For years and years, there has been an on-going conflict over Ales stenar, a prehistoric stone ship monument in Scania, southern Sweden. Scholarship has argued that like all other large stone ships in southern Scandinavia with ample space between the standing stones, Ales stenar was built as a grave marker in the late 1st Millennium AD. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed the date. On the other hand, amateur archaeo-astronomer Bob Lind has led a vociferous campaign asserting that the ship is several thousand years older than that and originally built as a calendarical observatory. People have actually come to blows over this in one of Sweden’s most publicised battles between skeptics and woo-mongers. But not one academic archaeologist believes in Lind’s interpretations. His model has been taken apart in great detail and shown to be baseless.
Well, archaeology isn’t just an issue for scholars and amateur scholars. Among the groups taking an interest in the subject are the authorities at various levels, primarily the National Heritage Board, Riksantikvarieämbetet. The Heritage Board is by no means staffed only with people who know anything about current archaeological research.
And now, according to Dagens Nyheter, the Board has replaced the visitor’s signs at Ales stenar with a new version stating that whereas Lind is wrong about the date of the monument, he’s right about its astronomical function! It just makes me want to bang my head against my keyboard.
How could this happen? Well, remember post-modernist hyper-relativism? Turns out the person behind the new signs is Kajsa Althén, one of notorious Stockholm ex-museum director Kristian Berg’s old cronies.
“Kajsa Althén observes that there is no final truth about Ales stenar or other stone ships. ‘It’s fun to see new knowledge appearing all the time’, she says.”
To understand what these words really mean, you need to have suffered through a lot of pomo garbage. Here’s my translation.
“Kajsa Althén believes that there is no final or single truth to be found in archaeology. ‘It’s fun to see new conflicting theories appearing all the time’, she says.”
This is a fucking disgrace. Dear Reader, if you happen to have any say at the National Heritage Board, please get those signs taken down ASAP. They have nothing to do with informed scholarship, being instead motivated by a pomo ambition to harmonise official viewpoints with current folklore. These people really don’t care what’s the truth about the past. In fact, they believe it’s unattainable.
Update 22 July: Kajsa Althén tells me in a letter that both her statements and the text on the signs were misquoted in the newspaper item. A lot of people are now keenly interested in finding out exactly what those signs say. It would be most illuminating if someone nearby could photograph the signs and send me pix!
Roger Lindqvist, the journalist who wrote the piece linked to above, tells me that he hasn’t seen the new signs. When asked where the information that the Heritage Board had endorsed Lind’s ideas came from, he replied that Lind’s work “is covered on the sign”. I hope to learn soon whether this coverage of Lind is in fact an endorsement, a critical distancing or a neutral mention. In my opinion, any mention other than a critical distancing would be comparable to selling Creationist tracts at the Grand Canyon visitor’s centre.
Sydsvenska Dagbladet reports that “now the Heritage Board has begun to agree with” Bob Lind. “Ales stenar No Longer a Mystery” is the headline. An interview with Lind has the headline “Rehabilitated After Ten Years”. And the wonderful thing about all this reporting is that no mention is made of how archaeological knowledge arises. The journalists are just happy to tell us that the State Board and County Council have now decided that Ales stenar is a calendar. Science by fiat.
Update 23 July: My dad happens to be on vacation in Scania. He just called me from Ales stenar (where Bob Lind is sitting in a deck chair and talking to a TV team) and read the new Heritage Board signs out to me. Pix are on their way. Turns out the media have misrepresented the signs’ message. More about that in a separate entry.