The Skeletons of the Wasa.

The skeleton remains of the people drowned when the Wasa capsized and sank in 1628 were first studied in 1961 immediately after the excavation of the salvaged ship. A total of 1553 pieces of human bones were found during this excavation. For ethical reasons the examination was limited to two weeks after which date the current Curate of the Admiralty wanted the remains to be buried. The initial examination in 1961 was made by Prof. Nils-Gustaf Gejvall who identified bones from eighteen individuals. Of these the bones of twelve were found in the ship and the other six on the bottom. The bones from the eighteen individuals, who were named after the letters in alphabet, were put in plastic bags and buried.

In 1989 the grave was opened for a re-examination of the skeleton remains, this time by Dr Ebba During. The re-examination revealed that the skeletal remains actually represented at least 25 individuals, of which 16 had been found onboard the ship. Of the 25 skeletons, two were found to be female. Y(lva), who was about 16 years old and 166 cm tall, and B[eata] who was in her early 20s. Y[lva] was formerly believed to have been a boy, but the slender cranium and her broad pelvis gave her away. One of her front teeth was placed before the rest of her teeth and her upper arm had been broken.

The discovery of two female skeletons was not entirely surprising as women at that time were allowed to follow their men onboard the Royal ships as far as to the outer skerries. A contemporary account of the accidents mentions that the relatives of the crew were expected to leave the ship at Waxholm.

Most of the males were between 20-35 years, but a few were as old as 60. The average length was 166 cm, the tallest being 180 cm. F[ilip], who was a young man of some 20 years, was found at the whipstaff and is generally believed to have been the helmsman at the time of the catastrophe. Both his elbow joints had been damaged, probably due to heavy work. The double row of molars in his lower jaw (mandible) must have given him a diabolical grin.

Another man, I[var] who was a little over 40 years old, had had both his feet crushed at an earlier occasion and possibly a couple of toes had been amputated. His body was the only one found on the orlop deck.

It is not known how many people who were onboard on the 10th of August, 1628, but a proposed crew list counted 133 seamen. To these some 300 soldiers were to be added at a later stage.


Updated 1996-03-04 by Lars Bruzelius.

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.