Sunday, April 30, 2006

Snake in a Lake

Me and my kids went on a bike ride to a little forest lake today, to smell the bog-myrtle and Labrador tea, hide a geocache and eat some Finnish marshmallows. And what did we encounter when walking along the shore? A swimming snake!

It was a grass snake, Sw. snok, Lat. Natrix natrix, venomless and very pretty with its white cheeks and dark body. I gather they like to swim, indeed the Latin name seems to mean "swimmer", and I suppose it was hunting for tadpoles. The mire at the lake's draining point is the scene of wild toad orgies about this time of year, though we saw none today.

Our snake was shy of us, so we left it alone and did our thing.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ailing Technorati

Blog indexing service Technorati needs to be bought up by somebody big. Their computer power isn't adequate by far to meet the growing demand of bloggers worldwide. It's been eleven days since Technorati indexed Salto Sobrius the latest time. Yes, I have pinged regularly, and yes, I have written to support.

Update 3 May: Fifteen days and counting. Technorati -- how to keep on top of rapidly changing web sites!

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The root of the word harem is in the Arabic harim, "something forbidden", and haram, sanctuary. Harem would be a fitting title for the Journal of Swedish Muslim Culture, for the first issue after its high-profile re-launch contains not one word written by a woman. Perhaps equally fittingly, its actual title is the phallic -- and proselytising -- Minaret.

Minaret is a perfectly good contemporary literary journal. Its editor and contributors rank among the most liberal muslims in the world. And yet, the gender segregation isn't mentioned with one word from either the editor or the editorialist in issue 2006:1. The atmosphere is the fraternal camaraderie of the mosque after Friday prayer.

There are plenty of female muslim writers in Sweden. Either they don't much like Minaret, or they haven't been asked to contribute. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on the state of modernity in Swedish Islam. Let's hope for a lady or seven in the next issue.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Nanotech Archaeology Ants

Anyone who has ever shifted and sieved a lot of dirt on an archaeological dig has mused to themselves, "There's got to be a better way of doing this". The conventional solution has been to employ other people, or in the absence of such, students, to do the grunt work. But I have another suggestion.

The aim of an archaeological excavation is to abstract information about structures under ground and collect a highly selective sample of stuff from the trench. In other words: to draw interesting features, pinpoint and collect interesting finds and separate them from the spoil dirt.

A good way to do this would be with nanotech robot ants. With the size and strength of live ants, but with far more processing power, a hi-res positioning system and a wireless communications link. Instead of marking a rectangle on the ground and putting people with trowels and folding rules in it, one would mark the rectangle with positioning beacons and let a few million nano ants loose in it.

Each ant would be programmed to take a grain of material from the dig, classify it, transmit its composition and 3D location to the documentation computer, receive its opinion about it, move it to a spoil dump or a finds officer, and then repeat. Objects too large for a single ant to shift, such as a pebble or a brooch, would prompt a group of nano ants to congregate for the task.

As the ants emptied the trench, grain by grain, an extremely detailed model of the site's contents would form in the documentation computer. This model could then be sectioned every which way by human archaeologists according to their whims and interests. This methodology would generate huge datasets and a field documentation so hi-res that it would effectively be equivalent to the untouched site to any archaeologist working on a human scale of things.

The nano ants would also be great for reassembling broken pottery and glass or re-fit knapped stone. Just let them scramble over a big pile of stuff and identify surfaces that fit each other.

This technology isn't here yet, but there are people working on it. It'll take a lot of computer smarts and engineering wizardry. But all of that is just a matter of multiplying what we already have today. It's not a qualitative leap from today's PC, total station and Mars rover. We just need to make far smaller rovers, and in the millions.

When will we have the necessary tech? I'd say it's a matter of decades. And as usual, it won't be developed for archaeology. Probably NASA will fund the development for Mars and then archaeologists will co-opt the stuff once it gets cheap enough.

That's what we do: borrow methodologies. Mats P. Malmer has said that typology is the nearest we get to an original archaeological method, but that we've actually nicked that too – from the numismatists. And Mats should know, being married to a professor of numismatics.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

William's Counter

I made an unexpected historical acquaintance today: William IV of Nassau-Dietz, prince of Orange (1711-1751), or, as his mum called him, Willem Karel Hendrik Friso.

