Friday, September 29, 2006

Greed and Buffoonery in Academic Publishing

I agreed to a really crappy business deal today.

For a long time, academic journals from commercial publishers have grown in number and become more and more expensive. Individual scholars can no longer afford subscribing to them at all, and most research libraries have to prioritise strictly when choosing which ones to take. There is a successful resistance movement against these tendencies, Open Access publishing on the net. But culture changes slowly, and commercial journals are still indispensable reading in many fields of inquiry.

Last spring, Cornelius Holtorf at the European Journal of Archaeology kindly offered me a review copy of Martin Carver's massive publication on the excavations at Sutton Hoo in the 80s and 90s. I accepted gladly, I got the book, and recently I read enough of it that I could write a review. Great book on heroic fieldwork, I'm glad to have it. So far, so good.

You never get paid for writing in academic journals. Scholars and journals have a symbiotic relationship where one could not survive without the other. We feed the journals material, and they feed our CVs. A review copy of an expensive book is all the tangible remuneration you can hope for as a contributor. But in this case I had to pay to get my review published.

"Author pays" is a common funding model for Open Access journals. The idea there is that instead of paying exorbitant prices for journal subscriptions, university departments will pay a sum to the OA journal when it accepts a piece of work by one of the department's staff for publication, and the work will then be disseminated for free. But the European Journal of Archaeology isn't OA. It's a commercial product put out by Sage Publications.

After I had written and submitted the review, Sage informed me that in order to print the piece they need me to cede my copyright to them. They try to sweeten the deal by allowing me to use the text in certain ways (including putting it on-line at my web site) once a year has passed after the publication of the piece. But still, what they're saying is that they don't just want to borrow my stuff and print it once for free, like a civilised journal: they want me to give them my stuff for free and then they will lend it back to me under certain controlled circumstances.

This is really silly. Because the piece of intellectual property we're discussing here is not the new Beyoncé record or Harry Potter novel. It's 1400 words of scholarly prose about a book with an estimated readership of maybe 200 people in the whole world. There's no way for Sage to make any money out of owning the copyright. But they will own it once I mail the contract. And I will mail it, because I mildly want to publish in the EJA, and I don't want to cause the unhappy reviews editors trouble. And finally, I understand how little the copyright on this thing is worth. But I find it aggravating that Sage are willing to alienate contributors over such a small value.

I wonder what Sage would do if I broke the contract and, say, put the review on-line the minute the journal was published. It would almost be worth the hassle if they sent lawyers after me over such a pittance, just to see them make fools out of themselves. But I guess all that would happen would in fact be that no more review copies be sent my way from that particular journal. And I guess I could probably live with that too.

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Subjectivity Research

Dan Zahavi

The other day I was checking out job ads at the web sites of Scandinavian universities, when I happened upon something that intrigued me. The University of Copenhagen is looking for a doctoral student in subjectivity research.
Center for Subjectivity Research invites applications for a Ph.D fellowship for 3 years in the area of subjectivity research with special focus on the relation between core self and extended (narrative) self. [...]

The Center for Subjectivity Research is an interdisciplinary research center under the directorship of Professor Dan Zahavi. The fellowship is open to applicants coming from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Projects involving both theoretical and empirical perspectives will, other things being equal, be preferred.

It is recommended that those interested in applying should orient themselves concerning the research program and the activities of the Center by consulting its website:
Neither my core self nor my extended (narrative) self understood any of this. But I had a very bad feeling about it. To someone with my scientific ideals, "subjectivity research" sounds about as good as "contaminated samples studies", "heavily biased sociology" or "studies in sub-atomic physics performed while tripping on acid". So I tried to learn more.

The Center's web site explains that they place particular focus on the question whether subjectivity can be explained on the basis of principles and models that the natural sciences use and accept.
Is it ultimately possible to account adequately for the first-person perspective and the experiential dimension from a third-person perspective? ... The research of the Center is divided into three parts-the first focusing on phenomenology and philosophy of mind, the second on hermeneutics and philosophy of religion, the third on psychopathology. ... An investigation comprising philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and psychopathology is unorthodox. But the complex problem of subjectivity demands an unorthodox approach, one that integrates a diversity of complementary theoretical and empirical investigations.
This, Dear Reader, is seriously spacy stuff. This is Timothy Leary's and Robert Anton Wilson's old turf.

And the Center isn't just a guy with a desk, either. Fifteen people appear to work on the Center's premises, and it's got nine affiliated scholars at departments for Bible exegesis, systematic theology, philosophy, medical anatomy, psychology, neuroscience and mental health, one even being the lit-crit editor of the main Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende! Starting 2002, the state of Denmark (pop. 5.4 million) has been pumping some serious money into this effort. And I don't even understand what it is they seek to achieve. But I like the empirical bit. My fears are pretty much assuaged. This is not likely to be all verbiage.

The Center's director, Dan Zahavi, is only 39, but clearly a hard-working, talented and ambitious man. He's a philosopher of the Continental persuasion, specialising in phenomenology, consciousness studies and the works of Husserl. This suggests that if the Center realises its goal, then it will have a very hard time explaining to people like me exactly what they found out. We just don't speak their language. And it makes me wonder if even the Center's various staff members and affiliates understand each other.

As for "whether subjectivity can be explained on the basis of principles and models that the natural sciences use and accept", well, that's a yes/no question. I should be able to understand the answer to that. Though to my mind it appears implicit in rationalist science that the answer is yes. Because otherwise we would have to believe in discredited old superstitions about an immaterial soul.

I wonder when the Center's answer is due.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jim Benton on Creationism

The Sage of Brooklyn graces this blog with another cool guest entry.
Even If They Are Right They're Wrong
Another Fallacy of "Intelligent Design"

By Jim Benton

I can have a certain respect for honest creationists -- at least the ones that don't claim that evolution is a lying plot of evil godless scientists. We skeptics call them illogical, but that's not quite correct. Their logic is perfectly good, the problem is in their premises. ("Garbage In, Garbage Out" isn't just for computers, it's a general rule for life.)

They simply accept as a premise that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore has to be correct. If other evidence seems to support a long-lived earth and evolution, then sooner or later better evidence will be discovered that will resolve this contradiction. It's actually a perfectly good piece of reasoning.

