Sunday 10 December 2017

Another Julkonferens

The weather has been variable in Stockholm ranging from warm and rainy to chilly and frosty. It was only the beginning of December but the staff of Department of Archaeology and Ancient History came for a Christmas conference. The conference is almost traditional, since it has run with the same format now for three years. During these occasions we hear papers from the new members of the department or about new projects old members have received money for. This year the projects had a geographical breath from Egypt and Central Asia to Stockholm and its archipelago. This was very fitting, since we were having the conference in Kastellum Stockholm on Kastellholm, a small castle from the 19th century that was welcoming the ships to Stockholm.

Thematically, we heard about the projects in the different sections of the department from the cult practices at Mastos in Greece representing the Classical Archaeology and Ancient history to the coin finds from Visby area representing the Numismatic section. There was also a presentation by Fredrik Johnson from the Centre for Cultural Evolution outlining ‘Modelling cultural systems’. Most talks this year were from the Section of (general and Nordic) archaeology, not forgetting those of the ATLAS project.

One of the most interesting new projects is the one led by Alison Klevnäs. Her new project ‘Interacting with the dead’ will study belief and conflict in Early Medieval Europe between 450 and 750 AD. The research will concentrate on the phenomenon of tomb disturbance in the row cemeteries. Case studies that have looked into tomb reopening have shown that this phenomenon is widely present in European row cemeteries during the Merovingian period, but not in all cemeteries. While in some cemeteries a majority of tombs may have been tampered with, in the neighbouring villages the acts of disturbance may be non-existent. The case studies have also pointed out that the removal of objects has been very selective: swords and brooches have been lifted out even if they have been in a sorry state after decomposing. There is also signs of killing objects, which opens interesting vistas for new research into belief systems in Early Medieval Europe.

Another exiting project is from Ingrid Berg who will study moving Abu Simbel. She was quite unlucky with her presentation, since the laptop used to running the PowerPoints did not recognize her external hard drive. Thus, we did not see the nice photos from the 1970s Egypt but we heard about her project to look at the transnational themes in the Swedish participation in moving the temple of Abu Simbel. This talk also brought to the surface some of the memories from our chief who remembered how some building companies were known from their participation in this UNESCO project.

This year the ATLAS project did not present anything about the female Viking warriors or such results. No, their contribution concentrated on the origins of the aboriginal population on the Canary Islands. A study that had been carried out using a proper deductive questioning with several potential hypotheses. The different options for the origins of the population were ranging from Phoenicians or Punic settlers travelling to the islands to the assumed Berber origins of the populations. The genome wide study of the samples of human DNA from the Canary Islands revealed that the population came from northern Africa.

Interested talks were also provided by Damien Huffer who was discussing the current state of his studies into the human remains trade, Mats Bjurström on the ballast origins of the so-called Narverød flint, Magnus Lunge on the mixed traditions of central Scandinavian rock art and Nanouschka Myrberg Burström on the shared values of the original Anglo-Saxon coins and their Scandinavian copies. Some exotic photos were presented by Dalia Pokutta who will study central Asian nomadic mobility by studying a Pazyruk cemetery and its human DNA.

The day of learning was rounded up by Jeff Love from the University Library who is part of the team to help with research data management in the Humanities and Social Sciences. After his very helpful contribution on the repositories we discussed in groups the future of these events and the suggestions for some improvements in working environment. The evening brought a traditional Swedish Christmas Dinner with fish, ham and meatballs on the restaurant ship the Kastellum has for such occasions. A pleasant surroundings for a pleasant meal.

Sunday 17 September 2017

A female viking warrior

I am a bit late with this blog, since most of the bloggers have already reacted to the news that a Viking warrior from Birka is actually a woman. However, I feel obliged to say a couple of words, since the main researchers publishing, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Anna Kjellström, Torun Zachrisson and Maja Krzewińska, sit or have sat in the same floor of the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm as I do. The article had also a series of other co-authors, some of them also from Stockholm, all from the same project, but they are not part of this story I have to tell.

