National Heritage Board Abdicates Again At Ales Stenar

Bob Lind has yet again managed to get the National Heritage Board to abdicate its responsibility at Ales Stenar, a beautiful 7th century AD burial monument near Ystad in southern Sweden. Bob has self-published odd interpretations of the site that have found no traction among professional archaeologists. He has kept vigil at Ales stenar for decades, lecturing to visitors, ranting at the municipal guides and occasionally attacking them. He has a very large sign on site, next to the National Heritage Board’s, with permission from the County Archaeologist. My colleague Björn Wallebom has criticised this, and the local paper ran a critical article yesterday, quoting myself and others.

In 2007 the National Heritage Board’s representative Ewa Bergdahl said on this subject,

There isn’t just one single truth. This place is so incredibly more complex than previously believed, … You have no privileged position with us just because you do research at a university

And this tiresome old post-modernist anti-science relativism persists at the Board. This time it’s Qaisar Mahmood, my buddy from Leftie and refugee volunteering circles, who says stupid things to the press without the benefit of any archaeological training.

Our responsibility is to present the image we think is right. It would be wrong if we took measures to exclude other images. … We have seen no reason to file a complaint against the County Archaeologist’s decision. We take responsibility for what is ours. Just because we don’t file a complaint it doesn’t mean that we support or open the door to other versions.

—–

Vårt ansvar ligger i att ge den bild vi tycker är rätt. Det är fel om vi skulle gå in och utesluta andra bilder. … Vi har inte sett något behov att överklaga länsstyrelsens beslut. Vi tar ansvar för det som är vårt. Bara för att vi inte överklagar betyder det inte att vi står bakom eller släpper fram andra versioner.

1. The National Heritage Board’s responsibility is to present the image that scientific consensus thinks is right. Nobody else’s. Certainly not its non-archaeological office staff’s.

2. The Board owns this property. Its staff are not taking responsibility for what is theirs.

3. The fact that the Board doesn’t file a complaint does mean that it supports and opens the door to other versions.

4. If someone wanted to post an equally pseudo-scientific sign about Odin that contained hints of extreme-right propaganda, then the Board would not allow it.

5. When the National Heritage Board allows a sign with a discredited interpretation at a high-profile archaeological site that it owns, then it is equivalent to public hospitals allowing faith healers to roam the corridors, tending to patients.

Qaisar, archaeology is a science. I do not get to speak for medicine, Latvian studies or meteorology. You do not get to speak for archaeology. Scholarly consensus is the arbiter of truth in these matters.

Update same day: Qaisar Mahmood and the Board’s Custodian Lars Amreus have responded briefly on Facebook and Twitter to my criticism. If I understand them correctly, their line is that the Board of National Antiquities does not in fact own Ales stenar, they recently handed it over to the National Property Board. This organisation has never made any claim to archaeological authority. And it creates the question, why then does Qaisar Mahmood of National Heritage talk to the press about Ales stenar? As I said, this is an abdication of responsibility.

And another update: Qaisar has given me a long public reply on Fb, and I’ll try to summarise it fairly here. He’s saying that my expectations of what role the National Heritage Board is supposed to play in Swedish archaeology are no longer supported by its directives from the Ministry of Culture. The Board has in fact not abdicated from any position of archaeological authority in the case of Ales stenar. It can’t abdicate, because it no longer makes any claim to such a position. Those are not its orders from our elected officials. I’m sure Qaisar knows what he’s talking about. I just shake my head and wonder, will the real Board of National Antiquities please stand up?

Signage at Ales stenar. Left: two copies of a sign from Ystad municipality and the National Heritage Board. Right: Bob Lind’s signs.

My blogging about Bob’s antics has grown voluminous over the years. Read it all here with a new category tag.

