Monday Miscellany

  • On Sunday 14 November at 1400 hrs I’m giving a talk on the aristocracy of the 1st millennium AD at the Town Museum of Norrköping, Holmbrogränd.

  • On Monday 15 November I’m speaking at a seminar in Gothenburg about social media and scientific and political communication. My talk will be some time between 1300 and 1600 hrs, and treat of how I as a professional research scholar take part in the writing of Wikipedia. The venue is most likely at the IT University, Forskningsgången 6 on Lindholmen.
  • On Thursday 9 December some time after lunch I’m speaking at a seminar in Stockholm about the current and future conditions of the humanities in Sweden. The venue is Storgatan 41, stora sessionssalen, and the organisers are the Forum for Heritage Research.
  • For those who heard my talks about pseudoarchaeology in Oslo and Uppsala and wonder who Finland’s equivalent of Erich von Däniken is: Finnish colleagues inform me that it’s Jukka “Jukkis” Nieminen, author of The Lost Kingdom of Finland. Yay! But as Peter Olausson points out to me, also check out Ior Bock
  • My part-time employers, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, have decided upon the same enlightened publication policy for their books as for the journal Fornvännen. Full text Open Access publication six months after the paper version appears! Agrarian historian Janken Myrdal’s biography of his University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign colleague Folke Dovring is already available as a free e-book in English. I am particularly pleased with this step as my own upcoming book on Late Iron Age Östergötland under the Academy’s imprimatur will receive the same treatment.
  • Emma Vodoti has defended an interesting PhD thesis about invertebrate taxonomy at the University of Gothenburg. In the age of cheap DNA sequencing, the whole Linnaean edifice is going through some radical restructuring as it turns out that skin-deep classification criteria are not always enough to track real evolutionary genealogy.
  • Tobias Bondesson has sent me the full 7-page document (in Swedish) where the EU reprimands the Kingdom of Sweden on its restrictive metal detector legislation.
  • Jack of Kent comments on the TAM London skeptics’ conference on The New Statesman’s blog site.
  • Joacim Lund comments on the Kritisk masse skeptics’ conference in Aftenposten.
  • The European Association of Archaeologists is having its Annual Meeting in Oslo in 2011.
  • UK Museums are removing mummies and other human remains from display because of pressure from religious minorities including neopagans. At least they’re not caving in to demands for reburial. (Thanks to Christina Reid and Roger Wikell for the tip-off.)
  • A group headed by my old undergrad buddy Sven Isaksson has identified a biomarker that allows a test for yeast in ancient pottery. This will offer new data for the debate on the function of the Beaker culture’s essential piece of kitchenware!

Comments

  1. #1 Bengt O.
    November 8, 2010

    “The lost Kingdom of Finland” kanske syftar på att en tysk furste utsågs till kung av Finland år 1918 (under namnet Väinö I) sedan den ryske storfursten avsatts i samband med revolutionen i Ryssland. Sedan gick det ju inte så bra för Tyskland och finländarna bildade republik i stället (något som Sverige också borde göra). Så Jukkis kanske är OK?

  2. #2 Bengt O.
    November 8, 2010

    Sorry, I should have written that in English. A German prince was actually appointed as King Väinö I of Finland in 1918 after the Russian revolution. The Finns however changed their minds and founded a republic instead (something which also should be done in Sweden). So “Jukkis” may be OK with his lost kingdom of Finland?

  3. #3 kai
    November 8, 2010

    “invertebrate taxonomy at the University of Gothenburg”

    At first I took this to be a sociological study of spineless university staff, then I thought it was about arthropods living in the university buildings, but apparently none of this was correct.

  4. #4 Nomen Nescio
    November 9, 2010

    good theory, Bengt, but from that wikipedia.fi page on the man i doubt it’s anything that straightforward. while that page doesn’t mention the book in question, the background it gives on mr. Nieminen makes me really doubt it’s nearly that straightforward…

  5. #5 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 9, 2010

    Re: Kindom of Finland. I suppose Jukkis is more in line with this:
    http://victorian.fortunecity.com/christy/32/frnjtre.html

  6. #6 Richard D
    November 9, 2010

    Whilst keeping my skeptical hat on re the Daily Mail article (17 museums may have drafted plans but how serious are they in those plans), I do remember visiting Manchester museum during the consultation process for their new Egyptian gallery. They explicitly asked about the display of human remains and from looking at the responses there seemed to be a wide spread of opinion.

