Touring the Vasa

Posted: Thu, Aug 1, 2013

Weve traveled all along the coast of Sweden, seen Viking hoards and 12th century castles. We have been scuba diving on shipwrecks from the 17th, 18th AND 19th centuries and found cannonballs, rigging, intact wooden jars and even a bone! Weve seen shoes, axes, pipes, anchors and other objects in situ and underwater since the fateful day they sank to the bottom of these cold, dark waters.
Just this past week, we dove on two shipwrecks that were destroyed by military test detonations in the 1920s, the Riksapplet (sank 1667) and the Grne Jagaren (sank 1676). Today they are strewn along the bottom in a giant pile, but through dives and video, we could piece together the remaining intact chunks of hull in our minds during our topside discussions over dinner. While working on the Riksapplet (The Apple), we combined actual bottom time with video from our dive team and the ROV and identified sections of intact framing and floor timbers that survived the blast. Even while swimming through the frames, it is hard to wrap your mind around just how large the ship would have been as the frames are HUGE. My dive buddy and I spent two, hour-long dives combing through the rubble looking for interesting artifacts that survived the blast. I spotted what I suspected were cannonballs and a double wooden block. Our Swedish friend Peter pointed out the rim of what appeared to be a ceramic jar, still fully intact except for one crack in the rim. After closer inspection, I was shocked to find that the jar was in fact made of wood!

As a maritime archaeology student, every class you take discusses the shipwrecks of the Baltic Sea and how special they are. Due to its unique temperature and salinity, wooden shipwrecks are preserved better here than anywhere else in the world. You marvel at photos of the Vasa and artifacts from the Kronan and dream that someday you may get to see and work on something that fascinating. These past weeks, that dream came true for me. I have seen the Vasa first hand and will never forget the moment I came through those museum doors. In Kalmar, I was able to spend hours marveling at the musical instruments, clothing, tools and personal belongings found on the Kronan. I dove to the cold, dark depths of the Baltic and laid my hands on a 17th century sailing ship still preserved and intact much like it was the day it went down. After everything we have seen and experienced, I just didnt think this trip could possibly get more excitingthat is until todaywhen I received a lesson in ship construction from Mr. Fred Hocker, director of research at Vasa, from INSIDE the ship. To see a ship from 1628 from the inside out is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. All of a sudden those large disarticulated framing sections seen on the Riksapplet started to make sense. I could now clearly recognize and compare construction aspects to what we saw in a pile of wood 40 feet below the surface to the lower decks and bilge of the Vasa. I recognized curves in the timbers and learned about a strengthening frame called a rider used to support the load of heavy guns. I could not grasp the size of the Riksapplet, as the knees and framing were very close to the same size as the Vasa.

Remember our interesting finds on Riksapplet? I asked Fred if he had ever seen a wooden jar on the Vasa or another ship like it. Immediately, his face lit up and he walked us to an exhibit on the next floor. There, inside the glass case, was an almost identical wooden jar to what I had seen underwater on Riksapplet four days earlier. Not only that, I was able to hold cannonballs found on the Vasa that were identical to the ones we had seen in the rubble. My archaeologists heart was full!

I wonder what today will bring on this amazing adventurewe are headed to Birka, the first city of Sweden and a huge Viking archaeological site. Stay Tuned!

Written by: Sarah Linden, Maritime Archaeologist