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July Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • Swedish 1960s translation of the Game of Life. I just found a uranium mine. According to Boardgame Geek, there are 13,879 better boardgames than this.
  • I bought a Kindle and I like it. Better than reading on my phone. No screen glare. Weeks between recharges. Bigger page.
  • As a boy I was shocked to learn that most people have to pay a monthly fee to keep a roof over their heads. I found this to be a horrifically unstable arrangement, similar to staying at a hotel. My parents had never spoken to me about their mortgage loan. I felt that the only monthly expenses anyone should by rights have to reckon with were food and utilities.
  • Reading Neal Stephenson’s 90s WIRED essays about stuff that was cutting edge 20 years ago. Very strange.
  • Me and Cousin E stumbled into our first Magic the Gathering tournament & got crushed. Found out it was elite level. National champion took part.
  • There’s a German brand of athletic braces etc that’s named Bauerfeind, “Farmer’s Foe”.
  • Gossamer: “Middle English: apparently from goose + summer, perhaps from the time of year around St Martin’s summer, i.e. early November, when geese were eaten (gossamer being common then).”
  • I’ve sung “Rock And Roll All Nite” twice to Cousin E, and he really liked it! Showed his appreciation by turning over and pulling the duvet over his head. Didn’t know the kid was into Kiss!
  • Young folks will soon see me as an arrogant and elitist greybeard. Funny how they will have no idea that I was once an arrogant and elitist 15-year-old.

My wife is getting good at Catan!

Hiking In Abisko

Abisko national park is in the mountains of extreme northern Sweden, Sámi country, reindeer country, where half of the year is lit by constant sun and the other half is frigid darkness and aurorae.

Getting there takes 17½ hours by train from Stockholm Central. There’s a sleeper train with no changes, so if you only count time when you’re conscious, the trip takes 10 hours. You can fly to Arlanda airport and get right onto this train without making the detour into Stockholm. And the trail head is next to the platform when you get off.

Some friends and I went up hiking over the Mid-summer weekend 22–27 June, spending three nights in Abisko and two on the train. There are many huts and hostels in the area, so none of us brought a tent or a sleeping bag. Only Mårten brought a portable stove – to make espresso.

You don’t actually even need to bring a water bottle. There’s clean water in every stream. We arrived right at the start of the area’s hectic summer, with meltwater rivulets everywhere, innumerable flowers and a bewildering variety of bird calls. Very few mosquitoes bothered us. The treeline is near, so the landscape varies dramatically as your path lifts and dips. With a GPS or map and compass, of course, you needn’t even follow paths. The King’s Trail suffers from erosion, so the less people use it the better.

Check out the Swedish Tourist Association’s mountain hiking site.

June Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • It would be quite nice if writers feared for their lives over the difference between publishing city and printing city in bibliographies. Then they would be more motivated to get it right.
  • My parents are great. They’ve got so much hiking gear, at 74 they still know exactly where they keep it, and they’re happy to lend it to me. All I’ve had to buy for four days’ mountain hiking is boots and a pair of sufficiently long waterproof pants.
  • 24 applicants for Stockholm U archaeology lectureship, several with exceptional qualifications. Looking at the list I realise that you could staff two new departments from scratch simply by picking people from that list.
  • Another reflection upon that list of 24 applicants. The average qualification level on that list is distinctly higher than among people who already have steady lectureships in archaeology at Swedish universities. Because recruitment isn’t generally very meritocratic. And once you have a lectureship you have neither opportunity nor motivation to continue improving your qualifications.
  • Miguel Coimbra has illustrated a crazy number of boardgames. And his art is always great!
  • I’ve been contracted to direct a gay erotic naval war movie set in Classical Greece. The title is Battle of the Salamis.
  • 19th century manuscripts in the ATA archives taught me to create a straight margin by folding the edge of the paper.
  • Donated blood, was taken care of by a med student who looked Jr’s age. So weird to me that I have become an affable avuncular presence. I do in fact feel less gawky, gangly and awkward than a quarter century ago though.
  • I just sealed an agreement with the Dept of Historical Studies at Gothenburg University to head their field archaeology course in September. If the County Archaeologist gives their approval, then me and the students will join the long distinguished line of excavators at Kungahälla, with Kristina Bengtsson as our main advisor.
  • Oh man. Does “steatite ashlar” mean anything to you? Täljstenskvadrar in Swedish. *breathes heavily*
  • A colleague just told me that the EU’s water directive means that enormous numbers of old mill dams in disrepair will have to be machined away in the near future. And that my 2015 book on Bronze Age deposition offers almost the only well-founded overview of what this may mean in terms of contract archaeology.

