Category Archives: SWEDEN

Nobel Prize Awarded for Development of Paleogenomics

Nobel Prize Awarded for Development of Paleogenomics

Neanderthals were a separate species of human that populated Europe for hundreds of thousands of years until they went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to Sweden’s Svante Paabo for his work on human evolution. The Prize committee said he achieved the seemingly impossible task of cracking the genetic code of one of our extinct relatives – Neanderthals.

He also performed the “sensational” feat of discovering the previously unknown relative – Denisovans.

His work helped explore our own evolutionary history and how humans spread around the planet.

The Swedish geneticist’s work gets to the heart of some of the most fundamental questions – where do we come from and what allowed us, Homo sapiens, to succeed while our relatives went extinct.

He was just off to pick his daughter up from a sleepover when he got the call saying he’d won. He told the BBC: “I was very surprised and overwhelmed, I had not expected this.”

In the 1990s, research on working out the human genetic code was taking place at pace. But that relied on fresh samples of pristine DNA.

Prof Paabo’s interest was in the old, degraded and contaminated genetic material from our ancestors. Many thought it was an impossible challenge. But he was, for the first time, able to sequence DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone.

Those results showed that Neanderthals – who mostly lived in Europe and Western Asia – were distinct from both modern-day humans and chimpanzees.

His work focused on hominins – the group of modern humans that includes us, Homo sapiens, but also our extinct relatives.

“By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human”, the Nobel committee said.

Further comparisons between Neanderthal DNA and humans from around the world showed their DNA was a closer match to humans coming from Europe or Asia.

This tells us that Homo sapiens had sex and children with Neanderthals after migrating out of Africa around 70,000 years ago.

And you can still see the legacy of that today. Between 1-4% of modern human DNA comes from our Neanderthal relatives and this even affects our body’s ability to respond to infection.

Cave finger

The next seismic contribution to human origins came in 2008. Scientists found a 40,000-year-old finger bone in the Denisova cave, in Siberia.

Prof Paabo was able to sequence a sample of DNA and the results showed it was a previously unknown hominin – known as Denisovans. And it turned out Homo sapiens bred with Denisovans too. In parts of South East Asia, up to 6% of people’s DNA is Denisovan.

Some of this genetic inheritance helps the body cope with low levels of oxygen, aids survival at high altitudes and is found in present-day Tibetans.

Prof Paabo only heard the news this morning when he was called by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine.

“He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy,” said Prof Perlmann.

Prof Paabo is seen as one of the founders of the scientific discipline of paleogenomics. He wins the 10m Swedish kronor (£800,000) prize. He follows in the footsteps of his father, Sune Bergstrom, who won the same Nobel Prize in 1982.

His work shows there were already two distinct groups of hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) living in Eurasia when Homo sapiens spread from Africa.

Analysis suggests these now extinct populations were small and relatively inbred and may not have been able to compete with rapidly expanding modern humans.

Researchers Return to Age of Exploration Shipwreck

Researchers Return to Age of Exploration Shipwreck

New excavations have coaxed more secrets from Gribshunden, the flagship of the Danish-Norwegian King Hans which mysteriously sank in 1495 off the coast of Ronneby, Sweden.

The wreck is internationally significant as the world’s best-preserved ship from the Age of Exploration – a proxy for the vessels of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

During August and September, a scientific team from Lund University, Blekinge Museum, and the Danish Viking Ship Museum excavated portions of the wreck.

Recovered artefacts include artillery, handguns, and major components of the steering gear and stern castle.  3D models of key structural components have allowed the first digital reconstructions of the ship.

Digital scanning

“No other ship from the time of exploration has survived this intact,” says scientific leader Brendan Foley from Lund University. “Gribshunden delivers new insights into those voyages. We now understand the actual size and layout of those ships that changed the world. And more, we glimpse how this vessel operated as King Hans’ floating castle.”

Lund University PhD candidate Paola Derudas and Viking Ship Museum specialist Mikkel Thomsen combined 3D models of the artillery, rudder, tiller, and keel to recreate the sterncastle.

This is the section of the ship the king and noblemen likely occupied, in addition to gunners and steersmen. Comparisons of this tightly confined section with medieval castles on land suggest that hierarchical divisions of space must have been relaxed while the king was at sea.

Maritime archaeologist Mikkel Thomsen from the Danish Viking ship Museum

In the bow of the ship, 3D models of the stem post and hawse pieces (through which the anchor lines passed) provide clues about the forecastle’s functions of crew accommodation, ship handling, and fortification. Oddly, no artillery has been found there. Was it salvaged after 1495, or were the ship’s guns mounted only in the rear half of the vessel?

