The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Identifying sharp force defects: an analysis of ambiguous skeletal trauma recovered from the wreck of the royal Swedish battleship Kronan


1Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology, Stockholm University, 2Forensic Anthropology Center, Department of Anthropology, Texas State University-San Marcos

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In 1667, the Swedish battleship Kronan with a crew of 850 men encountered the pursuing Danish-Dutch fleet in the Baltic Sea. Historic accounts report that the battleship turned too quickly, keeled over, and powder magazines aboard exploded. The ship quickly sank, taking with her 808 men. Kronan rested on the sea floor for over 300 years before being rediscovered in 1980, and commingled human remains were salvaged. A cursory analysis in 1997 by Professor Ebba During at Stockholm University found perimortem traumatic defects on approximately 10% of the 260 skeletons recovered. She proposed the injuries likely resulted from either sharp force violence or explosive trauma. No conclusive determination was made regarding trauma type, and no further analyses were conducted on the material.

This current project was undertaken to better define the trauma type, degree, and patterning present on a number of the skeletal elements. Using standard forensic anthropological protocols, a representative sample of 20 isolated bone elements (or 14% of the total number of bones with defects present) was analyzed in order to distinguish between sharp force or blast trauma. The results show that these injuries are consistent with sharp force trauma only. Surprisingly, no evidence of blast force, percussive, or explosive injuries were noted within this collection. The presence of sharp force injuries is intriguing, since it is documented that no man-to-man combat occurred prior to the sinking of the vessel, and no previously injured sailors were aboard. The cause of the sharp force trauma is still unknown.

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