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Imagining Work

I saw one of the earliest printed books yesterday at the Ostasiatiska Museet. It dates from about 900 A.D. It is Chinese and made of wood block prints. Just imagine the work!

Imagining work was a bit of a theme. Brent and I went to the Vasamuseet, where there was plenty of work to imagine. The museum houses a warship that sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage. In the sixties, a salvage company partnered with the Swedish navy fished it back up again. It is now a cautionary tale about works of imagination, among other things.

The experts estimate that it took about 400 people two years to build the ship in the first place, which was speedy for the time. When I looked at period tools and looked at displays of technique, I was more than a little impressed. The king wanted the ship to be a symbol of power as well as a warship. He made demands for changes that had to be incorporated. All of his changes contributed to the top-heavy nature of the ship, which, combined with insufficient ballast, made it sink. But it is and was a beautiful thing, sculpted out of black oak. It used to be brilliantly painted, but they have left it dark in its reconstructed state.

Arriving at that state was quite a piece of work as well. Insane seventeenth century divers managed to raise most of the expensive (and heavy!) cannons using a diving bell. They also attempted to raise the whole ship by fishing for it with anchors. No one can be brilliant all the time.

In the twentieth century, divers dug tunnels under the hull and raised the ship with cables. Then archaeologists cleaned out the muck and began to catalog the contents. The wood had to be preserved and a whole bunch of the ship had to be reassembled from broken parts. New pieces to replace the missing ones were made of lighter wood in a smooth finish so it would be clear which parts of the ship were original. On the bowsprit, the delicacy and intricacy of the work showed up with the careful assembly of jagged original with fitted replacement.

Even the victims of the disaster have been reimagined. Scholars have reconstructed their faces and investigated traces of injury, disease, and malnutrition in their bones.




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