Student Labour Wasted at Ales Stenar

It's that time of the year again when little usually happens and Sweden's loudest and most aggressive amateur archaeologist likes to get in the news. As mentioned here before, Bob G. Lind has managed to get my otherwise respected colleague Wladyslaw Duczko to join him and dowsing-rod geologist N-A. Mörner for some fieldwork near a lovely standing-stone ship in Scania, the famous Ales stenar, built in the 7th century AD. Duczko's involvement solved the problem previously alluded to here, that when local bodies give Bob funding for fieldwork, they're betting on a horse that can't actually get a fieldwork permit.

The merry three believe, against all dating evidence from this and similar sites, that the monument dates from the Bronze Age. They are digging with Duczko's Polish students within sight of the stone ship, but not close enough to harm it. Nor, indeed, close enough for their results to have any relevance for the dating and functional interpretation of the monument. They're on a spot where there's faint remains of a trackway down the erosion scarp above the seashore. Such an erosion scarp moves inland over the centuries. This means that the stone ship was much farther from the sea when it was built than it is now.

The placement of the track is contingent on where the scarp is currently located, and so the track can't be very old. But Duczko & Co assume that the track was used to pull the stones to the site of the ship. So they want to date the track. If they can date it to a period before the Late Iron Age, their reasoning goes, then this will date the stone ship. This is really lame. Even if the track were Mesolithic in date, even if it were early post-glacial, then nothing would keep people in the Late Iron Age from plonking a monument down on or near the track. And there is nothing to suggest that the stones of the ship were really brought up the scarp along the track.

So what has the fieldwork shown? Touchingly, Duczko & Co emphasise that they have not found anything to date the track to the 1st millennium AD, as if this were an important result. Have they, then, been able to date it to the Bronze Age? No. The track remains undated and functionally unrelated to the stone ship.

I feel really sorry for the students who waste their time on this project. Scania is an extremely rich archaeological province, and there are so many amazing sites where these young people could contribute to new exciting discoveries, make useful contacts and learn something. Instead they've been lured onto a pointless dig devised by a crank with whom not one Scanian archaeologist is willing to collaborate.

The TT news agency called me about this and wrote a nicely understated treatment that made it into various papers: DN, SvD, GP. They got one thing wrong though. I didn't say that every known large stone ship has been dated with radiocarbon. I said that those that have been dated thus have given consistent late-1st millennium dates.

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This is unbelievably stupid and not only a waste of students' time but also of funding!! Send that funding over here to Bornholm, where I'm digging right now. We have PLENTY of more interesting uses for it. Thank you.
One suggestion is that we could use it here:

How cultish are these folks? Just saying something is older doesn't seem that weird to me. Do they bring in my least favorite cult ideas like Atlantis or ancient astronauts? The typical cult explanation for sites made of stone ("obviously the Indians could have made them" (racist and dimwitted)) are Madoc the welshman and the Phoenicians.

"Indians could not have made them" (I meant to say)

I went there a few weeks ago. It's interesting how there are two parallell info-tables giving conflicting versions of the stones' background. It was quite hard to see which one was the scientifically correct one from the content, until I saw one was only signed with the simple name Bob G. Lind while the other had some institution.

I don't remember exactly which one had the theory of the solar calendar so Ill ask here: does it hold up? Will you see the sun rise and set corresponding to the four corners of the ship if you stand in the middle at midsummer and midwinter? Is this common for ship thingies?

By Johan Lundgren (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

I choose Bob Hund over Bob Lind. Besides, Ales stenar were erected long after the astronauts had left, making them uninteresting :-)

Regarding Bornholm and other medium-sized islands. Since Bornholm is big enough for a far-sized polity to emerge and rule the island, would it have been a relatively safe place for the inhabitants, since you cannot easily do cattle raids across the sea? Raiders could still have harried the coasts to steal smaller items of value, but the bigger the target community, the more risky the enterprise.
An island big enough for the chieftain to afford lookouts along the coast would certainly deter bands smaller than an outright war party.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

Martin, do archaeologists know how monuments like these were built? How do you move stones that weigh over a tonne without engines?

