This dissertation consists of three separately published parts, all dealing with problems involving reconstructions of Viking Age ships, travelling experiments with such ships and people’s relations and attitudes to them.
The Ormen Friske, a Swedish replica of the Norwegian Gokstad ship, sank in the North Sea in June 1950, drowning all 15 on board. The ship was caught in ugly weather and steered for Helgoland, but at the same time U.S. aircraft carried out a high-altitude practice bombing run, targeting the island, unintentionally preventing the ship from reaching sheltered waters. Swedish officials suppressed the role of the bombing in the accident and rejected proposals for an inspection of the wreck. The disaster was instead blamed on the ship’s alleged deficiencies and the crew’s inexperience. The reason for the cover-up was to avoid annoying the Western allies. Most of the ship’s wreckage was then cleared away. But a few parts and artifacts were safeguarded, some of which still survive in museums, archives and private homes. They are discussed in terms of the varying meaning attributed to them by different authorities and people involved. Also, the remaining artifacts have their sentimental value thanks to their accompanying narratives. Together with graves and memorial sites these objects continue to mark people’s memories and conception of the disaster.
The archaeologist studying the contemporary past must move beyond Archaeology’s traditional sources. Documents and files in government and private archives, letters, photos, newspaper articles, interviews, ethno-archaeological experiments and participating observation may be used. He shall feel free to intersect borders to other disciplines, fitting and interpreting evidence into a narrative context.
Archaeology of the contemporary past deals with issues inseparable from the present and is therefore unevitably controversial. It is argued that the scholar should apply a reflexive approach, also scrutinizing his own background, social position and research incentives.
During the 1990’s the author co-organized a number of experimental river journeys in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia, analyzing the results in an archaeological, etnographical and historical context. The ship formed the required experimental platform but the essential feature was the voyage itself. Rowing vessels of the Scandinavian type upstream, through rapids and long portages, proved to be a strong, often impossible, challenge even for a very well trained and singe-minded crew. It is improbable that travellers ever brought ships all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. It is suggested that Viking Age travellers instead traversed the part of the route ”From the Varangians to the Greeks” between the Novgorod area and the upper Dnepr area by foot or horse and sledge during winter. Russian archaeological material supports this explanatory model. The popular image of Viking ships crossing Russia on rivers seems, at least in part, to derive from folklore and legends in an international tradition.
Rune Edberg , 2005. , 291 p.
Ormen Friske, Viking ship replica, Gokstad ship, Helgoland, Cold War, Archaeology of the contemporary past
2005-03-11, föreläsningssalen, Botanicum, Lilla Frescativägen 5, Stockholm, 13:00