Birka Graves On-Line


Ulf Bodin and his team at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm have built a really, really sweet database and search interface for Hjalmar Stolpe’s Birka graves. Between 1871 and 1895, Stolpe dug about 1100 graves in the cemeteries surrounding the Viking Period town of Birka on an island in Lake Mälaren near Stockholm. His painstaking fieldwork and documentation ensured that the Birka record will always be one of the standard databases for Viking studies. And now it’s all on-line and searchable! A massively useful research tool.

This morning I attended Anna Linderholm’s viva/disputation, where she defended her thesis on lab-based approaches to the study of prehistoric migration. Groundbreaking work, said her opponent enthusiastically, and his job was to try make the thesis look bad. Anna defended herself most successfully. I hardly understood a word when they went into technicalities. (Åsa Larsson’s thoughtful opinions are here and here and here.)

At one point during post-viva mingling, I was talking to friends, a Birka scholar and a senior numismatist. Birka Scholar was carrying her new baby boy. I was wearing my Hello Cthulhu teeshirt. Senior Numismatist, who is not a science fiction nerd and had no idea what the tee was about, pointed at my chest and suggested that Birka Scholar’s next baby might be named Cthulhu. Yes! The stars are right!

Apart from Anna Linderholm’s thesis, I have recently received fresh dissertations from my colleagues and buddies Nanouschka Myrberg and Fredrik Hallgren. All three books look like they’re gonna be classics. Real science, taking things forward, the way archaeology should be. Congratulations, Dr. Linderholm, Dr. Myrberg and Dr. Hallgren! You strengthen my faith in our discipline!

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  1. #1 Tobias
    May 23, 2008

    Is really the opponent’s objective to make the doctoral candidate “look bad”, irrespective its quality and merit? Shouldn’t the opponent make an effort to be as objective as possible?

    This, of course, is a general observation, and in no way connected to the dissertation in question since I haven’t read it.

  2. #2 Martin R
    May 23, 2008

    I honestly don’t know what the point is of a Swedish disputation, since it is performed after the thesis has already been printed and distributed, and since nobody ever gets flunked unless they force the department head to organise a disputation against her will, which is extremely rare. (I did. And was not flunked. Nor was I worried.)

    But ideally, to my mind, an opponent’s job is the same as that of a prosecutor at a trial. And the author of the thesis is the defense lawyer. Their job is to convince the jury that the thesis is guilty / not guilty of being crap.

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    May 24, 2008

    I think the Swedish system is the same as the Finnish, where the opponent can fail the student, but in practice this never happens. But the public exam is used to set the grade for the thesis.

    Oh, and of course it also acts as an excuse to organise a big party (karonkka in Finnish). So I hope we don’t see any blog posts from Martin today – if we do it means he left far too early.

  4. #4 eleanora
    May 24, 2008

    Hey Martin. The link to Birka doesn’t seem to be working, and a google search is really only bringing up Aard. BTW what language is the database in?

  5. #5 Lars L
    May 24, 2008

    eleanora: The site is up working again!

  6. #6 Martin R
    May 24, 2008

    Bob: you don’t get a grade anymore for a Swedish PhD. It’s pass/fail. Or rather, it’s pass, period.

    Eleanore: they’re having server problems. The database is in Swedish.

  7. #7 ArchAsa
    May 24, 2008

    Well, the opponent is ideally meant to act as a type of ‘devil’s advocate’. Asking the hard questions, pointing out the weak arguments – and thereby giving the defendent an opprtunity to elaborate, clarify and correct what is written. Ideally. Too often it swings between those that believe everyone has turned up to hear a 2-hour monologue from their lips, or those that spend most of the time discussing font-choice and a certain obscure article they wrote in 1971 is not included in the refernce list. It’s nice when someone chosen as opponent does their job properly.

    BTW. From the annals of Wikipedia:
    Cthulhu is often referred to in science fiction and fantasy circles as a tongue-in-cheek shorthand for extreme horror or evil
    Sounds like an perfect name for an screaming, eternally hungry infant. Why didn’t I think of it… 🙂

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