December Pieces Of My Mind #1


Middle Byzantine tomb portal slab in Thessaloniki’s Museum of Byzantine Culture.

  • Cube sats are so tough that if their launch rocket blows up after lift-off and they fall to the ground, they usually still work.
  • Cancelled flight leads to unscheduled layover, which knocks me so far out of my habits that I take a bath instead of a shower. Must be almost 20 years since the last time.
  • Hotel rooms used to be so lonely. No more thanks to wifi and social media.
  • One of the Viking town Kaupang’s cemeteries is named Bikkjeholberget, “Bitch Hole Hill”.
  • I just found a Swedish example of the uncertainty of when to use “the” in English. Making the title of a much-read book by an archaeology professor read like something said by a Russian movie villain. Sorry, I mean, “Making title of mach-read book by archaeology prafessor read like something said by Rrraaassian movie villain.” In Saviet Rrrassia, you do not use word “the”. Word uses you!
  • Even when they look amazing inside, Byzantine churches look awful from outside. Naked crumbling brickwork, usually sitting in a pit.
  • Remember when a PC used to crash if you disconnected the keyboard?
  • LibreOffice’s word processor has a tool button to set the colour of text. Its default colour isn’t black. It’s dried blood, caput mortuum.
  • The question shouldn’t be “Is AI consciousness possible”, but “Are humans actually conscious or is it just what our brains think?”.
  • Reading Taylor’s scifi novel We Are Legion and enjoying it immensely. But then there’s this Paleolithic culture on another planet. And the first person described is a woman who’s busy butchering an animal. That a male brought her, explains Taylor. Using a flint knife made by her son. And suddenly this future Stone Age looks quite Victorian.
  • Another nibble! This one asked “Oh BTW, have you got a driver’s licence”?
  • The Sites & Monuments Register inadvertently documents the decline of grazing in Södermanland province. Loads of ancient cemeteries are described in detail during the 60s, and then in the 80s the re-surveyors just comment “Overgrown, couldn’t see shit”.
  • I have annoying Scanian ancestors. They use super few given names, so every time I think I’ve managed to link my genealogical tree up with somebody else’s it turns out to be different people with the same names. /-:
  • A month working at this archive has led me to the realisation that I don’t own enough cardigans.
  • When they cleared the ruin of Ärja parish’s Medieval church, they dumped the rubble on a Late Bronze Age cemetery nearby. :-0
  • Reached the point where my kid does the baking for the school bake sale without me having to do anything, even find a recipe.
  • The passing of a fad: you currently get two fidget spinners for the price of one on the Helsinki-Stockholm ferry.
  • A new book tells the story of the British 80s magazine The Face, calling it a “style magazine”. I am relieved to finally understand why I found the mag completely pointless.
  • This is a weird one. An Early Iron Age cemetery with the usual big flat round stone pavements — but one of them is built around a wellspring!
  • There’s a 4 km corridor of international water between the Swedish islands of Öland and Gotland.
  • The combination of darkness, a crowd and loud techno music really makes for a hellish environment.

Thessaloniki’s waterfront. Not a monochrome shot.



November Pieces Of My Mind #3


Morning view from my room at the Swedish Institute’s writers’ retreat in Kavala, Greece.

  • Made a list of the people who have worked in the field with me on my Medieval castles project of the past 3½ years. 50 names! I am such a lucky guy.
  • The ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland is simply named for the part of India where many Gonds live: bits of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
  • Andy Weir’s excellent new novel Artemis has been sloppily copy-edited. Early in the book he describes the general qualities of his moon base in the present tense while telling the story that plays out there in the past tense. (“France has many good restaurants. I went to Paris in 1897.”) Then this distinction breaks down and almost everything is past tense. (“France had many good restaurants. I went to Paris in 1897.”)
  • Oh, how I love my morning cup of tea!
  • Ocarina means “little goose” in Italian. The Swedish word, lergök, means “clay cuckoo”.
  • There’s this tune that I kind of like except that I can’t get over the phrase “When you have someone that loves you”. Hey guys, there was a reason that musically gifted pop and rock musicians used to employ professional lyricists.
  • I just finished writing my 7th book.
  • Made up an elevator pitch for my forthcoming book. “Lifestyles at Östergötland’s Medieval strongholds. Slavery, skinned cats, boiled dogs and extramarital affairs!”

Kavala’s Old Town from the east. Note the aqueduct, right, and the snow-capped Mount Pangaion in the rear. “Mount All-Earth”!

