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Greta Arwidsson (1906–1998)

Author of The Mästermyr Find: A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland

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Short biography
Greta Arwidsson was born in Uppsala and grew up in the university, where her father was head of the zoology department. Her mother became seriously ill when Arwidsson was still in her teens and she assumed responsibility for running the household while studying to become a teacher. An early interest in archaeology led to her participation in the excavation of the series of Viking boat-grave cemeteries at Valsgärde under the direction of Professor Sune Lindquist. Her flair for excavation and interpretation, particularly her application of scientific analysis, including X-rays, to the grave-goods made her increasingly valuable to Lindquist and she worked as his assistant from 1930 onwards. In 1942 she published Vendelstile, Email und Glas im 7-8. Jahrhundert, (Valsgärde Studien, I) and Valsgärde 6, (Die Gräberfunde von Valsgärde, I). Teaching forgotten, at least for the time being, she worked as a cataloguer at the Jämtlands läns bibliotek at Ostersund and began her curatorial career at the Gustavianum in Uppsala before moving on to the Statens Historiska Museum in Stockholm. From 1946-56 Arwidsson was keeper of antiquities on the island of Gotland, an area rich in unique types of archaeological artefacts, structures and burial customs, alien to those of mainland Sweden. This was a decade of intense activity for her, which included the keepership of the the Gotland Museum, the direction of fieldwork to establish settlement patterns, the listing of churches and monasteries, medieval houses and farm buildings and, not least, the conservation of the city walls of Visby, Gotland's main Viking township. The foundation of the Gotland Research Institute for experimental archaeology in 1970 owed much to Arwidsson's pioneer work. In 1956 she was appointed the first professor of archaeology at Stockholms University; she was also the first woman in Sweden to occupy a chair of archaeology. The new department had no accommodation of its own, no equipment, administrative staff or teachers, apart from the professor, but she overcame these obstacles by her ingenuity, energy and determination. At first, lectures were held in the university museum but by 1957 Arwidsson had found suitable premises at Odengatan in north Stockholm and a dean and librarian were soon in office. Arwidsson knew what she wanted for her fledgling department and was single-minded in pursuing her objectives and in exercising her authority; she became known for running a tight ship with a warm heart. After returning to Gotland to excavate in the spring of 1957 with twenty of her first-year students she continued to supervise operations there until 1961, when she transferred her attention to Lovö. Fieldwork was Arwidsson's favoured method of teaching and her digs were partly financed by grants from an educational charity she set up. The proximity of Lovö to the royal palace at Drottningholm attracted the support of the late King Gustav VI Adolf, himself a distinguished archaeologist (he was elected a Royal Fellow of the Antiquaries in 1935), who visited the site regularly. Arwidsson was utterly selfless in her devotion to the university and her reputation as a pre-eminent Viking scholar ensured a capacity intake of 100 students at the beginning of every academic year. In 1971 she supervised the removal of the archaeological institute to Frescati and in 1973 she retired. Elected a member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in 1983 she quickly made her presence felt. She helped to edit the Academy's exemplary publication of the grave goods uncovered at the ninth-century town of Birka on the island of Björko and contributed `Die Eissporen' and `Pferdeeisnägel' to Birka II, 1986. ~collected from http://www.sal.org.uk/obituaries/Obit... archive/greta-arwidsson AND http://gav.se/greta.htm
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