Thir article ‘A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics’ was published earlier this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The material for the article come from one Viking Age grave Bj 581 from Birka, the major trading post in central Sweden in its time, and the reason for its analysis was that it was already controversial before this study. The original find was made in 1877 by Hjalmar Stolpe and consisted of a pseudo-chamber tomb with weapons and two buried horses. The original traditional sexing defined the skeleton female and this was not accepted without hiccups, considering the historical and archaeological context. Even if there are weapons in some female graves during the Iron Age there importance have not acknowledged in connection with warrior identity. Without the osteological analysis, archaeologically the complete and rich warrior assemblage was interpreted in the 1940s and 1980s as a male. Now the authors interpret her having been a full member of a male sphere. She is one of three female burials that are known to lack all associations to the female gender within her burial assemblage. Nevertheless, she did not feature any major pathologies or trauma in her skeleton.

The article has been popularised by several newspaper articles, among them a Daily Mail piece on the first evidence of female ‘Valkyrie’ and a Guardian piece that concentrates on analyzing the assumed gender roles in archaeology. The Daily Mail article mainly gives a run thorough of the facts in the original article, whereas the Guardian article takes as the real story the fact that the deceased was misidentified for a century as a male – even after the osteological analysis. The original article resulted with a series of blog entries the most thorough of which is Howard Williams’s three-part series that analyses not only the original article but also the media and academia response and even attempts to draw conclusions of the public archaeology of death and gender by summarising the comments laid by the public to the Daily Mail and Guardian articles. With such deep pieces available, what is left for me to say?

I can only capture a moment when the four women, some of the main authors of the article, join together at the Department and rejoicing the moment when their research got a media exposure. The table was lid with candles and there were small buns on offer together with a pink drink. Charlotte talked about giving an interview to New York Times and the piece there. They referred to some of the critique they had received and were amazed how the world was not ready for a female warrior. They had analysed the right bones and it was a woman who potentially had travelled at the beginning of her life around the region. I could say they were content with the exposure even if they were not happy with all the content. This is what it is about in the academic world nowadays: you have to get your story out there.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Forms of dwelling

This year saw the publication of my and Phil Mill’s edited volume Forms of Dwelling: 20 years of taskscapes in archaeology. This volume was a result of two different conference sessions, one in the Bournemouth Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference in 2013 and the other in the Nordic TAG in 2014. Naturally, not all participants could not submit work for various reasons. Many people were busy publishing their research in ranked journals and you cannot blame them. You never know when an edited volume actually will come out.

Nevertheless, the most important presenter did send content. Tim Ingold whose idea the taskscape concept was and from whose 1993 article ‘The Temporality of Landscape’ the 20 years was calculated did write a very personal piece on the circumstances in which the concept was formulated. He also explains how he thinks that taskscape is a redundant concept and a landscape incorporates it. He is surprised that the taskscape has been so popular especially in archaeology and how it has taken a life of its own. As an archaeologist I am a bit sad that he did not celebrate his contribution to archaeological theory more but he writes from his own point of view considering he has already long since moved on. His work on lines and meshwork is similarly influential in archaeology.

In a way as a counterpart of Ingold’s article was another very personal piece of work from Andrew Fleming. It was not so much on taskscape, but it was worth publishing from the view point of landscape archaeology and as a personal opinion on certain aspects of archaeological theory. In his article Fleming discusses what he calls a ‘re-humanisation project’, postprocessual way of getting humans into archaeology. His approach is highly critical, coming from a long-term practitioner of landscape archaeology, and he prefers to aim at ‘re-historisation’ of the past, mainly by investigating the relationship between humans and the landscape.

The third paper was not presented in the original sessions but Killian Driscoll was filling a gap between the original creator and later appliers by being one of the users of the concept in the early 2000s. His paper ties the latest research on Mesolithic Ireland to the threads of thought he has had in his research throughout his career. This was kind of finish to the first part of the book and our own article on our ceramiscene concept started a short series of three contributions on classical archaeology, us on ceramiscene and Republican and Early Imperial landscape at Nepi in central Italy, Pirjo Hamari on roofscapes in the Nabatean area in the Middle East and Arja Karivieri on religious taskscapes in Late Antique Athens.