Academic Recruitment in Sweden is a Mess

Academic recruitment procedures in Sweden are a mess. There are at least four strong contradictory forces that impact them.

  • Meritocracy. As Head of Department you are legally obliged to find and employ the most qualified person on the job market, even if it’s just for six months. This is after all the public sector.
  • Labour laws. As Head of Department you are legally obliged to give a steady job to anyone who has worked at your uni for a total of four semesters in the past five years, regardless of their qualifications.
  • Funding. As Head of Department you cannot give anyone a steady job unless you know how to pay them long-term. Else you will have to fire someone soon, which will get you into big trouble both with the Dean and with the labour union.
  • Nepotism. As Head of Department you want to employ your buddy Bengt. He can be a recent home-grown PhD whom you want to give a break. Or he can be an old stalwart that you’d be ashamed to meet in the departmental coffee room if you didn’t help him.

This is coming to a head in a big way. Five years ago it became mandatory to advertise even the shortest academic jobs, the ones that were typically quietly given to Bengt before. At least one Swedish university largely ignored this and has now endured official censure and much bad press. Academic leaders currently don’t seem to know what’s best practice. I’ve asked around with just one of the questions involved, and nobody in charge seems to know quite what the answer is.

Remember, as Head of Department, because of funding constraints you generally cannot allow anyone to pass the labour law’s four-semesters-in-five-years threshold and get automatic steady employment. But when you advertise a short contract, chances are high that the most qualified applicant will be so near the limit that the short contract would effectively mean automatic steady employment. How do you deal with this situation, even ignoring any impact of nepotism?

So far I’ve never seen any department say plainly that “We realise that Berit has by far the strongest qualifications, but because of the labour laws we will instead employ Nisse, despite his weak CV”. I have however seen a case where the department suddenly discovered and described many flaws in Berit that made her an unattractive candidate, despite the fact that they had happily employed her on a series of short contracts up until the day when the labour law’s limit came into sight.

June Pieces Of My Mind #2

On a whim I searched for my surname in the Sites & Monuments Register and was awarded with a distribution map of fieldwork I have directed

  • Boiled cauliflower is bland and boring. But try slicing it and baking it at a high temperature in the oven with oil and salt. Good stuff!
  • Archaeoscience friends! The other day when I was feeling happy I had the idea that you guys should develop a method to measure lifetime happiness in human bone. Preferably including variability over the life span.
  • Proponents of market capitalism tend to confuse a description of how the market works with a prescription for how we should organise society. It’s basically “Don’t bring an umbrella, it’s supposed to rain!”
  • I got a letter with some apparently irrelevant genealogical info from a DNA relative. She comments, apologetically, “I am 86 years old and I suffer somewhat from dementia.”
  • I had no idea bird baths are such fun. Never get tired of watching our feathered neighbours at their ablutions.
  • Got my WorldCon scheduling today. I’m giving one talk for grown-ups, two for kids and I’m on one panel.
  • Cousin E taught me a piece of Chinese innuendo: “romantic action movie”.
  • I was pleased and surprised to find an uncredited summary of one of my papers in the local history annual on the back label of a beer bottle from the Fisksätra micro brewery.
  • Wednesday evening sailboat mini race. Sunshine, birdsong and barely any wind.
  • I want to live in constant summer.
  • Today’s my 25th anniversary as a professional archaeologist. With the exception of a few months on the dole in 1993 and 2001, I’ve supported myself and two kids exclusively with archaeological work and spent most of that quarter century at research.
  • I’m doing something utterly Lovecraftian today: sending a strangely heavy, black stone (found in the overgrown ruins of an abandoned Medieval castle on an island) to a university professor to learn his professional opinion about it.
  • Copy editing Timo Salminen’s paper for Fornvännen’s October issue, I learned something fun. As late as 1878, Oscar Montelius wasn’t aware of the Pre-Roman Iron Age in agricultural Scandinavia, which is 530 years long. He thought that the Bronze Age ended about AD 1 and was immediately succeeded by the Roman Imperial Period! My guess is that this was because of the PRIA’s notoriously scanty grave furnishings.
  • I just gave some wealthy sponsors of my research a guided tour of the multinational council housing estate where I live. They happily went along and were quite interested.
  • Begonias are named for Michel Bégon (1638-1710), a French official and plant collector.
  • First swim of the year in Lake Lundsjön!
  • 24 applicants for Stockholm U archaeology lectureship, several with exceptional qualifications.