Having recently found a mysterious little coin during fieldwork in Östergötland, I sent pictures of it to the good people at the Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm. I couldn't make head or tail of the thing myself. Seemingly random sequences of neoclassical lettering and clumsy depictions of tiny horses? And it wasn't in very good shape either.

Monica Golabiewski Lannby identified the piece in the blink of an eye. It isn't actually a coin, it's a counter used on a kind of 18th century abacus. Writes Monica:
It's a brass counter, a jeton, struck for William Charles, prince of Orange. On the averse one can see his bare head and the legend: WIL CAR D G PRI V ORA. On the reverse is a farmer wearing a short coat and a hat, holding a stick, two dogs in front of him, a field above and to the right. Above: AMOR AD GREG FAC ME DUC, below: I I D RE PF, which means Iohann Iacob Dietzel who was countermaster 1711-1748. RE PF means Rechenpfennig [i.e. counter].
Willem was elected stadtholder of the Netherlands in 1747, but I guess the counter may have been struck long before that while he was still a local ruler.

I wonder how this thing ended up in Östergötland. It wouldn't buy anything even in the Netherlands, and certainly not in Sweden. It's perforated for a string, so I suppose someone may have taken it home as a souvenir and worn it as an ornament. When found, it was folded into a strip of thin copper sheet. Technically, this would qualify the find as a tiny hoard.

Update 3 May: Professor Kenneth Jonsson tells me that Dietzel was not in fact Willem's employee, nor did he live in the Netherlands. The centre of counter production at the time was Nuremberg, and that's where Dietzel worked. So, why did he make counters with Willem's image? Actually, he made counters depicting pretty much anyone of the era's celebrities.

Update 4 May: Adds Monica, "During the 18th century the counting method was gradually abandoned, but counters were still manufactured and instead used more as chits for card games. They are very common in Swedish finds."

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Viking Period Disc Brooch

Here's one of the prettiest finds we made in Östergötland over Easter. It's an early 10th century disc brooch executed in the Borre style and cast in copper alloy. Most likely it's from a ploughed-out inhumation grave. The remains of the iron pin are still on its back side, showing that the pin has rusted in a locked position as when the brooch was fastened to a lady's dress. On the back side are also remains of a cast loop near the edge to fasten a bead string or a fine chain to hold small utensils.

Identical brooches are known from the proto-town of Birka in the Lake Mälaren area, where this piece may very well have been made. Ingmar Jansson calls the type II A4.

The relief decoration is a bit obscured by verdigris, but it'll look great after conservation. I'll try to remember to put up a new pic when it's done.

Jansson, I. 1984. Grosse Rundspangen. Arwidsson, G. (ed.). Birka II:1. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde. KVHAA. Stockholm.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Thirty-something pop listeners like myself are all in a tizzy over The Raconteurs, a supergroup featuring Jack White of the White Stripes, Brendan Benson of solo fame, and the rythm section of the Greenhornes, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. To some listeners, White's and Bensons's collaboration is kind of like if Lennon and McCartney had begun recording together for the first time in 1975. Both as to artistic importance and specific content.

The album Broken Boy Soldiers (release date 16 May) is guitar-based power pop with harmony singing and a few studio tricks. Singing-wise, White's salt and Benson's sweetness meld beautifully. And Messrs Lawrence & Keeler are inventive and smart beyond the call of duty. Turn the bass up!

To rattle off a few band names, I'm sure fans of the Beatles, Big Star, White Stripes and Benson's solo work will be very happy with this album. It's music for middle class kids of the 70s, and consequently I'm pretty sure it'll be on the soundtrack of quite a few late 00s childhoods. I'll try to catch the band when they play in Stockholm on 6 July.

On a confessional note, I should say that judging from a Google search, I seem to be the only one who has thought of calling the band The Raccoon Turds. I wonder if I should be proud or ashamed of myself.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Book review: Allen, Lisa's Dad

The screen of my handheld computer measures 59 by 44 millimetres. Reading anything long on it is a bastard. But the other day I had nothing tangible to read on the train, so I had a go at a novel I'd happened to pluck from the net and stick on the handheld.

Michael Allen is an English novelist, playwright and editor. He also runs the enjoyable blog The Grumpy Old Bookman, treating mainly of the fiction publishing business. And that's where I learned of his own recent novel, How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous.