After the classical interlude the papers from the Nordic and British TAGs were presented in a chronological order. The highlights, to name two, included Astrid Nyland’s work on Norwegian stone quarries and Matt Edgeworth’s article on taskscapes, ceramiscenes and flowscapes in the Black Country. Not that the Sámi sacred places or skyscapes are less interesting as the work of Tiina Äikäs and the team led by Tom Gardner showed. The other topics touched upon diachronical landscapes in Norway, Maori landscapes and secret landscapes. The book was finished with a real scoop. The concluding remarks were written by professor Julian Thomas whose work Fleming was criticising. I liked the circularity of actions in the volume and I think these two finished in good terms in the end. They both clearly love theory after all, even if they approach it somewhat differently.

Editing a volume is hard work, but the result was definitely worth it. The cover photos chosen from the material provided by the authors have been beautifully inserted in a three-tone graphic design. We could not be happier how it looks like. The only thing we were wondering was the lack of index. However, the articles were so far apart from their themes that this would have been a lot of extra work for something that would not be as useful as in a monograph or a more focused edited volume. This was not only about Britain or Nordic countries or the Mediterranean.

The book is on same by the Oxbow Books and you can find here.

Monday 1 May 2017

A true innovation

Sometimes you just hope you had got the idea. But somebody else did when it did not even occur to you. However, it does not make you marvel the quality of the original innovation any less. On the contrary, it makes you appreciate the originality of the thinking and the work put into realizing the plan.

Basically, it was a simple idea. A group of scholars take turns in tweeting under a unique hashtag. Everybody gives a presentation in a set time with more or less set number of tweets on their selected subject under a common theme. The other scholars follow the hashtag or like the presenters in order to follow the presentation in real time – or return to an earlier presentation. Naturally, it took an advertising campaign, selecting or approving from abstracts the final presentations and circulating a timetable and people’s handles. The timetable took into account the time difference between Europe and the Americas so that it started with more British presentations and finished with the American ones. This was a set put together by someone who understands how Twitter works, what is possible and how people communicate there.

This was the archaeological Twitter conference on public archaeology, i.e. Public Archaeology Twitter Conference (#PACT) that was imagined by Lorna Richardson. It run on Friday starting at 9.30 am British time and finishing only at 11.30 pm. Everyone got a 15 minute time slot and the subject matter covered everything from the accessibility of archaeology and the gender relations in archaeology and the exploitative nature of labour in early career archaeology to gaming as heritage to the endangered sites in the Middle East and presentations of more traditional field projects. The key note lectures took place the evening before and were given by Professor Shawn Graham from Carleton University and Dr Colleen Morgan from York University. They had slightly more time to their topics about bots in archaeology and a personal view to the poetics of digital archaeology.

Lorna was inspired by the World Seabird Conference so it was not totally original thinking but applying it to archaeology required quick reasoning and adaptation. This all was against a background of some fierce critique towards archaeologists twittering from some corners. As one participant commented, you could take part into a conference from your own kitchen. You can still check the programme and work through the conference now.

I can only say that I did retweet some of the advertising material along the process. I did enjoy the resulting conference as a spectator. Now I have to see if further ideas come out of this.

I should remind people that I and Philip Mills have got the 20 years of taskscapes volume out, but that will require a blog post of its own next week.

Sunday 16 April 2017

The second best

I woke up to act just during the last few weeks of the touring exhibition of the replicas of the grave goods of the tomb of Tutankhamun, named Tutankhamun – Graven och skatterna (tomb and treasures). First I had considered not going due to the high cost of tickets and the fact that the artefacts there are not real, but replicas. But then in the end the curiosity was too much after I got quite good feedback from my colleagues.

The price was high – and higher on Sundays. You can guess which weekday I was visiting the exhibition. The location was unusual. The exhibition had moved to the Magasin 9 in the Frihamn area. I had to consult my map and Google Maps before going. Luckily, nowadays it is easy to check which buses go where online or on a mobile phone app. The SL provided the potential routes to the place.

