Of My Mind #2


Closing up the summer house for winter.

  • The Soviets were good at heavy lift missiles, because they were bad at miniaturising nuclear bombs. They were also good at bathyspheres because of their oceanography. To shoot Gagarin into space, they basically welded a bathysphere onto a missile.
  • All the datable Medieval finds we make at this site have to do with textiles. Lead seals from imported bolts of cloth. Small spindle whorls for spinning thread rather than yarn.
  • More than half of US citizens think the GOP is appalling. Well, I’m Swedish: to me the Democrats are a really nasty right-wing party. I can barely even accept that the GOP is real. So far beyond the most basic human decency.
  • Gah. Lady who is not used to reading and has a poor general knowledge base is nevertheless reading trivia questions to her friends on the train. Heard about the “Minoitians” of ancient Crete?
  • When clothing manufacturers started printing stuff on the right-hand shoulder blade area of shirts and jackets, everybody started looking like they were wearing these garments backwards. That shit used to be above the left-hand shirt pocket.
  • Argh. “Zombie Love” by Bohnes. Another song lyricist who thinks that when you want to write “God-given” and need an extra syllable for scansion, “God-forsaken” is a useful synonym. People just shouldn’t be allowed to write. Or sing. Or speak.
  • Taken my annual flu shot.
  • We’re play-testing Crusader Kings. I’m pious, cruel, chaste and dim-witted.

Decadence: DIY Reese’s Pieces!

October Pieces Of My Mind #1


The Svindersvik forest fire this past June awoke a lot of dormant post-burn biology.

  • Just about the first thing my childhood dachshund did when we got her was to eat greasy aluminium foil and end up in surgery. She also suffered from roe deer hallucinations where she would run away to hunt imaginary game.
  • Getting damn cold outside now. I just gave some money to a homeless shelter in town.
  • Waiting for Azathoth, blind idiot Godot at the centre of the Universe
  • A Swedish-speaking survey worker has recorded that one tourist in Vadstena had heard of the town “through squabbling”. I wonder which Swedish word has been mistranslated here. Maybe skvaller, gossip.
  • The Rocky Horror Show in SWEDISH opens 2 February at Linköping’s town theatre.
  • A Syrian buddy of mine: “Lots of people are afraid that Muslims will change Sweden radically and make it a theocracy. But look at us. It’s the other way around for most of us. We’re changing. Sweden allowed me to come out as an atheist.”
  • Apparently, playing the didgeridoo strengthens certain muscles and cures snoring. But ladies, this raises the question: would you rather live with someone who snores or someone who plays the didgeridoo all the time?
  • Sinckers is a super popular chocolate bar with peanuts and toffee. I’m going to profit on this with a fragrant brown delicacy named Floaters.
  • Hehe. The makers of these vegetarian schnitzels clearly know that some of their customers have a superstitious fear of gluten, so they write “wheat protein” in the contents listing.
  • Maybe the anthropocene is not a geological epoch. Maybe it’s just a barely measurable film of strange chemistry between the holocene and the post-human strata.
  • The horns section on “If You Want Me To Stay” by Sly & the Family Stone is absurdly quietly mixed. You basically hear vocals, bass, drums and something reminiscent of horns leakage from the next studio.
  • I’m a member of the fine Facebook group “Traumschlösser – die schönsten Schlösser und Burgen Deutschlands”. And now I’m thinking, maybe I should change my name to Traumschlösser – die schönsten Schlösser und Burgen Deutschlands.

Got this back from conservation. We found it in a late-13th century basement at Landsjö Castle in 2015. It consists of five small pieces of wrought iron, and I think it’s probably from a skiing pole or hiking stick.

