Misquoted

A few years ago, I came across a paper by N.-A. Mörner in which he claimed to have found a “strict solar alignment of Bronze Age rock carvings in SE Sweden.” That paper was so full of unsubstantiated claims and simply wrong on so many levels that I decided to use it as an example for what can go wrong in archaeoastronomical studies. I published my paper in the same journal. Almost two years went by. Then, Mr Mörner contacted me and asked for a copy of my paper. I sent him a PDF and thought, well, finally he is interested in what somebody else thinks about his work. Two months later I saw that my paper had been cited. I downloaded the “article in press” and was curious to see how Mr Mörner would have discussed or rebutted my critical remarks.

He didn’t discuss them at all. Yes, he referred to my paper. But how he referred to it was an unpleasant surprise:

“The Bronze Age carvings at Järrestad have a strict alignment with respect to the Sun’s motions, and the sunrise at Winter solstice seems to have been of special significance to the people (Mörner, 2012a; Hesse, 2013).” [Mörner, 2015]

Instead of discussing my criticism of his 2012 paper he simply added a reference to my paper. The result reads as if my 2013 paper would confirm his views regarding “a strict alignment with respect to the Sun’s motions” or the “special significance” of “the sunrise at Winter solstice”. On the contrary, in my 2013 paper I have expressed serious concerns regarding Mörner’s interpretation and have concluded:

“Given the serious problems regarding accuracy and precision in determining the orientation of the Järrestad rock carvings, and the wide scatter of the reported orientations, it is not plausible to infer a solar alignment of the rock carvings at Järrestad. […] Alternative explanations considering the spatial relationship of the site to the coastline, the practice of rock carving as well as intended visibility of the Järrestad rock carvings have to be taken into account. An archaeoastronomical component of the Järrestad rock carvings is not supported by the evidence.” [Hesse, 2013]

Now, I don’t want a reference to my work presented as if I had written the exact opposite of what I have written. Fortunately, it was not too late (or so I thought) – the status of Mörner’s new paper was still “article in press, uncorrected proof”. So I wrote to Mr Mörner as well as to the editor of Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports and asked them to remove the citation in question. The editor who had handled the paper suggested to add “but contra see” to indicate that my paper does not support Mörner’s views.

Fine with me. End of story? Not at all. Mr Mörner sent me a message and told me that my opinion on this matter does not count. And the editor told me later that it was not possible to add the “but contra see” bit because Mr Mörner refused to agree with it. The paper got published. But not only did it get published containing a misquotation (which could happen unintentionally), it got published containing an intentional misquotation despite the fact that the editor had ask Mr Mörner to correct it.