Why I refuse to give Dale Garn a single penny (and maybe you don't want to either)

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So it seems I've taken it upon myself to become a sort of cultural historical watchdog. It's a filthy job, but somebody has to do it. The latest piece of historical misery comes to us in the form of a bizarre retraction on part of Dale Garn who, among other things, designs and supplies knitting patterns used by the Norwegian Alpine Ski Team. 

You see, Dale Garn - which is not to be confused with Dale of Norway, but is owned by House of Yarn, who is our main villain - decided to pull back a specific line of sweaters for the basic non-offense of having a runic design, in light of a recent spike in activity on part of a radical neo-nazi organization called The Nordic Resistance Movement. The sweaters would have been used as representational garments for the 2018 winter Olympics. Alas, no more, as Dale stated they did not want to support or be affiliated with a far-right organization. By doing so, that is exactly what happened.

By opting for a clumsy, cowardly approach they have done more than anybody else to give credence and monopoly to the organization they claim to detest. Fleeing with their tails between their legs, abandoning the heritage they claim to protect and cherish. Mind you, the popular sweater company Dale of Norway still sell the sweater (last time I checked, this sweater was even sold at Scandinavia House in NYC), and are as previously mentioned not to be confused with their sister company. All hail Dale of Norway.

The scandal was somewhat fueled by one of our nation's tabloids, VG, from whom I snatched the picture above (thank you Gisle Oddstad, VG / Terje Pedersen, NTB Scanpix, who own all rights to it etc.). VG's editor and the journalists Kristian Aaser and Martha Holmes demonstrate a worrying lack of source criticism and literacy when they refer to the algiz/maðr rune under the recent, anachronistic name "leben". 24 extra points for incompetency, VG, one for each rune in the elder futhark. You had one job. All in all, it's amazing that this piece of journalistic garbage made it past at least three people before it was published.

Associate professor Terje Spurkland, while being praiseworthy for his excellent and lively publications on the runes, also handled this in a way that disappointed more people than myself, as he was quoted by VG saying, ahem:

These runic letters should not have been on the sweaters. The Nazis used them in an unhistorical way, and today this is associated with Nazism.

Way to piss all over his own work and legacy. I would have expected something less ignorant from such an authority.

While it is certainly true that NRM applies the tiwaz/týr rune their emblem, it fails to explain Dale's decision, unless they are of the opinion that runes overall are too filfthy to be touched. I reckon they should do what everybody else does: They should rise above. At the very least they could have redone the design. Instead they issued a drastic statement, urging customers to delete, return, or destroy any promotional materials, books, pamphlets, posters, patterns and recipes associated with the sweater.

This means that if you happen to have the pattern for Dale Garn's Tor/Tora line of sweaters, you're probably in for a decent buck on ebay. Thank me later. I happened upon a short statement form House of Yarn, the owners of Dale Garn, who had this to say when confronted by a member of the public, translated by myself:

For House of Yarn it was an important and right decision to pull this design, back in August this year. The reason is easy to understand, and we do not wish to be taken in support of the dark forces that spread across the land, Europe, and the West in general. I'm sure you wouldn't knit a swastika pattern? It's the same issue with the tyr- and leben [sic] rune. We hope you find other designs and recipes with a much more positive message. 

Well I'm glad we cleared that up. Dale Garn thinks that runes are not conductive to a positive message.

Here's a history lesson: Runes are an entirely unique epigraphic system of writing used since the 2nd century AD, which despite all odds survived in certain areas as far up as until the 19th century. Runes are a cherished cultural expression, and and invaluable keepsake of Nordic culture. Within their origins and development, there lies hidden a fascinating story of cultural innovation and adaption in our ancient past. National Socialist usage is a brief second in the history of the runes. A speck of dust, a footnote. It is also worth mentioning, because it is often overlooked, that while Hitler suckled at the teat of national revivalism, he looked to Rome, not Germania, as his favored model for the Third Reich. The Norwegian police still keep the fasces in their insignia, across New York it adorns everything from granite columns to door handles, and nobody seems to give a shit. Putting Norse heritage through this sort of scrutiny is a convenient scapegoat, and nothing else. It was always the odd man out, never quite accepted in polite society. Whoever might wish to marginalize our heritage further have a great ally in Dale Garn, who hands it to them on a silver platter.

I'm not going to tell you, dear reader, what to do or what to think in this matter. I'm an absolutist when it comes to freedom of thought. It's Dale's total lack of integrity, and disregard for heritage that bothers me. I don't even care about their tacky sweater. It's Dale's privilege to do as they please with their business, but it's our privilege to take our business elsewhere. Why not support a small, local yarn business that needs your money instead?