Yep, Local Favouritism In Trondheim Too

Two months ago I stopped reading the academic job ads after 14 mostly frustrating years: Scandy academic archaeology is not a meritocracy. But I still have a few job applications in the pipe, which I haven’t withdrawn. The pipe is typically eight months long. The other day I got a reply from Trondheim that was exceptionally weird even for this strange world.

I have had bad experiences with NTNU, the University of Trondheim. In 2015 I applied for two jobs there, and both were given to local people whose qualification levels were far below mine. As is the rule in Norway, the hiring committees were chaired by in-house people. Still, when another one of these sweet førsteamanuensis positions (40–50% research time built into your salary!) was advertised earlier this year, I applied. And one month ago the hiring committee delivered the report on its deliberations.

I was afraid to read the verdict. After all these years it still hurts to get trashed unfairly. So I left the thing unread for a while. Took a constitutional walk. Got back, downloaded the PDF, took a deep breath, opened the file, pressed CTRL-END. Because I’ve learned the hard way never to read what they say about me. Just check the ranking list at the end and get it over with.

Remember now, as per the Norwegian rules, the committee was headed by an NTNU faculty member. Here’s what their ranking list looks like.

1. Me
2. Local Person A with not so great qualifications
3. Local Persons B and C plus Other Norwegian Person, all with even less qualifications

The hiring committee claimed that Local Person A was not very far behind me, which is factually incorrect, but they were very clear that number 1, that was me. This has happened only once before to me in 14 years. (On that occasion three advertised steady jobs disappeared due to reorganisation before anyone got hired. Including the one I was ranked top candidate for and had interviewed for.)

So I was, stupidly, somewhat optimistic for a few weeks. NTNU scheduled a preliminary Skype interview with me for last week. I was nervous, but it went really well as far as I could tell. I’ve sat through an adversarial interview or two, but this was friendly and constructive. I did neither better nor worse than in past interviews that have landed me jobs. The head of the archaeology department at NTNU’s Science Museum was kind of stony-faced and formal, but maybe that’s just his style, what do I know? The head of collections and the archaeology department’s administrative director were both quite charming. After the interview I got a letter informing me that test lectures and longer interviews would take place in Trondheim on December 11-13. ”Stand by for further info.”

Earlier this week I did receive further info. NTNU told me by means of a form letter on a recruitment website that they aren’t interested in hearing me give a test lecture or interview me live. Neither the participants in the Skype interview nor the HR department are willing to explain why. All I’ve received is a blandly formal note from HR that speaks vaguely of an ”overarching evaluation on the basis of applications, evaluation committé’s statement and the Skype interviews”.

And with me out of the running, the job will be given to Local Person A, B or C, or to Other Norwegian Person, none of whom has qualifications on a par with mine if you ask NTNU’s own hiring committee.

The unwillingness of the involved to communicate with me now is understandable, because they know that they aren’t just dealing with a job applicant. In a sense they’re dealing with the media. Specifically a blogger with a big readership who has recently been writing critical pieces about questionable hiring practices at Norwegian universities. Now, some might say that it’s unwise to hire critical public voices. (Not that it has deterred Umeå University or the Linnaeus University in my case.) Others believe that on the contrary, university faculty have a duty to speak out critically in public.

But consider this. If my blogging is the main reason that NTNU doesn’t want to hire me, then they will be hiring a poorly qualified local person instead of me because I have criticised Norwegian universities for hiring poorly qualified local people. ”We’re not going to honour your qualifications and give you this job, because you have said that you don’t think we’re going to honour your qualifications and give you this job.” And if a distrust of loud academics is not the main reason, then, well, it’s probably just the same old local favouritism.

Anyway, I’ve lost my last shred of faith in academic meritocracy. University archaeology in Scandinavia is a place where often quite poorly qualified inLASade people in managerial positions hire their friends, allies and protegées. And so the cycle is perpetuated. My advice to young archaeologists is to stay the hell away from academia, and if you do go there, learn above all to kiss ass.

In other news, I finished writing my sixth academic monograph yesterday. I’m not planning on writing any more of those.

Update same afternoon: Haha, this is awesome. I did some checking on the stony-faced head of the archaeology department. And it turns out that he was on the hiring committee in Oslo that gave those three steady jobs to local youth back in May! And he co-wrote a book with the youngest of the three in 2015. This guy has kept me from interviewing at two Norwegian university museums in 6 months! So great. Gotta love academia.