This book is available freely in PDF format in order to give readers a chance to check it out before buying the paper version. The file's a snapshot of this paper version: no e-reader amenities here. So to read it on my Qtek's dinky screen I have to find exactly the right zoom ratio to accommodate a line of text in 59 millimetres, I have to centre the page properly, and I have to scroll past the white space at the top and bottom of every page.

Let's just say that due to technology, this book does not have an easy way to this particular reader's heart. But I'm currently on page 141.

It's a great little novel! The near-contemporary small-town English setting and the wry tone reminds me of Sue Townsend, who is a big favourite of mine. Lisa's Dad unfolds beautifully from an artfully cloudy beginning, new pieces of information being offered at exactly the pace necessary to make the book a page turner. And it has excellent characterisation. And it takes the piss out of the media business.

What's the book about? To avoid spoiling anyone's fun, just let me say that it's the first-person account of a man who has participated in a seriously weird reality TV show, and who wants to set the record straight about what actually happened. The story revolves around his relationship to his co-star and the show's producer.

I have a feeling I'll be ordering a paper copy of Lisa's Dad and giving it to someone who's unlikely to download it from the net.

Allen, M. 2006. How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous. Kingsfield Publications. ISBN 1-903988-14-4.
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Chatwin Dandruff Cure

I regularly use anti-dandruff shampoo and it often makes me think of Bruce Chatwin.

Chatwin (1940--1989) was a writer, photographer and antiques aficionado, best known for his delightful books In Patagonia and The Songlines. Travel and the nomadic nature of humankind are central themes. One of Chatwin's jaunts took him to southern China in 1985, where he contracted a fungal infection (Penicillium marneffei) that is rare among otherwise healthy humans. Chatwin's immune system, however, had been weakened by HIV, as mentioned here before.

When his illness was diagnosed, Chatwin was put on the fungicide drug ketoconazole. To all appearances, this postponed his demise considerably.

And ketoconazole is also the active ingredient of my anti-dandruff shampoo. The unsightly skin condition is caused by microbial fungi that seem to thrive under the woollen hats that all Swedes have to wear in wintertime to avoid freezing their ears off.

Mr Chatwin, you are fondly remembered in my bathroom.

Shakespeare, N. 1999. Bruce Chatwin. Random House.
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The Fornvännen Centenary

One of the two journals I have the pleasure to edit, Fornvännen, celebrates its centenary this year. We marked volume 100 with a seminar in Stockholm last autumn, the proceedings of which have just appeared as a special issue of the journal. Here are the contents.
  • Evert Baudou on the state of Swedish archaeology in 1906, with an emphasis on Oscar Almgren's and Oscar Montelius's activities.
  • Stig Welinder on Fornvännen's importance for the country's first female archaeologists.
  • Kerstin Lidén on the use of methods from the natural sciences in Fornvännen.
  • Lars Larsson on Stone Age studies in Fornvännen.
  • Thomas B. Larsson on Bronze Age studies in Fornvännen.
  • Ingmar Jansson on Ture J. Arne and Fornvännen's contacts with the East.
  • Lena Liepe on studies of Medieval art in Fornvännen.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Swedish Look at Six Feet Under

I rarely watch TV, but every once in a while I get hooked on a good series and follow it religiously. Twin Peaks, The X-Files, A Touch of Frost, and in recent years, Six Feet Under. Swedish national TV just finished airing the fourth season. It's a lavishly produced American drama series revolving around a small family-run funeral home in the suburbs of San Francisco. Top-notch writing and acting. Every episode begins with someone dying, their corpse and mourners ending up at the funeral home.

Such a setting may seem outré in itself, but the writers also go out of their way to transgress almost every conservative value in the book. They apparently hold very few things sacred, including friendship, love, loyalty and common humanity. The series is aimed squarely at Democrats and counterculture aficionados. Six Feet Under is full of gay sex, straight sex, extra-marital sex, recreational drug use, profanity, adultery, promiscuity and blasphemy. But it also explores no end of relationship issues: marriage, divorce, re-marriage, aging boomer dating, gay cohabitation, parenting, siblinghood, friendship, co-workerhood, mental illness, and, of course, the death of your loved ones.

