The project

Why are you doing this?

To see if we can track down Vasa’s missing cannons and gain a better understanding of the trade in metals and weapons in the 17th century.

There have been search attempts before, why now?

We have better technical equipment for searching under the water, better access to engage the public, and recent discoveries in English and Dutch archives suggest that there is more information to be found there.

Why will you succeed in finding anything this time around?

We have a solid project group in place, with participation from several countries, and we have better tools at our disposal.

How many cannons do you expect to find intact?

There is a reasonable chance that there is still one cannon at the site of the sinking, dropped during the salvage operations in the 1660s, and we believe it is possible to find this one. Whether any of the cannon successfully recovered in the 17th century still exists is much less certain. Bronze cannon were valuable for the raw material, and were usually melted down after they were no longer useful.

How many do you expect to track down through archives?

At least a few, if not intact. We have records that suggest that Great Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark were buying Swedish cannon of the same type in the year in which Vasa’s cannon came onto the international market. We would like to know who took delivery of the cannon exported from Sweden and what they did with them.

What’s the worst case scenario?

That there are no cannon left at the site of the sinking, no Vasa guns in collections elsewhere in the world, and the archival trail goes cold. We doubt that this will happen.

There are several partners involved in this project. Are there any conflicts of interest?

No, quite the opposite. We all have something to gain from this. Not least through the tight and rewarding cooperation between us.

In view of today’s uncertainties and increased violence, how do you justify the search for guns?

The cannon we are searching for are not just tools of war, but they are also clues to the early history of Swedish industry, the development of the European trade in armaments and metals, and an example of how states which embarked on war were still bound by economic limits. A better understanding of this situation not only increases our knowledge about the 17th century, but is relevant to understanding modern conflicts and the role of industry and economic forces in promoting or discouraging armed conflict. By understanding the past, we hope that we can make better decisions about the future.

The cannons

What do you know about them?

Vasa sailed with 64 cannon of different types, all cast in bronze. The primary armament was 48 cannon called 24-pounders, because they fired a solid iron ball which weighed 24 pounds (10 kg). Forty-six of these were a new type of lightweight siege gun, about 2.85 meters long and weighing 1200-1300 kg each. The upper deck of the ship carried a variety of lighter guns, including eight 3-pounders, which were about 2.7 meters long and weighed about 400 kg, and an odd assortment of assault guns, short, light guns made for firing anti-personnel ammunition rather than solid shot. We believe that one of the 3-pounders may still be at the site of the sinking.

Underwater work

How many dives are planned and who will do them?

If the sonar survey shows traces of a cannon, and number of dives will be necessary to evaluate whether the sonar trace really is a cannon, and then to expose it for documentation and lifting.

What do you expect to find in the harbour?

In addition to the cannon we believe could still be on the site, there may be other objects from Vasa which were not found during the salvage work of 1956-1967. This could include several large wooden sculptures as well as a wide variety of smaller items.

Could there be any surprises you don’t know about?

We hope so! There are always surprises when it comes to archaeology. That’s part of the job.

Are there any risks involved with diving?

There is always some risk in diving to such depths (about 32 meters). The primary risk is for decompression sickness, caused by absorbing nitrogen into the blood at depth and not allowing it to escape from the blood slowly enough. However, this is a normal risk and modern working practices are designed to minimize it, by limiting how much time a diver can stay on the bottom and how quickly he or she can ascend to the surface. Our divers are highly qualified with much experience from diving in cold and dark Swedish waters.

Is there a risk of environmental damage during the (possible) salvage?

We always do our outmost to diminish the effect on the sea. And we never to anything without permission. We are a public authority and our environmental consideration is top priority in everything we do. In this case, the bottom of Stockholm harbour is largely a dead zone due to the lack of oxygen, so the risk in the immediate area of the search is minimal. We do have to be careful if we excavate to make sure that the sediment we move is contained.