September Pieces Of My Mind #3

Control panel of a 1949 Lidingö tram (SSLidJ A24B 17)

  • Half asleep last night, I found a memory floating up from 1980s sediment in my mind. When you bought a record as a present, you would ask the sales clerk to seal the inner paper sleeve with a sticker. This would allow the recipient to change it in if they wanted another record. The sticker often identified the store.
  • Movie: Paddington I (2014). The beloved children’s book ably filmed with new subtext about immigration and homelessness. Grade: Excellent in its genre.
  • My old laptop crapped out 7½ months ago. I have been eking out a sad digital existence on my various employers’ Windows laptops since. But now I’ve bought an ultralight of my own and installed glorious Ubuntu Linux on it!
  • I look back with deep regret at the ramen noodles of my youth, where I would simply cook the noodles with water and stock powder. Those were dark, dark days, before I became learnèd in the ways of ancient Chinese wisdom.
  • When I see pictures of sand and gravel on Mars or an asteroid, I can’t help but think “That’s soon going to get covered in weeds, like a spoil dump on an excavation”.
  • It feels a bit odd to read Magnus Västerbro’s new book about the 1867-69 famine in northern Sweden while eating.
  • Tell your mother that you walked all night on velvet green
  • The code name for the final massacres of Jews in part of occupied Poland in November 1943 was Aktion Erntefest, “Operation Harvest Festival”. You just can’t make this shit up. )-:
  • County admin building is looong and narrow with the entrance lobby at the middle. My desk is near one end. There’s an exit here too, but it’s only used for fire safety. For security reasons, we have to use the main entrance, a looong unnecessary corridor walk in the wrong direction. /-:
  • The vanity options on Academia.edu cost $99 a year. Nope nope nope.
  • Reading about Shang dynasty mass human sacrifice, thinking about the murdered slaves we excavate in Viking Period graves, and of the Holocaust, and of the Aztecs. )-:
  • Mushrooms are pretty useless from a nutritional perspective. They’re 3% carbs, 3% protein and the rest is almost entirely water. Compare to the blueberries growing next to the mushrooms: 9% carbs, 1% protein. Or potatoes: 16% carbs, 2% protein. Swedish farmers’ traditional lack of interest in these fungi, many of which are poisonous, was well motivated.
  • The bit in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” where you can’t hear the words is supposed to be “Back to the howling old owl in the woods / Hunting the horny-back toad”. Because the poet is leaving his rich socialite partner and going back to his rural roots. (I just can’t understand why Taupin broke the scansion with the unnecessary words “in the woods”.)
  • Cool detail in Magnus Västerbro’s new book. Swedish-speaking settlers in the woods of northern Sweden survived a bad 1860s famine by bartering with the Sami for reindeer products and traditional gathered and preserved plant foods. Just like New England colonists surviving their first winters thanks to food contributed by local native tribes.
  • I love finds conservation. It’s expensive, but it always gets you new information, particularly for rusty iron objects. Thanks to the good people at Acta Konservering, I was just able to insert a third site with resin-taper holders into the section on indoor lighting in the final proofs of my Medieval castles book.

I rode a 1949 Lidingö tram (SSLidJ A24B 17)

Carl Milles 1916, “Venus on a shell”, Gåshaga, Lidingö


The Bass of an Ancient King


Bill Black, the bass and the King

In 1995 the surviving three Beatles recorded “Real Love“, a song that Lennon had written and recorded in 1979. They used his vocal takes on the new recording and sang harmony with him. McCartney played a vintage double bass once owned by Bill Black who played the bass in Elvis’s original mid-1950s trio.

This choice of instrument is what archaeologists call symbolic re-use. It’s when runestones are found built into the walls of later churches. Or when Napoleon’s imperial coronation outfit referenced designs from the tomb of Childeric I. People reach back in time to take part of the essence of great ancestors.

“Real Love” is a pretty decent Beatles song, certainly not one of their weakest outings.

Runestone in a Park Hermitage


The Vadstena Abbey runestone, Ög 179. Photo by Thuresson 2005, Wikimedia Commons.

I found a pretty sweet piece of monument re-use. English landscape parks of the 18th and 19th centuries were designed a bit like theme parks, where visitors were intended to walk around encountering intriguing surprises here and there. A Chinese pagoda. Some topiary. A fake ruin. An hermit’s hut where on special occasions a false-bearded sage would impart his wisdom to the park-owner’s guests.

In Scandinavia these parks often included pan-Nordic national romantic features, like the Norwegian chalet in the Søndermarken park at Frederiksborg outside Copenhagen that my wife and I visited this summer. And what could be more Nordic and romantic than a runestone? In 2013 I blogged about the Sälna runestone that was broken apart, taken to the park of Skånelaholm manor and given a rather odd new inscription in 1820. Now I’ve found another example of the same behaviour, possibly dating from the same year.

