Big is best,
Big is like – OMG – gigantic
Big is beautiful!
Look what’s outside my hotel window in Hobart: Ovation of the Seas, one of the biggest ocean cruise ships in the world. It’s here, you can’t miss it, it seems longer than the docks, wider than the widest sea, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – anything goes in this department.
Balinese Independence hero Ngurah Rai features on the 50000 rupiah bank note
Australians usually go to Bali for the beaches or scuba diving. Some go for the surfing, others to experience Balinese food and culture or see the volcanoes, monkeys, temples and rice fields. Recently, a team from the Australian National Maritime Museum went to Bali for a very different reason – to open an exhibition and lead a seminar on some amazing but largely forgotten shared histories of the two countries.
This is the last note in this series of Viking ‘journeys’. After nearly three months in Stockholm, it was time to see some of the famous museums, burial sites and stone arrangements across Scandinavia. And some not so famous.
First stop was the island of Birka for a sail on Aifur, the reconstructed Viking Age vessel that travelled by sail, by oars on rivers and overland on wheels from the Baltic to the Caspian Sea in the 1990s. It was one of several important journeys of historical reconstruction that make it beyond doubt the Vikings could have travelled so far to the east.
A glimpse of some traditional boats: Fifty-six days in Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2015
This visit began in Manado at the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and included a ferry journey from Gorontalo to Ampana via the Togean Islands, a week’s stay in Tentena on the shores of Lake Poso, three weeks in the Toraja highlands, a few days in Makassar and four days at Bira Beach on the southern tip of Sulawesi.
Throughout much of the journey I rendered many drawings directly from life and they include a number of studies of traditional boats. It’s these images that I wish to share along with these notes, visuals and maps about boatbuilding in Sulawesi, and its wider context.
Diving on the 1660 wreck of Resande Mannen. In the foreground are a bronze sheave and a box with square, glass medicine bottles, nestled between two deck beams. Image: Jens Lindström May 2016.
In 2003 underwater sonar was being used to locate a Swedish reconnaissance plane that had been shot down in the Baltic Sea in 1952 during the cold war. They came across, as archaeologists call them, an ‘anomaly’ that indicated a possible shipwreck. At 130 metres depth, an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) was sent down to investigate. To the surprise of all, they saw a 17th century ship sitting upright on the bottom of the sea floor, quite intact, looking like it was ready to be crewed and set sail again. In fact it, was so complete that spars and rigging lying on the deck could tell them the last sail settings – and hence manoeuvre – before the ship sank. It was such an eerie sight that archaeologists instantly named it ‘The Ghost Ship’.
In early May this year I was privileged to be shown some of the recent conservation work being conducted on the iconic 17th century Swedish ship Vasa. The richly decorated and powerfully armed vessel, built between 1626 and 1628 for the King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus, sank just a few minutes into its maiden voyage and lay on the bed of the busy Stockholm harbour for over 300 hundred years. In the 1950s when an amateur archaeologist located the wreck and Swedish navy salvage divers investigated, they found it was still very much intact, resting in the mud. An audacious, what was to be 40 year-long project of retrieving the wreck, conserving, housing and display began. It has proven to be an ongoing and challenging conservation project – far from over just yet.
Recently, the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm was taken over by the walking dead for a weekend. Well, it seemed like there were a bunch of ‘viking zombies’ wandering the museum. Vendel zombies in fact – from the period just before the Viking Age, around 550 to 790 AD. A group of historical reenactors were there to give a seminar on their work in recreating historical artefacts, and what they had found out about them in the process.
The thing is, these reenactors have reproduced the individual grave goods of a person from a particular grave find, often a burial chamber. When talking to the public, the reenactors were referring to each other as ‘Valsgårde 8’ or ‘Vendel 14’ – the names for the graves as described by archaeologists. There was something quite eerie about this – like the dead had got up and started walking around the museum.
This is the second part of two blog posts on maritime archaeology at Birka, Sweden.
Spoiler alert – Bjorn Ironside from the television series The Vikings dies in the end. I know because I walked over his grave mound – the biggest one on the most prominent peak in a line of hills of the island of Munsö, just northwest of Stockholm in Sweden.
After being invited to assist in curating a display of Birka Viking Age at Birka, it was time to install the display case at the Birka Museum on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. And to visit the grave mound of Bjorn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Not the guy from the TV series, but pretty certainly the actual, historical guy.
I didn’t realise there was an International Viking Day – until Facebook told me there was one. Apparently it falls on 8 May each year since 2013. It is a time to ‘get off the bedstraws, polish the swords and prepare the ships to visit friends and enemies near and far’, according to the Destination Viking Scandinavian tourism website at least.
Luckily, I was doing my bit for International Viking Day, roaming the Swedish island of Gotland researching Viking Age picture stones and ship stone arrangements.
In my first week of a professional development fellowship based at the Historiska Museet in Stockholm I was pleasantly surprised to be handling Viking Age objects and assisting in selecting some for a display of maritime finds at the famous World Heritage site Birka.