September Pieces Of My Mind #2

Directed three days of metal detecting, with occasional rain. Photo Cheyenne Olander.
  • Reading about the insane US firearms situation, I’m glad to be living in a country where it’s illegal to even carry a knife in public unless you’re a carpenter or a hiker.
  • Heritage outreach through civil disobedience. Someone local in Aska has replaced the decades-outdated sign with a new one using information from a handout I gave them at a talk one month ago!
  • I don’t think it was very nice of Marc Bolan to tell his girlfriend that she was built like a car.
  • My metal detectorist friends did 132 hours of unpaid skilled labour for my project today. That’s over three weeks full time. Same tomorrow. Same on Sunday.
  • Ridiculous shame memories. This one really takes the cake. I’m still embarrassed about telling my friend’s mom when I was ~11 that this song changed time signatures when I meant that it upped the tempo.
  • It’s odd to constantly be reminded about that author’s feud with that identity movement when I have vaguely positive feelings about both but don’t really care much about either.
  • Movie: In Bruges (2008). Buddy movie with intentional and unintentional gang murders in the titular Flemish city. Ralph Fiennes speaks good Cockney. Grade: OK.
  • Funny how US reenactors don’t have Medieval fairs, they have Renaissance fairs instead.
  • Prepping to run my first scenario in the Ashen Stars gritty space opera RPG. I’ve only game mastered once since the 90s. Feeling good about it!
  • In scientific papers, “acidic” usually means “hallucinatory”.
  • Writing an anonymous peer review statement, referring the author to my PhD thesis (not gratuitously), correcting an error that Rundkvist 2003 made.
  • I’m directing a He-man remake set in Jamaica, where he fights Selector, an evil reggae DJ.
  • I think it was Terry Pratchett who wrote that large libraries bend and occasionally break space-time. I just found evidence of this. Ing-Marie Pettersson Jensen’s PhD thesis was published in 2012. The Royal Academy of Letters’ library is one of Northern Europe’s largest specialist research libraries for archaeology. There the book is stickered and shelved “02/1165”. That is, it entered the library ten years before it was printed.
  • Jrette asked me to drive her & her young fellow to a convenient trail head on the Sörmlandsleden hiking trail.
  • I’m so very tired of people’s political idiocy.
  • Talked to a new acquaintance at a potluck. “You’re very sociable, aren’t you? Are you perhaps a salesman?”
  • My dad gave me this classic 60s or 70s Fjällräven hiking backpack. A little grimy but fully functional. I’ve taken it apart, washed it and polished the rivets.

September Pieces Of My Mind #1

In nearly twelve years in this house I can’t recall any previous bird collisions against the windows. This female blackbird (Turdus merula) never knew what hit her. Makes me sad! It’s one of my favourite species, visible and audible all year around our suburb. Lucky the nesting season is over, at least.
  • “You might be thinking, and I could not blame you, that it is more plausible that Emanuel Swedenborg was having schizophrenic episodes than that the schizophrenics were having Swedenborgian episodes.” Mary Roach, Spook
  • Yay, legendary game designer and raconteur Ken Hite recommends my castles book in the Ken & Robin backers’ newsletter!
  • Shit’s getting weird here. Facebook just served me an ad for a New Age ayahuasca snorting event in Stockholm.
  • Went yacht racing with my daughter and she was at the helm throughout. ❤
  • Post-WW3 fiction often features high tech that still works. I envision a post-war world where no electronics work at all. You’ll be knapping arrowheads from iPads and scavenging iron for farm tools from crashed battle drones.
  • When I was a kid I believed that any book that many people read would always stay popular, a universally understood reference. Strange and poignant to learn that successful authors can return to obscurity even in their lifetimes. Very Ecclesiastes.
  • Vikings did not cremate people in a burning ship on the sea. It would just have burned down to the water line and dumped a barbecued grandpa on the neighbours’ beach. They burned the dead in a ship on land.
  • A buddy of mine just announced that he’s going to be a grandpa soon. First guy my age in my circle to do so. His son is 21, mine is 22. Woah!
  • Years ago I invented monomolecular filament dental floss. It will cut through teeth, flesh, bone and brain, but by God, it will never ever snap when you try to floss.
  • Yay! You can order jeans in odd sizes online! When I buy them in stores I always have to settle for the right length and a way too large waist.
  • Eddie Herlin did a damn good job of straightening out the gold foil figures from Aska that were folded up or bent. So now they’re going back soon to Björn Falkevik and Cheyenne Olander for a second round of hi-res photographs! All of them are the embrace motif, but there are a couple of really unusual designs there…
  • I’m on Återskapat, the biggest Swedish reenactor’s podcast!
  • I’ve started using the buses and trains occasionally again. I had forgotten how much fun it is to see lots of people!
Go home, Late Medieval Finnish church builder, you’re drunk. (Perttelin kirkko)