King Hans’ ambition was to unify the entire Nordic region under his crown. In this pursuit, Gribshunden was essentially for new technology. The vessel was among the first warships built specifically to carry artillery. Hans personally voyaged on the ship throughout his realm and beyond: to Norway, Gotland, and Sweden.

The ship was his administrative centre for months at a time, while simultaneously displaying regal power at each port of call. Often the ship was the centre of a squadron or fleet: in 1486, more than 600 Danish noblemen and senior clergy on dozens of ships accompanied Hans to Norway, where he established a new mint.

On Gribshunden’s final voyage, it led another squadron toward a political summit in Kalmar, Sweden, where Hans expected to be elected king of Sweden and fulfil his vision of a Scandinavian union. The ship was loaded with prestigious goods to impress the Swedish council, and many of those items await archaeological discovery.

“Another big puzzle remains: what really caused Gribshunden to sink?”, Foley asks. “Medieval documents state there was fire and an explosion, but we have not seen any signs of that. Maybe next year’s excavation will provide evidence of the catastrophe”, he concludes.

First Female Viking Grave Discovered In Swedish Mountains

First Female Viking Grave Discovered In Swedish Mountains

Archaeologists in Sweden have every reason to be excited after learning a mountain climber came across an extraordinary 1,200-year-old brooch.

Based on recent reports, everything indicates the first female Viking grave was located in the Swedish mountains. It is a unique and surprising find that is believed to provide scientists with much better knowledge of Vikings in the mountains regions of Sweden.

The brooch was discovered by mountain hiker Eskil Nyström who stumbled upon a rock last year. While setting up and securing his tent, Nyströn noticed something odd was sticking up from the ground.

“My first thought was that I had found a mine, but then when I had dug around, I understood that it can’t be, Nyström told TT.

Nyström took the brooch home and asked around, but no one knew what it was or where it came from. One year later, he came in contact with the museum Jamtli in the city of  Östersund and understood the archaeological and historical value of the brooch he had found.

“It’s an incredible archaeological discovery,” Anders Hansson, chief archaeologist at Jamtli, told Swedish Radio (SR).

This week, Hansson and his archaeology team travelled to Jämtland and inspected the place where the brooch was found. At the site, scientists unearthed burned bones, suggesting this was a cremation burial.

The Vikings had complex burial rituals, and every discovery offers new insight into how people sent their loved ones to the afterlife. Fire played a central role in spectacular burial rituals practised by the Vikings.

When a great Viking chieftain died, he received a ship burial. Another option was for the Vikings to be burned, and cremation was common during the early Viking Age. Ashes were later spread over the waters. The vast majority of the burial finds throughout the Viking world are cremations.

The Viking brooch was discovered in the Swedish mountains in Jämtland.

At the site in Jämtland, Hansson also found another oval brooch which is not much of a surprise because such pins are usually unearthed in pairs.

“What has been established is that it is a cremation grave from the Viking Age and “most likely” a woman’s grave, Hansson says. Previously, only five other Viking graves have been found in the mountains, and all have belonged to men.

“You get the feeling that these people were on their way somewhere when the woman died. The burial took place here, where the woman took her last breath. They could have taken the woman home where they lived, but instead, they make a cremation pit on the mountain,” Hansson told TT.

Hansson says the female Viking tomb is richly equipped.

Examination of the Viking brooch.

“It’s really pretty. It is completely socially and religiously correct. The Viking woman took all her most precious objects to the grave, but there are no monuments, burial mounds, or cairns. It’s just a flat hill. This grave is thus different compared to Viking graves in Iron Age settlements,” Hansson explained, adding excavations of the grave are not planned this year.

Regular excavations will only be relevant next year.

“The grave has been there for 1,200 years. It will undoubtedly survive one more year,  Hansson told P4 Jämtland.

The world of archaeology is full of surprises, and we have seen on many occasions small findings can lead to much larger treasures. This time a tiny 9th-century brooch may open a new chapter in the history of Vikings in Sweden.

Stunning 3D image recreates real Stone Age woman

Stunning 3D image recreates real Stone Age woman

A Stone Age woman who lived 4,000 years ago is leaning on her walking stick and looking ahead as a spirited young boy bursts into a run, in a stunning life-size reconstruction now on display in Sweden.

Although her likeness is new — it debuted last month in an exhibit about ancient people at Västernorrlands Museum — researchers have known about this woman’s existence for nearly a century. During the construction of a road in the hamlet of Lagmansören in 1923, workers found her skeletal remains buried next to the remains of a child, likely a 7-year-old boy.