June Pieces Of My Mind #1

Poppies along our fence

  • My wife receives her second university degree today. In addition to her 15 years in journalism, she is now also a trained psychologist. Go YuSie!!!
  • I assume 45’s lawyers cleared the covfefe tweet?
  • Small but very satisfying discovery. In 1902 a Medieval coin is found at Skällvik Castle. The finder makes a detailed drawing of the coin and sends coin & drawing to the authorities, who promptly lose track of the coin. Gone. In 1954 a list is drawn up of twelve Medieval coins found at nearby Stegeborg Castle. In 1983 the list is published — and suddenly there are thirteen coins on it. And the additional coin has a completely unexpected date, for Stegeborg, which was ruinous at the time. And the coin looks identical to the one that went missing in 1902…
  • Chinese prime minister offers voice of reason on climate, unlike POTUS. Yay, Republicans. Go you. /-:
  • Jrette comes home from first pop gig without parents. Describes ace female guitarist+bassist.
  • Whew, a final close call. The Johan & Jakob Söderberg Foundation comes through and saves my bacon for the last seven months that I plan to subsist on grants. Ample time to finish my castles book. Ask for me a year from now, and you shall most likely find me a contract archaeology man.
  • 18th anniversary with YuSie! And tea, and sunshine!
  • The HPV vaccine is already putting a big dent in the cancer statistics! And remember: here’s something young men can do to improve the health of future grandmothers. And to keep their penises wart-free.
  • In Jrette’s opinion, I’m pretty frenetic.
  • Almost bought Turkish bulgur. Then I remembered Erdogan and his rural power base. “Too bad, politically deluded durum wheat farmers”, said I, and bought wheat from Västergötland instead.
  • I like novellas, 120-150 pp. Very few multihundredpage novels are worth the time.
  • Cousin E beat me big at Patchwork again. Seems that with the summer approaching, the threat of having to sleep in the yard is no longer very effective.
  • I think it’s pretty neat that the designer of a game is often not a particularly strong player of that game. Inventing something with emergent properties that others discover.
  • The Wow Signal: it was a comet that hadn’t been discovered at the time.
  • “Squamous” means “scaly”.
  • “Rugose” means “has a folded/wrinkled surface” and is cognate with “corrugated”.
  • “Gibbous” describes the moon when it’s between half and full, and descends from the Latin word for hump.
  • Sorry to see the Tories get ahead of Labour in the UK elections. Right now it’s 47 to 40%. Some consolation though that UKIP has been wiped out entirely.
  • Someone plz explain how the UK election result represents any diminished Tory ability to get stuff through Parliament! *confused*
  • Haha, now I get it. Brits are super confused to have what us Swedes call “a normal coalition government”.
  • Before coming into a song, a bass player will often do this little slide along a string, “bwoing”, to announce her presence. What’s that called?
  • Here’s a piece of good news. During the past three summers’ fieldwork at Medieval castles, we dry-screened the dirt through 4 mm mesh. We also collected soil samples, a selection of which palaeobotanist Jennie Andersson has checked for carbonised plant remains. Jennie also found lots of tiny bones in the soil samples. Now osteologist Lena Nilsson has analysed the bones that Jennie found. And good news, as I said: no new animal species. If we had wet-screened the dirt through sub-4-mm mesh, we would certainly have found a greater number of bone fragments. But it would have been enormously costly in terms of money and labour. And it seems likely that we would not have identified additional animal species.
  • I found my hair! It’s currently on my chest, below my navel and in an amazing profusion on the small of my back. Really been wondering where it had gone to.
  • Listening attentively to the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” for the first time. What a strange & interesting production! It’s so dense and distant, kind of indistinct with no air in it. Like you’re underwater. Or nodding off on heroin, I imagine.