I thought I might point out a few things about the series that strike a Swede like myself as exotic. They seem to map the writers' assumptions about their intended (clearly primarily American) viewers. The funny thing is that a lot of material that must be pretty shocking to the home audience just passes by unnoticed by secularised Swedes.
  • The importance of family. Even this shocker series doesn't question the importance of family ties. Nobody united by family can have a lukewarm relationship here. Myself, I'd have to check the phone book to find out exactly where my kid brother lives.
  • The importance of religion. Yeah, I know, Americans. Religion is a really big issue. The viewers are assumed to believe in a higher power of some kind, but not to be orthodox about it. Atheism is rarely mentioned but tends to be portrayed as unfulfilling for its adherents. Conservative Christians are ridiculed.
  • Single custody of children after divorces. In Sweden, the children of divorced couples generally live half of the time with either parent. Single custody is a last resort when something's really wrong.
  • The ubiquity of cannabis. I'm 34, and I can count the times I've actually seen pot on the fingers of one hand. But in Six Feet Under, people of all ages get stoned more often than J.R. Ewing used to drink bourbon in Dallas.
  • Mortuary display. In San Francisco, apparently all corpses are embalmed and tarted up for public viewing. At Swedish funeral services, the coffin is closed as a rule, and embalming is rare.
In the first season, there were a lot of daydreamy or magical-realism scenes where dead people would move around and talk to the main characters. Not in a spooky horror-flick way, mind you, but edgy and disconcerting nonetheless. Sadly, there's been far less of that lately. I blame some too-literal-minded focus group.

In its fourth season, Six Feet Under was still gripping and fun. But I like it weird and gripping and fun.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Fieldwork in Östra Husby

The Vikbolandet peninsula in Östergötland is full of rich Viking Period finds and interesting contemporaneous place names. But they don't form a core concentration anywhere: things are nebulous. So when I drew up the list of sites me and my colleagues have been metal detecting lately, I didn't have an obvious candidate site for a princely seat on Vikbolandet. I chose a site with a 9th century rune stone in Östra Husby, a parish whose name shows it to have had a royal mansion in the 11th century (immediately after the period I'm studying, AD 400-1000).

Today I drove down to Vikbolandet and put in five hours of solitary metal detecting within a radius of 200 m from the rune stone. Very varied weather, with sunshine and rainfall and wind and rainbows.

And I identified a previously unknown prehistoric site. But it's several millennia older than the stuff I'm looking for: it's a ploughed-out Stone Age settlement visible as a scatter of knapped quartz in the ploughsoil.

Quartz was a low-budget surrogate for flint in large parts of Sweden, and it's really hard to understand as a finds category since it fractures in an almost random way. You need to be a far better knapper to make quartz do what you want than is the case with flint. So people seem simply to have bashed at quartz pebbles until something sharp and useful resulted, leaving enormous amounts of shapeless debitage for posterity.

Of the 1st millennium AD, no sign so far. The oldest datable metalwork is 18th century.

I'm staying with a charming old couple, both retired school teachers, whose acquaintance I made last summer while digging at Skamby. We had a lovely evening tea together, chatting, cleaning the finds and identifying the day's coins. I'm in their spare room. Let's see if I can get this blog posting on-line despite the flaky cell reception here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Beer and Football with the Girls

Something's happening to the gender connotations of football. That's soccer to you transatlantics. The streets in my area are closed to cars and kids play there all the time. And this spring I'm seeing a lot of ten, eleven, twelve-year-old girls playing football.

They're passing the ball among themselves, they're practicing keeping the ball in the air with feet and knees, sometimes they play ball with the boys. And these little girls are no tomboys: very feminine young creatures, all long bangs and pink sweaters.

Football, of course, has no innate value over other sports that the girls are now finally gaining access to. But it does have some perks, not the least of which are the spectator numbers and advertising money involved in pro football. And I'm thinking "hasn't there been a lot more lady sports than before on TV lately?".

(I am really out of my depth here, knowing nothing about sports and only ever watching TV when it's Six Feet Under or Little Britain.)

I wonder what happens now. An optimist would say that soon female athletes will make as much money and get as much air time as male ones, now that little girls have gotten this arena opened to them. A pessimist might reply that no, now that women are getting seriously into football, the male spectators and advertising money will move on to some as-yet untainted male realm, such as motor sports.