More to my point, if there were ever to be evidence that the Universe is younger (and smaller) than we believe, that there is a better explanation for the fossil record that would allow it to have been created in a short time, and that species were immutable, then their case would be proven that there was a creator-god. Throw in proof of the Noachian Flood, find the pillar of salt that was Lot's wife and the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah (poor Gomorrah, they always get the short end of the publicity stick. When's the last time you ever heard of anyone being condemned as a Gomorrhaite?) and the bodies of a whole army of Egyptians in full battle array underneath the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds, or anywhere) and presto, you've gone a good way towards establishing the literal truth of the Bible and therefore the existence of the god who wrote it.

Of course the chance of this happening is a good deal less than the likelihood that the six typing monkeys will ever complete their task.

Intelligent Design people are different, because -- where they are not simply creationists who lie a lot (most of them are) -- their argument, even were it to be successful, doesn't prove what they want it to prove. They are arguing that the complexity of the Universe proves the existence of a Creator, and that theism is therefore true. For the time being give them the first part of it. Give them the proof of a Creator.

This goes not one step towards proving the existence of any theistic god, and especially not the one they are, in reality, trying to demonstrate. Deism is a perfectly legitimate position. In fact, in a future post, I'll demonstrate that there is no operational difference, no way of distinguishing between the following:
  • a self-existent Universe,
  • a deistic Creator,
  • a theistic Creator who is still biding his time to communicate with humanity,
  • a theistic Creator whose concern is with the inhabitants of, say, Mizar 7, and who views humanity merely as an unnecessary and unnoticed by-product of his creation, or
  • the "New Agey" concept of "creator and creation being identical", of the Universe as god and god as the Universe.
To establish a theistic god, like the IDers want to do, does not require, and cannot be done through, reasoning.

There are many arguments that attempt it -- unfortunately, a close look at them shows a presupposition for a Universe consisting of Earth and a few lights going around it, a geocentric Universe, and man being co-existent with this Universe. Those that accept to expand this, to argue that the Universe is as big and as old as it is, but that we are the only thinking creatures in it, and thus the only ones worthy of God's attention, fail because they are unable to demonstrate why God needed to be as extravagant as to create a billion galaxies of a billion suns each just for us. Or, if the argument is that there are many races each of whom worship the same god, the trouble is that he also put in that damned speed of light limitation. Until we get round that, we will probably never be able to reach other inhabited planets, and almost certainly never reach another galaxy, so again, why bother with the superfluity of them?

We can't argue our way to a theistic god. A theistic god -- whether a monotheistic creator or just one of the Olympians, Asgard, or whatever -- is one that has interacted with humanity, and the only way to demonstrate that is through evidence. There are plenty of claimed interactions, but none with proof. (And certainly some that are implausible on their face.)

Okay, let me put this as a challenge. There are five key claimed interactions with a god that are the basis of a major religion. Anybody want to give some way of demonstrating that any of these took place?
  • Moses' conversations with God during his lifetime and specifically on Sinai.
  • Paul's vision of the Son of God "on the road to Damascus."
  • Zoroaster receiving the Avesta at the foot of a mountain directly from the hands of God.
  • Mohammed having the Qur'an dictated to him by an angel sent by God.
  • Joseph Smith being guided to the brass plates by God and having them translated by an angel.
And, for the theists out there, if any: remember that you not only have to prove that one of these events took place, you have to prove that the being that interacted with humans was identical with the Creator, and not a demon, a Go'a'uld, or another type of impostor.

(Of course, it is possible to disprove some of these by proving another interaction that, if not central, is confirmatory. Thus it is demonstrable that if any "cure" at Lourdes is authentically the action of God, this makes the idea of the Qur'an untenable. Or it makes God a capricious liar, which also eliminates theism, but that's another article. Any miracle, vision, or other interaction that testifies to the existence of the Christian god which took place in the last century rules out Mormonism, Islam, and Zoroastrianism as well as Judaism. I keep on including Zoroastrianism, not just because I like to show off, but because many of the concepts of both Christianity and Islam in fact seem to have been imported from Persian monotheism and not from Judaism, no matter what is claimed. Satan, for example is much closer to the adversary of the Ahura Mazda than the Old Testament character.)

Similarly, of course, any authentic "Jewish miracle" or revelation rules out the others. Certainly it is possible to accept a progression of revelations, but once a new one comes along, the old ones must be absorbed or thrown out. The idea of a god sitting back and saying, "Oh, we haven't given the Christians a boost for a few years, let's do a miracle for them, then next month we'll toss a vision to the Muslims, and hey, there are still some Zoroastrians in Gujarat, let's give them something too" makes God a liar. Oops! No, the idea that "we all worship the same god in different ways" is only possible if the god we all worship doesn't exist.
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Skeptics' Circle 44

Skeptics' semicircle. Swedish newspaper man Hans Leander and his family in their Stockholm home, late 1920s.

Dear Reader, welcome to Salto sobrius and the 44th Skeptics' Circle! Salto is a blog about archaeology and skepticism and stuff, kept by a Swedish archaeologist. The Circle is a biweekly carnival for bloggers who apply critical thought to questionable stories. On Sunday 1 October I will be hosting the Carnival of the Godless as well, so you'll have to wait until then for entries skeptical about omnipotent entities in the stratosphere. (There will be a whole section on creationism.)

No hell below us, above us only sky. But today we're just going to be skeptical about earthbound issues. Well, planetary ones, to be exact. Here we go.
Aaand that was our carnival, as Steve Eley of Escape Pod is fond of saying. I'm passing the baton on to Karl at The Inoculated Mind, who will host the 45th Skeptics' Circle on 12 October. Until then, remember to do your qi gong exercises, and don't take off your tinfoil hat! The Truth is Out There, you know.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fisksätra School Fire Aftermath

This morning on my way to Kindergarten, I made a detour for the old Lännbo school on the hill. My daughter wondered why we didn't take the usual route, and as we approached she said, enthusiastically, "I smell a hotdog barbecue!". The place wasn't a pretty sight.

What really gets me about this is that according to the news, there have been repeated attempts by teens to burn the place down. Police and fire department were there and put out a small fire only 48 hours before the entire place went up in smoke. Someone has determinedly returned with arsonist's gear day after day until they got a real blaze going.

Why wasn't the place under guard? I guess because nobody took the threat seriously enough. The school was slated for demolition anyway, and nobody lived or worked there. But the cost of guarding it would have been far less than what we'll all have to pay for the 45 people who came on site with fire engines to put out the fire last night. And what we'll have to pay for the criminal investigation.