Paleobotany Of Four Medieval Strongholds

Palaeobotanist Jennie Andersson has analysed four soil samples for me, all from floor layers inside buildings at Medieval strongholds that me and my team have excavated in recent years. There’s one each from Stensö, Landsjö, Skällvik and Birgittas udde. Results were sadly not very informative.

Comments Jennie:

“Overall the fossil and carbonised botanical material in the samples, as well as the recent unburnt material, is meagre … No carbonised cereals were found. Three of the four samples did however contain rather large amounts of unburnt bones and scales from fish plus jurpa, a blanket term för amorphous burnt organic material which may represent bread, burnt food, cooking waste or animal fat. Both the fish bones and the cooking waste probably originate in household cooking and waste management … The presence of burnt weeds such as goosefoot, bedstraw, smartweed and clover (Chenopodium album, Galium spp., Persicaria lapathifolia, Trifolium spp.), all of which thrive on nutrient-rich, sometimes slightly damp and open ground and around farms, tally well with what we may imagine would have been common in a castle bailey or around a farm yard where livestock and people tread about every day and share space.”

Report in Swedish here.

Swedish Academia Is No Meritocracy

After almost 14 mostly dismal years on the academic job market, I find it a consolation to read an opinion piece in Times Higher Education under the headline “Swedish Academia Is No Meritocracy“. In my experience this is also true for Denmark, Norway and Finland. In Norway, for instance, the referee board that evaluates job applications isn’t external to the department: it is headed by a senior employee of the department itself. With predictable results.

At Scandinavian universities, people who didn’t get their jobs in fair competition are often handing out jobs to their buddies without any fair competition. But I see encouraging signs that the PR disaster that recently befell Gothenburg University’s philosophy department may have put a scare into the whole sad business. At least temporarily. Meanwhile, I’m finishing my sixth archaeological monograph. Never having had a longer contract than 28% of one academic year.

May Pieces Of My Mind #3

In the time of the lilacs, in the month of laburnum

  • I didn’t like any of this year’s Hugo-nominated novels, so I’ll be voting ”No award” there. But the short-story category really has me confused. The novels aren’t great, but most of them are certainly science fiction. Only one of the six shorts though is scifi as opposed to fantasy. Is there no longer a difference between the genre remits of the Nebulas and the Hugos? I thought the Hugos were strictly sf.
  • Today a number of contract archaeologists and metal detectorists have treated me like someone with valuable skills and knowledge. I really need that. Thank you guys!
  • I’ve realised that I’m not into games of the type “let’s all play our own game of solitaire and occasionally glance at each other”, so I’m selling off Race for the Galaxy and Glass Road.
  • Spoke to a physicist at the gaming convention. “I like mathematicians a lot. Won’t hear one bad word about them. I think everyone should own one!”
  • Gekkoes in Ullared
  • The summer weather and three days at cons have severed me from the everyday. I’m confused about going back to work.
  • Junior has received his final high school grades. They’re better than mine were. He’s set to move out from his mom and start studying computer science at Jönköping University come September.
  • Once 45 is ousted, hope his voters will realise they aren’t really equipped to make political choices. Better abstain for the common good.