Category Archives: SWEDEN

Archaeologists uncover 850-year-old 170 silver medieval coins in an ancient grave, in Sweden

Archaeologists uncover 850-year-old 170 silver medieval coins in an ancient grave, in Sweden

During archaeological excavations in a medieval graveyard in Brahekyrkan on the Swedish island of Visingsö, archaeologists uncovered about 170 silver coins dating back to the mid-12th century.

This discovery, made during a geothermal installation project at the church, not only sheds new light on the medieval history of the region, but also challenges existing notions of burial customs and coin circulation in medieval Götland.

The Jönköping County Museum announced the find in a Mar. 27 press release that was translated from Swedish to English.

The silver coins were found in the grave of a man that experts believed was between 20 and 25 years old when he died. The pieces of metal were produced between 1150 and 1180. 170 silver bracteates were found in total. A bracteate is a piece of thin, coin-shaped metal that was used as jewelry.

“On the very first day, my colleague Kristina Jansson and I found two skeletons in the shaft where the wires were to be laid, explains Anna Ödéen, project manager and archaeologist. “We cleaned out the bones from the buried to get an idea of ​​what the graves looked like. All of a sudden three silver coins appeared! We soon realized that many more were lying close to the buried person’s left foot.”

The find is extremely unique, partly because there are few similar finds from the period, and partly because some of the coins were completely unknown before.

The excavation also uncovered 24 graves and 20 hearths. A survey in 2005 revealed the presence of hearths at the site, with three dating to 50-400 AD, indicating that activity at the site dates back at least to the Roman Iron Age.

What struck the investigators as odd is that the 20 graves were located outside the church wall, on unconsecrated ground. Anna Ödéen commented in a second press release:

“During parts of our history, someone who committed suicide could not be given what the church called “an honorable burial” and the same was true for unbaptized children and serious criminals…However, it turned out that it was not just one grave, but many more. All lay in the same direction, well aligned with each other, and at the same depth. It was therefore an organized burial site, where they should also have had a marking above ground.”

Findings in Christian cemeteries are uncommon; this practice dates back to a bygone era, which is what makes the Visingsö find unique. It is still unknown why this man in his 20s took so many coins to his grave. As they continue to work with the find, the archaeologists at the county museum hope to uncover more hints.

“It is a completely sensational find that will change the early medieval coin history in Götaland and shed light on a period that is largely completely unknown,” the Royal Coin Cabinet’s Eeva Jonsson said in a statement.

The coins are now undergoing conservation work. The collection of coins, including a handful of two-sided Gotland coins, is now undergoing detailed analysis by Kenneth Jonsson, a numismatics expert.

Three Strange Skull Modifications Discovered in Viking Women

Three Strange Skull Modifications Discovered in Viking Women

Three Strange Skull Modifications Discovered in Viking Women

In recent years, research has provided evidence for permanent body modification in the Viking Age. The latest of these investigations focused on the discovery of three Viking Age women from the Baltic Sea island of Gotland who had their skulls lengthened.

This investigation sheds light on the fascinating tradition of body modification prevalent among the Norse and Vikings.

The study, authored by Matthias Toplak and Lukas Kerk and published in the journal Current Swedish Archaeology, has identified around 130 individuals, mainly men, with horizontal grooves carved into their teeth, with a surprising concentration on Gotland.

Although there have been many interpretations of these dental changes, ranging from slave markings to symbols of warrior elites, the researchers suggest that on closer examination they may have served as identity markers within a closed group of traders.

Artificial cranial modifications in the Viking Age are so far known from just three female individuals from Gotland. Dating back to the latter part of the eleventh century, all three women were interred in different locations across Gotland. Their skull modifications gave them a unique and remarkable appearance, elongating their heads.

Further details are discerned in two of the cases: one woman passed away between the ages of 25 and 30, while the other was between 55 and 60 years old.

These cranial alterations, unlike dental modifications, appear to be alien to Scandinavian Viking culture; cases dating from the 9th to the 11th century AD have been found in Eastern Europe, suggesting that they may have originated there.