Olof Regnstrand was an energetic man with many business ideas, one of the most long-lived ones being that he and his family ran the hospital kitchens at the former Vadstena Abbey as a concession for several decades. In about 1820 he redesigned part of the former monks’ garden and orchard as a semi-public pleasure park where the bourgeoisie of the little town could be entertained on summer evenings, with a dance hall, a gazebo and other attractions.

Among the other attractions was an hermit’s cave, built roughly of undressed limestone and located next to the gazebo at the abbey church’s south-east corner. Both structures used for their back wall part of what we now know was a 13th century brick building that had in the time of the monastery been the monks’ World Gate, the place where they met with secular visitors. And for the hermitage’s door post, Regnstrand chose a runestone! It had previously stood at the lakeshore nearby, lost its lower half and become eroded by the water and ice. But though the hermitage and the gazebo are long gone, the stone still stands roughly where Regnstrand planted it, and three boreholes show where the hinges of the hermitage were once fastened. It is the oldest piece of Vadstena’s history that can be seen by visitors, originally raised in memory of one Eskil who died in the early 11th century.

I found this lovely historical nugget in Julia Sigurdson and Sune Zachrisson’s fine 2012 book Aplagårdar och klosterliljor (pp. 158-159). For solid information about English park hermitages (but little about the hermits themselves), see Gordon Campbell 2013, The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome .

September Pieces Of My Mind #2


Palace of the Bjälbo Kings, Vadstena, 1260s.

  • My chain franchise of weed shops is going to be named Jazz Tobacconist.
  • I spotted a guy I went to school with the other day. Thought to myself “Dude looks silly with that bald top and fringe”. It took until yesterday before I realised that I also have a bald top and fringe.
  • Early autumn, aspen leaves glowing gold at sunrise.
  • Came up with an analogy. Digging out culture layers from a ruin to study the walls is like finding Ötzi and putting him on an anthill because you want to study his skeleton.
  • Oh ye who go about saying unto each: “Hello sailor”: Dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin before the gods?
  • Feeling a little better about the election results now that it looks like the Social Democrat Prime Minister will be able to stay in office. And now that I’ve learned that we gained a few percentile points in my housing area where I did so much canvassing.
  • A memory. There was this slightly odd and often unintentionally entertaining dude on the BBS forums I used to call in the late 80s. He once had a total rage meltdown because he found it so annoying to have to put a semicolon at the end of every line of Pascal code.
  • Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). Everyday guy in heavily stylised cartoonish world can’t decide which unrealistically attractive girl to doink and gets into lots of Hong Kong action fights. Grade: OK.
  • Roy Zimmerman has a new album out! Good tunes with incisively funny satirical lyrics, largely about 45.
  • A UK university advertises an MSc programme in Current Archaeology with a big photo of a person using a total station / EDM surveying instrument. The photographer has held the camera tilted one or two degrees to the left. This is painfully obvious because a total station has a spirit level at the base and has to be almost exactly vertical to work. It is very far from vertical on the page.
  • Jrette shows me a pic of her friend’s dad who has shaved his beard in a joking style for a fancy dress party. In my style, actually. Hrmpf!
  • During St. Bridget’s years in Rome, Queen Joan I of Naples gave her a Turkish slave girl as a present. This woman later entered Vadstena convent and lived there as a nun under the name Katarina Magnussadotter until she died in 1414.
  • Mad Duke Magnus, brother of three Swedish 16th century kings, rests under a monument of respectable size near the site of the most prestigious altar in Vadstena Abbey. Despite abducting and raping a number of the last few nuns during the convent’s waning years.

Honeysuckle, such a sweet smell


Majelden-Tannefors, Linköping


Sunday Mushrooms


I’ve been remiss in reporting on our mushroom hauls in recent years. The last report is from four years ago and two weeks earlier in the season. But 2018 has been very different weather-wise than was 2014. The average July temperature in central Stockholm was 20.7 C in 2014. In 2018 it was 22.5 C, the highest seen since measurements began. So it’s no wonder that nature is looking a little odd.