Anyway, it's lovely to see these kids playing ball. And it's good to know that football will be an option to my daughter that wasn't on the menu for the girls of my generation. I'd hate to see her choices unnecessarily circumscribed.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Death to the Makers of Aluminium Bottle Tops

Dear Reader, wouldn't you agree that aluminium bottle tops are among the most vile and hateful things in life?

What? You don't have a very passionate relationship to these little metallic pests? Then I must enlighten you.

I'm writing this sitting on my haunches in a field in Östergötland. I've spent the day metal detecting, and never before have I done so much digging in vain. Bottle tops. All over the fookin' place.

Many metal detectors, including my own, tell the user what sort of metal a buried object is made of, using a tone of varying pitch. Iron is heralded in basso and baritone, lead in a strident tenor, and then there's the dulcet tones of the alto and soprano. These ladies announce the presence of metals we like: copper alloys such as brass and bronze, precious metals such as silver and gold -- and the hell-spawned aluminium. Oh, Les Baux, so much to answer for!

Metal detectors are tuned to react strongly to thin and wide things, such as coins, brooches, buttons and bottle tops. This means that a silver coin and a bottle top sound pretty much the same. Aargh and gaah, as it is often said.

Kenth actually found a 17th century silver coin this morning. Then he and Tim went home to their lady wives, leaving me in a beeping desert of bottle tops.

Evil, evil beyond description is the bottle top. I'm sticking it out for a few more hours.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fieldwork in Västra Tollstad

I just performed a convoluted stunt in order to pay our hostel bill.

1. Walk through drizzle to cash machine. Find out not enough on cash card.

2. Walk back to hostel, get laptop.

3. Drive to free wifi, log onto bank computer, transfer money to card.

4. Drive to cash machine, get cash.

5. Drive back to hostel, pay bill. Phew.

Spent a cold and windy day under intermittent drizzle in Västra Tollstad parish at one of the heaviest classic sites of Östergötland, a very strong candidate for a late 1st millennium princely seat. Found surprisingly little, though. A few pieces of 10th century jewellery from a previously known ploughed-out cemetery, signs of iron production, lots of aluminium bottle tops.

Tim & Kenth are working half of tomorrow with me before going home for easter celebrations. I'll stick it out until evening and then go home with the car full of great new source material. I'm really lucky to be able to live and work the way I do!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fieldwork in Hagebyhöga

This project is turning out to be kind of a fevered road movie of Östergötland's coolest 1st millennium sites. This morning we wrapped up in Kaga, and it's official: we have a profusion of fine metalwork and evidence of metalworkING, so this is most likely one of our sought-after princely seats And I haven't even mentioned the topography, the place name or the visible monuments there. Just incredible.

After a visit to another local magnate, the Burger King, we zipped off to Hagebyhöga parish. The start was slow here, tricky rapeseed sprouting on the ground and enormous amounts of iron in it, and morale started to flag. Then -- BAM -- we ran into a ploughed-out 10th century inhumation cemetery. Bee-yoo-tiful metalwork in obscene numbers. Tim went apeshit and surpassed himself with his machine while I ambled off and checked out the remainder of the search area. To no avail.

I decided to cut our 20 hours short at 14 here, because nice though the grave finds are, they're not really what I'm looking for and they cost a tidy sum to conserve. So we had shish kebab in Skänninge and went home to Mjölby to clean the finds.

BTW, I've found free wifi outside an apartment building a short drive from our hostel, so that's where I get my mail to the laptop. But I'm writing this on the PDA to post it to the blog via GPRS.

Time to call home and have a shower. Tomorrow another day and another classic site.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fieldwork in Kaga


This morning we wrapped up our 20 man-hours in Sjögestad, aided by colleagues from the county museum. Thar's no gold in them fields, so now we can strike Sjögestad from the list of potential Dark Ages royal seats.

Things are looking much better at the site in Kaga parish that we moved on to after lunch. Tim's been on a small-finds high all day. Took him ten minutes to find a 5th century cruciform brooch, and then he went on to nab every single worthwhile find of the day. A 6th century small-equal-armed brooch, a 7th century punch-decorated strap end mount, a flattened spheroid weight, part of a punch-decorated finger-ring, a little bell and another 17th century coin. And endless brass buttons & scrap, of course.