Having been a non-troubled teen myself, I have never understood troubled ones. "You fucking morons", is all I can say. Impatience and contempt is what I feel. "You useless bastards". And I guess that's really the problem. They really are useless to a society where you need years of training to gain the skills necessary for most of the few jobs that are available. Nobody has any use for a 17-year-old who doesn't want to go to high school. A few centuries ago they would have been apprenticed to learn a trade since they were twelve. I guess now they simply smoke weed, watch DVDs, burn down their old school and kick the shit out of random people in the street.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lännbo School Fire, Fisksätra

The closed-down school on the hill next to our house in Fisksätra is in flames. The fire started two or three hours ago. There are rumours of teens playing with fire up there as early as yesterday. Locals are going out in droves to see the fire, much as if it were fireworks. The smell of smoke is everywhere. Thankfully, no people or inhabited houses appear to be harmed or endangered.

The school used to be named Lännbo after a summer villa from about 1900 nearby. That structure was torn down for the new railroad station around the time the school was built in the 70s. The building currently has no name, as "Lännbo" was transferred to another school in the other end of the housing development. There are plans to demolish the building and erect new housing on its foundations. There will be considerably less old building materials to cart off the hilltop now.

This may be a copycat crime, as there have been a series of fires at Kindergartens in another Swedish town, Skövde, over the past few weeks. I hope they get whoever did this, and fast. I'd rather not have a teen pyromaniac on the loose in my area.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

The recent Swedish elections were won by a right-wing/centre coalition. Political commentators agree that this is largely a social democrat victory in disguise: in order to win, the right-wingers had to adopt a set of politics modelled on those of Tony Blair's New Labour. They out-social-democrated the social democrats.

A lot of seat-shuffling is going on at the moment in Parliament on Helgeandsholmen ("Hospital Island") in the centre of Medieval Stockholm. From a skeptical point of view, this gives occasion to celebrate, but also to grind our teeth a bit.

The right/center coalition took a lot of seats from the left, but there was also a significant reallocation of seats among the coalition's parties. The Liberals and the Christian Democrats lost seats to the Conservatives. And so we say farewell to both of the previous Parliament's creationists, Christian Democrats Tuve Skånberg and Per Landgren.

Less satisfying is the entry of two Green Party parliamentarians who are supporters of non-evidence-based healthcare. Gunvor G. Ericson is known as a great friend of such practices in general, and particularly of those current within Anthroposophy. Mats Pertoft has a history of Anthroposophy activism and is now a member of an organisation devoted to the dissemination of non-evidence-based ideas about cellphone radiation etc., Vågbrytaren.

My politics are lefty green. It's really too bad that the Greens are hampered by tendencies like those of Ericson and Pertoft. Science and tech together with population pressure have screwed up the environment. The only way we can keep the damage from spiraling out of control, the only way we can repair the damage, is with the aid of better science and tech. No spiritual guru or magic potion will do that for us.

Thanks to Jesper Jerkert for info.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Righteous Noodles

We eat a lot of ramen / instant noodles (Sw. snabbnudlar, "quick noodles") at my place. I used to do it all wrong. For two fieldwork seasons I had ramen for lunch twice a week -- just the contents of the package with water added. How bland, how meagre, how boring! A package of ramen is like a package of spaghetti. It's the base of a meal, not a building kit with everything included.

My wife saved me from bland ramen by letting me in on some ancient Chinese lore. To enjoy the noodles, you need an egg (crack it into the boiling pot, stir it around) and some Chinese cabbage (try kimchi), sesame oil, and don't use all the powdered soup stock in the satchet. That makes for a good and filling meal.

By the way: eating Chinese cabbage raw (as it is served in Swedish school lunch rooms) is like eating potatoes raw. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Soup stock satchets keep building up in our kitchen. I'm thinking of sending them anonymously to friends just to outweird them.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ruins of Childhood

If you've ever taken a walk in the woods near a housing area, you've seen them: modern archaeological sites, full of artefacts and building debris, abandoned to the elements in a way that is unusual in the well-organised industrialised world. They're settlement sites of a particular subculture with its own rules and customs, thriving on the fringes of mainstream society. I'm referring to abandoned treehouses.

At these sites you'll see rotting boards and beams hanging from clumsily bent nails on a group of trees, gradually collapsing to the ground. Perhaps some old shag pile carpet decomposing on the forest floor. The woods strewn with an enigmatic collection of objects, haphazardly selected, mostly old household gear. When visiting these sites, I always have the feeling that the inhabitants didn't choose the objects they brought there: they took whatever they were given by someone more affluent and powerful than them. By grownups, in fact.

My eight-year-old son recently told me of a nearby ground-level clubhouse (Sw. koja) he had visited. It has an actual working typewriter. Old useless tech given to the kids, doesn't even need electricity. I wonder what future archaeologists will think when they find the remains of a 1970s Selectric in that context.

These sites and their formation processes reflect children's psychological characteristics. Kids have little sense of order, short memories and strange rationality. They also have no idea that childhood is brief and transient. They will happily fill their treehouses with junk without any thought that they might one day stop coming there. When adolescence strikes and the hormones get going, old childish haunts like these suddenly become the last places they want to visit. So everything is left wherever it dropped the last time someone came to play in the house.

Grownups hardly ever leave their sites that way: we keep any useful stuff and tidy up the place before we leave. Often we will even tear the house down and bring the building materials to our next place of habitation. The grownup type of site most similar to abandoned treehouses is the homeless substance-abuser camp, which is also inhabited by people with thinking impairments. Such sites may be abruptly abandoned when their inhabitants die of overdoses, get thrown into jail or find someone with an apartment who's willing to take them in.

And the treehouse sites are hardly ever cleaned up. In fact, the children's parents often have only a vague notion of where the treehouse is. They may help to build it, but they don't feel responsible for it. It's out in the woods where only children and mushroom pickers see it: out of sight and out of mind. The mess there would never be tolerated in the back yard, just as most Westerners of today feel really uncomfortable in the stench and litter of Third World villages.

So the next time you come upon an abandoned treehouse site, you might give some thought to the fact that you're standing in the ruins of someone's childhood. The children who used the site no longer exist: they're grownups now, living somewhere else, disposing more rationally of their belongings. And some of them very probably have kids of their own now who are wheedling them to buy a few boards and a box of long nails, a rope ladder and some tarred roofing cardboard. And daddy -- can I please have your old drum kit / dough mixer / rollerskates? I'll take them out of your sight.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

18th Century Execution Burials

As part of my research into Late 1st Millennium central places in Östergötland, I'm trawling through the excellent on-line catalogue of the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. It's got a rough classification into Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages and post-Reformation, so it gets rid of a lot of irrelevant stuff for me automatically. But it doesn't differentiate between the Early and Late Iron Age (either side of AD 400), and sometimes the museum curators have misdated a find entirely. So I get to look at a lot of cool (and heaps of not-so-cool) finds that have nothing to do with what I'm really after.