Drawing of the grave of the female individual with an artificially modified skull in grave 192 from Havor, Hablingbo parish, Gotland, by Mirosław Kuźma/Matthias Toplak

The presence of these women with modified skulls raises questions about how Gotland society interacted with and reinterpreted this form of foreign identity, the practices of which are still unknown when they arrived in Scandinavia.

“It remains unclear how the custom of skull modification reached Gotland,” the authors write. ”Either the three females from Havor, Ire, and Kvie were born in south-eastern Europe, perhaps as children of Gotlandic or East Baltic traders, and their skulls were modified there in the first years of life. Or the modifications were made on Gotland or in the eastern Baltic, respectively, and thus represent a cultural adoption long unknown to the Scandinavian Viking Age.

A common background of the three females can be assumed due to the close chronological dating of the three burials, and especially due to the very similar execution of the skull modifications.”

These three women’s elaborately decorated tombs, which feature jewelry and other accessories typical of Gotland women’s clothing, suggest they were accepted and integrated into the local community.

While the religious affiliations of these women remain unknown, Toplak and Kerk propose they were laid to rest within a Christian framework.

Unique Gold Ring and Crystal Amulet among 30,000 Medieval Treasures Uncovered in Sweden

Unique Gold Ring and Crystal Amulet among 30,000 Medieval Treasures Uncovered in Sweden

Unique Gold Ring and Crystal Amulet among 30,000 Medieval Treasures Uncovered in Sweden

In the Swedish medieval city of Kalmar, archaeologists from the State Historical Museums unearthed the remains of over 30,000 objects during a two-year project. A gold ring and a crystal amulet with carved figures are two unique finds among the nearly 30,000 objects.

Archaeologists have excavated parts of around 50 medieval plots, a dozen streets, and sections of the old city wall. This project, offers a glimpse into everyday life spanning approximately 400 years, from 1250 to 1650.

Project director of Arkeologerna, lead archaeologist Magnus Stibéus said, “We’ve been able to lift the lid on the city’s medieval past and have had the opportunity to study how people lived, what they ate and drank, and how this changed over time.

Archaeology becomes like a peephole into medieval history, giving us more insight into how life was hundreds of years ago,”.

Remarkable discoveries include a rare glass alsengem and a gold ring that were found in refuse deposits.

The gold ring, adorned with a Christ motif, dates back to the 15th century and is believed to have been worn by a woman due to its petite size. they believe it was lost, given its near-perfect condition. Similar rings have been found in other regions, including Northern Finland, Östergötland, and Uppland.

The amulet fragment, in the image digitally completed to reconstruct its original appearance.

A second standout discovery: an alsengem, also known as a pilgrim’s amulet, with three carved figures. Alsengemmer are small crystal stones found in both religious and secular contexts.

Dating from the 13th to 14th century, it features three intricately carved figures.  The stones are named after the Danish island where they were first discovered. The small glass stone is broken, so it was likely thrown away around 400 years ago, officials said.

Among the finds were numerous cannonballs, musket balls, pistol bullets, swords, and other artifacts from the 1611 Kalmar War, in which the Danes attacked the city. An unusual rune stone was discovered among the ruins.

The excavations have provided a comprehensive view of medieval Kalmar, with remnants of buildings, cellars, streets, latrines, and other everyday items. Magnus Stibéus said: “It is very unusual for such large contiguous areas to be investigated in the middle of a city, and the result exceeds all expectations.”

The ability to simultaneously investigate such extensive parts of the medieval city makes the project unique.

8-Year-Old Boy Finds Unusual Viking Age Artifact On Gotland Island, Sweden

8-Year-Old Boy Finds Unusual Viking Age Artifact On Gotland Island, Sweden

Anyone, regardless of age, place, and nation, can always find something of archaeological value. You have to keep your eyes open; before you know it, you are looking at something hundreds or thousands of years old on the ground. Finding an ancient treasure or an artifact is a remarkable and unforgettable experience.

8-Year-Old Boy Finds Unusual Viking Age Artifact On Gotland Island, Sweden
This is a Viking Age Bronze buckle young Bruno found on the beach.

