For many years, the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm was strictly a custodian and exhibitor of archaeological finds, performing no excavations of its own. Recently, however, its staff has resumed excavations on a small scale. The unusual nature of this fieldwork identifies it as inspired by post-modernist trends in museology.
I have already blogged a bit about the museum’s reverse excavations, an “incavation”. But my colleagues there are excavating as well. They started with their own back yard a few years back. The museum grounds are on the erstwhile site of a cavalry regiment in a part of Stockholm that was on the city’s semi-rural outskirts until the 1890s. The regiment moved out in 1928 and the museum’s additions to its buildings were finished in 1939. So the back yard trench yielded 18th and 19th century refuse (much like the stuff my friends at Djurhamn and I dug up to our disappointment this past June) plus remains of the museum’s popularisation work in the past half-century. Until the other day, the funniest finding was a fake Viking Period cremation grave with replica bronze jewellery and beads.
Now museum staff is trial-excavating the nearby remains of a scale reconstruction of Medieval Stockholm, built for the 1897 Stockholm exhibition. The characteristically post-modernist slant to these two fieldwork projects lies in their pre-occupation with meta-archaeology: digging the diggers of the past. The project directors want to study how people in the past (the 1890s and post-WW2) thought about their past (the Middle Ages and all of Prehistory). To my mind, the results of their efforts may be of some interest to Late Modern historians and museologists. And, of course, to all the museum visitors who get to take part in the excavation of these non-critical remains. Punters are being entertained.
A recent find from the trench in the museum grounds is very likely a wry gift from an archaeologist wishing to remind the museum staff of why most of their colleagues dig. A little Swiss girl picked up a bronze dupondius struck for Emperor Nero in AD 66-68. Coins of that era are almost unkown in Sweden, and it is in my opinion completely out of the question that it would have happened to lie around the museum’s site since antiquity and happened to end up right in the trench. Poor specimens of bronze issues like these are cheap on eBay. Maybe the finder’s parents (they’re from the Empire’s territory, after all) seeded the trench to entertain their daughter. Or maybe, just maybe, and I’m speculating wildly here, it might have been dropped by a visiting coin collector in the decades after WW2.
Sadly, my old buddy from grad school, Marie Svedin, suggests on the project blog that the coin would have been part of an ancient
burial on site. She bases this on a few 1st Millennium potsherds also found in the trench. But ugly household pottery of this type is a common find whereever you dig in agricultural Sweden. It is nowhere near enough to allow us to postulate a destroyed burial with a unique coin. Ockham’s razor: the find must be treated as entirely spurious.
Come on now, guys. You know that most field archaeologists think your back-yard digging is pretty much a waste of time to begin with. Can you really afford to be taken in by pranks as well?