This way, I've run into two funny post-Reformation burials, both probably 18th century. One was at Galgbacken near the town of Skänninge. The other was in the rural prehistoric cemetery of Smörkullen in Västra Tollstad parish, famous for its rich Roman Period inhumations. The first thing to note about these burials is that neither site has ever had a church, and that in 18th century Sweden burial anywhere but in a churchyard was extremely rare. These people were clearly victims of execution or freelance murder.

The name Galgbacken ("Gallows' Hill") provides an instant explanation for one burial. Skänninge's town gallows were moved to the site in about 1670. Times were rough: the sentence of a man executed there in 1672 states that "the general public of this town requests that this evil thief might finally be gotten rid of, as they can never feel safe for his thieving ways".

A Medieval execution cemetery outside the nearby town of Vadstena was excavated in 2005, as mentioned here before.

Bror Schnittger reports that the body he excavated at Skänninge had been buried on its back in a shallow grave, legs tightly folded at the knees with the feet below the left hip, probably to cram the body into a very short grave cut. (One can imagine the hangman's assistant jumping on the body to force it into place.) Remains of a woollen female dress with hook-and-eye fastenings in the back were found, and at the right knee (that is, at one end of the cut) were small iron nails and remains of birch bark, possibly from a little casket. Beside the grave was a rectangular stone pavement without sign of any burial, and a stone-covered skeleton had been found on an earlier occasion during gravel extraction at the site.

The Smörkullen grave looks more like a clandestine affair, possibly a murder victim. This guy was buried with his fine coat and shoes on and with a brass snuff box still in his pocket. Still, the body was placed in a prehistoric inhumation cemetery, which indicates that the people disposing of it gave some thought to where they put it. Perhaps this is another (rather affluent) execution victim, laid to rest among pagans. The fact that the body wasn't stripped suggests that it was considered unclean in some way, perhaps due to a transgression so vile that not even the poor wanted the man's gear. Bestiality was for instance commonly punished by death, sometimes taking the form of joint public execution of both the mammals involved in the forbidden act. But we may note that no coins were found. Pecunia non olet.

The 18th century has a good historical record even in backward Sweden. It is possible to find detailed documentation, if not for these individual deaths, then at least for similar ones and generally about capital punishment at the time. I've got to follow this lead one day out of sheer morbid curiosity.

SHM 15694. Ög, Allhelgona sn, Lagmansberga, Karlsborg, Galgbacken.
SHM 14273. Ög, Västra Tollstad, Alvastra, Smörkullen, grave 32.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

August and Princely

Sitting ostentatiously right by the gate to my daughter's Kindergarten was a group of Prince mushrooms, Agaricus augustus, Sw. Kungschampinjon. Some had been there long enough to become huge and riddled with worms. But many of them are in perfect shape. People just don't seem to know their shrooms around here. Yum!

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Seek, And You Will Find

You know, when people seek enlightenment, this blog is where they end up. Here's a few search strings from the past hours that have led net users to Salto sobrius.
  • The Divine Omniscient one
  • is violent crime rational
  • naughty bikini
  • are buggers good for u
  • fastening viking brooches
  • migrate outlook accounts to new computer
  • exhibitionist bikini
Remember, Dear Reader, you heard it here first: the Divine Omniscient One fastens his naughty exhibitionist bikini with Viking brooches and ponders the eternal question: "are buggers good for u?".

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Double-Barreled Carnival Blast

Those of you who read the blog in your web browsers may have noticed the ugly home-made ad on the top-right of the page. Salto sobrius is hosting two blog carnivals next week.

On Thursday 28 September, it's time for the 44th Skeptics' Circle, "a biweekly carnival for bloggers who apply critical thought to questionable stories".

On Sunday 1 October we'll have the 50th Carnival of the Godless: blog entries "from a godless perspective [adressing] something such as godlessness, atheism, church/state separation, the evolution/creation debate, theodicy, philosophy of religion as it relates to godlessness, etc.".

We had Tangled Bank here back in July, but as far as I know no Salto sobrius regulars were represented. I guess few of you are in the life sciences. But I know a number of you guys are skeptics and atheists. So come on now and hoist yer colours! Submit entries a few days in advance here.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Surfer Girl Acrostic

On the penultimate Pixies album, 1990’s Bossanova, there’s a beautiful dreamy surf song named ”Ana”. Its lyrics are simple and appropriate.
By Frank Black Francis

She's my fave
Undressing in the sun
Return to sea - bye
Forgetting everyone
Eleven high
Ride a wave
Now, why is this surfer girl named Ana? Well, basically, because Frank Black dropped out of college to become a musical genius before he'd learned the difference between an anagram and an acrostic.

Look at the first letters of the lyrics' six lines. Yes, Ana is a s.u.r.f.e.r. But this is no Ana-gram, as Black believed when he named her. "Grow a penis" is an anagram of "Spiro Agnew". Instead, Black's lyrics are an acrostic.

Here's another one, by Michael Collins, culled from Poetry Free For All.
Believe it or not,
acid can really
damage your brain.

Days after my first tab,
rainclouds started following me,
usually this wouldn't bother me but,
goddamn, my head got really wet.
Strange huh?
Still, I can pick as many nits as I want in Frank Black's lyrics. I won't be able to write a song like "Ana" anyway.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mushrooms on Election Day

It's the day of the quadrennial elections, and we celebrated it by taking a walk in the nearby woods, picking mushrooms with the kids, before voting lefty. It's a good year for shrooms, and we had a basketful in little more than half an hour, only five minutes' bike ride from home. Most of what we found is Gypsy mushrooms. I'm cooking the water out of them now. Here's the kinds we got:
  • Gypsy mushroom, Rynkad tofsskivling, Rozites caperata
  • Slippery Jack, Smörsopp, Suillus luteus
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum
  • Slimy Spike, Citronslemskivling, Gomphidius glutinosus
  • Copper brittlegill, Tegelkremla, Russula decolorans
  • Green brittlegill, Grönkremla, Russula aeruginea
  • Flirt, Kantkremla, Russula vesca
  • Terracotta hedgehog, Rödgul taggsvamp, Hydnum rufescens
  • Common puffball, Vårtig röksvamp, Lycoperdon perlatum
(I got most of the English names from the excellent Online Atlas of Fungi in Northern Ireland.)

In the voting room we met a lot of acquaintances, including our friend Eddie the goldsmith. He's a neo-pagan lefty Star Wars fan and a great woodsman. He noted with satisfaction that we had a few brittlegills, and a green glow of avarice lit in his eyes when we showed him the Gypsies -- a species he wasn't familiar with.