An eight-year-old boy has made a remarkable discovery. While on vacation in Sweden with his family, Bruno Tillema was walking along a beach on Gotland Island. The youngster who had just been given a book about fossils was scanning the ground to see if he could see any, but fate wanted him to find something else instead.

Suddenly, Bruno noticed an object that had a dark brown color and triangular shape. It looked intricately carved and piqued his interest. Bruno picked up the object and kept walking until his mother asked him what he was holding in his hand.

“Walking the path, I just picked it up off the ground and thought, what is this? Maybe some weird part from a house? I went looking for fossils. Then mother came and asked what I had in my hand. So, I said, some strange metal thing,” Bruno said.

It turned out that this little “strange metal thing” was a genuine Viking Age artifact. Archaeologists have examined the object Bruno found, and scientists say it is a Bronze buckle dating back to A.D. 800 to 1100. The dress buckle is carved into the shape of an animal’s head and is intricately decorated.

Upon learning about this discovery, experts from Gotland’s museum conducted an archaeological investigation at the find site to find out if more objects were nearby. During the investigation, another suit buckle was found, this time a so-called ring buckle.

The family contacted the county administration, who quickly went out and looked at the find site.

“The family handled the find in an exemplary manner. They contacted us immediately so that we could quickly do an initial check on the spot,” says Therese Lindström, cultural environment manager at the County Administrative Board in Gotland County.

Bruno is proud of his discovery, as he should be.

According to Lindström, both buckles are made of bronze and belong to costumes from the late Iron Age or early Viking Age. Buckles designed as animal heads are usually associated with Gotland women’s graves, while ring buckles are found in both men’s and women’s graves, says Therese Lindström.

The grave itself has probably been disrupted on an earlier occasion. It is not uncommon for objects from damaged graves to resurface in connection with plowing the land.

Archaeologists found another buckle ( right image) when they examined the site. Andreas Tillema och Gotlands museum.

Both buckles are to be sent for preservation, and their ultimate fate will be determined by the National Antiquities Authority in Sweden, the County Administrative Board in Gotland County informed in a press release.

Bruno is proud of his discovery, and with good reason! The boy is happy he can tell people what he has found and is now even thinking of becoming an archaeologist when he grows up.

“I’m happy I can tell everyone what I found. It feels as if I have made something big and can now finally share it with all,” Bruno says.

Time will tell whether Bruno will one day become an archaeologist, but we do wish him luck and hope he will make many more exciting finds he can share with everyone across the globe.

DNA Reveals – One Of Sunken Warship Vasa’s Crewmen Was A Woman

DNA Reveals – One Of Sunken Warship Vasa’s Crewmen Was A Woman

When the human remains found on board the Swedish warship Vasa were investigated, it was initially determined that the skeleton designated “G” was a man. New research now shows that the skeleton is actually from a woman.

About thirty people died when Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. We cannot know who most of them were; only one person is named in the written sources.

When the ship was raised in 1961, it was the scene of a comprehensive archaeological excavation in which numerous human bones were found on board and examined.

DNA Reveals – One Of Sunken Warship Vasa’s Crewmen Was A Woman
Vasa warship.

“Through osteological analysis it has been possible to discover a great deal about these people, such as their age, height and medical history. Osteologists recently suspected that G could be female, on the basis of the pelvis. DNA analysis can reveal even more,” says Dr. Fred Hocker, director of research at the Vasa Museum, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since 2004 the Vasa Museum has collaborated with the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University in Sweden to investigate all of the remains from Vasa and find out as much as possible about each individual.

Initially the project had focused on confirming whether certain bones belonged to specific people. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics, has led the work.

“For us, it is both interesting and challenging to study the skeletons from Vasa. It is very difficult to extract DNA from bone which has been on the bottom of the sea for 333 years, but not impossible,” says Allen. She continues, “Already some years ago we had indications that skeleton G was not a man but a woman. Simply put, we found no Y chromosomes in G’s genetic material. But we could not be certain and wanted to confirm the result.”

