Archaeological Fatherhood

Back in April of 2008 I mused that strictly chronologically speaking, at 36 I was already a mid-career academic since I started working at 20 and retirement age is currently 65. I'm still years from the age when people get academic jobs in my discipline, 41, but anyway.

Yesterday I had two experiences that opened my eyes to the fact that I am now an archaeological dad. By that I mean that there are at least two fields where work I once did is no longer the Stand der Forschung, but where vigorous new studies refer to and build upon my old stuff. I am a member of the parental generation in Swedish archaeology.

In 1992, about the time I turned 20, I finished an MA thesis about burnt mounds, weird Bronze Age structures consisting of fire-cracked stone mixed with apparent household garbage and often burials. It was published in Fornvännen two years later (and that contact with the journal's editors became a life-changer for me). The title was "Burnt mounds with burials in the easternmost part of the Lake Mälaren area".

Now I'm the journal's managing editor. Yesterday I started copy-editing Anna-Sara Noge's contribution to the up-coming winter issue. Her paper (based on this MA thesis of hers) is titled "Burnt mounds containing human bones in the region north of Lake Mälaren". Where I had only anonymous bone concentrations in burnt mounds, she has complete osteological evaluations of all bones from a large number of mounds. She brings new data to the question why on Earth those Bronze Age weirdos were burying people in garbage heaps. And she agrees with what my friend Lars Lundqvist wrote in 1991 and I wrote after him: the modern category of "garbage" probably isn't relevant when studying the society of Bronze Age Sweden.

In 1993 I spent most of the fieldwork season working on Magnus Artursson's excavation of Bollbacken, a Middle Neolithic seal hunting site of the Pitted Ware culture near Västerås. As these sites go, it had an uncommonly landward location inside the great Baltic bay formed by the Lake Mälaren basin at the time. We found lots of post-supported trapezoid hut foundations, and I'm proud to say that as I digitised all the field plans over the following winter, I actually identified most of those huts myself since nobody had been able to see the big picture while we were digging. We also found a mortuary building which I dug together with Claes Hadevik, a number of Pitted Ware cremation graves (which were almost unheard of before Bollbacken), a Pre-Roman Iron Age cremation urn cemetery, and a single 7th century grave which was the sort of thing we had originally expected to dig. (We were actually called the "grave group" at the start of the season.)

At the time I had already decided to write my PhD thesis about Late Iron Age matters, so I didn't ask to be given any writing duties on the Bollbacken archive report. In fact, I didn't trust anyone else on the team to organise and register all the finds to a sufficient level of Ordnung, so I spent that winter as our finds and digitising man. Umm, kid, I guess.

And yesterday I received Åsa M. Larsson's PhD thesis. She wasn't on the Bollbacken dig, but a big chunk of her book is an in-depth study of the cremation burials and associated structures from Bollbacken! I can't wait to read it!

Neither Noge nor Larsson is anywhere near young enough to be my daughter, and I certainly don't claim any paternal authority in those two fields that I've been away from for so long. (I'm actually preparing to return to Bronze Age studies as a humble student.) But I'm very proud to see that my brain babies are having babies of their own now. That proves to me that the work I put in back in the day was worthwhile.


More like this

Fornvännen's winter issue (2009:4) is now on-line and available to anyone who wants to read it. Check it out! Anna-Sara Noge looks at burnt mounds, Bronze Age heaps of fire-cracked stone, with bones in them, just like I once did for my first academic paper. But unlike me she has actual…
My dear friend and fellow archaeo-blogger Ãsa M. Larsson of Ting & Tankar has sent her PhD thesis off to the printers! This she has done with her supervisor's blessing, which in Sweden means that she is for all practical purposes a PhD now. The viva is just a ritual and your committee can't…
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Nah, you're more like an archaeological uncle who exerted a bad influence on your kid brother during his formative years. (-;

GAH! I'm a hardly more than a year younger than you, and I only just finished my thesis. I really didn't need that reminder that I am way behind...

Of course I didn't start as a PhD until I was 29 and I managed to squeeze out two kids in the meantime, but still. I'll just crawl under a rock and hide now :-P

No no no, it's completely worthless to finish your PhD while young in Sweden. It just means that the five post-viva years during which you can apply for associate lecturer are spent competing fruitlessly with people who have 10 years' worth of publications more than you.

Also, your thesis is way better than mine. And you haven't made any enemies. You'll be fine.

Did all of you "aunties" and "uncles" of Scandy archeology come to any intriguing conclusions as to why folks were burying their own aunties and uncles in their "garbage"? I'm dying to know!

By DianaGainer (not verified) on 09 Sep 2009 #permalink

Lundqvist's 1991 idea, which I endorsed, was that they probably wouldn't have understood our distinction between garbage and sacred things. Noge suggests that the fire-cracked stone and "garbage" may actually have been the remains of cremation pyres. But her main contribution is in my opinion that she has demonstrated that a) they really are human burials, b) the dead people are evenly distributed across the sexes and age at death.