August Pieces Of My Mind #3

A windy and rainy racing day. Ingaröfjärden, Nämdöfjärden, Jungfrufjärden.
  • My wife watches clips from the Chinese 1963 Shanghai opera movie Flowers As Matchmakers and sings along in true smurfy style. Suddenly we are very much not in Kansas anymore. 😃
  • Pickelhering or Pickelhäring was the nickname given to the comic character or stage buffoon in English comedy troupes that travelled through Germany in the 17th century. The term literally meant “pickled herring”‘. /Wikipedia
  • The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is a shocking album. Shockingly innovative songs, shockingly bad sound engineering.
  • The talk in Swedish that I gave Tuesday is still online and has had more than 10,000 views so far.
  • If you spray WD-40 onto gaffa tape, then the world simulation crashes and you get to meet the Demiurge.
  • Why, Polish people? Why?! You modify your numerals according to gender!?
  • Wife doing swimming society admin at her friend’s house. Son in Tokyo. Daughter at teen party. Just me and my Kindle and Alistair MacLean.
  • Someone on Twitter expressed intense hatred against the inheritance tax because it works against parents’ drive to help their children. Seemed not to understand that it is cumulative, and that you’re not just giving your own earnings to your kids, you’re perpetuating social inequality by giving seven generations’ worth of accumulated capital to your kids.
  • I’m pushing 50 and the annual death count among my friends and acquaintances has started to rise. Usually it’s like 1/2 or 1/3 a year. Last year it was 3, and this year (because of the pandemic) it’s 4 already in August. I don’t like this.
  • I enjoy shifting my grip on objects single-handedly, by tossing them just slightly into the air.
  • Almost all the resources in archaeology go to the infrastructure intended to make research and outreach possible. Almost none go to actually producing any research or outreach. It’s like building a space station and not hiring any astronauts. We’re producing a lot of good grey literature, but almost nobody gets paid to read it or synthesize it.