DNA research at the Vasa Museum. Professor Marie Allen, Uppsala University and Conservator Malin Sahlstedt, the Vasa Museum. Credit: Anna Maria Forssberg, Vasamuseet/SMTM.

The result has now been confirmed, thanks to an interlaboratory study with Dr. Kimberly Andreaggi of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFMES-AFDIL) in Delaware, U.S.. The AFMES-AFDIL is the American Department of Defense’s laboratory, specializing in human remains DNA testing from deceased military personnel. This organization has established a new testing method for the analysis of many different genetic variants.

“We took new samples from bones for which we had specific questions. AFMES-AFDIL has now analyzed the samples, and we have been able to confirm that G was a woman, thanks to the new test,” says Allen.

For Allen and Andreaggi, the analysis of the Vasa skeletons is a way to develop their forensic methods, which can then be used to analyze DNA in criminal investigations or to identify fallen soldiers.

For the Vasa Museum, the results of the DNA analysis are an important puzzle piece in the museum’s research into the people on the ship.

Dr. Anna Maria Forssberg, historian and researcher at the museum, explains, “We want to come as close to these people as we can. We have known that there were women on board Vasa when it sank, and now we have received confirmation that they are among the remains. I am currently researching the wives of seamen, so for me this is especially exciting, since they are often forgotten even though they played an important role for the navy.”

More results are expected shortly from the new samples. Allen and Andreaggi will be able to say something about how individuals looked, what color their hair and eyes were, and possibly where their families came from.

“Today we can extract much more information from historic DNA than we could earlier and methods are being continuously refined. We can say if a person was predisposed to certain illnesses, or even very small details, such as if they had freckles and wet or dry ear wax,” says Allen in a press statement.

The Vasa Museum’s researchers are currently studying the skeletons from several perspectives, including the personal possessions found with them. Eventually the results will be presented in an exhibition at the museum and a book about the people who died on board Vasa.

A medieval victim still in his chainmail discovered in Sweden

A medieval victim still in his chainmail discovered in Sweden

A medieval victim still in his chainmail discovered in Sweden

The Battle of Visby was a violent Medieval battle near the town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, fought between the inhabitants of Gotland and the Danes, with the latter emerging victorious.

The battle left a lasting archaeological legacy; masses of slaughtered soldiers and citizens lay scattered across what was once a bloody battlefield.

Slashed and broken bones, skeletons still in their chain mail and armour, and smashed skulls, some still with spears and knives protruding out of them. One can only imagine what they endured before they breathed their last breaths.

Visby, A Merchant’s Dream

During the Middle Ages, the island of Gotland, which lies off the coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea, played an important role in the trade between Europe and Russia. As a result of this, the city of Visby flourished.

Since the late 13th century, Visby was a member of a confederation of North-western and Central European merchant towns later known as the Hanseatic League. This league protected the commercial interests of its members and was also a defensive pact.

Greedy King Sets His Sight on Visby

As the Hanseatic League grew in influence, it was seen as a threat by some rulers. One of these was Valdemar IV, the King of Denmark. The Danish ruler is said to have not been satisfied with the fact that the Hanseatic League was a rival to his kingdom’s trade interests.

In addition, Valdemar desired to get his hands on the wealth of the League’s towns. By the middle of the 14th century, Visby, although still a member of the Hanseatic League, is said to have decreased in importance, causing Valdemar to set his eyes on it.

Additionally, it is rumoured that the inhabitants of the town sang drinking songs mocking the king, thus causing him to hold a personal vendetta against them.

Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361 by Karl Gustaf Hellqvist

The Danes Invade

In the summer of 1361, a Danish army set sail for Gotland. The inhabitants of Visby had been warned about the invading Danish force and prepared themselves for the battle. In late July 1361, Valdermar’s army landed on the west coast of Gotland.

The Danish army numbered between 2000 and 2500 men and consisted mainly of experienced Danish and German mercenaries. The defending Gotlanders, on the other hand, numbered around 2000 and were militiamen with little or no experience of battle.   