The exhibition itself is a commercial venture, I believe, even if the Egyptian archaeological authorities are involved somehow and the former chief inspector and minister Zahi Hawass visited Stockholm during the exhibition. A similar exhibition is currently advertised for Dorchester, Dorset, on the Internet, but according to Wikipedia this exhibition is permanent. The web page was almost identical, so the organization behind it is the same. According Wikipedia, the touring exhibition has been in Zürich, Brno, Munich, and Barcelona among other places.

The entrance to the exhibition was slightly chaotic with the obligatory information panels of the Egyptian chronology, the station to deliver the audioguides and the area to queue to the film and through it to the main exhibits occupying more or less the same space. The whole exhibition is based on audioguides and I must say that the texts were at the same time thorough and targeted to the general audience. The number of stops had also been carefully considered and the exhibition lasted about two hours when one listened all the 22 texts and saw the movie.

The exhibits in the area before the movie concentrated on the finding Tutankhamun, how archaeologists found about him and how long it took from Howard Carter to find the tomb. Many have not considered that he was on the trail of the boy pharaoh for about 15 years. Naturally, this section covered the death of Lord Carnarvon and the curse of the pharaoh. The film afterwards also concentrated on Howard Carter and the finding of the tomb. After the film we were presented with the tomb itself so everything proceeded in a chronological order.

The tomb section was a disappointment of the exhibition: one could not walk among the stacked items but only see reproductions at a distance. The spaces presented also omitted the Annex, so not all rooms were reproduced. However, for a non-egyptologist what followed was engaging and spectacular. I am usually a purist and frown somewhat the exhibitions where there are few or no original objects, but here my childhood love of all things Tut won, and I enjoyed the exhibition fully.

I did not find the mask of the Tutankhamun very exciting but I thought the displays got better towards the end where the chariot and the famous throne were presented. These are fantastic objects and the copies will do when presented in a professional matter. I also learned new or forgotten things. I found the fact that an aborted fetus and a stillborn baby had been buried with the boy king very touching and it was revealing to see the copies of the actual small sarcophagi that were very small in comparison with the huge copies of the real Tut things.

Inadvertedly, the exhibits showed how the selection of objects only gives us a glimpse what the real treasures of the pharaohs were. The throne may have been Ekhnaten’s, the baby’s mask was too big and could not be fitted on the little mummy to make it fit the sarcophagus, and there were also other recycled items. This tomb had also been robbed soon after the funeral and all objects in precious metals that were not inside the sarcophagi had vanished. The wooden items covered in leaf gold were left to reflect the splendours of the past.

Was the exhibition value for money (195 Swedish krona)? Well, it was until I check the price of the adult tickets in the Dorchester exhibition. It is £8.99 that would be a price one would have a casual walk through the galleries. With the Swedish price one does spend more time and effort in marveling the exhibits.

Saturday 8 April 2017


Yesterday was a peaceful day until I checked my phone at 4 pm in the afternoon. I was working in the Royal Library (Kungliga Biblioteket or KB to the familiar crowd) in Stockholm and finished making notes on a book. It was almost the time to leave, but I decided to check if nothing new had come to my phone or happened in the world. To my surprise I had both some Messanger messages and a text message. My husband wanted to know how I was and this made me a little surprised. I answered something along the line explaining that I was working in the library. Then I read a message from my boss explaining that a lorry had driven to the crowds and checking if I was in the library. I said yes and started to scan the news.

Donald Trump got the days wrong. He was expecting a terror attack or criminality in Stockholm when there was none. However, suddenly there was an attack against shoppers on Drottningsgatan and a lorry had hit the wall of the Åhlens department store and caught fire. The driver had escaped and people were asked to leave the centre. When I looked out of the window in the library, people were walking peacefully in the park in Humlegården. I could not even hear a helicopter. I was checking the news for a while but then I decided to go.

