An 8-year-old girl has become an international darling after her unexpected find — a pre-Viking-era sword that she pulled up from a lake in Sweden.
Saga Vanecek was helping her father, a Minnesota native, at their summer home in southern Sweden. The task was simple — to bring a buoy to her dad, who was about 30 yards out in Lake Vidöstern, where a drought had lowered the water level. Time was of the essence because the World Cup championship was about to begin.
But Saga did what an 8-year-old would do. She dawdled, skipping rocks and playing in the water as she made her way to her father, Andy. When her knee and hand struck something hard on the muddy lake bottom, she reached down and pulled it up. The blonde, blue-eyed girl quickly realized she had something other than a stick.
"Daddy! I found a sword!" she shouted to her dad, lifting it above her head.
Andy Vanecek, who moved his family last year from south Minneapolis to Sweden, where his wife's family lives, assumed it was a toy until he ran to her to get a good look. As gravity began to bend the sword, he grabbed it from his daughter.
The 34-inch sword, complete with wood and leather scabbard, looked "pretty dang old," he said. "There's no way this can be real," he thought. A neighbor he consulted thought otherwise, saying it looked like a Viking sword.
He carefully laid the timeworn sword on a board, put it in a separate room away from his two children and sent photos of it to an archaeologist.
"She got goose bumps," Vanecek recalled. She and other experts believe the sword is about 1,500 years old, dating back to the Iron Age.
"Saga never got to touch it again," Vanecek said.
The archaeologist was ecstatic when she got a close-up view of the sword at Vanecek's home. "This is a sensational find," she told Vanecek. Apparently it's stunning to find such an old sword in its scabbard and in a lake rather than at a grave site or in an archaeological dig, Vanecek explained.
It's hard to know why the sword would be in the lake, he said. Could it have fallen from a boat? Perhaps its owner fell through the ice? Was it an offering to the gods or part of a lake burial, he wondered?
People likely traveled over the lake, which was bigger and deeper 1,000 years ago, Vanecek explained.
Although Saga found the sword on July 15, she and her family were ordered to stay mum until this week, after archaeologists searched the area in case more artifacts were under the water. (Saga couldn't help but tell her best friend about her find, swearing her to secrecy.) Only a brooch dating between 300 to 400 A.D. was found.
For now, Saga's sword is in a museum refrigerator in Gothenburg, Sweden, until it can be restored. It probably will be a year before it can be displayed, Vanecek said.
In the meantime, the family is fielding calls from reporters around the world and watching as social media blows up over an 8-year-old girl's discovery.
"It woke the child in a lot of people who had read fantasy books and dreamed of King Arthur and watched Monty Python," said Vanecek. Saga, who probably doesn't understand all the fuss, has sparked people's imaginations, he said.
"She's being called the Lady of the Lake," Vanecek explained. "It's been really fun, very entertaining."