Staying At An Invisible House


Swedish House, 1930s, from the N.

I’m back again at the Swedish Institute’s writer’s retreat in Kavala, Greece, finishing my Medieval castles book. By now I’ve spent a total of three weeks here, taking daily walks. And it’s annoyed me that I’ve never been able to see the place I stay at from street level. Such a Lovecraftian feel to it. Does the Swedish House, as it is known, even exist when I’m not there?

The building was finished in 1936. At that time the site was outside town in a commanding location, and the building was a comparatively tall one with its 2½ lofty floors. After the war, though, Kavala grew greatly and the Swedish House with its terraced garden became surrounded by taller, much uglier buildings. They’re in the way when you walk along the waterfront, so you see them and you see the mountainside behind the city, but you can’t see what’s immediately behind the newer structures from most directions.

Yesterday morning I went up onto the roof and looked around. I found an unimpeded view ESE towards the acropolic fortress in the Old Town, which is unsurprising because it is the city’s highest point. But I also found good sightlines to shoreline level toward the SW: the area immediately south of the municipal football field. So I took a picture of this view.

Fire station

Fire station seen from the roof of the Swedish House.

Today I grabbed an umbrella and walked down to the fire station on the other side of the football field. I failed to identify the Swedish House by eye in the chaotic jumble of later rooftops, but then, my eyes have no zoom capability. So I took a picture in the direction of the Swedish House, went back up and checked out the pic on the laptop. And look, I found it!

Swedish House

Swedish House, top floor, WNW face, seen from the front stairs of the fire station.


Swedish House, close-up from W.

Update, same evening: I borrowed a pair of binoculars and went down to the fire station again. I took this picture of the Swedish House from a vantage point some ways up the road from there, through the binocks.


Swedish House, top floor, WNW face, seen from a vantage point near the fire station.

November Pieces Of My Mind #2


Under Västerbron Bridge

  • Love the academic rock exactitude of the Hellacopters’ “I’m In The Band”.
  • Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” famously has cowbell, but I just realised that it has lots of güiro too!
  • Listened to Depeche Mode’s “Shake The Disease” for the first time in decades. Impressed!
  • One of my Umeå students has got a short excavation job at the Östergötland County Museum thanks partly to digging with me in the region! This is an excellent person who really knows how to get things done.
  • I’m an archives person now, surrounded by historians all day long. I’ve ordered a pair of slippers.
  • When discouraged, let’s recall that the Internet is also a place where you can see pictures of delicious gumbo posted by double Hugo Award winners.
  • An angel dictated the Quran to a man. A man dictated the Mahabharata to a god. Some secretary.
  • Further optimisation at work: I now have slippers (actually black clogs with a solid-rubber base), a kickass Assam + Ceylon tea blend from the Sibyl’s tea & coffee shop, and a database extract with the coordinates of every known prehistoric cemetery or solitary barrow in Södermanland province.
  • Told one of the IT guys about the boardgame Istanbul. His dad is Turkish. Now he’s bought the game for his kids.
  • All this reading of the Sites & Monuments register makes me want to direct a big cemetery excavation.
  • “It’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful” /First Aid Kit
  • The head waiter at Millesgården’s restaurant is gloriously, crushingly, relentlessly campy. At the moment he’s even sporting a thin whispy mustache. He’s so out and proud he’s a wandering work of art. I am completely in awe!
Gravfält mot ensamhögar 171109

In Värmland, solitary burial mounds (green) seem to represent 5th century settlement nuclei, from which settlement expands up to the 10th century, when the mound cemeteries (red) allow us to map it for the last time. Then quiet until the 14th century when the written sources allow us to map settlement again.

