Andreas Oldeberg (1892-1980) is rumoured to have had some pretty ugly political leanings. But just because you like cheese, you needn’t socialise with cows. If you’re into Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age metalwork from Sweden, there is absolutely no getting around Oldeberg’s huge illustrated catalogue from 1974.
I’m currently grabbing data out of the catalogue for my sacrificial sites project. And I’ve come across a funny detail that shows that old Oldeberg was not up to speed with his day’s archaeological methodology.
Whenever Oldeberg describes a spearhead, he classifies it according to a fairly new piece of work at the time, Gernot Jacob-Friesen 1967. This scholar named his types for find spots, such as Valsømagle, Bagterp etc. But quite often, Oldeberg isn’t sure what type a certain spearhead belongs to. He’ll say wahrscheinlich Typ Bagterp, “probably Bagterp type”, for instance. This is fully understandable if you only have part of a spearhead: the distinctive characteristics of various possible types may not be extant on the bit you’ve got. But Oldeberg does this all the time with complete objects. And that makes no sense whatsoever after 1962.
In his 1962 dissertation, Jungneolithische Studien, Mats P. Malmer established that an object type’s identity rests entirely upon a verbal definition. Material, dimensions, proportions, decorative details: a scholar must tell her readers clearly what the rules are for inclusion and exclusion in a type, or it isn’t a type. Do feel free to illustrate the definition with pictures of objects that belong to the type in question, but don’t ever think that it’s enough to say (as Jacob-Friesen did) that “Type Valsømagle is spearheads like figs. 1-3”. Because that doesn’t tell the reader what characteristics specifically make those spearheads members of type Valsømagle. And it doesn’t tell the reader what sort of variation is permissible within the confines of the type you’re proposing.
So the reason that Andreas Oldeberg often couldn’t tell what type a well-preserved spearhead belonged to was that Jacob-Friesen’s classification scheme is completely flawed and contains no stringent type definitions. Oldeberg could see that a given spearhead looked kind of like the pictures of Jacob-Friesen’s “type” Bagterp, but he had no way of telling whether Jacob-Friesen would have accepted it as a member of the type. Because Jacob-Friesen’s work does not contain instructions for how to make that call.