Early forecasts for the election results don't look so good: seems we may be saddled with one of our infrequent right-wing governments for four years. But it's no catastrophe. The big Swedish right-wing parties are really pretty decent compared to what you find in other countries. It would have been nice though to get the Christian Democrats kicked out of Parliament. At least we're unlikely to see any crypto-Nazi extreme-right populists there.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Geocaching Get-Together

I co-hosted a geocaching get-together this afternoon. Standard geocaches just have spatial coordinates. Event caches have temporal ones as well. In this case, the spatial position was a café in central Stockholm, and the temporal one was today at 1430 hours.

Lots of people showed up, had tea and pastries and enjoyed themselves. All ages except teens, who are too cool for geocaching. It reminded me of my first on-line forum parties back in the late 80s. People you've talked to over the computer, whom you feel you know, but whom you've never actually met IRL. The main difference is that geocachers mostly just discuss how to find Tupperware under rocks in the woods, while general forum discussions cover a lot more thematic ground than that.

One thing that really touched me was a retired gentleman who asked me timidly if I might possibly give him a hint for one of my caches that he'd had trouble finding. When I run into trouble like that, I instantly rattle off e-mail to the cache owner and people who have found the thing recently, asking for a bit of help. But this old guy had visited the place something like five times to no avail, without contacting me. I felt guilty for making the riddle too hard for him. But I'm glad he finally asked, and I believe the social setting was what got his courage up. Geocaching can clearly be a lonely game if you're shy, and there seems to be a lot of interest in more of these four-dimensionally pinpointed caches in the near future.

Actually, we only pinpointed it in three dimensions: X, Y and time. It could have been deep inside the Earth or way out into the atmosphere. But enough participants assumed that we meant street level and so found us.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Advice On Doing Research for Years Without a Salary

Since quitting my job at a contract archaeology unit in April 1994, I've been doing archaeological research pretty much full time apart from a month here and a month there on related non-research projects. I've published a bit less than 100 scholarly works during this time. Still, out of these twelve years, I've only had a salary for about three, most of them a doctoral student's position. Now, how to do research successfully in an underfunded field without a salary is something a lot of people seem to be interested in. So I thought I might set down a few things I've learned, as I'm soon to start working half-time with other things for an actual salary.

My money for these years has come in unpredictable dollops of 5 to 80 kSEK (€540-8700, $690-11000) from various small private research foundations. This leads to my first recommendation.

You need discipline. Suddenly having lots of money transferred to your bank account does not mean that you can splurge. Because you never know how long that money's got to last.

Live cheaply. You won't get enough to afford an expensive lifestyle. And make sure you share your rent, preferably with someone nice.

Find out what foundations fund research in your field. The best ways to do this is to check a) funding handbooks at your public library, b) the preface to every doctoral thesis in your field from the past ten years. Who are they thanking for their dough?

Keep applying. I've been hitting dozens of foundations on every single application date, sometimes several times a year each. Sooner or later, most have given in. Never mind if it takes a lot of time and work: when you finally get money, the pay for those hours of paperwork will turn out quite handsome.

Clone your application letters. Sending the same application to several funding bodies saves time. Just make sure to cover your tracks: the Nisse Bengtsson Foundation won't like it if your letter contains the phrase "and so I turn to the Amalia Mögelhielm Foundation with this request".

Publish or perish. These foundations exist to fund published research. In other words, they want to buy a certain product. If you can show them that you are a dependable source of this product, then they will feel safe doing business with you year after year.

Emphasise your productivity. You need to brag. If you got money from them last year, brag about how much you've published with their support. If they didn't give you anything last year, apply again anyway and brag about how much you've published despite their lack of support.

Keep track of report deadlines. Funding bodies that shell out will tell you that they want a progress report by a certain date. They are not kidding.

Be academically respectable. I was a doctoral student and became an archaeology PhD. (Which is a useless thing to become, but anyway.)

Get letters of recommendation. If you're friendly with someone high and mighty in your field, then ask for a letter of recommendation addressed "To whom it may concern".

Identify the eminences grises. A funding body will have an advisory board consisting of senior scholars. Some of them so senior, in fact, that they are retired. So talk to the old folks at seminars and excursions, make sure they know who you are, make friends with them. They may not be hip and cutting edge any more, but they control a lot of research money.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

High Medieval Brick Kiln

You may remember back in May when I told you about the narrow shipping passage of Baggensstäket and the garden of my friend and mentor Jan Peder on its shore. I checked back then that there's no ancient metalwork in the garden's topsoil, but there is a ruin mound full of vitrified Medieval bricks. Is it the remains of a defensive tower or of a brick kiln?

After lunch today my dad, my friend Kristina and myself went by boat over to Jan Peder's to check out the ongoing excavation of the mound. It was a lot like a garden party with colleagues coming and going to look at the dig. Ancient fortifications expert Michael Olausson and a small team are investigating the mound. So far, they've mainly been busy cleaning out a huge volume of early 20th century garbage that Jan Peder's family deposited in the central depression. But they've already made some interesting observations.

It's clearly a brick kiln, not a defensive tower. But it's a weird kiln: built largely of High Medieval brick, sandstone and limestone, materials that weren't available locally. It looks a lot like the ruin of a nearby high-status building was cannibalised to build the kiln.

The land was owned by the Archbishop until the Reformation in the early 16th century. A single small artefact find so far seems to date that far back: the tubular handle of an earthenware three-legged pot, finely moulded.

Farther into the shipping channel, at the farmstead of Duvnäs, there's a historically attested brick kiln. And even nearer Stockholm there is a well-preserved High Medieval shipwreck on the seafloor, still neatly stacked with a cargo of bricks, elaborate ones for the first large churches in Stockholm. All this fits well with the existence of a busy shipping channel. Materials for brick manufacture and shipping to nearby markets were easy to come by.

We found an abandoned stolen boat at Jan Peder's jetty. So my dad called the police about it and tugged the boat over to his own place where he had a buoy waiting. I wonder what the story behind that is.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mission Accomplished, Return to Base

This morning Libby dug through the charcoal layer, which turned out to be more than half a meter thick, and found the natural yellow subsoil. Then Howard drew the four sections and we backfilled the mofo. Here's what it looks like now. (I'll add earlier pix to the two previous posts.)

