On July 15, 2018, the Vanacek family were enjoying a vacation at their holiday home in Tånnö, southern Sweden. The region had suffered a drought, and the water levels at the nearby Vidöstern lake were lower than usual. Not that this bothered eight-year-old Saga, who was swimming in it anyway.
Incredible discoveries often happen when you least expect them. For instance, China’s Terracotta Warriors were discovered by a farmer during excavations for a well. The Dead Sea Scrolls, meanwhile, were only found when a shepherd accidentally fell into a cave they had been hidden in. It seems that fate and history often conspire against unwitting participants.
With that in mind, let’s go back to Saga Vanacek, splashing around and generally having fun on her summer holiday. Thankfully, despite the drought, the lake was full enough for sailing as well as swimming. The lower levels of water, however, had revealed a lump of concrete on the lake bed. To notify passing boats of the danger, Saga and her father, Andy, decided to place a marker on the water.
Saga and her family had relocated to Sweden from Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2017. In fact, the state is where her father is from and Saga had spent most of her life in the U.S. However, according to Swedish news publisher The Local, the family had moved to the country to be closer to the little girl’s maternal family.
But it was during the family holiday in Tånnö, when Saga and Andy’s safety mission turned into something very special indeed. “I asked [her] to bring the [marker], but she was taking her time like a kid does, playing in the water,” her father told The Local. “I was getting impatient as the World Cup final was about to start!” His daughter, however, was in no such rush.
Despite Andy’s impatience, however, Saga continued to play in the water. All of a sudden, she came into contact with something unusual on the bed of the lake. “I felt around with my hands and knees, when I noticed something that felt like a stick,” she told Sweden’s SVT News in October 2018.
“I was on the verge of throwing it away, but I didn’t,” Saga went on. Which is just as well, because what happened next would leave an indelible mark on the country’s history. “Then I picked it up,” she recalled. “And I said to my dad, ‘Dad! I’ve found a sword!’”
Saga’s father Andy didn’t quite see it that way, though. At least, not to begin with. When his daughter waved the weapon above her head, he thought she’d found a branch. On closer inspection, though, it was clear that she had, in fact, found a real sword. And it was clearly incredibly old.
In an October 2018 Facebook post, Andy explained how events unfolded after Saga pulled the relic out of the water. “The next day, an archaeologist was on the scene, with goosebumps on her arms. She took photos of the sword. [She then] laid it in the water too make sure it didn’t decompose from being in the air for the first time in 1,000 years.”
Yes, you read that right. The weapon was originally estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. And yet, according to the Jönköpings läns museum, where the sword is currently housed, “It was incredibly well preserved.” Indeed, not only had the blade itself survived, but so, too, had its sheath. Intricately made from leather and wood, its appearance belies its time beneath the waves.
No one has any idea what the ancient sword was doing in the lake. Or where it came from. What is certain though is that it’s an incredible find for someone so young. And it was about to set off a fascinating chain of events.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that there was an almost three-month period between Saga’s discovery and its announcement to the world. Jönköpings läns museum’s Mikael Nordström explained why to The Local in October 2018. “We asked Saga [not to tell anyone about the sword] because we were afraid that if this went public too soon, there would be a lot of people [at the lake], perhaps destroying our possibility of [of finding] things later.”
So, how did Saga and her father Andy handle manage to keep quiet? “I think maybe I found it harder to keep the secret than she did,” Andy told The Local. And his daughter? She only told her best friend. However difficult, the silence definitely paid off. In the intervening period, the museum made another discovery about the sword.
Museum officials have since revised the sword’s age, believing it to be even older than first thought. They now believe that the weapon is roughly 1,500 years old, dating it to around the fifth century B.C. If true, it was forged before the Viking era.
Now that the secret is out, Saga has finally been able to tell her classmates about her find. “They thought is was very fun and interesting to know about my story,” she told The Local. And it wasn’t just her school friends that were impressed. Her teacher was so pleased that she gave the kids ice creams and even let them watch the television coverage.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Saga’s story made news headlines around the world. She was just as popular on social media, too, but for a somewhat different reason. In some corners of Sweden, it seems, the eight-year-old has earned a unique legacy.
Delighted with Saga’s incredible achievement, many on social media have declared her as the new Queen of Sweden. Twitter user Thomas Lönnegren agrees. “According to legend,” he tweeted, “she is the Queen of all Viking territory. A new world order, Sweden back on top!”
Commentators also drew similarities with the legend of King Arthur, who famously received the Excalibur sword from the Lady of the Lake. Others commented on how appropriate Saga’s name is to her story. Saga, in English and Swedish, is used to describe an epic tale. “She will get a saga written about her: The saga of Saga,” wrote Twitter user Jonathan.
So, having earned such fame, how does Saga feel about finding something so important? “It felt very cool and a bit scary,” she told SVT News in October 2018. Despite her experiences though, the young girl has no plans to be become an archaeologist. As she told The Local, she’d rather be “a doctor, vet or an actor.”
As for the sword itself, it sadly won’t be on public display for around a year, Mikael Nordström confirmed to the Daily Mail in October 2018. He told the newspaper that the conservation process “has several steps to make in order to preserve it for the future.” And Saga? She likely won’t be able to handle her sword again. But there’s a campaign underway to have a replica made for the little girl to remember the historic moment. Not that she needs it – Swedish history will never forget her.