Mats P. Malmer 1921-2007

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My number one archaeological hero, professor Mats Peterson Malmer, died on 3 October aged 86 minus 15 days. I knew him a little starting in the mid-90s, read most of what he ever wrote with avidity, sent him most of what I wrote, tweaked bits of some work of his in a paper published only months ago. When I was a green PhD student feeling miserable under the post-modernist orthodoxy at the Stockholm archaeology department, his 1984 Fornvännen paper “Arkeologisk positivism” came as a revelation to me.

Leif Gren took the above pic at Mats’s 80th birthday party: Mats is showing myself and my wife the typescript of what would become his last book, The Neolithic of South Sweden (2002).

A 1999 collection of archaeologists’ biographies, The Great Archaeologists (ed. Tim Murray, Santa Barbara, CA) covers only two Swedish scholars. One is Oscar Montelius (1843-1921), known as the Linnaeus of archaeology (and another one of my personal favourites). The other is Mats P. Malmer.

Mats Malmer stressed the importance of clear thinking and clear writing, because in science no thinking can ever be clearer than the language in which it is presented. He also stressed the primacy and uniqueness of archaeology’s source material: most sciences deal with mute inhuman things, history with speaking human things, and archaeology alone takes care of all that is mute and human. I am very proud to count myself a malmerian archaeologist.

Update 10 October: The funeral service is on Friday 9 November at 10:30 in Lidingö church. Attendees are invited to a post-funereal gathering in Grönsta vicarage. RSVP to Arvid Wærner undertakers, 08 – 663 16 15.

The advert in SvD and DN is a semiological paradox: headed with a cross yet quoting a few lines from On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, that materialistic follower of Epicurus. Taken out of its context, the extract might wrongly be construed as speaking of a life after death. But I believe that Mats was most likely an Epicurean too.

More appreciations at Ting och tankar, Testimony of the Spade.

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Comments

  1. #1 Arch Asa
    October 10, 2007

    Thanks for checking the date of the funeral. I think we will send flowers, he was an awe-inspiring living legend to both Fredrik and me. Even in his later years, with a body severly taxed by age, he turned up at any seminar which seriously discussed Battle Axe culture, the subject of his monumental (in every aspect of the word) dissertation.

    His book on the picture, and I’m glad to see you holding onto something more interesting than merovingian beltbuckles ;-), is dry but in my opinion severly underused. it has a very impressive summation of finds and artefacts of the Neolithic. If the publishers had been smarter, they would have given the manuscript to a prefessional to do the layout with pictures and maps. In that case, it would have deservedly knocked off Burenhult as a standard book for undergraduates (and graduates). A missed opportunity.

    Unlike many others, he will live on in memory and research for a long, long, long time.

  2. #2 Martin R
    October 10, 2007

    Hey, there’s some Corded Ware in my little book about that settlement under the cemetery on Gotland! There’s even references in it to Malmer, pers. comm.! I’m a real archaeologist too!

    I’m going to Liding÷ church to show my respect. The last time I went there was when Christian Lindqvist had died.

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