On Sunday’s foray into the woods between the Halvörestorp road junction and Gungviken, we didn’t see many mushrooms except lots of rufous milkcap, pepparriska, Lactarius rufus. You need to be a Finn to eat that. We did get four other kinds though, only one of which we found at my last report: the ubiquitous velvet bolete, sandsopp. The most common one we knew to pick today was a large, bright red brittlegill, storkremla, Russula paludosa, which has never featured in my reports before.

Here’s what we got:

  • Brittlegill, Storkremla, Russula paludosa
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Fårticka, Albatrellus ovinus
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum

Guest Entry: Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong

With the permission of Aard regular and Hong Kong resident John Massey, here’s a compilation of his reporting on the impact of Typhoon Mangkhut on Hong Kong over the past day. John lives in Sha Tin in the New Territories, on the Shing Mun River. The times given are local to HK.

Friday 14 September 22:39. Well, that’s quite impressive – there’s currently one unnamed Tropical Disturbance in the Indian Ocean, one Super Typhoon (which everyone except the Filipinos is calling Mangkhut, but which the Filipinos are calling Ompong) about to cross northern Luzon and enter the South China Sea heading towards US!!!, and four Hurricanes in the Atlantic, one of which (Florence) has barrelled into North Carolina, one (Isaac) is heading for South America, and the other two (Helene and Joyce) seem to be trying make up their minds where to go (typical).

Sunday 16 September 12:04. River wall next to our place has just been overtopped, by a lot.

Sunday 16 September 12:33. Mangkhut is currently the closest it will get to HK, so hopefully things might now progressively start to ease off a bit, slowly. They need to. But with the shift in wind direction as it passes, the water levels will get even higher, so the flooding will get even worse.

I suspect the basement car park (where my car and bicycle are) is now inundated, but I can’t get down there to find out, because the lifts have been grounded, so there’s no way to get down to the car park without walking down the fire escape, going outside, and walking down another fire escape, and going outside is really not a good idea at the moment.

Sunday 16 September 14:17. The typhoon has moved enough so that the wind direction has shifted, so now we are more protected and not getting the very strong wind gusts we were getting. So it’s a lot less scary now.

Plus the water has stopped over-topping the river wall, at least for now. The amusing thing about that, if there is a funny side to it, is that now there is no way for the water to flow back into the river, because it is being held in by the wall, so the flood water is just sitting there, until the work crews can get here tomorrow or whenever and open the gates in the wall to let the water drain back into the river.

Sunday 16 September 14:30. Windows have stood up OK. My study window got hit very hard a couple of times by flying debris, but didn’t break. The much larger windows in the living room haven’t been hit by anything so far, luckily. But they have UV resistant plastic film on them, which helps resist breaking if they are hit by flying objects, and reduces resonance in the wind, which helps to resist breaking from wind pressure/oscillation. Typhoon winds are buffeting, rapid oscillation in wind pressure, so you can get those kinds of resonance effects in larger window panes. The recommendation is to put a big X of adhesive tape on the windows, which I was thinking about doing yesterday until my wife reminded me we already have the plastic film on them. Duh, yeah, I forgot about that. Even so, the living room windows were oscillating alarmingly in the strongest gusts we were getting earlier, but they didn’t go.

So, so far so good. Shouldn’t talk too soon, though, this thing is not over by a long way yet. I need to get down to the car park some time to see if it’s flooded and how the car and bike have fared. I might go down there soon, now that I think it’s OK-ish to go outside for a brief sprint to the fire escape down to the car park.

There are some people with kids sitting in the fire escape in the building, so I’m guessing their windows maybe didn’t do so well, and they have nowhere else to shelter.

Sunday 16 September 14:36. Yep, the Observatory report that the storm surge in Tolo Harbour, which is just down-river from us, reached 4.5m, but it has started dropping, which matches what I see.

Now we just need someone to come and take the plug out of the plug hole in the bath tub. They won’t be doing it today, they have more important things to attend to.

Sunday 16 September 14:58. I’m wrong – I went down to check – the people sitting in the fire escape talking to kids are the female security guard and a couple of the cleaning ladies, talking to some of the kids who live here to pass the time, because there is nothing else they can do at the moment. I guess it’s possible the building entry lobby is flooded with rainwater, which would help to explain why the lifts are out of action.

