Wednesday 30 November 2011

Icelandic Archaeologist Could Teach Dr. Conard Something About Scientific Decorum

I'll admit it. I was drawn to click on the news ticker up top when I saw the headline about archaeology in Iceland. That's because of my mother's father. He may have been born in Manitoba in the late eighteenth century, but his older brother and sister, his mother, his father, and all of his ancestors were born in Iceland. My Grandpa's name was Gustave 'Gus' Adolf Finnsson. Never mind the 'Adolf.' Gus was born at least fifty years before the butcher Hitler became a household name. Thanks to Grandpa I used to fantasize about being a horn-helmeted, fur-coat-wearing, swashbuckling ravener of a Viking. 
[You wouldn't know it to look at me, but Leif Ericson is a direct ancestor of mine. Not the rock star. The Viking. King of Iceland. Explorer who really 'discovered' the New World around 1000 CE, of which I'm reminded every time Columbus Day rolls around in the U.S. Yikes! Talk about a 'masking ideology' in the Mark Leone sense. This one's a bit blatant given what archaeologists have known for at least the last 50 years.]
Animal and human bones were discovered in the same pit at this Viking settlement in the Þegjandadalur Valley (Suður-Þingeyjasýsla county, northeast Iceland). Photo by Bernhild Vögel.
It's not long or detailed, but the article in the Iceland Review online tells of animal and human skeletal remains found together in a context where they might not otherwise have been expected. The byline reads 'Archeological Discovery Indicates Human Sacrifice,' but the copy contains no such unalloyed claim. In fact, the archaeologist who's quoted is Lilja Pálsdóttir, who said this to the reporter:
'I wouldn’t say that one can confirm anything about human sacrifices, although the combination of bones is interesting. We don’t know whether it indicates a ritual sacrifice as not much is known about sacrifices in Iceland at this time'
When I'd finished the article I thought, 'Geez, one of archaeology's geographically marginal practitioners could teach geographically, culturally and scientifically mainstream Nick Conard a lesson in talking to the papers.


  1. Geographically marginalprractitioner? How uninformed. The archaeology of the North Atlantic is one of the cornerstones of Historical Ecology and Lilja is well respected in the field. What rock have you been hiding under?

  2. @DHBoggs
    Ouch! I hope you're just kidding. I thought perhaps I could, without worrying about offending anyone, refer to an archaeologist in Iceland as 'geographically' on the margins. After all, it sits around 64-65 degrees north latitude, and hundreds of sea miles from the nearest European centre. I in no way meant to imply that the archaeologist was marginal in any intellectual sense. I sincerely hope you and my other readers will forgive me if my knowledge of North Atlantic archaeology or for that matter Historical Ecology is less than comprehensive--the whole modern human origins thing has pretty much filled up my pea brain. Finally, I'll have you know that I've never resorted to 'hiding' under rocks. That's for trolls, concerned and otherwise!


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