In the afternoon we visited our colleagues at the County Museum and returned the gear they so kindly had lent us. And Emma Karlsson showed us her beautiful grave finds from Kvarnbacken outside Vadstena: imagine a High Medieval execution site full of decapitated skeletons, located on top of a Viking Period cemetery! One of the graves will become a classic: five silver coins (tpq AD 880), an elderly lady with early 9th century jewellery, a little girl with late 9th century miniature jewellery, Insular silver mounts in a geometric style adapted as pendants, a unique bone crucifix, and more. I was very flattered and grateful that Emma and the others would show us their finds and were interested in my ideas about them. And they fed us buns!

After farewells to Peter we went to Skavsta airport where H&L rented a car to explore in for the rest of the week. I drove home listening to the R.U. Sirius Show podcast, and stopped to take a geocache at the wooden pedestrian bridge across Lake Magelungen south of Stockholm. Beautiful hazy sunset, men sauntering down to the lake with fishing rods.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Subterranean Surprise

We've had a lucky break and our plans have changed.

Spent the day moving down through the cairn to a maximum depth of about a metre below the barrow's surface. The empty spaces under the stones have been hard to get a grip on as they contain no recognisable nest material and keep getting filled up with spoil dirt and disappearing as we dig. One did seem tubular in shape. But we cleaned stones, photographed them, removed them and repeated this three times before reaching the bottom of the cairn. And there, in the openings between the stones, we struck what looks like a thick and extensive layer of charcoal.

I won't call it a cremation layer, because we have no bones or burnt artefacts. But judging from what 1st Millennium barrows are usually like, we've probably hit the periphery of a huge pyre layer in which the bones may be concentrated to the centre. And Bronze Age barrows contain no cremation layers at all. So from a typological point of view we've already dated the barrow. Cremation layer equals late 1st Millennium. And as for radiocarbon, we have bags and bags of charcoal in big nice chunks from a safely sealed context: the charcoal layer under the cairn.

I was expecting to dig through featureless soil on the barrow's periphery until we hit the natural beneath it, in which, if we were lucky, we might find something organic to give us the earliest possible date for the barrow (terminus post quem). Instead we've encountered huge amounts of organics that are clearly part of the barrow itself and cannot be redeposited earlier material. So we've been very lucky given the question we're here to answer: when did someone invest a huge amount of labour into building the barrow?

So we're pretty much done. What remains to do now is draw the sections, seed the trench floor with fresh coins as our signature and backfill the trench. We have no real reason to try to punch through the charcoal layer to measure its thickness and retrieve material from under it, because it is clear that the charcoal is contemporary with the building of the barrow and so will date it. Also, neither ourselves nor the county archaeologist want the burial disturbed. Future colleagues who excavate the entire barrow one day won't thank us if a 2.5 by 1.5 meter patch of the finds layer is missing.

After the day's work we've had a microwave dinner and watched the South Park guys' irreverent puppet movie Team America. Good fun, pretty much taking the mick out of everyone, as my British friends say.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Into the Barrow

So I'm back in the field again with Howard and Libby and Peter and Marie, just like last summer. But without the students. Enjoying myself a lot in the sunny weather!

The talk yesterday in Kaga went well, good big audience, good questions, and a lady showed me some really good finds afterwards. She had a huge pristine thin-butted polished flint axe and part of a similar one made from basalt, both Early Neolithic. She had a Late Neolithic pressure-flaked flint dagger. And she had a Late Bronze Age socketed cast bronze axe. Östergötland is a cool place for archaeology.

Also, it's a great place for hospitality. Salto sobrius reader Hans Persson invited me home after the talk, introduced me to his wife & kids and gave me dinner! And I saw your kind words about the talk, Hans. Many thanks!

The barrow dig has started off very well. We are accompanied by a flock of bull calfs who are very curious about us but also pretty shy. So we chase them off and they keep coming back and when we leave the site they stand around in our trench sniffing our gear.

We've opened a 2.5 by 1.5 trench near the edge of the barrow and gone down through homogenous stone-free mound fill until we hit what looks like a cairn. This is unexpected as the central cairns in 1st Millennium barrows tend to have a much lesser diameter than the covering mound, and Bronze Age ones aren't supposed to have cairns at all. Even stranger is the fact that there are empty spaces below a number of the stones, looking a lot like an abandoned rabbit warren. Libby saw a rabbit (or was it a hare?) on site today. This could seriously muck up our charcoal samples if the animals have been dragging organics down into the barrow. But we do have samples from two small hearths interleaved with the mound fill on top of the cairn, about 25 cm below the barrow's surface. Looks like the people who built the thing lit little fires on it during work.

I had a really nasty chicken kebab for dinner in Linköping. No tomato sauce and no garlic sauce -- instead they had this really greasy concoction of mayonnaise, sour cream, finely chopped pickles and chili pepper. Very un-Turkish. I had something similar in Germany back in June and I'm not enthusiastic.

Stay tuned, true believers, for tomorrow's entry, wherein shall be revealed what lies hidden Beneath the Stones. After all, as H.P. Lovecraft put it, with strange aeons even death may die.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Another Celtic God Mask

The current issue of excellent Danish pop-sci archaeology journal Skalk brings news about Celtic god masks of the kind discussed here before.

Insular Celtic literary sources show that cauldrons played a central role in pagan Celtic ritual and symbolism. This matter has been used to explain Danish bog finds of elaborate imported cauldrons from the later 1st Millennium BC, when Celtic was spoken not just on the Atlantic sea border but over much of Continental Europe as well. Indeed, among the imagery on the the magnificent silver cauldron from Gundestrup in northern Jutland is a scene where a huge ponytailed person dunks a limp little warrior head-first into a cauldron. Mythological sources suggest that through this she may be resurrecting him to fight another day.

A less magnificent yet still very interesting bronze cauldron has been found at Rynkeby on Funen. Parts of it are missing, but still attached along its edge are two bull's heads (with forelegs raised in an attitude of adoration!) and a torque-wearing androgynous face

The Rynkeby mask is much like the one recently found in Blekinge.

Görman & Henriksson believe that the tar on the back side of the Blekinge mask would indicate that it's been fastened to a wooden surface, but as far as I can see it might as well have been part of a cauldron similar to the one from Rynkeby.

Single bull's heads like the ones on the Rynkeby cauldron have been found on Funen and Lolland, evidence that such cauldrons weren't too uncommon. And now fragments of another torqued mask have surfaced at Ringsebølle on Lolland. Here's a picture of the new finds placed on a photograph of the Rynkeby mask.

The fit is nearly perfect. As Flemming Kaul points out, the two masks must have been made in the same workshop. Note the decorative rivet on the god's forehead that's missing from the Rynkeby mask yet still present on the Ringsebølle fragment.