    I admit I have rather forthright views on this, in that I find people seeking to have them covered up are displaying the worst of prudery whilst masking under the veil of the ‘dignity’ of the dead and getting offended on other people’s behalf.

    I find the display of the dead to be an excellent way to remind us of our mortality and hopefully, allows us get beyond silly notions of the hidden dead that we have had since the Victorians. This is not to say I don’t think we should care for the remains or display them in a gratuitous manner but in the end they are, well, ‘things’.

    Sorry, I feel I am going to be criticised for that view.

  7. #7 Richard D
    November 9, 2010

    I should also point out that for Manchester of all places to hide their mummies would be ridiculous, given they are home to an institute aimed solely at the bio-medical analyses of these remains.

  8. #8 Martin R
    November 9, 2010

    Richard, I agree.

  9. #9 Christian Lovén
    November 9, 2010

    It’s very unlikely that the Finns never had kings. They lived in proximity with peoples who had, and their word “kuningas” is Gothic in origin, meaning early. Actually the name of one of them has survived: Widsith (probably 9th century), line 20: “Casere weold Creacum ond Cælic Finnum”. Widsith liked to throw names around and the lack of other support is evident, but the text is of respectable age.

  10. #10 Martin R
    November 9, 2010

    Who knows, maybe Nieminen refers to Widsith? His main perspective though seems occult and mystical.

    Anyway, though “king” is a nebulous concept, I certainly agree that society in Finland was not egalitarian in the 1st millennium.

  11. #11 Christian Lovén
    November 9, 2010

    I don’t think the Widsith note is much known in Finland. What probably is the gist of mr Nieminen’s thoughts can be found at the link given by Lassi Hippeläinen above (in English).

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    November 9, 2010

    I am told there is usually some “Big man”/proto-king in charge during the transition from a tribal society to a state. The “Big man” rules in defiance of previous tradition (a bit like Julius Cesar) when the local society can support a society too big or complex for the previous societal organisation to work. Maybe Widsith was one?

    The German tribes had at least one proto-king who fought the Roman influence for decades, but Roman destabilisation prevented any German “kingdom” (in the sense of a nation state) to emerge until well after antiquity (not counting the Goths, who were happy to copy the Roman model when they took over parts of the empire).

  13. #13 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 9, 2010

    We don’t know much about Finnish society during the first millennium, because archaeological evidence is so sparse. People used biodegrading materials almost for everything. If they produced any written records, they are gone now. Maybe the Swedish conquest helped a bit, too.

    Anyway, there is evidence about organized societies at least at tribal level, mostly burials and common defence works, but also trading centres. There probably were chieftains at the same level of organization as the petty kindoms of Germanic people. (BTW, Germany as a nation state wasn’t created until the days of Otto von Bismarck.)

    Of course one of those petty kingdoms might have called itself Finland in the early stage. Originally the name Suomi applied only to the SW corner of the current country, and therefore there really might have been a King of Finland. Of sorts.

    There is also linguistic evidence. The dialects have had pretty stable boundaries. And kuningas (the Finnish word for king) is a loan word from Proto-German. It was adopted no later than early iron age, possibly already during the bronze age (i.e. before 500 BCE). Finnish has preserved the original form of the word, but Germanic peoples have changed it to king/kung/könig/whatever.

  14. #14 Martin R
    November 9, 2010

    We don’t know much about Finnish society during the first millennium, because archaeological evidence is so sparse. People used biodegrading materials almost for everything.

    I beg to differ. The archaeological record of coastal Finland from the 1st millennium is not bad at all, though as I understand it my Finnish colleagues haven’t done a lot of targeted settlement excavations. Loads of graves anyway.

    Biodegradable is not a problem. Postholes and hearths remain.

  15. #15 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 10, 2010

    I should have been more precise. I meant there is no written evidence about social structure, e.g. no gravestones with titles on it.

    It is not known when writing arrived to Finland, but it probably came before the Swedes. It would be nice to find the correspondence between any local rulers, written on birch bark letters…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birch_bark_letter_no._292

  16. #16 Martin R
    November 10, 2010

    Disregarding the ethnicity of whoever brought writing, could you tell me about any indications of writing *done* in Finland prior to AD 1100? I know there are foreign coins from the Roman era onward, but the locals probably couldn’t read them.

