Cultural Artifact

I first considered a hospital as I am Pre-medicine, interested in the differences between healthcare, and talked to Mrs. Hertzberg, a Norwegian nurse, about her positive outlook on Norway’s system. I also considered a university as I find it fascinating how Europe’s higher education system of paid schooling works, its surprising quality, and got to discuss with a tour guide, a student at the University of Copenhagen, about her positive experience.

But what ended up impressing me the most were the skeletons from the Vasa museum.

The Vasa museum was amazing starting with the fact that I love experiencing what everyday life was like in the past. The museum centers around an over 30 year-old ship (one of the largest restoration projects in our history) that was one of the largest, most daunting ships of its time. The ship made it just out of port before a wind gust easily tipped it over because the four stories of height above the water alone was too much for the rock weight in the hull. Thirty crew members died and the ship sunk in minutes.

Anyway, I was walking around the section where they displayed the more complete skeletons recovered from the wreckage. I enjoy learning about human anatomy, human history, and these skeletons interested me. I examined each. Some had longer bones; others had shorter. Some had ribs nearly completing an entire chest; others were missing ribs entirely. And yet some still had their full set of teeth; others, well, needed dentures. After realizing it might be getting creepy how long I was looking at these skeletons, I decided to move on. I looked back to reflect, proud of all the detailed comparisons and expert examinations I had just performed. They all, then, looked remarkably similar. Like a bunch of off-white, browning bones arranged into about twenty incomplete skeletons. Worrying I just wasted a bunch of valuable museum time on these jumbled bones, I began walking away and saw there were names and passages on the wall across from the show cases.

They were stories.

Not only were these random stories with names, I now noticed the skeletons each had name plates above them connected to the life histories. I immediately returned to the beginning of the crypt to start all over. For each, I read the passage and went back to the skeleton to reexamine–sometimes taking a few trips. Some left behind families. Some left behind enormous wealth. And yet some left behind alternative deaths from various illnesses, disease, or malnutrition.

Two people stood out to me. The first, supposedly the captain, Jonsson [left]. The second, an unknown teenager [right].

 

The captain was found with high quality clothes and gold. The teenager was found with no possessions and evidence of malnutrition. Reading these and the other twenty accounts, each had unique stories in life. Whether or not they came with status, riches, or diseases, they all ended up in the same place as a collection of bones at a museum.

This exhibit let me experience their lives but also reminded me of world culture today. On the trip, we toured sprawling palaces, ate with the Oslo chief accountant, and experienced the Pride parade. Each of us have different privileges, different niches, and different stories. But regardless of what those are, we can see the sameness we all share when the layers decay away.

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