August Pieces Of My Mind #2

Guldgubbar, gold foil figures from the Vendel Period 540-790, are tiny and unbelievably detailed. They typically weigh less than 1/20 of a gram.
  • When somebody says foreigners are crap I often think “Really? Then what’s so great about you?” And then I think “Aha, yeah, no, I see”.
  • The late Ed Brayton was one of the original bloggers at in 2006. Always kind to fellow science fans and skeptics, never lukewarm, often very funny. He will be missed, as will his blog Dispatches From The Culture Wars.
  • Reading Vonnegut for the first time, Cat’s Cradle. Awesome!
  • The different chocolates in a box can’t have exactly the same production cost. What if the really good ones are less expensive than the nasty ones? And you could actually have a cheaper box containing only the best ones?
  • Why does Kraven the Hunter have that name? Means “Unwilling to fight; lacking even the rudiments of courage; extremely cowardly.”
  • Woke to have a pee at 04:30, couldn’t get back to sleep because I started thinking about taking another soil sample.
  • Unbelievable that passion fruit and carambole are the result of selective breeding. They’re crap now. Must have been hopeless to start with!
  • When I taught high school Swedish last year I did a lesson on the history of the language where we modernised the 16th century Bible translation’s opening of the Nativity narrative from the Gospel of Luke. I chose this as a possibly familiar passage from a text that was easily available. When we were done I asked the students to read their version out loud, and they did, happily. There was just this one boy who refused. Only afterwards did I realise that he probably did so on religious grounds, coming from a Muslim family. The text had a religious meaning to him that nobody else in the room felt.
  • Reading Alistair MacLean for the first time, Eagles. (Cue shocked gasps.) Incredibly good. I had no idea he was so funny in addition to the thriller aspect!
  • Axel Löfving and Margrethe Watt have begun to identify stamp identities and stylistic parallels for the Aska gold foil figures. The first secure stamp identity is a very, very long way to travel. Two foil figures made with the same die and found at different sites.
  • Hear me talk about my recent Vendel Period excavations in Swedish!
  • Last night’s talk was my 196th since I started counting in 1995. That averages out to about eight talks a year for a quarter century. I’m available for talks #197, 198, 199, 200 etc!
  • I’ve got a small box on my desk. Labels and tape show that first Fryxgames used it to send something to my buddy Johan. Then he used it to send scifi paperbacks from the Fantikvariat to me. Now I am using it to send Vendel Period small finds to a conservator in Kalmar.
  • The pizza & kebab place at the gas station has added a long Thai menu as well. The staff today was a 50ish Middle Eastern man with an accent, a quiet 60ish Thai lady and a 25ish Middle Eastern man with perfect Swedish pronunciation. Integration isn’t just about immigrants learning to live with the Swedes.

August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Front: Klåstad-Klosterstad church site with 11th century wooden church. Grove in middle distance: 1920 burial at Aska, the richest Viking Period grave in Östergötland. Rear: Aska village, Vendel Period platform mound, gold foil figures.
  • Looks like the Falun Gongers camping on Wikipedia are finally going to get the same treatment as the Scientologists got!
  • Woke at 05:15, head revving up with thoughts of feature lists, soil samples and level measurements. We’re backfilling the trench on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Fieldwork nearing its end. Highly informative publishable results. Big presentation to the villagers in 45 minutes. Sunny evening. A calm sense of accomplishment.
  • Feeling victorious and pleasantly tired after hours of returfing and a swim in Lake Vättern in front of Vadstena Castle.
  • Affability means potential for turning into a monkey in German.
  • I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s last novel, Lavinia (2008). It’s a kind of historical fantasy, set in a version of Early Iron Age Italy where the Aeneid is a true story. The book’s nature as a commentary on Vergil’s epic is emphasised by him appearing as a shade from the future to speak with the main character. Though LeGuin was 79 when it appeared, the writing is still strong.
  • Saw a bunch of bats hunting in the pine woods last night at sunset. ❤

July Pieces Of My Mind #3

Vadstena Classic Car Meet
  • In late-90s Stockholm there was a subculture with only two members: bipolar skateboard Goths.
  • I fielded a crew of 19 people today. Think it’s my record.
  • I sat on my reading glasses. They didn’t break. ALL HAIL CLAS OHLSON, LORD OF STUFF!
  • Saw something funny this morning: three playful and inquisitive magpie teenagers interacting with the feral rabbit that lives next to our house. The birds were posturing and nipping at the rabbit while clearly quite afraid of it. The rabbit was pretty cool about it, rolling on its back on a sandy spot, nibbling on the lawn. The magpies were messing in a similar way with some resting wood pigeons in the same spot recently.
  • The orthoceratite casts that erode out of the local limestone look like fragmented dildoes.
  • This is my first student dig where one of the students is younger than my oldest child. I’m afraid I’m still this silly older brother kind of boss.
  • Junior’s latest essay: The Secret Origin of the Action RPG.
  • Jrette and her 16/17-y-o buddies are sailing the Stockholm archipelago in a rented 2-sail 6-bunk yacht. Currently at Sandhamn, safe & happy & damp.
  • I wish café staff would generally know the distinction between flavoured and plain tea. And know that there is a plant named “the tea bush”. I believe there’s a mechanism in play where if a person knows the things I’m asking for, their general level of knowledge is such that they can get better pay somewhere else than at a café.
Vadstena museum railway society. Tram #808 was made in Umeå in 1954.

