In Pursuit of Ancient Artifacts in

Vångsta is a very small village, only a few kilometers North-West of Västerås. It lies along one of my ”routine rounds”, when I'm out biking. I have biked through it many times during the years – without knowing that the village is fantastically rich in ancient remains. That is why I have not paid any special attention to it, but only gone through, without noticing anything.
But once again I found an interesting book at the ”Länsmuseeum” – about ancient artifacts in the area around Västerås. I read with a rising sense of surprise about how much there was to discover in Vångsta with it's maybe ten farms, which today are occupied.
Naturally, one of the summer's bike rounds would be dedicated to research the sights in Vångsta. I was accompanied by my fifteen-year-old daughter, which gladdened me a great deal. Fifteen-year-old girls usually tend to be otherwise occupied with giggling together about the guys in the neighbourhood and the latest fashion trend, while they re-paint their nails for the fifth time in the day, since the colour wasn't what they had thought when they'd seen the colour in the bottle.

We waited for a day with guaranteed good weather, packed some snacks, along with tools to be able to mend a flat tire, if our luck wasn't with us – and then we were off.

Getingbacken (”The Wasp Slope”) was our first goal – not because the name was particularly enticing, but there was a gathering of red dots at the site in the book, which indicated that there was an ancient gravesite there. But, nature looks somewhat different in real life, than on a map in a book. We knew that the slope was supposed to be on the left side of the road, but how far into the village we'd have to go, the map did not show – since there was no indication of where the village began. There were many alternative groups of trees, and we agreed on which we suspected, but we were not certain.
Luckily, there were people out and about on the farm on the opposite side of us. There we got our suspicions confirmed. Good! So, we parked the bikes at the edge of the road, and marched straight through the meadow to Getingbacken.
Now, there is a rather big difference between ancient remains of more known type, like the Akropolis in Athens, the Roman city of Carnuntum outside Vienna, or by all means Anundshög on the other side of Västerås. There, everything is already prepared for the tourists to come, gawk with big eyes, and then quickly move on to leave place for the next group of people. Not so in Vångsta! There a brook crosses the meadow, a teasing forty or fifty meters from Getingbacken. It doesn't seem so broad, a small jump could enable us to pass the obstacle. My daughter understands, and suggests that I should throw the pack first, so I can jump unhindered. I note happily her concern for her father, but my inner eye warns me for for such a brutal action. It shows me, with extreme clarity, how the screwdriver at the impact drives down into her fruit drink, or even worse, my can of beer. But that is not my only concern. In the ditch down to the bottom of the stream the grass is high and restricts the view downwards. And it is a pretty harsh slope.
It is impossible to predict how one is going to land on the other side. I don't want to risk a sprained ankle on a bike trip in Vångsta ... We follow the ditch for a while, but it looks the same everywhere. Because of that, we cross out Getingbacken – there are actually more things to look at.
That is one of the benefits, of not being in Pompeji or by Ale's Stones. One has to discover for oneself – since there are no guiding arrows, or helpful text. One also has to make one's own decisions, and doesn't get facts served on a silver platter, or on explaining signs. This is somewhat more of a treasure hunt, which makes it much fancier. So, we make our way back through the half high grass, and soon we find the old house from 1770 or thereabouts, which is next on our list. The book states that it is a pair-house. The curtains in the windows indicate that somebody lives there today even – if maybe only for a part of the year.
The Mission house is significantly younger - it is from the turn of the century to the 1900's. We try to peer through the windows, (also here there are curtains) but one has blocked the view by placing big objects in front of the windows. We have better success at the back of the house, but the result is meager here as well. Today, one seems to use this stronghold of faith to store leftover rubbish in. Tempera Mutantur - even the Romans knew that things change with time ...
The Manor house, with its yellow colour, shows up pompously (at least by Vångsta standards) behind the Mission house, but we bike past it quickly.
We know that there is supposed to be a bridge here, a short distance behind the Manor house, where we finally can cross the annoying water. As we thought, we ended up on the ”right” side of the road, the one where the bulk of the ancient remains is said to be. Here they have already cut the grass, and we push our bikes towards the edge of the forest. Then we have to force our way through grass, in which the highest strands reach above our heads, and after that the forest takes over.

We have entered the forest on chance, but we are in luck. Even if it is hard to see anything in the overgrown, mossy terrain, and even harder to photograph, there is no doubt that we are surrounded by grave mounds, and stone heaps. The book also mentions cup marks, but I realize that one would have to clean up and take away the moss to make such a discovery. I take a few pictures, but after that we refrain to delve further into ”The wild”.
Instead, we go back across the stream, and past the Manor house, to get to the road. There, we go to the right this time, on the side where there is no stream in the way.
Some prehistoric walls from a house are supposed to exist there, with three meters thick stone walls. That sounds interesting, but they lie a few hundred meters into the forest, as hard to pass, as it was on the opposite side.

The old road, which is supposed to lead there, we can't find either - despite our best efforts. It has probably also been overgrown with time. We don't feel like fighting through three or four hundered meters of sharp bushes and shruberries, so we cross out the walls from our list – even if we do so with a certain sense of reluctance.

Our last find is supposed to lie close to the road, not far from our current location. But as it happens, two cars approach at the same time, on the else as good as empty road, one in front of us, and one behind us. We are fully occupied with keeping close to the edge of the narrow road, and then, when we can look around again without danger, we only go another short distance and then we are out of the village. We think about turning back, but we have already been out for a few hours now, and we think that it will have to be enough for one day. After all we have come to see how much history there can be right in front of our noses, even in such unexpected places as Vångsta – and we are satisfied. Some weeks later, I was again going to bike through Vångsta on my excercise round and I brought along my camera – just in case. I was of course extra watchful, where we last time had been busy with the traffic. And there it was! A big and beautiful stone ship, that stretches from the road behind a grave mound, and two smaller ships in connection to the big one.

And even if I, in my pride, feel that our own culture is of a much higher standard, I strongly doubt that the remains of it will survive the centuries as well as the ones left by these ancestors.

© Bernhard Kauntz, Västerås 2007
Translated from Swedish by Renate Skoglund-Kauntz

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