Me and Kenth are using identical C-scope brand detectors, Tim has a White machine. But he also has much more experience with his machine, so it's hard to tell the main reason for his success. I'm not complaining, long as someone gets the goods out of the ground!

We worked late and had a really glamorous dinner at Ikea's checkout. Yes! Two vego pizza slices with soda for only 20 kronor! Feasting like Viking kings.

Beddie time. Kenth snores like a cave bear in there. Lucky I brought plugs.

Fieldwork in Sjögestad


After a rare night of poor sleep I woke into a snowy morning. Kissing the beautiful ladies of my family goodbye, I lugged my stuff down to the car and drove for 2½ hours to Linköping. The snow cleared off pretty soon. I was entertained by the BBC's digital tech podcast, a reading of Kerouac's On the Road and R.U. Sirius's podcast with an interview of sex-ed podcaster Violet Blue. She's got a really nice laugh.

Sirius also played an excellent psychedelic mashup of Dolly Parton singing "Stairway to Heaven" (!), Annie Lennox singing "This City Never Sleeps" and the Beatles singing "Because" and "The End". All elegantly knitted together by someone who calls themselves DJ Earworm.

Kerouac and his buddies, male and female, were of course, by definition really, extremely out of it. Self-absorbed junkies. I pity their kids. But he writes well -- even though it's frustrating to hear/read about these people bumbling around, entirely unfit for adult life. Grow up, you silly bastards!

Picked up the metal detecting permit in Linköping and went to Sjögestad church where I found my friends Tim Olsson, of owl-accident fame, and Kenth Lärk. They'd come up from Gothenburg with their detectors. Off we went to the site, donned bright orange attention vests, and put in 13½ manly man-hours of metal detecting. It's not the first time these guys come up to work with me in their free time, and I'm very grateful.

I'm looking for the late 1st millennium elite of Östergötland. The petty kings, if you like. The courts of their peers in other provinces are best identified by the profusion of metalwork strewn across the sites. What caught my attention at Sjögestad was a group of undated great barrows east of the church, one of them named Lustigkullen, "the Merry Barrow". (Maybe something to do with mid-summer revels?) I'm going back in September to try to get some datable charcoal from under the periphery of the largest barrow.

But we didn't find our Geatish princelings today. After cleaning the finds, we decided to keep only four of them: a broken 18/19th century silver thingy, a 17th century copper coin, the leg of a 15/16th century brass cooking pot and the decorative bronze head of a 10th century dress pin. A Viking Period find is of course nice, but I highly doubt that a single dress pin would have impressed the aristocrats I'm chasing.

We still have quite an area to cover in Sjögestad tomorrow morning, so we'll see what turns up. And then the permit covers another five sites...

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Sunday, April 09, 2006


Today I helped my oldest friend David and hos wife Åsa move house. It was easy: very little furniture, a short distance and a pretty big team of movers.

The movers made me feel avuncular.

David, Åsa and I are in our mid-30s. But David has a lot of friends that are quite a bit younger. There was this young couple: early-to-mid 20s, no crow's feet, unbelievably slim, incredibly sweet and obviously very much in love. They spoke of studying, working temporary jobs, going to rock festivals, having gotten their first shared apartment. It was sheer avuncular joy seeing them together in the early spring sunshine. And they were alien to me.

So I realise that I'm really not a kid anymore. I'm even starting to feel weird looking at women without crow's feet in the street. Gotta get myself an academic job so I can cultivate my newfound avuncular mode with the students.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Gay Grater

Dear Reader, I am a screaming fairy.

Aha, say you, Dr Rundkvist is of the limp-wristed persuasion. I take it he engages in, ah, candy compression with his fellow man? He is no doubt a virtuoso of the salami saxophone?

No, I am sorry to disappoint some of you: I do not spoon with the spunky or undress with the andromorphous. But I am truly a most falsetto-tittering ponce.

Aha, you smirk knowingly, so this Martin is an aficionado of ladies' apparel! A bosom buddy of bustiers? No -- no -- it's a drag, but seldom in fact have I appeared in womanly finery, and then only in theatrical situations. But, believe me, I am an utter and unabashed effeminate.

