A research project with the aim to understand Vasa in its widest possible context is on-going since 2003. A number of new studies give knowledge about the ship and artefacts from Vasa.
Since 2003, the Vasa Museum has been engaged in a wide-ranging research program on the history and archaeology of Vasa and the 40 000 objects found with the ship. This touches social, environmental, economic, political and technological issues affecting the northern European world of the first half of the 17th century.
The program involves an international team of researchers and students from more than ten countries in disciplines as varied as genetics, ballistics, metallurgy, zoology and economics, beyond the conventional fields of history and archaeology. Recent projects have included DNA analysis of the human remains found on the ship, test firing of a replica of one of the ship's 24-pounder bronze cannon, and the role of women in the Swedish economy.
Vasa's story is not simply a tale of a single disaster in August of 1628, it is part of the larger story of Sweden and Northern Europe in the period of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In order to understand how it was built, how its crew were recruited and maintained, how the ship was sailed, and how the navy planned to use the ship, we need to look at the archaeological finds and the historical documents from the widest possible perspective, and to put them in the context of what was happening in the rest of Europe and a wider world in the early 17th century.
We want to know why the king wanted a ship like Vasa, why the ship sank, and what effect the construction and loss of Vasa had on the power politics of the Baltic region. We want to know where the raw materials to build the ship came from and who the people were who built the ship. We want to understand the everyday life of people living on board, where they came from, how they were fed, and what they did in their spare time. We want to know how fast the ship might have been, how hard it was to steer and how many people it took to sail Vasa.
We want most of all to understand the world that produced Vasa, and the ship gives us the chance to look at a wide range of questions. The timber came from Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands, and gives us a chance to look at forests and resource management, as well as the international economy. The sailors were mostly conscripts, and so they give us the chance to look at ordinary people from a wide range of backgrounds. The builders and many of the technical experts involved in the construction and arming of the ship came from abroad, part of a significant wave of immigration into Sweden, and so we can look at how the country recruited and assimilated foreigners. The war for which Vasa was built, with Poland-Lithuania, had roots in economic competition, religious differences and dynastic squabbles, and so we can use the ship to try to understand the nature and causes of warfare.
In order to look at such a wide range of questions, we need experts from a large number of different fields, not just people who know about 17th-century shoes or guns or shipbuilding, but also people with knowledge about gender roles, the agricultural economy, religious beliefs, the raising of children, and we need to know about what was happening outside Sweden. We also need to carry out many different kinds of specialized analysis, from the identification of the materials used to make different objects to DNA analysis of the remains of the crew. The research team is thus a large, international group, primarily based at universities and other museums in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, the UK and the US, but with other participants from around the world. The Vasa Museum collaborates with these partners not only in our own research, but in broader research projects on seafaring, naval history, and the world of the 17th century.
A large part of the research carried out is done by graduate students in archaeology and related fields. Current student research projects include an analysis of all of the coins found on board the ship and what they tell us about the everyday economy of Sweden, health and hygiene on board, and the animal bones. Previous projects have included studies of the ship's galley, the hundreds of casks used to hold provisions and personal possessions, the carpenter's tools, eating utensils, and rigging finds.
The current major research project taking place at the museum is focused on the documentation and reconstruction of the ornate interior of the great cabin and officers' accommodation in the stern.