Somebody in Central Europe seems to be mass producing these cauldrons and sending them north to non-Celtic-speaking tribes in southern Scandinavia.

Görman, Marianne & Henriksson, Mikael. 2006. Maskbilden från Västra Vång. Ett keltiskt avtryck i Blekinges äldre järnålder? Fornvännen 2006:3. KVHAA. Stockholm.

Kaul, Flemming. 2006. Figurkedler. Skalk 2006:4. Højbjerg.
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Friday, September 08, 2006

Viking Period Jewellery

The finds from my Easter fieldwork with Tim and Kenth and the others in Östergötland are back from conservation in Kiruna, where Bosse Johansson-Närvä Engström has given them some loving care and attention. Below are pix of some of the prettiest pieces, previously seen only by a handful of people since they were buried back in the day. They're from three ploughed-over 10th century pagan inhumation cemeteries of which only one was known before we started working.

Above are front and back views of a large disc brooch from Hagebyhöga parish (previously shown here in its pre-conservation state). It's early 10th century, executed in the Borre style and cast in copper alloy. 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.

This little beauty is only about a centimeter in diameter. It's a silver filigree bead from the same site as the large disc brooch. Imagine making all those little ornaments of beaded wire and soldering them in place along with granules of silver! That's the beauty of precious metal: the skill of the prehistoric artisans can be appreciated undiminished by any corrosion.

Here's another Borre style disc brooch, a small one, with mercury gilding. It's from Östra Husby parish. Jansson calls the type IIA, and this too is known from Birka. Look at the three little Mickey Mouse heads! This brooch has the same fastening arrangements as the large one, and in this case a copper alloy wire ring is still on the lower fastening loop.

This little disc brooch of Jansson's type IB is from Västra Tollstad parish. It's later than the others, decorated in the late-10th century Jelling style, but wear has obscured the interlace. You'll have to trust me: the spaghetti is actually a dragon with a hatched body. The pin is better preserved on this brooch: the spring is visible and there's a wire ring around the pin's fastening lugs.

Dear Reader, isn't finds porn great?

Jansson, I. 1984. Grosse/kleine Rundspangen. Arwidsson, G. (ed.). Birka II:1. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde. KVHAA. Stockholm.
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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Beloved of Google

My pal Johan Carlström (keeper of Scandinavia's foremost on-line archaeology forum) pointed something amusing out to me. If you Google the Swedish and Norwegian word for archaeology, arkeologi, you get about 2.3 million hits. Here are the first ten.
  1. The journal Populär Arkeologi
  2. The Department of Archaeology at the University of Gothenburg
  3. The E4 highway rescue excavations
  4. The Department of Archaeology at the University of Uppsala
  5. Finland's State Board of Antiquities
  6. The Department of Archaeology at the University of Stockholm
  7. Me
  8. Åland's County Board of Antiquities
  9. The NordArk archaeology portal
  10. Wikipedia's entry on the word arkeologi
Dear Reader, would you like to know how to get your web site onto the Google top ten? Apart from the obvious requirement of offering information that someone might want to link to? It's easy.

Put it on-line in 1998.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Book Review: Fagan, Archaeological Fantasies

Archaeological Fantasies is an anthology of skeptical writings on pseudoscientific archaeology and post-modernism. The book project grew out of discussions on the on-line skeptical archaeology forum The Hall of Ma'at. The volume's editor, Roman archaeologist Garrett G. Fagan of Penn State University, is a long-time participant on such forums. He has thus made himself available to believers in pseudoarchaeology in a far more direct way than most academics ever do.

All the volume's thirteen papers are interesting and make good reading, at least if one is a skeptical rationalist like myself. Two are, however, not directly relevant to the book's main theme.

David Webster's contribution treats the rather strange view of Maya culture championed by pioneers of this archaeological field of research. Scholars such as J.E.S. Thompson and Sylvanus Morley made the Classic Maya out to have been unlike all other known state societies in many respects, insisting for example that the Maya had been peaceful empire builders. Their model has now been discarded, largely thanks to the decoding of the Maya script. But this is not in fact a case of pseudoscience. It was a new field with few practitioners of whom several lacked formal archaeological training, where individual contributors could maintain great personal influence for decades. Once the field became academically established and its ranks grew, the scientific process of critical re-evaluation made short work of poorly founded early interpretations, while keeping such that bore renewed scrutiny.

Another good paper that is somewhat out of place is Alan D. Sokal's long contribution on the relationship between pseudoscience and post-modernism. Most of his examples are taken from academic writers in nursing and Hindu nationalist scholars. Archaeology hardly gets a mention. As Sokal points out to start with, pseudoscience and post-modernism have very different goals. Pseudoscience claims to know the truth better that established science. Postmodernism claims that no objective truth can be known by anyone. And Sokal does not indeed find very much contact between the two movements. Pseudoscientists only rarely use postmodernist arguments, and then as a last line of defence when their claims have been soundly refuted. And academic post-modernists only rarely endorse pseudoscience, and then as part of their general distaste for rationalist science. They are far more respectful toward traditional superstitions held in the Third World than toward the ideas of Western UFO theorists.

Good general papers on pseudoarchaeology in tones varying from the measured to the pugilistic are offered by Peter Kosso, Garrett G. Fagan, Nic Flemming and Norman Levitt. Kenneth L. Feder presents the results of a series of questionnaires on pseudoarchaeology given to his students over a period of 20 years. Concludes Feder, "[S]tudents do not appear to be descending into a swirling vortex of pseudoscientific beliefs about the human past. Rather, they seem to be aware of and interested in claims about ancient astronauts […] and the like, but the majority simply are not intellectually or emotionally committed to such notions."

Katherine Reece's paper describes her intellectual journey from fringe archaeology buff to keeper of the aforementioned skeptical website about pseudoarchaeology. Growing up in the rural mid-West, she happened upon von Däniken long before any good pop-sci archaeology reached her. What finally expanded her horizons and won her over to the rationalist camp was the internet. There's a lot of junk there, but a lot of real archaeology too.

TV producer Christopher Hale describes the many woes of making a good documentary on pseudoarchaeology in an age when viewer ratings rule television and von Däniken's successors have enormous irate fan bases at their disposal.

The book offers four concrete case studies of pseudoarchaeology. Paul Jordan's is aptly named "Esoteric Egypt" and deals largely with pyramidiocy. Bettina Arnold looks briefly at archaeological aspects of the racial mysticism cultivated in Nazi Germany and among Celtic nationalists. I was intrigued to learn about Himmler's short-lived neo-pagan Thing-movement of 1933-1935, that involved the construction of twelve dedicated open-air amphitheatres. It's a Nazi culture type site! One was cut into the remains of a pre-Roman oppidum near Heidelberg.

