Recent findings suggest that one of the crew members aboard the sunken warship Vasa was a woman.

The Vasa Museum houses the Swedish frigate Vasa (1628). Photographer: Anneli Karlsson, Vasa Museum/SMTM

The human remains discovered on board the sunken Swedish warship Vasa, initially identified as belonging to a male crew member named "G", have been found to be those of a woman, according to recent research. The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, resulting in the deaths of around thirty people, most of whom remain unidentified. 

However, a comprehensive archaeological excavation conducted during the ship's retrieval in 1961 revealed several human bones, which were examined through osteological analysis to determine the individuals' age, height, and medical history. 

The discovery of the woman's skeleton was made based on the pelvis, and DNA analysis may provide further insight into the crew member's identity. Dr. Fred Hocker, the director of research at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, believes that the new findings add to our understanding of the people who lost their lives on the Vasa.

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, has been collaborating with the Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology at Uppsala University since 2004 to study all of the remains recovered from the sunken ship Vasa. The main focus of the project was initially to identify specific individuals through their bones. 

Professor of Forensic Genetics, Marie Allen, led the project and stated that studying the skeletons from Vasa has been both interesting and challenging. Extracting DNA from bones that have been submerged in water for 333 years is difficult but not impossible, she said. Allen explained that several years ago, the team had indications that the skeleton designated "G" was not male but female because they found no Y chromosomes in the genetic material. However, the team could not confirm the result at the time and wanted to further investigate.

An interlaboratory study with Dr. Kimberly Andreaggi of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFMES-AFDIL) in Delaware, U.S. has confirmed the result. The AFMES-AFDIL is a laboratory of the American Department of Defense, specializing in DNA testing of human remains of deceased military personnel. This organization has developed a new testing method for analyzing various genetic variants.

The Vasa Museum is conducting DNA study. Professor Marie Allen of Uppsala University and Vasa Museum conservator Malin Sahlstedt. Photographer: Anna Maria Forssberg, Vasamuseet/SMTM.

Allen confirmed that new samples were collected from bones for which they had specific questions. AFMES-AFDIL analyzed these samples using their new testing method and confirmed that the skeleton designated "G" was indeed that of a woman. For Allen and Andreaggi, the investigation of the Vasa skeletons is a way to enhance their forensic methods, which could then be utilized in DNA analysis in criminal investigations or in identifying fallen soldiers.

For the Vasa Museum, the DNA analysis results are a crucial puzzle piece in their investigation of the individuals aboard the ship. Dr. Anna Maria Forssberg, a historian and researcher at the museum, stated that they aim to gain insight into these individuals as much as possible. They have long known that women were among those who died when the Vasa sank, and the DNA confirmation adds to their knowledge. Forssberg is presently researching the role of the wives of seamen, who are frequently overlooked despite their critical contribution to the Navy.

The new samples are expected to yield additional results soon. Allen and Andreaggi are hopeful that they will be able to learn more about the physical appearance of the individuals, such as their hair and eye color, and possibly even their family origins.

"Advancements in DNA research have allowed us to extract more information from historical DNA than ever before, and the techniques continue to be refined. We can identify predispositions to certain illnesses, as well as very specific details, such as whether a person had freckles and wet or dry ear wax," explains Allen.

The Vasa Museum researchers are examining the skeletons from multiple perspectives, including the personal effects found with the remains. The findings will eventually be showcased in an exhibition at the museum and in a book dedicated to the people who perished aboard the Vasa.

Source : Uppsala University


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