  17. #17 Wesa
    November 10, 2010

    Hehe, nice to see Nieminen becoming of international fame! :) His book is partly about the lineage of kings as someone here suspected, the other part is about ley-lines and such. His reasoning goes somewhat like this:

    - churches are situated so that they form ley-lines and many of them seem to be about 33,3 km apart from each other (see for example the maps at http://tinyurl.com/387skjo)
    - churches were built on iron age cemeteries and other holy places, so their placement reflects an older system
    -> iron age people were able to measure the lenghts by triangulation, calculate longitudes accurately and form long ley-lines
    -> this complex geometrical system is only possible if there was a strong central power organizing it all

    There was some talk at their discussion board about making a movie about the book, so keep your fingers crossed!

  18. #18 Martin R
    November 10, 2010

    I was asked yesterday if there is any typically Nordic type of pseudoarchaeology. Sadly, it seems our nutters just copy whatever the Englishmen and Americans and Germans come up with. The only really original Nordic thing I remember seeing is Ior Bock’s theory about prehistoric sacral autofellatio.

  19. #19 Wesa
    November 10, 2010

    Martin R@18: “I was asked yesterday if there is any typically Nordic type of pseudoarchaeology.”

    How about identifying siedi-stones on the basis of anthro- or zoomorphism alone?

  20. #20 Martin R
    November 10, 2010

    Hmmm, that sounds more like a practice of ancient Scandy religion than a study of it.

  21. #21 Wesa
    November 10, 2010

    Oops, forgot to mention that it is done by a professor emeritus of comparative religion. And if I’m not completely wrong, he thinks that they should be protected ancient monuments. But I need to check to be sure.

  22. #22 Martin R
    November 10, 2010

    Maybe the professor himself deserves the status of protected ancient monument.

  23. #23 Sandgroper
    November 10, 2010

    #6 “Sorry, I feel I am going to be criticised for that view.”

    Not by me.

    The proponents of “dignity of the dead” don’t seem to be vocal about people leaving their bodies to science. Perhaps they wish to have advances in medical science but not advances in archaeology.

    A lot of people who object in my country are Aboriginal people who would benefit a lot themselves in terms of learning about their ancestors, instead of continuing to rely on oral histories transmitted over very long time spans (much of which are now irrevocably lost anyway because the people are extinct in their pre-European-settlement cultural form – there were at least 250 language groups, of which only a handful remain).

    Getting Yagan’s head back and giving it a ‘proper burial’ was understandable, but there was nothing to be learned from that, he is well enough documented in the written histories and written records taken of the oral histories, and there are good sketches available of his head, so nothing was lost by it.

    My daughter gets mischievous enjoyment out of coming home from university and saying things like “I had a bucket full of spinal chords to play with in the ‘wet lab’ today” (human, obviously), usually timed just as we are sitting down at the dinner table. And in response to my question, she said the spinal chords were not labelled, so there is no way to reunite people’s bits before they are cremated. Not too dignified.

    When they had a lab on the reproductive organs, she said the lecturer inserted his finger into the anus of every single specimen. No idea why. Not too dignified.

    The simple answer to people who find viewing mummified remains is “Then don’t go in and look”.

    At the Pompeii exhibition I went to see earlier this year, the museum found an easy answer to displaying the body casts – they put them around a corner, out of sight of the main exhibition, and put up a sign that said “Before you go around this corner, please be aware…etc…if you think you might find this upsetting, don’t look.” There were no objections reported. The people I observed viewing the casts seemed to find them less interesting and a lot less moving than I did – I got tears in my eyes looking at the cast of one young girl holding the hem of her dress over her face, but I didn’t see anyone else affected at all.

    Martin, good news about the book.

  24. #24 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 11, 2010

    #16: No, I don’t, but absence of evidence and all that. Everybody they traded with were literate (i.e. had scribes), so why not them? If they wrote, they probably wrote on birch bark or some other perishable material.

    Writing was spread by Christianity (and sometimes ahead of it, like Viking runes). When it arrived to Finland is not clear, but it must have arrived before Swedish conquest via Novgorod, because Christian vocabulary in Finnish is mostly derived from Russian. (Note: I’m not claiming that all Finns had been baptized when the Swedes came…)

    #18: Sad news – Ior Bock was killed last month.
    http://yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/10/mythologist_ior_bock_dies_in_mysterious_circumstances_2085249.html