Racist Detectorists

In countries with a big metal detector hobby, the stereotypical participant is an anorak-wearing, rural, poorly educated, underemployed male. I don’t know how true this cliché image is. But apart from the anorak, it’s certainly an accurate description of the core voter demographic behind the rise of racist right-wing populist parties. These people have trouble finding jobs, and they have trouble seeing through the racist propaganda that tells them they would have jobs and girlfriends if it weren’t for the bloody furriners.

I’m known as a detectorist-friendly archaeologist. I’ve made many friends in the little Swedish hobby over the past twelve years. These people are overwhelmingly urban professionals, often with university degrees and pretty solid incomes. I’m talking a banker, a school teacher, a newspaper editor, a businessman, a scientist, a software company CEO. I’ve never known them to make racist remarks, live or online. Sweden’s laws regarding amateur metal detector use are hopelessly restrictive, so when not collaborating with researchers like myself, most of our few detectorists spend their free time collecting last year’s coins and finger rings on beaches.

But now I’ve gotten involved in Danish and Norwegian detectorist groups on Facebook. Those countries have more liberal laws and bigger hobbies. Many of their detectorists have added me as Fb buddies. And suddenly I’ve got several rural Danes and Norwegians in my Fb feed who will post nine pictures of interesting new archaeological finds, then a piece of racist propaganda, followed by nine more finds, etc. I’m just appalled. It’s so far from my Swedish experience.

Let me be clear and fair here. Most of my Danish & Norwegian detectorist contacts on Fb never post racist stuff. But the only people who do post that shit in my feed are Danish & Norwegian detectorists. I wonder if the main detectorist associations of Denmark and Norway have taken a public stand against racism, for instance by welcoming immigrants as members.

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Bornholm’s Golden Acrobat Girl

Smørenge is one of the sites on Bornholm that keeps yielding mid-1st-millennium gold mini-figurines. But in addition to the 2D representations on embossed gold foil known as guldgubber, an artisan employed by the magnate family at Smørenge also made nude 3D figurines. The fifth of these was found by one of the island’s famously skilful metal detectorists in May, and she’s quite a revelation. Because representations of women are far less common than of men in Iron Age art, and nude women are almost unknown.

The Smørenge woman is wearing only a hatched belt. She has the prominent “seer’s thumbs” common in the era’s art, and all the female anatomy we know and love is clearly modelled. Lines depicting long hair are incised onto her head and neck. Notches on her upper arms suggest that she is intended to be tied with a piece of wire or thread. Her body’s overall curvature and her outstretched feet suggest that she is performing a back-flip, a motif known e.g. from the closely coeval Söderby bracteate hoard where a bearded man is seen doing acrobatics. She is 42 mm long and weighs 3 g.

The thing that commentators are wondering about is the odd cogged ridge along her spine. My guess is that she is simply a skinny acrobat whose vertebrae are visible as a line of bumps along her back.

René Laursen has a short presentation of the find at the Bornholm Museum web site, and a more detailed one in Skalk 2013:3 (June).

Another Gold Foil Figure Die from Zealand

Another one of the rare production dies for 6/7/8th century gold foil figures has come to light, again on Zealand! This is an unusual design depicting a lady from the front. She’s wearing a long dress, a cloak and two bead strings. She seems to be cupping her hands around a ring at her abdomen. The rings on her dress hem are quite odd. Parallels to the general motif and design are known from Eketorp on Öland (a foil) and Sättuna in Östergötland (a die). Congratulations to detectorist Hans, and thanks for doing other folks with an interest in the past a big favour!

Update 4 Feb: Aard regular Kevin points out that this Vendel Period lady looks just like a Dutch Christmas cookie! Image from 123RF.

A Dutch speculaas cookie.

A Dutch speculaas cookie.

New Dates for the Bronze Age

When I was an undergrad in 1990 we were taught that all six periods of the Scandinavian Bronze Age were 200 (or in one case 300) years long. The most recent radiocarbon work shows that they all had different lengths and were more likely 130-280 years long. And the periods with the most abundant metalwork finds, II and V, are the two shortest. So their previously known status as metal-rich eras looks even more pronounced now, and the intervening periods look even poorer.

Per. I. 1700-1500 cal BC (200 yrs)
Per. II. 1500-1330 (170 yrs)
Per. III. 1330-1100 (230 yrs)
Per. IV. 1100-950/20 (165 yrs)
Per. V. 950/20-800 (135 yrs)
Per. VI. 800-530/20 (275 yrs)

Each of these periods translates to a list of artefact and monument types that are commonly found together. Their relative ordering through time has been known since the 1880s. Current work looks at the absolute dates at which these typological laundry lists were current. It uses a new technology, radiocarbon dating of cremated bone, and new applications of Bayesian statistics, which allow us to constrain the uncertainty of the radiocarbon results using stratigraphical observations. The latter means that if we know that grave B was later than grave A because one sat on top of the other, then we can tell the software to disregard parts of the probability distributions that gainsay this observation.

Hornstrup, K.M et al. 2012. A New Absolute Danish Bronze Age Chronology As Based On Radiocarbon Dating Of Cremated Bone Samples From Burials. Acta Archaeologica 83. Copenhagen.

Best Danefae of 2012

Most prosperous countries have legislation for what kinds of archaeological finds a citizen has to hand in to the authorities. In Denmark, still using a Medieval term, such finds are termed danefae, “property of the dead”. And here is Danish TV4’s list of the top-10 such finds of 2012. All but one of them have been handed in by detectorists, and two by Swedish detectorists operating in Denmark because of Sweden’s restrictive rules!

It wouldn’t really be worthwhile to make a top-10 like this for Sweden, as the pretty gold & silver metalwork they concentrate on in the program is usually found detectorists, and we don’t allow the honest ones to go looking in Sweden. The reason that precious metals are so interesting to archaeologists isn’t their market value, but their resistance to corrosion. Most of the beautiful craftsmanship of the past has disintegrated or become unrecognisable. But the precious metalwork endures unchanged.

Thanks to Morten Axboe and Tobias Bondesson for the tip-off.