Well, you query in tones of incomprehension, wherein lies this over-touted fruitiness of yours? Do you shave below the level of your larynx? Do you change curtains with the seasons? Do you at least own a Barbra Streisand CD and DVD boxed set? No, no, no, and most regretfully no.

But, Dear Reader, I am still far-more-than-a-bit like that, I'm "as gay as a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide" (Gaiman and/or Pratchett). Behold!

I am the owner of a small grating iron dedicated to nutmeg! Yes! I bought it myself, to save the trouble of cleaning the multipurpose grater! Haha! I revel in glorious nancy-boyishness! I defy anyone to outgay me! Haha! Cosseted and uncloseted am I, owner of a gay grater -- and proud of it!

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Quitting the Siege Game

Today I attended the annual seminar of the Swedish Stronghold Society, Sällskapet för Svenska Borgstudier. It's always interesting and the people are very nice.

One detail got to me. We learned about a stronghold in Latvia that had been besieged by Russian troops in the time of Ivan the Terrible, the 16th century. Things started to look grim for the defenders, and they had heard stories of what it was like being captured by Ivan's troops. So someone decided they'd be better off dead. Particularly the women and children. There was no shortage of gunpowder in the stronghold.


According to written sources, 300 women and children died in the blast. And recently, excavations have uncovered victims: the skeleton of a woman sprawled on top of the skeleton of a child. That part of the keep was never re-built afterwards.

And I suddenly realised that I wouldn't think twice myself. I'd happily shelter my kids with my body if it looked even remotely like it would improve their chances.

Wow, I guess I'm a dad!

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lindroth and Foucault

I learned a piece of entertaining trivia the other day. One of my heroes, rationalist historian of science Sten Lindroth (1914-1980), worked at the university of Uppsala. For about a year in the early 50s, he had a Frenchman among his students named Michel Foucault. Yes, the Michel Foucault. Who cannot by any yardstick be called a rationalist. I hear the two gentlemen did't like each other much.

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First People

As mentioned here before, Scandinavia has a very short cultural history because of the inland ice. No Lower Palaeolithic here: our archaeology starts with the ice melt, only about 10 000 years ago where I live. Any traces of earlier human occupation were scraped off by the ice.

At least that's what most archaeologists believe. But Swedish quaternary geologists have an inkling that there may actually be an archaeological thing or two left that are way older. In the issue of Fornvännen that reached subscribers yesterday, my friend Jens Heimdahl has a paper on the strongest of these indications. Writes Jens:
A geological report from 1964 describes traces of a possible hearth and a wooden stick that appeared modified, found in stratigraphic position below 3 m of glacial till. The discovery was made in 1938 during the digging of a well on the small island of Mårtensön (currently called Laduholmen), in the eastern part of Lake Orsasjön, Dalecarlia, Sweden. ... A radiocarbon analysis of one of the sticks indicated an age of >40 000 years BP, i.e. past the lower date limit of the radiocarbon scale.

In 1964 [geologist Gösta] Lundqvist organised an excavation at the site. The trench exposed a dark silty sediment, with a stick in vertical position, under glacial till, 2.9 m below the modern surface. The sediment was radiocarbon dated to >40 000 BP.

... A possible correlation based on pollen composition between Mårtensön and Öje (a site c 50 km to the southeast) was made in 1988. The site at Öje was allocated to the Holstein interglacial in 1990.

So far the finds from Mårtensön seem to have been unknown to archaeologists. Laduholmen/Mårtensön holds an unrealised potential from both a geological and an archaeological perspective.
The operative word here is "interglacial". It means between the ices. Between the last Ice Age and the one before that. A time before Homo sapiens had ventured out of Africa.

If there really are traces of human activity at Mårtensön, then we seem to be dealing with Sweden's first documented Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal site. So I can hardly wait until Jens goes there with a big excavator!

Heimdahl, J. 2006. Spår av en mellanpaleolitisk befolkning i Sverige? Förnyad granskning av Mårtensöfynden 1938 och 1964. Fornvännen 2006:1. KVHAA. Stockholm.
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Taking My Work Underground

Issue 2006:1 has just appeared of Grottan, the journal of the Swedish Spelunking Society. I've got a piece in it titled "Today's cave people can find the cave people of antiquity”, available here in Swedish.