The Battle of Visby  

The Gotlanders first tried to halt the advance of the Danish army at Mästerby, in the central part of the island. The defenders were crushed, and the Danes continued their march towards Visby. The Battle of Visby was fought before the walls of the town.

Although the militiamen were fighting for their lives and fought as best as they could, they were simply no match for the professional Danish army. As a result, the majority of the defenders were killed, and the town surrendered to Valdemar.

Mass Graves and Fallen Soldiers

Those who fell during the battle were buried in several mass graves and were left in peace until the 20 th century. Between 1905 and 1928, the mass graves were discovered and subsequently excavated.

More than 1100 human remains were unearthed, and these provide us with much detail about the battle. As an example, the types of weapons used during the Battle of Visby could be determined based on the injuries left on these remains.

About 450 of these wounds, for instance, were inflicted by cutting weapons, such as swords and axes, whilst wounds inflicted by piercing weapons, such as spears, and arrows, numbered around 120.

By studying the bones, it was also found that at least a third of the defenders of Visby were the elderly, children, or the crippled, an indication that the situation was very dire indeed for townsfolk.

Victim of invasion of Visby in 1361.
Victim of invasion of Visby in 1361.

It is assumed that the dead were buried quickly after the battle, and therefore were interred with the equipment they had during the battle, which included their armour and weapons.

Thanks to their excellent state of preservation, these remains are a unique archaeological find. Although not many of the defenders were well-equipped for the battle, there are several examples of chainmail shirts, coifs, gauntlets, and a variety of weapons.

These incredible remains, along with the human remains, are today displayed in the Gotland Museum and remain as a lasting legacy to the defenders of Visby.

Armored glove found at Visby.

The largest hoard of Viking silver was found accidentally while filming a news report about illegal treasure hunting

The largest hoard of Viking silver was found accidentally while filming a news report about illegal treasure hunting

The largest hoard of Viking silver was found accidentally while filming a news report about illegal treasure hunting

The Spillings Hoard  is the world’s largest Viking silver treasure, found on Friday 16 July 1999 in a field at the Spilling farm northwest of Slite, on northern Gotland, Sweden.

The silver hoard consisted of two parts with a total weight of 67 kg (148 lb) before conservation and was made up of, among other things, 14,295 coins most of which were Islamic and from other countries. A third deposition containing over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal was also found. The three caches had been hidden under the floorboards of a Viking outhouse sometime during the 9th century.

On Friday 16 July 1999, a team of reporters from the Swedish television TV4 were in the socken of Othem on Gotland to film a cultural feature from Almedalen Week.

They chose to do a segment on the problem with looting of archaeological sites with archaeologist Jonas Ström acting as their guide along with Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of numismatics, who happened to be on the island at that time. Spillings farm was selected for the filming since about 150 silver coins and bronze objects had been found there earlier by the landowner Björn Engström.

Closeup of silver coins from hoard No 2.

With filming complete, Ström and Jonsson decided to continue their survey of the field. Twenty minutes after the TV-crew had left, they heard a strong signal from their metal detector, which led them to the smaller of the two silver caches.

A couple of hours later and only 3 metres (9.8 ft) from the first find, they received another signal from the detector:

Closeup of silver hoard No 2 from the Spillings Hoard at Gotland Museum.

The site was hurriedly cordoned off, back-up crew from the museum was sent for, permission for an archaeological excavation was immediately sought at the County Administrative Board and guards were posted.

However, instead of keeping the find a secret, the Gotland Museum decided to go public with the find immediately. During the first weekend, over 2,000 people visited the excavation site.

Some days later, the metal detector indicated a third metal cache approximately 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) from the first find. The archaeologists concentrated on uncovering the two first finds before starting with the third. Due to the size of the hoards and the fragility of the objects, the bottom layers of the depositions were encapsulated in plaster.

Only when they tried to lift the finds out of the soil did the archaeologists realize how heavy the hoards were. The smaller weighed 27 kg (60 lb) and the larger one 40 kg (88 lb). An attempt to X-ray the finds at the local hospital failed because they contained so much silver that the X-ray plates remained blank.