I had got news that trains were not running and at least one of the underground lines was down. I left the building and found out that it had closed. Men stood to at the side door to see that those who wanted to leave could but that nobody came inside. I was walking like many others in the park and everything was like normally. Except there were guards outside the nearby hotel. And there were hardly any cars. Suddenly a people carrier drove by and I realized it was filled with police in full combat gear. The nearby square was closed and there were armed police and police cars guarding it. A police van had a loudspeaker telling people to go home. Nevertheless, the underground was closed and there was no way to get to the suburbs.

All the bars were closed but an Expresso House was open and I bought a cappuccino and sit down to recharge my mobile phone. I was asked how to get to Sundbyberg, but I could not help. There were very few indications from where the public transport was running. It was clear that the centre was closed. There was only a police van driving on Birger Jarlsgatan. It took a while to get a confirmation which lines where closed and where one could go. Slowly I found out where I could have gone if I had needed to get to the north or to the south. But I was heading west, so I stayed a put. The waiters in the cafeteria were staying since they could not go themselves either.

When almost everybody else had left and my mobile had a decent recharge, I texted a friend and asked if I could pass by. I could so I started a hike through the closed down city centre to the other side. I was not the only one. Many people where making walks through the town with their smart phone on hand to reach home or some refuge. When I passed the police lines I noticed that many were phoning lifts. But I had nobody to drive me.

Suddenly quite amazingly I heard familiar voice behind. Two of my work mates came from a side road and we exchanged pleasantries and continued our different ways. I could stay in my friend’s place so I did not have to face the deserted roads or test how the trains were running after they got a go ahead. My day in the city got a peaceful ending with a shared meal and watching the news coming from the city centre. It was terror, but my terror was quiet and peaceful.

It is horrible to think that four people lost their lives. And many others have lost theirs in the similar attacks in Nice, Berlin and London. The terror was so near, but I did only see the police and the walking crowds. I was sending messages that I was OK, but I had not even been in danger. But other people had and they were not as lucky as I was. I can only feel for their families.

Sunday 2 April 2017

Punk archaeology

John Schofield examines the graffiti left by Sex Pistols
(linked from the University of York page)

This blog should have been written last year, around the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen by Sex Pistols. However, at that point I had not heard John Schofield giving his talk about Sex Pistols and the archaeology related to them. Thus, I am behind my times. Actually, I am quite an archaeologist since I am talking literarily about the past, even it is contemporary past in so many levels.

Sex Pistols and archaeology did make the news – in November 2011. That was the year when Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield published their article ‘The filth and the fury: 6 Denmark Street (London) and the Sex Pistols’ in the journal Antiquity. This article made newspapers to write all kinds of articles on their pages. First the mood was stunned but then some papers like The Guardian got the idea and did not find it infuriating. To be honest, at the beginning they were puzzled and horrified how the archaeologists could compare the drawings of John Lydon, Johnny Rotten, to the Paleolithic cave paintings but after Paul Graves-Brown wrote a piece on their pages. However, the Daily Mail could not quite forget the upset the band caused in their hayday and kept their negative tone.

In the whole saga, Historic England came out as a progressive body. The archaeology Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield had discussed were the drawings on the wall made by John Lydon while the band was living on 6 Denmark Street, the so-called Tin Pan Alley of the music business. The drawings had been found under the wallpaper undamaged and the archaeologists got a change to record them in the nowadays backroom of a guitar shop. They managed to photograph them all in their time there. This archaeology then made one part of the reasons why the building became II* graded listed building – on the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen. That I call being progressive. Although one has to point out that the houses in question are unusually lovely examples of the 17th century traders’ houses that have not survived elsewhere.

These events had totally passed me by until John Schofield came to Stockholm and gave a talk to them. So here you have it: old news with a contemporary twist. John Schofield wants to promote so-called ‘punk archaeology’ that similarly to punk allows all to have a say in heritage. 6 Denmark Road he and his co-author have named anti-heritage because it was anti-establishment. If I understood correctly, their intension is more to let normal people to have say what they see as their heritage than clash with the government. This sound quite a lot of the community projects different bodies have been engaged lately. We could now see crowd-sourcing and crowdfunding as punk. But how bottom-to-top is that in the current heritage climate?