Gold Foil Figures and Backfilling: Week Four at Aska

The embrace of the ancestors. Photo Björn Falkevik.

We found the first gold foil figures, guldgubbar, on Monday of week 3. Eventually we ended up with 23 of them, though a few may be parts of the same foil. There are only seven known sites with more recovered foil figures than Aska. To avoid unwanted attention during fieldwork, I released this information only after we had begun closing the trench.

Such gold foil figures are the size of a fingernail, made of thin embossed gold sheet, and depict people in sumptuous clothes. All the ones from Aska that I could easily classify belong to the type with a man and a woman embracing. Possibly the divine ancestors of the petty-royal lineage. These miniature works of art are typical of the Vendel Period elite’s mead-halls, c. AD 540-790. Functionally speaking, at several sites they have been found associated with the postholes of the main audience chamber’s roof-supports and the king’s high seat. Perhaps these posts were tarred, and people stuck the foil figures onto them.

Other finds of the week are two whale-bone gaming pieces, reinforcing our impression that the floor layer that we sought in vain has actually been used to back-fill the roof-support postholes and wall foundation trenches.

I’m no longer convinced that the building has more than one phase. That extra line of postholes may just be from the high seat.

We did the last bit of digging Wednesday and then closed the trench. First we dropped modern coins in the deeper sub-trenches, then geotextile, then back with the stone piles, the earth dumps and finally the turf stacks. I hadn’t allocated enough time for this work, forgetting that we had three times the acreage to cover compared to my previous digs at Medieval castles. So we weren’t done until Friday afternoon.

I’ve blogged quite a lot about gold foil figures before.

Sofia and Cheyenne in the roof-support posthole. Photo Ivan Odebratt.

Hearth Eats Students And Turns Into Posthole

Bronto posthole, not bronto hearth

Today Emma Karlsson of the Östergötland County Museum brought a much wished-for RTK-GPS to site and instantly solved the biggest conundrums on our dig. We have Andreas Viberg’s detailed geophys plan of the building we’re investigating. But we have not had an exact GPS device to tell us where we are on that plan when wandering around site.

In our trench we have expected to find three really big sunken features: a hearth in the middle and two roof-support postholes. But we have found only one feature there. Size, shape and surface fill were right for a hearth. Starting from this assumption we have dug around fruitlessly for the postholes. But as Ola Lindgren and his friends went down into our single huge feature, it looked less and less like a hearth. No charcoal. Too deep. WAY to deep. Hey, where are Sofia and Ivan who work on that feature?! Oh, they are no longer visible above ground when they dig.

Enter Emma and her GPS skills. The enormous feature that swallowed the students is one of the roof-supporting postholes. Its original fill of large boulders has been removed, and replaced with something that (as Ola suggests) looks like 20 sqm of trashed floor pavement with sundry dropped objects. The other posthole is sitting three meters away under some innocent-looking soil that we thought were the top of the platform mound. And the hearth is only half inside our trench.

And another thing. The floor pavement they raked into the posthole after tearing the mead-hall down contains nothing that has to date from after the end of the Vendel Period in the 790s. Intensive metal detecting by skilled detectorists across our 200 sqm trench has not turned up a single one of the Islamic silver coins that flood Scandinavia from the 790s onward. Was the Aska mead-hall on its platform mound torn down before the start of the Viking Period? Where then did the royal inhabitants of the village’s extremely rich 800s and 900s graves live? And what were their ideas about the platform mound?

Lesson learned: I am never digging a site with geophys data again without an exact GPS device to tell me where I am on the GPS plot.