Iron fittings from the chest in the bronze cache.

The larger find was intact but the smaller had been damaged by a plough. A previous landowner who visited the excavation commented that he had found metal wires around the find-spot several years earlier, but thinking that they were only steel wire, he had thrown them away. It was therefore concluded that the treasure had originally been even larger.

With the two first caches taken care of, the third deposition was excavated almost a year after the first discovery. It contained over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal, most of which had been partially melted into a ‘cake’. This find was deemed even more valuable since very few finds contain such large amounts of bronze intended for smelting.

Additional excavations were conducted in the summer of 2000 and in 2003-06. Remnants of wood, iron rivets and mounts as well as a lock mechanism were found, leading to the conclusion that the caches had been stored in chests.

An extended survey and excavation revealed the foundations of a building and indicated that the hoards had been placed under the floorboards of what would probably have been a warehouse, shed or storage rather than a dwelling since it had no hearth. Carbon dating showed that the building had been in use between 540 and 1040.

The foundations and the remaining postholes indicated a regular Viking Age structure, about 10 by 15 m (33 by 49 ft) with a slanting sedge-covered roof, much like other similar finds on Gotland. It had been built on an older Iron Age foundation.

Location of depositories in the stone foun dation at Spillings

The silver deposits were roughly square-shaped with rounded corners, about 40 cm to 45 cm × 50 cm (16 in to 18 in × 20 in), suggesting that they had been in sacks of cloth, leather or pelt, inside boxes or chests of wood.

In the bronze deposit were found substantial pieces of wood and iron, such as fittings, ironwork, nails and a lock-device, showing that the bronze had been kept in a sturdy chest. A carbon dating of the chest dated it to approximately 675, making it older than the objects stored inside it.

Although silver hoards and treasures are not unusual on Gotland, this was an exceptionally large find. One explanation may be found in the location near some of the island’s best and most significant harbours during the Viking Age. The silver in the caches would have been enough to pay the tax to the Swedish king for all of Gotland for five years.

Silver melted into bars from hoard No 2.

The following surveys and excavations of the fields surrounding the find-site showed that the site had been inhabited continuously over 1,000 years up until the 19th century. Over 700 more objects were retrieved, such as objects of bronze and copper, fired clay, clothes pins, a piece of glass, tile pieces, chains, needles, glass beads, slag, iron nails, polished semi-precious stones and brick.

The Spillings Hoard is the world’s largest Viking silver treasure. A finder’s fee of SEK 2,091,672 (approx. US$242,400) was paid to the landowner for the treasure, although the real value of it is much higher. It was the largest amount of money ever paid for a find in Sweden, according to director of the Swedish National Heritage Board Sven Göthe. The hoard was dated to have been hidden some time after 870–71.The treasure is on permanent display in the Gotland Museum.

As of 2015, more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) silver from over 700 caches deposited between the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on Gotland. This includes 168,000 silver coins from the Arab world, North Africa and Central Asia.

Silver melted into bars from hoard No 2.

The caches contained silver objects ranging from coins, bars, thread and hacksilver to be used as raw material, to jewelry such as fingerings, bangles and pendants. Much of the material had been bundled up to correspond with the mark-weight system of the Viking Age, in which 200 grams (0.44 lb) made one mark.

17th-Century Warship Pulled From Icy Baltic Sea Is Almost Perfectly Preserved

17th-Century Warship Pulled From Icy Baltic Sea Is Almost Perfectly Preserved

In the 1620s, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered the construction of a new warship to protect his citizens. The warship was named Vasa and its construction was hurried as the Swedes waged war in those years with the now-historic bi-confederation entity reigned by one monarch–the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Vasa’s port bow.

After its creation, with several superlatives, the Vasa warship was described as being the largest and most capable battleship at the disposal of the Swedish navy.

The ship came to symbolize Sweden’s Great Power Period, in which the Nordic country controlled most of the Baltic Sea and forged its status as one of Europe’s most powerful kingdoms.