Sunday 16 September 15:26. There’s a lot of damage around different areas of HK. This being 2018, people are posting videos online, many of which are pretty dramatic. Lots of flooding, lots of smashed windows, lots of scaffolding down, big cranes leaning at scary angles, a couple of partial old building collapses. Several people have been injured, but no reports of fatalities yet. The emergency services are out in force and busy, so injured people are getting treated pretty promptly.

I have to say I think HK has dodged a bullet with this one. It has not been a direct hit, the centre of the storm is skirting about 100km to the south. But it is a very powerful storm, with a very large circulation, so we have still had the worst conditions I have ever seen here, including during the direct hit by Super Typhoon Hope in 1979, so it has been very bad, and it’s not over yet. On the other hand, preparedness has been very good – everyone saw this one coming and knew it would be bad, and most people seem to have behaved sensibly, which is not always the case.

But if it had deviated only slightly on its track and had made a direct hit on HK, it would have been a whole lot worse. If it had threaded the gap between the Philippines and Taiwan, instead of crossing the northern tip of Luzon, which caused it to weaken slightly as it crossed land, it would have been worse. Bad luck for Filipinos, with 21 dead reported there so far and counting, but a bit of luck for HK.

We dodged a bullet with Hato last year when it missed HK by 20km and wrecked Macau, we seem to have dodged a bullet with Mangkhut this year – we can’t keep hoping for the best and relying on luck.

I have now lost patience completely with climate change deniers and do-nothing politicians.

Sunday 16 September 17:48. Finally girded up my loins and went downstairs to go out and check on the car park.

Entry lift lobby is fine – one family has taken up residence there, so I presume they have a problem with their flat, but they seem cheerful enough. Maybe they just like it down there. Lifts are out, but I can’t see why – maybe they just shut them down because the building was swaying too much.

Going outside was a challenge – wind gusts are still so strong I could barely stand against them, plus I was wading through 75mm of water ponding on the podium from relentless heavy rain, so strong wind gusts plus slippery underfoot, not a good combination. Whatever, I made it. All that gym training pays off, ya knows.

Only minor bits of flooding in the car park. Car is fine – plastered with wind-blown leaves is all, and they’ll all wash off in the rain as soon as I exit the car park. So I can drive Daughter to the train station to go to work tomorrow – not having her slogging on foot all that way through torrential rain with falling tree branches and bits of buildings, etc., and her chance of catching a taxi will be zero, so Dad’s free taxi service will be operating. I am assuming all storm signals will have been cancelled by tomorrow, but that remains to be seen (but if I had to bet money, I’d bet they will be).

All schools will stay closed tomorrow to give time to assess damage, clean up and make sure the buildings and grounds are all safe before letting the kids go back, which is a very sensible decision. I have to applaud that.

It would actually be a sensible decision to keep everything closed tomorrow, so everyone can stay home while they clean up the whole place and make sure everything is safe, the roads are all clear of fallen trees and public transport is all operating OK, but I predict they won’t do that – the business lobby would scream their heads off about lost revenue; they always do. I’m keeping notes on them – come the revolution, they’ll all be going up against the wall.

Thousands of trees are down, including a lot around our place, big mature trees. Pretty sad. Some have just snapped off at the trunk, others have been shredded, and others have been torn out by the roots.

Mangkhut will cross the coast of Guangdong pretty soon – currently hammering poor old Macau, but should cross the coast by about 7.00 pm, so it will start to lose intensity fairly fast once it does that. So, effectively, it’s pretty well all over for HK, except for a massive clean-up job.

Until the next one.

Sunday 16 September 19:20. Severe flooding reported in Macau, so it’s a repeat of what they got from Typhoon Hato last year, poor devils.

Water levels are dropping all around HK, but some low lying flood-prone areas still have bad flooding. People from those areas were evacuated yesterday before the storm hit, and accommodated in temporary shelters. No fun at all – sleeping on the floor of some Town Hall, getting awful mass-cooked food from some temporary kitchen, and then when they finally get to go home, it’s to a home wrecked by flood water which they have to try to clean up and make habitable again. Water ruins everything, and the whole place stays unbearably damp for months. Everything goes mouldy – walls, floor coverings, everything.