Three Fortunate Young Oslovians

Oslo colleagues have asked me to give a fuller account of the spring 2017 hiring that I called the most egregious case I’ve seen. This is not because they’re trying to make the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History look good, but because they feel that I unfairly singled out a single hire, when in fact there were three. I’m happy to oblige. For one thing, I hadn’t even noticed that one of the three has no PhD.

Some background. Norway has a strong tradition of research performed at museums. Bergen’s museum, for instance, was doing major science long before there was a university in town. The førsteamanuensis positions at the Oslo museum that I’m discussing here have 40% research time built into them. Hear that, academics everywhere? A full-time, lifetime job with 40% research time. 20 people applied for those three jobs.

I’ve kept stats on who has gotten lectureships and førsteamanuensis positions in Scandy archaeology for the past 14 years. The median age of the hires is 43. Half of the hires are between 40 and 46. The youngest person to get one of these jobs since I started counting in 2003 was 32, at Uni Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, this past spring.

But yes, there were three hires. They’re 32, 35 and 39, that is, all three are exceptionally young. One worked at the museum when the jobs were advertised, another had worked there previously, and one of these two hasn’t got a PhD! A third one had a post-doc position at Uni Oslo’s main campus just across town, where this person had done their PhD (post-doc at your home department, huh!?). This one is also a long-term collaborator on two projects of the hiring committee’s chairman, who is a professor at the museum in accordance with the fine Norwegian rules for these things.

I believe that by the time they reach 45, two of these people will have strongly competitive CVs. (They’re getting paid to do research at 40% of full time, after all, and all three certainly seem bright enough.) My point in bringing them up is that in 2017 none of the three have this. There is nobody under the age of 40 in Scandinavian academic archaeology who can compete in front of a fair and impartial hiring committee with people who have published research voluminously for a quarter century. Because nobody starts publishing research at age 15. So it’s pretty damn egregious the whole thing.

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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.

Vestfold Barrows and Mead-Halls

The Midgardsenteret visitors’ centre at Borre invited me to give a talk about my Östergötland elite settlement project. This went well, with a sizeable and appreciative audience last night. One gentleman explained that they had all learned Swedish from watching kids’ TV when they were little. Today I went on a royal Late Iron Age binge.

This is Vestfold, home of the Norwegian branch of the Ynglingar dynasty, with sites like Oseberg, Gokstad, Kaupang, Huseby, Gulli – and Borre. The ancient cemetery starts right outside the main entrance to Midgardsenteret with some low mounds of respectable diameter. And then, as you walk down the slow slope towards the shore of Viken, the place goes absolutely nuts with absurdly huge barrows.

One of the largest ones was quarried away for road-building in the 19th century, yielding the first known but poorly preserved major ship burial, dating to the early 10th century. There’s been debate over whether Borre is really the dynastic burial site of the Ynglingar whom Snorri Sturluson tells of in the Heimskringla. I’ll just say this. If that line of Viking Period kings was an historical reality – which no historian seems to question seriously – then there is no way in Hel that they would have allowed anybody else to accumulate a uniquely huge barrow cemetery anywhere west of the Scandinavian mountain range – let alone at Borre, smack bang in the middle of Vestfold. The minute another family tried to build their barrow number two, or a slightly too large barrow number one, their mead hall would be burning merrily and surrounded by the Ynglingar retinue on a cleanup mission, swords in hands. Also, each barrow at Borre presupposes control over huge labour, which equals political power.

I scaled all the major barrows and cairns including the isolated Fiddler’s Barrow to the south, saw the sunken traces of Bjørn Myhre’s 1980s/90s test trenches (no archive report, no publication), saw the tricorn, saw the site of the great hall foundations revealed by GP radar, and looked unhappily at the huge robber trenches in the barrows. I really hope they’re 13th century (and thus evidence for behaviour among people I study) and not 18th century (and thus modern vandalism). Then I checked out the unusually early and unusually oriented church nearby. That’s what the Borre family built after they quit erecting barrows. And finally I was shown the new mead hall reconstruction near Borre, huge and ornately carved in the Oseberg style, with a twelve metre roof and narrative relief panels on the four central roof posts. The tale of Beowulf is illustrated by the same Vendel helmet warrior images as grace Fornvännen’s cover!

After lunch the Midgardsentret’s master blacksmith Hans Johnny Hansen drove me to the Oseberg ship barrow, sitting next to a little stream at the bottom of a wide valley, the least monumental location possible. On past the Traveller’s Barrow to Tønsberg where H.J. showed me the new replica of the Oseberg ship – blew my mind! Also lovely replicas of the smaller Gokstad rowboats and a replica of another mid-size ship. The master smith, who personally made all the thousands of clench nails for the Oseberg replica, pointed at the brass screws holding this latter ship together and made skeptical noises.

I spent my last two hours in Tønsberg at the museum, checking out the Klåstad wreck of a 10th century trading ship, the collection of whale skeletons, finds from the two 12th century battlefields at Re and an exhibition about the resistance against the German occupation in the 40s. I was chilled to read an account by their regional leader of how two young local women were found through phone wire tapping to have taken lovers in the Gestapo. The resistance immediately kidnapped and jailed both women. “We were debating whether to terminate or deport them. But finally we sent them by boat to Sweden, largely because they had made themselves useful in jail, cleaning the place up and cooking for the guards. They later sent Christmas cards from Sweden to their lovers, which we intercepted, but they didn’t seem to abuse their situation over there. So I’m glad we decided to let them live.” After the war, the children born to such women during the occupation were infamously poorly treated.