Warship in Vasa museum in Stockholm

The ship’s appearance was stunning, measuring 226 feet in length, 164 feet in height, and weighing more than 1,200 tons. With some 64 cannons installed on it, it promised whoever tried to mess with Vasa would face serious consequences. As it turned out, it never came to that.

The ship, against everyone’s expectations, proved to be fallible and faced an end that might easily remind people of the story of the RMS Titanic. Vasa did not hit an iceberg but still ignominiously sunk on its very first journey.

It was an embarrassing incident, overseen by crowds of Swedes who had gathered at the port of Stockholm from where the ship set sails towards the open seas for the very first and last time on August 10, 1628.

There were also prominent guests in the onlooking crowd, including royals and ambassadors from other countries. Having not sailed even one nautical mile, the mighty warship suddenly plunged into the water. Accounts point to errors happening during construction.

The vessel was the work of a Dutch shipbuilder. The contract was signed early in the year 1625 and Vasa was one of four vessels agreed on the list with shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson.

The original arrangement was to have two smaller and two bigger vessels. Hybertsson died shortly after undertaking the project, and the construction effort was taken over by his assistant, Hein Jakobsson.

Illustration from a treatise on salvaging from 1734, showing the traditional method of raising a wreck with the help of anchors and ships or hulks as pontoons, basically the same method that was used to raise Vasa in the 20th century.

Construction plans were obviously modified, as Vasa, which was supposed to be one of the two smaller ships, appeared to be fitting the pair of two bigger ships upon completion. The ship came out much heavier than planned. It also carried extra weights such as hundreds of sculptures and at least 100 tons of ballast.

More evidence shows that the Swedes had the warship tested and noticed something was wrong with it, but under the pushy demands of the king, Vasa was prematurely sailed into the open sea and towards its premature doom.

The preserved Vasa in the main hall of Vasa Museum seen from above the bow.

A strong gust of wind was enough to overturn the vessel. When the water began to enter, all it took was a few minutes for it to sink 105 feet below the surface.

The Swedes were quick to dismiss and forget Vasa. This was to be their new favourite war toy and national pride and joy, yet it now lay sunk on the bottom of the ocean on its maiden voyage. It was a scandal that hurt the reputation of the kingdom, as well as having huge economic repercussions. Vasa had costed a fortune.

While an investigation was ushered in immediately after the ship sank, little could be done. The main shipbuilder had already been dead for over a year.

Illustration of a Swedish Emperors: Gustav Vasa, Gustav Adolf, Dronning Christine, A. Oxenstierna, Charles Gustav, Charles IX, Torstenson

There were efforts to recover Vasa from the seafloor immediately, but the task seemed impossible with the limited technology of the time. By the 1660s, a group of divers was able to retrieve the cannons, using an early model of the diving bell. The shipwreck was eventually left abandoned and forgotten…until the mid-20th-century.

In 1961, a few years after the shipwreck was rediscovered and identified as the lost 17th-century Vasa vessel, Sweden finally managed to recover it. Although Vasa had for centuries remained submerged in the sea, upon its reappearance it seemed positively in pristine condition.

The underwater position where it had sunk was key. The water was dark enough to stop ultraviolet light from protruding and affecting the ship’s wood. The chilly temperature of the Baltic was also soothing, preventing any rapid deterioration processes.

The inside of the lower gun deck looking toward the bow.

Having sunk close enough to the harbour, there was enough pollution in the water to bleach most parasites that may have wanted to feast on the wood of the wreck.

But some decaying issues began once the ship was taken out of the water.  Vasa underwent restoration at that point and was treated with substances to protect the wood, however, lab research later confirmed that the wood of the ship was struggling with extremely slow, ongoing fibre degradation.

Vasa warship canon hatches detail

There is no threat of immediate collapse, but this has remained a major occupation for conservationists who are still looking for the best way to stop the risky process.

Should the Vasa museum where the shipwreck is famously displayed in Stockholm allow its prime exhibit to perish for the second time, it would be a huge national loss. The Vasa goes a long way and has a special history with the Swedes as well as being one of the best-preserved historical ships in all of the world.