I’ve spent the day metal-detecting for a project called Vasakungarnas Djurhamn, that is, “Animal Harbour of the Sheaf Kings”. This name may not make much sense to you, Dear Reader, so let me explain.
In the 1520s Gustaf Eriksson, the most successful of many ambitious young noblemen at the time who tended to end up decapitated, wrested Swedish royal power from the Danes with the aid of Lubeck. He soon implemented Reformation and used the riches of the church and monasteries to repay his debts and reorganise Sweden from the bottom up. A very good 2002 biography of the man has the subtitle “Father of a nation or tyrant?”, and argues that Gustaf was both.
Gustaf’s family crest depicted a crossbow-like thingy that may or may not have been intended as a sheaf of corn, vase or vasa in the Swedish of the time. Medieval historians like to mention such heraldic logotypes after the names of people to tell them apart, since pretty much everybody was named Gustaf Eriksson or Erik Gustafsson at the time. Thus Gustaf is called Gustaf Eriksson (vasa), and is currently known colloquially as Gustaf Vasa. The word vasa has dropped out of the language and most people now believe it was simply his surname. Gustaf’s dynasty, which retained the Swedish throne for two centuries, is known as the “Vasa kings”.
Djurö (“animal island”) is a fair-sized island in the Stockholm archipelago, located right where the islands start to grow small and sporadic as one moves east. Written sources document an important harbour there from about 1450 to 1700, known as Djurhamn, “animal harbour”.
Djurhamn was its era’s equivalent of a major airport. Everyone who came to Stockholm from the south or vice versa by boat (and the roads were crap) passed this place, and many spent days or weeks there waiting for wind. While waiting, a lot of them took care of their paperwork, and so the archives of the time are full of letters dated at Djurhamn. Fleets anchored there on their way to attack Stockholm or from Stockholm to attack areas in the southern Baltic during the period’s endless wars. Thousands of people would stay there at any one time, some on their ships, others in buildings or camps on Djurö. And that’s where I come in.
The project aims to make Djurhamn a tourist attraction. The area is very nice in the summers and many people have summer houses there — but there isn’t really anything to show the tourists. The 1683 chapel is nice enough, but all of southern Sweden is dotted every few kilometres with far more venerable parish churches. From an archaeological point of view, all we currently know of at Djurhamn is a great big garbage dump on the bottom of the harbour basin and a cemetery revealed by house construction efforts near the shore. Also a heavily looted shipwreck site some ways off, the remains of the Riksvasa, a huge man-o-war. It caught fire in 1623 while riding at anchor in Djurhamn and was tugged away to keep it from setting other ships ablaze.
The project hired me as a consultant after I suggested that there must be remains of buildings, quays, jetties and wharfs on dry land around Djurhamn. The shoreline has receded two vertical metres since AD 1600, so all the land and shore installations’ remains must be conveniently (and cheaply) available for study though no organic material is likely to survive.
Much of the harbour basin’s shores are bare cliffs, some of them steep and all of them unable to hide any archaeological material beyond the odd rock carving. I thus started by scoping out where there are reasonably flat earth-covered surfaces. Turns out there are two sites, both of them now partly wooded, partly the gardens of summer houses, on either side of Gransberget Hill (“spruce mountain”). With the land-owners’ and county archaeologist’s gracious permission, today I went over the western area with my metal detector.
Sadly I found nothing that I can definitely date before AD 1800, and most of what I did find is 20th century stuff. Also, I discovered that a mysterious land formation that looks almost like the remains of a drydock and shows up clearly in the altitude curves on maps is in fact an old sand quarry dug inward from the shore, probably in the 1800s judging from coins and the size of trees growing in it.
So, scientifically no breakthroughs, but still fun and the weather was excellent. I watched two squirrels fighting and chasing each other up a tree, had some blueberries and raspberries, and made one rare and beautiful find that must be the material record of boys playing in the woods in the inter-war years: part of a toy soldier.
Next I’ve got to get hold of the landowner east of Gransberget Hill to ask for permission. His lawns are on a perfect level above the sea, and the cemetery I mentioned is partly under his barn.
[More blog entries about archaeology, history, Sweden, metaldetecting; arkeologi, historia, värmdö, metallsökare, stormaktstiden.]