Dale Garn can afford to lose me as a customer. I don't even knit. What they cannot afford is their loss of reputation as an ambassador of Norwegian culture. They have demonstrated that they are undeserving of such an honor, by pissing all over the Dale legacy.

At the end of the day, Dale Garn's choice is all about making money and keeping customers. Let's see if they made the right decision.

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Anything for a Buck: Viking Themed Amusement Parks and Deliberate Destruction of Cultural Heritage in West Norway

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In 2013, I published a piece in Haugesunds Avis - my hometown's local newspaper, where I urged people to ask critical questions about the sincerity behind certain claims and intentions of a viking themed amusement park, which is planned to be built outside the village of Sveio in the Haugaland region, Southwest Norway. It was a futile attempt: Though I accused them of being opportunistic, and even dangerous profiteers posing as being genuinely interested in furthering local historical identity, none of the involved parties answered my calls.

Later, this park was named Thor's (sic) Rike, "Thor's Realm", which is an extremely awkward title insofar it contains no less than two typos (Tor is the name of the thundergod in Norwegian, and the apostrophe is not used like it is in English). Anyway, the debate died before it even began. Some people supported my critique, others saw no problem - though generally people seemed to think it was an ill-advised business idea overall. Seeing that West Norway hardly is a summer paradise, the stakes are pretty high.

Proponents of the theme park, which is simply referred to as "Vikingland" locally, claim that it will create much needed jobs in the region. Sure, manual labor is needed at least until it's finished. I bet guest workers will be queuing up for the opportunity to lay every single brick that comes after the mayor's customary first - as their privilege is. Besides, no carnival can do without two or three dozen teenagers to sell tickets and cotton candy for three or four months in the summer. Lastly, a handful of people who've studied something whimsical like, say, "leadership studies" are probably needed as well.

What do I worry about, people sometimes ask. Well, I do tend to worry about a whole lot of things, but I shall try to keep it snappy: Firstly, I'm not convinced that Tho'rs Rike is going to be the blessing they're promising. They'll have to live with my negativity, but after all, it's their duty to communicate with the public and explain to them, earnestly, what their intents are. Consequently I expect us - the public - to poke around ask some questions, as this is arguably of local community interest. As we should, wherever someone is hustling for coin. Especially, perhaps, when it's trying to get a piggy back ride from local history, and poses as an ally of ancient monuments.

I am worried about the long-term results, I'm gonna hide it. If this park ends up as a total fiasco, we don't go back to square one, but minus ten. As much as I love my native region, I would be lying if I didn't say that I believe it is a wretched hive of hollow materialism,  profiteering and suspicious, nepotistic in-trading. A gang of fairly well to do folks shaking each others' dicks on a leased boat, pretending to be regional saints. But it's gotten better, it's getting somewhere.

Anyway, as I was saying: If the park is a fiasco, I don't think people will have the clarity to see this as a failure of bad business decision, but a confirmation that, ahem, "cultural heritage" isn't worth spending a dime on. When I gaze into my crystal ball of pessimism, I think that patrons will say: If we can't make this Disneyland wannabe work, then we sure as hell ain't going to bother investing in any more of his viking horseshit. I think, that when the theme park goes, it's gonna suck any monetary willingness in with it, like a black hole.

Yeah, I do believe that Th'ors Rike will be a burden - not a supplement - to the rich cultural heritage of the region. A Viking Age burial mound to the people behind it, is only really worth something to these people if they can squeeze a dollar out of it. If not, there's no reason this shouldn't be a car park as far as these people are concerned.

This region served as the main seat of Harold Fairhair, the national unifier of Norway back in the 9th century. Where no less than two viking ships have been found, which contains an unprecedented continuity and number of ancient monuments from all ages of our nation's history.

So I do believe that the park will do more harm than good. I struggle to see what it has to offer the soul of locals, who should be inspired to look to their heritage with admiration and pride. All the talk about of "infotainment" is hollow and baseless, judging from what we've seen so far. A disguise used to get through the door and sell us their ice cream and rides, making a soulless mockery of our intangible and invaluable cultural history. Killed by this ridiculous commercialization.

The rubble at Tjernagel, a mound destroyed in 1983 - a stone's throw away from the site of the park.

The rubble at Tjernagel, a mound destroyed in 1983 - a stone's throw away from the site of the park.

I'm telling you, friends, that if you wish to see a vision of the future of infotainment, then imagine a plush mascot stomping on a museum educator's face - forever. 