“With our eyes and perhaps in all times, you tend to think that this is a mother and son,” said Oscar Nilsson, the Sweden-based forensic artist who spent 350 hours creating the lifelike model.

“They could be. Or they could be siblings: sister and brother. They could be relatives, or they could just be tribe friends. We don’t know, because the DNA was not that well preserved to establish this relationship.”

But as Nilsson molded the woman’s posture and sculpted her face, he pretended that she was near her son who was scampering ahead of her. “She’s looking with the mother’s eyes — both with love and a bit of discipline,” Nilsson told Live Science. This stern but tender gaze looks as if she’s on the cusp of calling out to the boy, telling him to be careful.

Stunning 3D image recreates real Stone Age woman
This reconstruction is based on the remains of a Neolithic woman who lived about 4,000 years ago in what is now Sweden.

The Neolithic woman and youngster were interred in a cist grave, a burial built with long, flat stones in the shape of a coffin. The woman died in her late 20s or early 30s, and at 4 feet, 11 inches (150 centimetres) in height, “she was not a very tall person,” even for the Neolithic period, Nilsson said.

The woman’s remains didn’t show any signs of malnutrition, injury or diseases, although it’s possible that she died of an illness that didn’t leave a mark on her remains, Nilsson said.

“She seems to have had a good life,” he said. She ate land-based food, an examination of the isotopes (different versions of elements) in her teeth revealed, which was odd given that her grave was found near a fish-filled river near the coast, he said.

When Nilsson received the commission to reconstruct the woman two years ago, he scanned her skull and made a copy of it with a plastic 3D printer. As with other reconstructions he’s created, including those of an ancient Wari queen from what is now Peru and a Stone Age man whose head was found on a spike, Nilsson had to take into account the ancient individual’s sex, age, weight and ethnicity — factors that can influence the person’s facial tissue thickness and general appearance. But because the woman’s DNA was too degraded, he wasn’t sure about her genetic background, hair or eye colour.

So Nilsson took an educated guess about her appearance. There were three large migration waves into ancient Scandinavia: During the first, hunter-gatherers with dark skin who tended to have blue eyes arrived between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago; the second wave included pale-skinned, dark-haired and brown-eyed farmers from further south who moved north about 5,000 to 4,000 years ago when this woman was alive; and the third wave included the Yamnaya (also spelled Yamna) culture from modern-day Ukraine, who were a bit darker-skinned than the farmers and brought the art of metal making with them when they arrived about 3,500 years ago, making them the first Bronze Age culture in the region, Nilsson said.

Based on this information, Nilsson gave the woman brown hair and eyes, and light skin like the farmers’. Even so, the woman wasn’t necessarily a full-time farmer; she likely participated in a mix of hunting and gathering as well as agricultural practices, he said.

“We can’t say for sure whether she was living a nomadic life if she was living the life of the early farmers; it’s impossible to say,” Nilsson said. “But we have chosen to make the safest interpretation, which is she was both because, of course, there was a transition period of many hundreds of years when they left the old way of living.”

Fancy furs, Stone Age style

In the reconstruction, the woman from Lagmansören is dressed head to toe in fur and leather. This is the work of Helena Gjaerum, a Sweden-based independent archaeologist who uses Stone Age techniques for tanning leather. 

Before dressing the model, Gjaerum studied the ancient climate, landscape, vegetation and animal life of Neolithic Lagmansören. Based on what she uncovered, she designed the woman’s clothes out of deer, moose and elk and the shoes out of reindeer, beaver and fox. The woman likely stuffed hay inside the shoes for padding, noted Gjaerum, who took inspiration from clothing worn by Indigenous Americans and Indigenous Siberians, as well as the leather clothing of Özti the Iceman mummy, who lived about 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps.

Preparing the clothes entailed hours of labour. Gjaerum, who acquired real animal remains, scraped the flesh off the skins and then put them in a river — a method that helps loosen the fur from the skin. Next, she scraped off the fur and slathered on a solution made of moose brain, a fatty mixture that bonds with skin fibres. Without this mixture, the skin would stiffen and could easily rot if it got wet, she said.

The next several steps involved massaging, boiling, stretching and smoking the skins and then finally designing the clothing. Gjaerum’s young son, who was about the same height as the Stone Age woman, served as a helpful model, Gjaerum said.

She made the clothing as comfortable and practical as possible — for instance, by not putting a seam at the top of the shoulder, where water might seep in during rainy weather.

Often, modern people think of Stone Age humans as primitive, dressed in ugly, toga-like furs as in “The Far Side” comics. But Gjaerum challenged that perception. “I think it would be crazy to think she’d have primitive clothes,” Gjaerum told Live Science. “I wanted to make her dress like you could dress today” because you are both Homo sapiens.

