One Hip Bone Differed From the Other Shipwreck Victims'

DNA shows a woman went down with Swedish warship the Vasa in 1628
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 5, 2023 9:18 AM CDT
One Hip Bone Differed From the Other Shipwreck Victims'
The royal warship Vasa is seen at the Vasamuseet museum in Stockholm, April 24, 2011.   (AP Photo/Scanpix Sweden, Anders Wiklund, File)

A US military lab has helped Swedes confirm what was suspected for years: A woman was among those who died on a 17th-century warship that sank on its maiden voyage, the museum that displays the ship said Tuesday. The wreck of the royal warship Vasa was raised in 1961 and was remarkably well-preserved after more than 300 years underwater in the Stockholm harbor. Some 30 of the estimated 150 aboard died when the Vasa keeled over and sank just minutes after leaving port in 1628, likely because it lacked the ballast to counterweigh its heavy guns. Those killed are believed to have been crew members, and most of their identities are unknown.

For years, there were indications that one of the victims, known as G, was a woman, because of the appearance of the hip bone, Fred Hocker, research leader at the Vasa Museum, said in a statement. Anna Maria Forsberg, a historian with the Vasa Museum, told the AP that women were not part of the crew in the Swedish navy in the 17th century, but they could be on board as guests. Seamen were allowed to have their wives with them onboard unless the ship was going into battle or going for a long journey. "It is thus likely that she was a seaman’s wife who wanted to come along on the maiden journey of this new, impressive ship," Forsberg said.

Since 2004, the Vasa Museum has collaborated with the Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology at Sweden's Uppsala University, which examined all the skeletons on the Vasa. "It is very difficult to extract DNA from bones that have been on the seabed for 333 years, but not impossible," said Marie Allen, Uppsala professor of forensic genetics. "We found no Y chromosomes in G’s genome. But we couldn’t be completely sure and we wanted to have the results confirmed." So they turned to the Delaware-based Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. Thanks to the forensics laboratory specializing in DNA profiling at the Dover Air Force Base, "we have been able to confirm that the individual G was a woman," Allan said.

(More discoveries stories.)

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