The worst part is the fact that the committee behind T'hors Rike pretend to be genuinely interested in celebrating and fronting our cultural history, by publishing a bizarre series of local historical articles and fact sheets about the area, probably to serve as some sort of cultural alibi, though that hardly serves to explain why a theme park is a fitting supplement to the local landscape. "Get to know ancient Sviða!", "Did you know we're building it right up the road from Norways only national monument?". And if that wasn't perverse enough, the park is due to be wedged in between several ancient monuments, around the banks of Vidgarvatnet, meaning "the hallowed lake". One of them being the mysterious "Bridal Altar" (bruraalteret) tied in with local legends about a couple who drowned during their wedding procession. The park will also be right in the sight of the Iron Age burial mounds at Apeland. 

Now, I am not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to build within proximity of ancient monuments. If so, the whole region would have been more or less uninhabitable. However, we may wonder what our ancestors would think about crumbling in their graves in the shadow of an amusement park.

Somebody's got to speak for the dead, a wise soul once said. This wouldn't be the first violation against Norwegian heritage in the region, or for that matter in the municipality of Sveio. When the 23 meters wide mound at Tjernagel was destroyed in 1983, it was already beyond 3000 years old. When it was around 2000 years old, in 1028, Þórarinn loftunga - who was one of the court poets of king Canute the Great - even described and named the mound in a skaldic poem. It is totally unique that a Viking Age source names a landmark of this kind. Nor can there be any doubt that the mound of Tjernagel served as a waypoint and beacon for seafarers over three millennia. And what a beautiful name it is: Tjernagel means "sword-nail", probably because its 400 cubic meters of rock shone brilliantly in the distances when viewed from the sea. Then, in 1983, some bureaucratic dwarves obliterated it. Why? To make room for a radio tower, a shortwave transmitter that was obsolete twenty years later. Twenty years it loomed in the crater of the 3000 year old Tjernagel mound, before they tore it down and turned it into nails. It's the sort of story that makes me wish ghosts exist, for the sole purpose of haunting the guilty parties.

Anyway. Short-sighted decisions leave permanent marks. If local moneymakers and the municipal council genuinely cares about the heritage they claim to celebrate, they can prove it by restoring the monumental burial mound at Tjernagel first, then they can go for rides.

Tjernagel bronze age mound, a navigational beacon and landmark for 3000 years, no more.

Tjernagel bronze age mound, a navigational beacon and landmark for 3000 years, no more.

This article is an extrapolated translation of an article I submitted to the regional newspaper, Haugesunds Avis. However, it was not printed. If you like what you're reading, you can support my voice by subscribing to the Brute Norse Patreon page, or by sharing this article.

 

Archaeologists Enable The Black Market By Destroying Historical Artifacts

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These are sad days for Scandinavian museum objects. Last week, 1some 400 objects were viciously burgled from the University Museum in Bergen, in all likelihood bound for the black market. Now, words of lament are howling from across the Swedish border as archaeologists have been forced to destroy artifacts recovered from digs, and objects such as scales, coins, knives, decorated foils, pre-Christian cult objects etc. are sent for scrap metal right on the site, if they are not considered unique enough to warrant conservation. Apparently too precious to own, but not to precious to be thrown.

This has already been discussed elsewhere on English language sites that are, diplomatically speaking, more tendentious in disposition, and where it plays right into the hands of a narrative where Sweden is on a masochistic binge to erase its own cultural memory to better accommodate swarthy hordes from across the sandy dunes. This will not be yet another article about that, but you cannot help but think that with this legislated destruction of their own cultural heritage, Sweden is not doing a very good job at combating the stereotypes pinned against them.

Let's add some much needed nuance: To my understanding, the destruction is for the most part carried out by private companies sourced to conduct routine and emergency digs on behalf of state archaeologists. Additionally, the items bound for the grinder are usually of negotiable historical value. These are digs that are often done in association with construction work, which none the less make up the bulk of Scandinavian digs, to the point where contemporary Nordic archaeology is more or less synonymous with highway projects and the like. Sweden, however, is unique in its employment of private archaeological companies for such tasks.

The fun thing about archaeology is that you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes you get little, sometimes you get a lot. This rings particularly true when it comes to emergency digs, in which the lack of time necessitates many tough choices. I'm sure more than a few artifacts and their contexts have met an untimely demise at the hands of such gambles, but it's debatable whether or not this is problematic if they would have been obliterated by machinery anyway.