Swedish orienteering enthusiast finds Bronze Age treasure trove

Swedish orienteering enthusiast finds Bronze Age treasure trove

A Swedish orienteering enthusiast working on a map stumbled across a stash of some 50 Bronze Age relics dating back over 2,500 years, authorities said.

Mainly consisting of ancient jewellery, the find outside the small town of Alingsas in western Sweden represents one of “the most spectacular and largest cache finds” from the Bronze Age ever in the Nordic country, the County Administrative Board said in a statement.

Among the relics, believed to be from the period between 750 and 500 BC, are some “very well preserved necklaces, chains and needles” made out of bronze.

Some of the bronze Age treasures discovered near Alingsas
Some of the bronze Age treasures discovered near Alingsas

The objects were lying out in the open in front of some boulders out in the forest.

“Presumably animals have dug them out of a crevice between the boulders, where you can assume that they had been lying before,” the government agency said.

Tomas Karlsson, the cartographer who made the discovery when he was out updating a map, at first thought, it was just junk.

“It looked like metal garbage. Is that a lamp lying here, I thought at first,” Karlsson told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

He told the paper he then hunched over and saw a spiral and a necklace.

“But it all looked so new. I thought they were fake,” he continued.

He reported the find to local authorities who sent out a team of archaeologists to examine the site.

“Most of the finds are made up of bronze items that can be associated with women of high status from the Bronze Age,” Johan Ling, professor of archaeology at the University of Gothenburg, said in the statement.

“They have been used to adorn different body parts, such as necklaces, bracelets and ankle bracelets, but there were also large needles and eyelets used to decorate and hold up different pieces of clothing, probably made of wool,” Ling added.

800-Year-Old Shipwreck Found Off Swedish Coast

800-Year-Old Shipwreck Found Off Swedish Coast

A previously undiscovered wreck has been found outside of Fjällbacka on the Swedish west coast. Analysis of wood samples shows that it is the oldest shipwreck ever found in the province of Bohuslän. This is also one of the oldest cogs that have yet to be found in Europe.

“The wreck is made from oaks cut between 1233 and 1240, so nearly 800 years ago,” says Staffan von Arbin, a maritime archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg.

This wreck from the Middle Ages was found by the island of Dyngö outside of Fjällbacka in the Swedish municipality of Tanum. This last autumn, the University of Gothenburg conducted archaeological diving inspections along the coast of Bohuslän to find out more about known wrecks on the seafloor.

“We collected wood samples to determine the age by dating the tree rings—known as dendrochronology,” says Staffan von Arbin.

It was during this work that the maritime archaeologists came upon the wreck outside of Fjällbacka which has been given the name “Dyngökoggen.” This limited survey of the wreck shows that it is a cog, a type of ship that was widely used from around the 12th century onward.”

The bottom planking is flush-laid (carvel), while the side planks are overlapping (clinker). Seams between planks are also sealed with moss, which is typical for cogs.

The surviving hull section is about 10 meters long and 5 meters wide. Staffan von Arbin believes, however, that originally the ship would have been up to 20 meters long.

A cog ship on the town seal of Stralsund dated to 1329. Even if the depiction is nearly 100 years later than the Dyngö cog ship, it provides a good idea of what cogs may have looked like.
Maritime archaeologist Anders Gutehall from Visuell Arkeologi Norden inspects the bottom at Dyngö.

Was the ship attacked by pirates?

Analysis of the wood samples shows the ship was built of oaks from north-western Germany. How did it end up outside of Fjällbacka?

“Cogs are mentioned often in written sources about the medieval Hanseatic League, but ships of this type were common throughout the Middle Ages in northern Europe.” Staffan von Arbin argues that the find also points to the importance of Bohuslän as a transit route for international maritime trade during this period.

This is also one of the oldest cogs that have yet to be found in Europe.

It is not yet known why the ship sank but that would likely be an exciting story. The survey of the ship clearly shows indications of an intense fire.

“Perhaps the ship was attacked by pirates? Written sources tell us that Norway’s southern coast, including Bohuslän, had periods with intense pirate activity during the Middle Ages.”

But it might also have been a simple accident, perhaps a fire spread while the ship was docked. Or the ship was sunk in battle? The first decades of the 12th century were a turbulent time in Norway, which Bohuslän was a part of, with intense internal struggles for the Norwegian crown.

What happens now?

There are currently no plans for more surveys of the wreck. However, they hope to conduct new dives of the wreck in the future.

