In Loving Memory of Roger Wikell

Photo by Kristina Laitinen / Nynäshamnsposten

Photo by Kristina Laitinen / Nynäshamnsposten

I awoke this morning to the surreal and sad news of the Swedish archaeologist Roger Wikell’s passing.

This is a particularly difficult text to write, not only for the sake of the severity of the subject, but for the inadequacy of brief and sober words to celebrate the memory of such a passionate, fun, and enthusiastic man. But before I go on to even attempt that, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to his family.

In an academic world rocked by hopes and fears of institutional employment, Roger was something of a masterless samurai. He carved out a living as a contract archaeologist, and maintained an impressive productivity regardless of financial backing, as his colleague Martin Rundkvist points out in his moving celebration of Roger’s life and career.

Roger’s engagement and activities far surpassed the expectations of his academic profession. He wasn’t just a pillar of the Scandinavian archaeological community: He loved interacting with all aspects of Scandinavian heritage, and brought together a wide array of people. Whether they were living historians, traditional craftsmen, university professors, independent scholars, or simply “happy amateurs”, Roger’s active efforts contributed to the development of one big, extended community in friendly celebration of the past. There wasn’t a snobby or pretentious bone in his body.

I am proud to have been able to call Roger my friend, and my own work certainly benefited from his continuing support and help. Roger died of a heart attack in the woods. There may be some solace in the fact that he loved the outdoors. This was obvious not only because it was a necessity of his career, but how he seemed to always be out and about. He seemed to always be stumbling across some undiscovered petroglyph, or rediscovering lost runestones, whether at work or in his free time. This was a man who could never take a break.

More often than not, I got my archaeological news from Roger. He was in tune with whatever was going on, and always had some new find to report. Many will recall his wit and comedic timing too. I will particularly cherish the memory of our clowning around at the Non-Christian religion in archaeology, place-names, and landscapes conference (phew!) in Ulvik, Norway, in 2012. I was running around after dinner, interrogating various pillars of the scholarly community on which animals they would consider themselves equal to in single, bare-knuckle combat. While most went for beasts they could easily defeat in a most cowardly fashion, Roger’s unflinching reply was as original as it was true to his personality: “Jag borde kunna ta en älg” - I reckon I could take out a moose, he insisted. The king of the forest, no less. Even in my morbid games, Roger aimed a little higher.

I don’t know if Roger hoped for an afterlife, but if the afterlife our ancestors envisioned has any truth to it, I expect Roger is in for a warm welcome and a good seat in the rooms that lie beyond the deep waters, at the end of that journey we will all embark on. Often so much sooner than we think.

Here’s to Roger Wikell, a true friend of the past.