Blasting the past

It's not unheard of to find examples of house remains, burials, or even cult sites where archaeologists can do little but step back and let the bulldozers in. In my hometown, there is the particularly grim example of the destruction of the Bronze Age burial mound at Tjernagel. A site unique not only for its impressive size, but for the fact that it's referenced in a skaldic poem from the beginning of the 11th century. The 3000 year old mound was destroyed in 1983 to make room for a since decommissioned radio transmitter. As baffling as this might seem, such practices have generally been accepted sacrifices on the altar of societal infrastructure.

However, extending this logic to artifacts is a new turn, or should I rather say; shockingly old. Especially considering that contemporary archaeology explicitly distances itself from its antiquarian roots in the 19th century, where conservation was entirely up to the excavators  who could more or less scrap whatever they saw fit. Deliberate destruction was not entirely unheard of, either, as the fate of the 8th century Storhaug ship shows. Buried in a massive mound on a particularly fertile stretch of farmland on my own native island of Karmøy, it was Excavated in 1886 by Anders Lorange. The Storhaug ship is estimated to have been at least 27 meters long. Three meters longer, and a century older, than the Gokstad ship. Lorange had no idea what to do with such a find, so he rounded up the artifacts and let the local peasants tear the ship apart for firewood. 

A child of his time, for sure. I have not met a sane archaeologist that didn't roll their eyes at Lorange's choice of action, so it's shocking to me that any Scandinavian archaeologist would return to the antiquated practice of scrapping artifacts they don't consider beautiful or important enough to save. You know, I really don't want to be one of those argument-by-current-year sort of people, I really do. But that sort of practice would hardly be tolerated in 1917 archaeology, let alone 2017.

The reasoning behind the choice to destroy these artifacts lies with the fact that museum stores are filled with metal objects of negotiable public interest. Okay, they better be filled to the brink, to the edge of absolute collapse, because the case applies to all the other Nordic countries, or Western Europe for that matter, but so far I've yet to see anybody else making screws and bottle openers out of Viking Age iron. The world may be headed off the deep end, we don't need to enforce such dystopian levels of recycling just yet.

It's been pointed out that most of the recycled material is more recent, modern trash that archaeologists are under no obligation to conserve. But there is an obvious paradox in the fact that, in theory, pocketing a rusty nail is a criminal offense but throwing it in the trash is not.

Absurdly, Sweden is the only Scandinavian country that allows private archaeological companies to perform such excavations, but it's significantly harder to acquire a private permit to use metal detectors there than it is in Norway or Denmark. Sweden banned unlicensed use of metal detectors in 1991 (Swedish archaeologist Martin Rundkvist gives an outline of their legality on his blog). Consequently, Sweden reports the fewest number finds from private detectorists, while the opposite is true for Denmark, which appears to be winning the karmic game as far as conservation goes. Whether or not metal detectors should be subject to draconian restriction is debatable, and is only relevant to this discussion as far as it relates to the black market. It's possible to argue that Sweden's restrictive legislation in itself serves as an enabler to so-called nighthawks. That is antiquarian slang for illicit detectorists. 

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The economy of destruction

Like the destruction of ivory, there is every reason to believe that destroying archaeological artifacts increases their perceived market value, even though they have never been legally obtainable to the public in the first place. With news spreading like wildfire about archaeologists destroying their own finds, the topsy-turvy world of Swedish archaeology finds itself in the situation where nighthawks may choose to claim a moral high ground. It is ironic and utterly inexcusable that artifacts have a better chance of surviving in the illicit market, than in the hands of archaeologists. If given the choice between seeing such items destroyed by the excavation teams, or sold privately, I would see them used as paperweights or mantle pieces in a private home any day. If museums can't even find a shoe box to keep them in, they might as well hand out licenses and auction them off legally. Any fate is preferable to legislated vandalism. If this is how the laws simply are, then one could argue that the laws regulating Swedish conservationism are long overdue for reconsideration. If the core of the matter lies with the fact that Swedish museums are criminally underfunded, then all the more reason to raise concerns.

It is particularly idiotic and counter-productive because archaeologists have been struggling to make themselves understood by the public for well over a hundred years. Archaeologists across Scandinavia struggle enough to communicate with landowners as it is, and this will only perpetuate the vilification of archaeology that is still prevalent in Scandinavian agricultural communities. The message these actions are sending out, is one where not only will archaeologists rip up your yard, but they might destroy whatever they find too. By standardizing last resort actions, they have created means for the black market justify itself, and where illegal possession of historical artifacts becomes preferable to their destruction.

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