November Pieces Of My Mind #1


Västerbron Bridge and Högalid Church, view from the National Archives

  • Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” is so much better with fat bass amplification.
  • In the 80s we never realised that radioactive no-go zones like Chernobyl and Fukushima would become verdant teeming natural habitat thanks to the removal of human activity.
  • Seasonal mood dip, check. Going to Greece in three weeks.
  • Yesterday I ran out of research funding completely for the first time since I quit contract archaeology in 2002. Today I am unemployed at 75% of full time. Thanks to a good friend at the National Archives who has some archaeological stuff that needs doing, I will be employed at 125% of full time during November and December while I hunt for jobs.
  • Movie: Suspiria. Beautiful imagery, innovative score, poor pacing, ridiculous horror scenes. Grade: OK.
  • Junior is reading my first publication from when I was 17 and praising it.
  • The supervillain is smarter and more skilled than most. By analogy, the current US president is an infravillain.
  • Prehistoric archaeology is like reconstructing a stage play from a visit to the theatre’s props department.
  • The Quirks & Quarks podcast just encouraged me to imagine that I am a young fruit bat.
  • Suddenly remembered the grandparents of a good friend from my teens. They were a lovely old couple. I liked them.
  • The idea that young women would fake an interest in geek culture baffles me. Many geeks fake an interest in stuff that makes you look cool.
  • I don’t like throwing out food, so unless I can have a doggy bag I usually cram down everything I’m served. I am currently stuffed to the gills with something us Swedes call “Flying Jacob”. Anyone familiar with this dish will realise that I … am … woah … I … am … oh man … a little … queasy … now.
  • In ’90 I chose to buy The Cure’s Disintegration over Love & Rockets’ eponymous album. Probably a good call.
  • There are only two Google hits for the search term “trilobite gonads”.
  • Stopped by a supermarket on my way to work and bought some cheap lunches: 4 ramen, 12 eggs, 1 jar of kimchi. The catered lunches here at my new workplace are cheap and tasty, but they’re a bit too big for me and ramen is even cheaper. Not going back though to the lunch routine of my railway excavation years 1992-93, when I had ramen (no eggs, no kimchi) every second day and Småland cheese cake every other.
  • There’s a sax on Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing In The Moonlight”. Huh.
  • Office kitchen has 1 sauce pan, 8 lids. Suggests that the sauce pan is the larval stage of the lid. Metamorphosing quietly in the cupboards.
  • Before my computer wakes up out of sleep mode, the screen complains “No DP signal from your device”. This reassures me, because though I enjoy good communication with my device, it has certainly never signalled to me about DP. I really don’t know why the screen expects this.
  • Prepped a talk about developments in the Östergötland mead-halls field since I published a book about it in 2011. Intense feeling of enthusiasm and satisfaction.

Cubicle personalised


October Pieces Of My Mind #3


Lake Kolbottensjön

  • Each member of Jrette’s class has been given the task of writing a song. They’ve got ten weeks to do it. Jrette wrote hers in the first week, including guitar chords, and is now writing for the other artists.
  • Remember 80s photo comics? Does anybody do that anymore?
  • A Shannara TV series? But why? The first novel is remarkably bad.
  • Victoria’s Secret is running an ad with the tagline “Obsessed with very sexy”. Being completely oblivious to women’s underwear, I find this silly beyond belief.
  • Mulligatawny soup means Chubby Tony soup in Swedish.
  • The archaeology journal In Situ Archaeologica has gone Open Access.
  • “De-railed”, Sw. urspårat, is a common technical term in Swedish place-name studies. It’s when the users of a place name forget completely about its original meaning and component linguistic elements, and start pronouncing it in increasingly strange and misunderstood ways. An infamous example is Hönsgärde, “Chicken Enclosure”, a hamlet between Stockholm and Uppsala, which was originally named Hidkinskialf, “Hidkin’s Ledge”.
  • Junior’s old buddy used to be this androgynous elfin child. Met him again today and found him to be tall, square-jawed and broad of shoulder. Still super pretty though.
  • Reading Carl Fredric Broocman’s 1760 book on Östergötland. Super impressed, huge amounts of info there. It’s in full on Google Books.
  • My dad is still running around happily and ably re-doing people’s kitchens and bathrooms thanks to recent advances in stroke care. This post is a joint ad for his carpentry firm and Hjärnfonden, the Swedish Brain Foundation.
  • In 1747 James Lind famously performed the first medical experiment with a placebo control wing, demonstrating that lemon juice is a quick and effective cure for scurvy. This was however already widely known, just not studied in this important new rigorous manner. And also, Europeans had known since the Middle Ages that Scurvygrass, Cochlearia officinalis, has the same property. This insight goes back so far that we know of no older name for the plant in several North European languages.
  • I give some money to a hostel for the homeless in my home town around this time every year.
  • Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has a pretty big cast of characters. I wish I were reading it on the Kindle so I could search the text.
  • The earliest mention of tarring and feathering as a punishment is from 12th century England. It’s in Scandinavian Medieval law codes too, Frostathingsloven and Bjärköarätten.
  • Saturday morning: woke at seven to solid darkness and rain. Spirit buoyed by tea and the news of Mueller’s first indictments.
  • Like almost all Swedes my age, I have large vaccination scars on my left thigh and left shoulder. Also, my upper front teeth are unnaturally even. My body is full of bioarchaeological evidence for social healthcare practises about AD 1980.
  • The “Alouette” song is nothing but a long string of graphic violent threats against larks.
  • Hey young folks. Just admit that your half-socks are ridiculously impractical, OK?
  • Movie: Bladerunner 2049. Super pretty, plot confused but not offensively stupid. Grade: OK.
  • How hard would it be for replicants to discover independently of Deckard that they are fertile? Duh.