But this requires both a permit from the county administrative board and extensive external funding that is currently unavailable. The results and observations by the marine archaeologists are currently being analyzed for a larger scholarly article.

8000-year old underwater burial site reveals human skulls mounted on poles

8000-year old underwater burial site reveals human skulls mounted on poles

A team of researchers with Stockholm University and the Cultural Heritage Foundation has uncovered the remains of a number of Mesolithic people in an underwater grave in a part of what is now Sweden.

8000-year old underwater burial site reveals human skulls mounted on poles
Anterior view of crania F296 showing well-preserved facial bones.

In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, the group describes the site where the remains were found, the condition of the remains and also offer some possible explanations for the means by which the remains found their way to the underwater burial site.

People living during the Mesolithic were hunter-gatherers, the researchers note, which is why the burial site and its contents are so surprising.

At the time of its use, the burial site would have been at a shallow lake bottom covered with tightly packed stones upon which the remains of humans had been laid.

The remains were all skulls, save for one infant. The adult skulls (except one) were missing jawbones, and at least two of the skulls showed evidence of a stick thrust through the opening at the base through the top of the skull—normally associated with posting a skull to scare enemies.

But hunter-gatherers were not known for posting skulls or engaging in gruesome funeral rituals. Instead, they were known for disposing of their dead in simple, respectful ways.

The gravesite was found in what is now southern Sweden, near an archaeological site known as Kanaljorden.

Archaeologists have been working at the site since 2009, but it was not until 2011 that the human remains were found—until that time, researchers had been finding animal remains. To date, the researchers have found the remains of 11 adults.

In another surprise, the team discovered that all of the adult skulls bore signs of trauma—each had been whacked in the head multiple times. But the trauma was inflicted differently depending on gender.

The males were hit on top or near the front of the head, while the females were typically hit from behind. None of the wounds appeared life-threatening, however, though, without the rest of the corpse, it was impossible to identify what had killed them.

Cranium F318 with a wooden stake.

The researchers are unable to offer an explanation for what they have found at the site, though they suggest it was possible the victims had died or been killed elsewhere and then transported to the burial site. Possibly because they were considered exceptional in some way.

Viking twin babies are found in Christian burial in Sweden

Viking twin babies are found in Christian burial in Sweden

Live Science reports that seven Viking tombs were excavated in east-central Sweden ahead of a construction project. inside the tombs; they were likely Vikings who had converted to Christianity.

Viking twin babies are found in Christian burial in Sweden
The eight people – four adults and four infants – were laid flat on their backs to rest in the Swedish town of Sigtuna. Pictured, one of the adults.

“The Christian character of the now-excavated graves is obvious because of how the tombs were laid out,” said Johan Runer, a project manager with Uppdrag arkeologi, a cultural resource management company, which led excavations of the site. 

Most of the people had been buried flat on their back in an east-west position, whereas people who followed traditional Viking beliefs in this area of Sweden at this time tended to be cremated, Runer said.

Results of the Sigtuna dig are set to be presented in full in a report, according to Uppdrag Arkeologi. Pictured, the burial of a male adult surrounded by a stone cist – stones positioned in a box shape
The excavation site in the town of Sitguna, north of Sweden’s capital city Stockholm, from above

They also found deposits of charcoal and in some cases partially burnt caskets, suggesting fire rituals were involved in at least four burials.

“Such phenomena are rather common in Christian Viking period graves, but previously rather rare in Sigtuna,” Runer told Live Science in an email. 

Stone cairns were also found on top of four of the tombs, one of which also was surrounded by a stone cist (stones positioned in a box shape) surrounding it.

“These features are previously not known from the town of Sigtuna,” said Runer, who noted that they are common among early Christian graves in this area of Sweden, which is located about 23 miles (37 kilometres) northwest of Stockholm. 

Viking tragedy

The archaeologists say one of the tombs could contain the bodies of twins. “In one tomb, there were two very small infants of seemingly the exact same age,” Runer said. The team’s preliminary interpretation is that “this grave contains the tragic result of a late miscarriage of a couple of twins.”

The tombs also contained several interesting artefacts. One individual was buried with a “leather belt containing fittings of iron and silver-gilt copper alloy,” and silver coins were found in his mouth, Runer said.

Placing coins in a person’s mouth “is a rather common practice for Viking period Christian burials in middle Sweden,” he added. Another tomb contains “a beautifully ornated bone comb” found in a case, Runer said. 

Archaeologists discovered the tombs in late April during a survey of an area where a house was going to be built.

The archaeologists excavated the site in May and are continuing to analyze the skeletons and artefacts. An osteologist is expected to examine the well-preserved skeletons in the fall.