Very few archaeological deposits are known from Swedish caves. The best-known one is Stora Förvar on a small island off the coast of Gotland, whose thick layers were excavated in the late 19th century. The artefact finds, mainly dating from the Mesolithic and Neolithic, were published in 1913. Most of the copious bone finds have yet to be analysed, though much work has been done on them by my friend Christian Lindqvist and others.

We know very little about the country's caves from an archaeological point of view. They're hardly ever touched by land development, and very few Swedish archaeologists are spelunkers. My idea is that if we want to know what's under the modern floor of those caves, we need to work with the amateur spelunkers. In my Grottan article, I describe how to dig a square meter test pit in 10 cm spits, sieving the spoil, and what sort of finds to search for. Hopefully, myself and a couple of interested colleagues will start to get pictures of cave finds sent to us. And you, Dear Reader, will get to see a few of the best ones.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Spring Here -- Blackbird Evensong

Oh, still my heart -- I just heard the year's first blackbird serenade! I opened the kitchen window a crack and listened to it while having my evening sandwich and cup of rooibos. I love the blackbird. It sings at the most unsettling time of the year.

These spring and early summer evenings, when the light never really fades and the blackbird sings its heart out... They fill me with a nameless urgency, a desperate itch for something I can't put words to. Watching myself dispassionately from outside, I can see that it's just the spring rut. But from the inside of my little mammal brain, oh man, it feels like I'll have to walk to Kamchatka to ever find peace again.

Turdus merula, "solitary thrush". In Swedish it's koltrast, "coal thrush". I hope to hear it on my deathbed one day.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bengt Händel 1925-2006

The name Bengt Händel probably rings a bell with anyone who has ever worked with Swedish prehistoric finds. Händel was staff draughtsman at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm from 1954 to 1990, drawing innumerable finds in his characteristic pointillist style: "dot shading". Händel passed away at the age of 81 earlier this year on 13 January. But unpublished drawings of his will continue to appear in print for decades. Jan Peder Lamm and I published a few last year in Fornvännen, for instance.

Händel often worked at a magnified scale, giving a superhuman level of detail when the drawings were shrunk for publication. This is the graphical equivalent of George Martin's faux-classic piano solo on the Beatles song "In my life": it was recorded at a lower pitch and speed, and then the tape was speeded up to create the Haydn-on-meth effect heard in the song.

There have been three great staff draughtsmen at the museum, each representing a typical style. Olof Sörling's drawings were generally reproduced by xylography, wood engraving. His successor Harald Faith-Ell worked mainly with ink washes and his work was reproduced by photography. And then came Bengt Händel with the dot shading, whose manner is continued by the current staff draughtswoman, Cecilia Bonnevier, and by my friend Stefan Kayat, freelance draughtsman and musician. I am proud to have images drawn by all of these people in my doctoral thesis.

The picture above is Händel's drawing of a gold bracteate (c. AD 500) from a grave at Barshalder on Gotland. This particular bracteate is an example of a local burial custom where mourners would snip away the loop and decorative brim of a bracteate, producing something that looked like a Roman coin. This was probably intended as payment for a spectral ferryman.

Hedman, Sara. 1999. Sörling, Faith-Ell och Händel -- tre tecknare i Akademiens tjänst. Fornvännen 1999:3. KVHAA. Stockholm.

Holmqvist, Wilhelm. 1977. Vår tidiga konst. Stockholm.

Lamm, Jan Peder & Tegnér, Göran. 2006. Bengt Händel in memoriam. Nyhetsbrev för personal vid Statens Historiska Museer 77. Stockholm.
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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Attracting a Following

Dear Reader, as you may have gathered from this blog, I pay huge attention to its visitor stats. I'm more of an amateur journalist than a diarist here: I want readers. And, I'm happy to say, readers I'm gettin'!

Yesterday was the first time Salto sobrius had over 100 returning unique visitors. This means that there are more than 100 people who have read the blog more than once.

Yesterday also marked the end of the blog's third full calendar month. This makes it easy to calculate average hit rates. Let's look at the average daily number of returning unique visitors for the past three months.
Jan: 22 returning readers a day
Feb: 34 returning readers a day (Jan+11)
Mar: 43 returning readers a day (Feb+9)
Guys, thank you! You're making this worthwhile. If I can have a wish, it'll be for more comments. Fire away! My writings here should make it clear that you don't have to be perfect to honk your horn.
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