Second bloom, October rose


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October Pieces Of My Mind #2


Playing Tigris & Euphrates

  • Jrette complains about inept class mates in home economics class. I’m proud to have raised kids who know how to do stuff.
  • Realised that what I thought was a piece of tubular bone is actually a sherd from the bowl of a late-model clay pipe.
  • Hard to get these big sideburns symmetrical when neither the architecture of your face nor the growth of beard across it is symmetrical.
  • I enjoy finding accidental inclusions in my agricultural produce. They show that it’s from actual muddy fields, not from some lab. Just now I’m cooking lentil soup. Found two large grass seeds and half a ladybug carapace.
  • The Stockholm Tolkien Society must have been such an oddball organisation at first. It was founded in 1972, right when large parts of Sweden’s youth were focused on alternative music, sectarian Communist politics and smoking weed. And here’s this explicitly apolitical association, whose bylaws are an erudite pastiche of Medieval law codes, and I’ve seen minutes from an early board meeting where they’re discussing whether to throw out a certain Isildur for smoking weed outside the premises of a society event!
  • So happy these days for my good communication with my teenage kids.
  • Because of uranium in the bedrock, we have to ventilate the crawl space under our house, or we get a bit too much radon gas indoors. The fan recently stopped working. I wrote to customer service and asked how I could get it repaired. “It’s probably just the capacitor” was their reply. So I got the component out and sent pics of it to Junior, who went online and found a new one for me at Digi-Key. They UPS:ed it, I put in the capacitor, and now the fan is spinning merrily again!
  • Mike Oldfield tautology: “4 am in the morning / Carried away by a moonlight shadow”. So not pm in the morning?
  • North Korea is struggling to attain a 60-year-old technology level.
  • There are Medieval German bishops buried in silk fabrics with Muslim devotional writing. Never mind those Vikings.
  • My ex’s dog first sits next to my easy chair growling and snorting quietly to request permission to jump onto my lap. When I finally pat my thigh she hops up and starts discreetly demanding cuddles by looking accusingly at me, poking my hand with her paw and whimpering tersely. A refined and well-bred but highly demanding guest.
  • Danish Jeg kan lide den means “I like it”. In Swedish, the phrase means roughly “I am able to endure the pain of it”.
  • The engine on my mom’s little boat has a discreet sticker on one side. It says “If you lay the engine down on this side, bad things happen with the oil inside”. If you lay the engine down on that side you can’t see the sticker so bad things happen.
  • Pharaoh Nephren-ka’s name was struck from records and monuments because of his dealings with the Great Old Ones. 45 is pretty much down there with Nephren-ka.
  • My Palestinian buddy helped me get the boat onto shore in preparation for the winter. I told him life jacket is flytväst in Swedish. “Thanks. This one’s way smaller though than what I wore when I crossed over to Greece.”
  • The #metoo tag is excellent because it shows the magnitude of the problem. And what really strikes me is the enormous prevalence of men’s sexual hostility against women. Most of the stories women tell about unwanted sexual advances aren’t about clumsy guys trying unsuccessfully to get friendly with them. They’re about men being openly offensive, threatening or even violent in ways that neither they nor anyone else could interpret as attempts to establish any kind of mutual understanding, however brief. They’re not doing this because they think it’ll get them laid. Many men don’t seem to view women as real people, but more like trees or mushrooms with breasts. But beyond this general obliviousness and lack of empathy, there seems to be so much outright hatred.
  • I had no idea that Mikkey Dee’s dad is Greek. Cool.
  • Tired of orange marmalade? I went to my Turkish grocer and bought sour-cherry marmalade and plum jam.
  • I remembered that the plural of pleasure craft is also pleasure craft. *proud*