Mary Lefkowitz chronicles the tragicomical fight over civilisatory primacy between Afrocentrists (such as Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena) and Hellenocentrists. After the Afrocentrists had asserted that ancient Greek civilisation was rooted in the Egyptian (i.e. African) one, Hellenocentrists responded with claims that the world's first pyramids had been built in Greece, the idea then radiating around the world. There aren't actually any pyramids in Greece, but there is a rare type of rural defence tower of the mid-1st Millennium BC. The ground story of these unassuming little structures have inward-tilted walls, so in cases where that story is all that remains, one may imagine that the building was once pyramidal in shape – if one really wants to. Shaky dates around 3000 BC were offered for these Hellenic proto-pyramids.

Nationalistic pseudoscience like this is never a pretty sight, and the book's most disquieting contribution is Michael Witzel's paper on Hindu nationalism and pseudoscience. The hindutva movement throws itself blindly into the exact same combination of pseudoscience and hyper-relativism that flourished in pre-war Germany, with the exception (so far) of ideas about racial purity. Thus university departments in "Vedic Astrology" and the 1992 demolishment of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Thus any number of batty claims about the Vedas prefiguring quantum mechanics and the Indo-Aryans coming out of India to bring light to the world. At the root of it all is the post-colonial situation where chauvinists fortified by "post-colonial theory" cultivate an anti-European and antiscientific Dolchstosslegende for free India.

This book (with its detailed index) will have a place on anyone's bookshelf who is interested in archaeology, science outreach, and the refutation of spurious claims and destructive relativism. To a Scandinavian archaeologist like myself, it offers refreshingly post-post-modernist perspectives. Hardly touching upon temperate Europe, the contributors clearly do not see the British archaeological theorists who have generated so much turgid verbiage from the late 1960s onward as relevant to the discussion. Here, archaeology is simply science: not in the sense that it should be just like the natural sciences, but meaning that all inquiry into what the world is and has been like must proceed rationally and cautiously if any real knowledge is to be gained. Would that it were so in Scandinavian archaeology too.

Fagan, Garrett G. (ed.). 2006. Archaeological Fantasies. How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public. Routledge. ISBN 0415305934.
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Forget About Falsification

Dear Reader, I am going to be painfully abstruse here just for once. Please bear with me.

Science works well as a way of finding out about the world, and philosophers have thought long and hard about how it works. As a research scholar in a discipline where there is a lot of controversy over this issue, I have also had reason to read and think quite a bit about it.

One of the most widely read philosophers of science is Karl Popper. He's associated with an attitude called falsificationism. It means two things.
  1. A hypothesis about the world is only scientific if it could in principle be proven wrong ("falsified") if untrue. This could also be phrased, "A lot of things are unknowable. Don't waste time and ink on speculations that can't be tested".
  2. The way to do good science is to formulate hypotheses and then try to falsify them. If a hypothesis survives repeated attempts at falsification with different data and angles of approach, then it may be taken to be true.
The other day I read a new paper by Sven Ove Hansson where he argues that the second sense of Popper's falsificationism is incorrect.

It's an unusual philosophical paper in that it has an empirical base. Hansson has looked at how the 70 articles in the journal Nature for the year 2000 are built from the perspective of the philosophy of science. Good science is after all produced continually, and, argues Hansson, to get into Nature studies must be very good indeed. So if Popper was right about how good science is done, then most of the studies in Nature should be structured around hypotheses and attempts to falsify them. As it turns out, they're not. Quite the contrary.

70% of the studies don't start out from any hypothesis at all. Hansson calls them explorative: they begin with simple questions such as "What is the molecular structure of this protein?" or "What is the base-pair sequence of that gene?". Formulating hypotheses would just be a waste of time here. What the scientists did was to make tricky and time-consuming observations and then report what they had seen and inferred from it.

Only 24% of the studies start from a Popperian favoured hypothesis that the scientists involved could try to falsify if they wanted to. But half of these hypotheses are framed in such a way that they would give equally conclusive knowledge regardless of whether they are confirmed or falsified. Only two studies (3% of the total 70) start from hypotheses that would give more conclusive knowledge if falsified than if confirmed.

So, Dear Reader, if you're doing research, never mind trying to falsify your own hypotheses: the people who publish in Nature don't. The thing to do is apparently to either a) go exploring, find out some useful/cool data, report it and suggest a well-argued interpretation of it, or b) make up a hypothesis and collect the best experimental evidence and arguments you can to support it.

But Hansson's paper leaves the first sense of falsification mentioned above untouched. A lot of things are in fact unknowable. Don't waste time and ink on speculations that can't be tested. And that pretty much kills off a lot of archaeological interpretation, particularly when it comes to attempts at reconstructing what prehistoric people thought and believed. Such a cautious, anti-speculative stance, by the way, is called positivism. It's extremely distasteful to some scholars, particularly the ones who profess to seek understanding rather than truth. But I'd like to see much more of it in archaeology.

Hansson, S.O. 2006 (antedated to 2004). Ealsificationism falsified. Foundations of Science 152. Kluwer.
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Got A Job

Dear Reader, here's just a short note to tell you that I am a happy blogger.

If you've followed the blog, you may have gathered that the Scandinavian labour market for archaeology PhDs stinks. I got my PhD three years ago, and since then I've applied for every job announced that fit my qualifications, from Kiel to Tromsø. There have been twelve such announcements in three years. The number of applicants has been staggering, and the jobs have been given to people of much more advanced years than myself, whose lists of qualifications are of course longer than mine. Simply put: it's impossible for an archaeology PhD born in the 70s to get an entry-level academic job, because colleagues born in the 60s want them too.

You may also have gathered that I am not entirely happy with my solitary scholar's life. The freedom is great, but it's lonely and demoralising. It's tough to be the only person in the world (except one's family), for years and years, who cares whether one gets out of bed in the morning or not. Also, subsisting on small grants as I have done means no pension and no health insurance. Finally, most people have a need to belong somewhere, to be a member of a tribe. I haven't for a long time.

So you can see why I'm happy to have found a academic-ish job! Starting October, I'll work 50% for a scholarly organisation in central Stockholm as an editor and administrator. The work promises a lot of communication with scholars and other people. And working there part-time will allow me to continue my research and take care of my kids.

The paperwork isn't signed yet, so I'll tell you details in October. Whoopee!

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