Centuries-old time capsule opened in Stockholm Cathedral

Multiple time capsules from the 1700s and early 1900s were discovered during renovation works at Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan).

Centuries-old time capsule opened in Stockholm Cathedral
The contents of the time capsule from 1742. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The first and oldest of the boxes, from 1742, contained a tightly-folded A3-size piece of paper covered in elaborate handwriting stating that the old tower was removed in 1736 and the new one was completed in 1742, a date which had not previously been confirmed.

“This is the nicest capsule I’ve ever opened,” building restoration expert Max Laserna told church magazine Kyrkans Tidning.

“The handwriting from 1742 was so beautiful, almost like a piece of art, it really stood out,” he said.

The capsule from 1903 was flat like an envelope and difficult to open. It contained a newspaper, some letters and an old piece of sheet metal with the text “gammal plåt” (old sheet metal), presumably a piece of the old roof from the 1700s.

A historian opens the time capsule from 1742. The younger time capsule from the early 1900s can be seen in the background. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The final capsule from 1930 contained a gilded piece of metal along with a number of daily and weekly newspapers. This piece of metal sparked a renovation of the cathedral’s spire when it was discovered on the ground one morning after falling down from the cathedral’s roof.

There was also a rusty nail in the same capsule along with a ten-page long text titled “An account of the 1929 renovation”. According to Laserna, such a detailed report is a rare find.

Similarly to 1929, the current decision to renovate the cathedral was made when a large piece of stone was discovered on the ground outside in 2016. Upon investigation, it was discovered that it had also fallen down from the roof, which had loose plaster in many areas and needed renovation.

The cathedral’s facade is currently being renovated and will return to the same pink colour it had in the 1700s. It is expected to cost over 100 million kronor and be finished in January 2023.

The time capsule tradition will be continued, with a new capsule being placed in the cathedral’s tower to mark this renovation. 2022’s capsule will include pictures of the workers who carried out renovations, drawings from five-year-olds and a copy of Kyrkans Tidning – to be opened the next time a piece of stone or metal falls down from the heavens, maybe in another 100 years’ time.

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‘First of its kind’: Viking shipyard found on Swedish island

A Viking Age shipyard has been found at Birka on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren, west of Stockholm, archaeologists from Stockholm University have announced.

'First of its kind': Viking shipyard found on Swedish island

“A site like this has never been found before,” Sven Isaksson, Professor of Archaeological Science at Stockholm University, said in a press release. “It’s the first of its kind, but the finds convincingly show that it was a shipyard.”

Birka, also referred to as Vikingastaden (The Viking City) in Swedish, is often considered to be Sweden’s first city, one of the most important trading centres in the Viking period. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an example of the city-like trading posts that sprang up in the Nordic countries during the Viking Age.

“It’s not just about the first urban environments, but shows an intensive exchange of trade goods and ideas between people”, added Sven Kalmring, associate professor and expert on ports and urbanisation in the Viking Age at the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, who led the investigations together with Isaksson.  The group’s findings have been published by Stockholm University as a research report. 

Remains of ships have been discovered in previous excavations in the area, but the latest finds have confirmed the existence of a Viking shipyard at Birka for the first time.

“Through systematic inventory, mapping and drone surveys, we can now show that Birka, in addition to the urban environment, also has a very rich maritime cultural landscape with remains of everything from jetties to boat launches and shipyards,” Isaksson said.

Archaeologists discovered a stone-lined depression in the Viking Age area of the shoreline, with a wooden boat slip at the bottom. In addition to this, they discovered a large amount of boat rivets, slate whetstones and tools for woodworking.

“The finds of artefacts from the area shows with great clarity that this is where people have served their ships”, Isaksson said.

The town ramparts around Birka functioned not only as a defence, but also as a legal, economic and social boundary. Previous investigations of harbour facilities in Birka have mostly been carried out inside the town rampart, in the area known as the Black Earth harbour area, and below the so-called Garrison. The newly discovered shipyard at Kugghamn is located, along with a number of other maritime remains, outside Birka’s town rampart, along the northern shore of Björkö.

“By investigating various maritime elements in connection with a possible house site in Kugghamn, we are now trying to get an overall view of a very exciting and previously archaeologically completely unexplored environment,” Kalmring said.

Archaeologists are still investigating other sites in Birka, including the remains of a boat landing site outside the town ramparts. They are also trying to answer the question of whether there were rules on who was allowed to dock in different areas of the city.

“Could anyone land anywhere, or did it matter if it was inside or outside the town rampart?” Isaksson said.

“There is much to ponder here. But for us, the investigation doesn’t end with the fieldwork, we continue in the lab. By using analytical laboratory techniques, we get more information out of the fragmentary source material than is otherwise possible.”