Yesterday by train to Gothenburg with the Djurhamn sword sitting in its package on the hat rack above my head. I spent much of the trip in the pleasant company of the Realm’s Herald, numismatist Dr Henrik Klackenberg, who happened to be on his way to a church excavation near Skara where he was going to classify newfound coins.
In sunny Gothenburg I caught a ride with a soft-spoken Kurdish taxi driver to Gamlestaden, the site of a 15/16th century predecessor of Gothenburg, currently an industrial suburb, where Studio Västsvensk Konservering resides in a refurnished textile plant. Here I was received by friendly conservators and showed around.
I love visiting conservators’ studios. They always have these really wild new finds that nobody’s heard of yet. Often even their excavators don’t know what they’ve found, as a lot of metalwork is lifted in soil blocks. Nor was I disappointed this time.
Inger Nyström and Annika Carlsson unpacked the sword and put it into the SVK’s X-ray room. It’s a giant camera: you put X-ray photographic film on the floor, rest your find on it, and then shoot X-rays at it from an emittor hanging from a ceiling-mounted winch. This way they can photograph objects several metres long. The shots (developed in a real analog photo lab with a red lamp and smelling of vinegar!) showed that the sword is very well preserved and made entirely out of iron and steel: no incrustations of more precious metals. Its immediate future will entail prolonged
leeching in destilled water, removal of rust bubbles and impregnation with wax. Then back to Stockholm and a prominently located display case.
While the X-raying took place, Annika and Ebba Phillips took me down to the ground floor and showed me their freeze dryer, a large submarine-like contraption currently containing bits of the Göta wreck, an early 17th century vessel.
The ladies explained to me how freeze-drying works as a conservation technique for waterlogged wood. First you replace as much of the water in the wood as you can with PEG, polyethylene glycol. If you just leave the wood to dry at this stage, the microscopic capillaries in the wood will collapse, your object will shrink and warp and it will be a mess. With freeze-drying, what you do is you freeze the whole thing so the capillaries are rigid, and then you apply a negative gas pressure so the water left in the wood wanders out and condenses elsewhere. The capillaries, instead of being filled with water and PEG or empty and collapsed, are still wide open and filled with air, their interior walls plastered with PEG.
Beside the freeze dryer was Ebba’s new baby, an exceptionally mind-blowing — and large — find: the Brissund cannon. It sank in 1566 off Gotland with a ship of the Danish-Luebeckian fleet, was found in the 1980s and broke the surface less than three weeks ago. It’s a complete iron cannon still in its wooden carriage, made with the same technique as a wooden barrel: eleven long iron staves welded together to form a cylinder and encircled along its length by a large number of iron hoops. Ebba showed me a large piece of rusty crust that had fallen off the muzzle-end, containing well-preserved rope that had wrapped the barrel between the hoops. Magic stuff! And insanely complicated to conserve, what with the combination of huge chunks of incompatible materials. Ebba’s going to spend years on it.
I also had a peek at finds from a Swedish Catalina airplane shot down over the Baltic by the Russians in 1952, incredible Migration Period metalwork from the Finnestorp war booty sacrifice, a High Medieval buckler shield found off Skanör and sundry other goodies. My colleague Robert Hernek showed up with a Roman Period urn burial in a soil block, fresh from his dig. Then I said goodbye, had a late Thai lunch, located a bunch of geocaches and went home to Stockholm.
Update 10 October: I have no idea why my handheld computer put the wrong time stamp on those pics.