CH AND CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES: CH and remains from the recent and contemporary past – Swedish example (Case study)


Is this archaeology? Why? Why not?

The air-torpedo of Bäckebo. An example of contemporary archaeology

In June 1944 a German V2-rocket, which had been launched from the German research centre at Peenemünde, exploded and crashed in Bäckebo in the province of Smaland in southern Sweden.

More than sixty years after the crash in Bäckebo, the incident has itself become history. But with the passage of time the incident has been overshadowed by countless other happenings and courses of events. As a result, the story of the air torpedo of Bäckebo is largely forgotten or is unknown to most people in Sweden.

But what traces had the incident left locally? What kinds of memories still exist in the form of material remains and stories? Were there still parts of the rocket left in the ground? Could an archaeological survey for them trigger a process of remembering? With these questions in mind, a project group was formed to make a contemporary archaeology investigation, including metal detector surveys and interviews with people who, in one or another way, had experienced the crash. The project group consisted of people from Södertörn University College, Gothenburg University and the Bäckebo Folklore Society.

The mere excess of information about the recent past is, however, in itself obscuring. The low-voiced history is at risk of drowning in the noise of other more dominant and loud-voiced sources. An important archaeological contribution is therefore to give voice to some of those histories that otherwise are not heard.

These low-voiced histories can give a human perspective on large-scale happenings and courses of events that we otherwise only hear about on a general level.

A central aspect of the archaeology of the contemporary past is that it brings histories to the fore. This means that an excavation is not just a search for new information; it is also a happening that attracts people’s attention and brings the recent past of that particular site in focus.

The most important information is not always that which is found in the ground; it can very well be that which is told by local people or found in archives. But the archaeological effort is, nonetheless, what brings that history to the fore and triggers a remembering process. The project clearly showed that a combination of the “classical” archaeology’s way of dealing with material culture in combination with other sources can create a deeper and broader understanding of historical events, or, in short, make history come alive.

Learn more:
Burström, M., Gustafsson, A. & Karlsson, H. 2006. The Air Torpedo of Bäckebo. Local Incident and World History. Current Swedish Archaeology Vol 14. pp. 7-24.
Burström, M., Gustafsson, A. & Karlsson, H. 2007. Bäckebobomben. Minnen av Hitlers raket. Bäckebo: Arén kulturkonsult .