By nick williams (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

You move stones with sand, logs, twine and human muscle power. It's difficult for one person, certainly, but it isn't impossible for a dozen of so healthy people to do it. This is why cars and trucks get knocked over in riots: A bunch of people together have a massive amount of force. Multiply that with planning, and much can happen.

Tenine, Bob believes in long-distance ley lines, ancient astronomical calendars, crop circles made by space aliens and homeopathy. One of his self-published books is titled (and I translate) "There is not one God, there are millions". And as I alluded to, N-A. Mörner believes in dowsing.

Johan, the stone ship's long axis appears roughly aligned with the equinoctial sunrise IIRC, but you can't use it as a calendar between equinoxes as the stones are too wide. Also, the stones are not exactly in their original settings, so any measurements made today have an uncertain relationship to the builders' intentions. Jonathan Lindström and Curt Roslund, Sweden's most respected writers on archaeoastronomy, have published a careful evaluation and rebuttal of Bob's model.

Birger, Bornholm was extremely prosperous in the 1st millennium AD (like Ãland, Gotland and Saaremaa). Raiding at the time was more about precious metals and slaves than about cattle. A Viking Period travelogue mentions that the island had its own king, which suggests that the inhabitants managed to stay out of a number of nascent states unusually late.

Nick, Crissa, as you suggest the problem isn't really building the thing but getting the stones to the site. People in the area had been moving (and splitting) large boulders as a matter of course since the Early Neolithic, 4000 years before Ales stenar. You can get a lot of engineering done with oxen, rope and logs.

Crissa, Martin. Thanks for explanation. Yes, after looking at some photos of the landscape which seems quite flat and not very rocky, I wondered how the stones had got there and where they had been transported from.

By nick williams (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

As an honorary Swede, Nick, you know that the landscape around here is liberally dotted with erratic boulders dropped by the inland ice when it melted. Some of them are the size of houses. I saw amazing examples west of Uppsala a few weeks ago.

HÃ¥kan. I did fall asleep last night thinking it would be possible to do something like this. A reconstruction but itâs already been done :-( 15 people to move a 1.5 tonne boulder. Impressive. Anyway, Iâd rather do this for a weekend, than some of the team building rubbish that is current management training ... Now Iâm ranting. I had a Dutch housemate at university called Boulder ...

By nick williams (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink

I didn't realise this was so controversial. It brightened up my Sunday afternoon reading the readers' comments in DN. I quote.

Ales stenar byggdes 1830 och är första konstruktionen med det vi kan kalla för funkis design, man kom fram till detta genom att använda kol-14 metoden på ett dockument om Ales stenar som man hittade i Kungliga biblioteket. En annan gängse teori är att människor någon gång har rest stenarna av någon anledning, gissningsvis för att markera grännsen till en uteservering.

Ale's stones were built in 1830 and are the first example of what we today would call functional design. This was established by carbon dating a document on Ale's stones that was found in The National Library of Sweden's collections. Another theory is that someone at sometime for some reason put the stones there, probably to mark the boundary of a cafe's outside seating area.

Very amusing.

By nick williams (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink

I always wonder why people think that big stones were moved in the summer. It would have been much easier in the winter, when you can build an ice track for a sledge, and the workforce isn't needed elsewhere.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink

Dale, yes, same guy. He used to teach geology but is now retired and thus doesn't really have a business out of which he might be driven.

Related -crop circle pranksters

"Physics could be behind the secrets of crop-circle artists"…

We in Sweden have not done much "circling" -maybe we lack the mischievous nature of Englishmen :-)

BTW Mel "Batshit Crazy" Gibson made a film called "Signs".
As a horror film it was OK, as a SF film it was crap
-anthropomorph baddies, "harvesting" humans -a concept Campbell banned from "Astounding Science Fiction" in the late 1930s because it made no sense back then and it makes no sense now. They would most likely be poisoned by the terrestrial proteins. And logistics of travelling a gadzillion miles for humanburger? FAIL!

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink