Elisabeth Nerman and Agneta Lundström


We interviewed Birger Nerman’s daughters Elisabeth Nerman and Agneta Lundström, February 11, 2013. Agneta followed her father and became an archaeologist and later head of Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury). Elisabeth has worked as a teacher. Both sister visited on different occasions the Janse couple in the early 1980s only a few years before Olov Janse died (1985). They told us that Renée was very active and even intense at the time. Olov, on the other hand, was calm. Renée even re-dressed Agneta and turned her into a woman from the 1950s.

Being one of his oldest and best friends, Olov wrote to Birger a few times almost every year from the early 20s century until the late 1960s. We have not found any letters from Birger to Olov, which gives a rather askew picture of them both. For example Birger always looks very reserved in the photos of him that we have. Olov, on the other hand, is very open hearted in his letters to Birger. This gives the impression that Birger was reserved and even without humour and that Olov was the opposite. In the interview, we were told that Birger stressed that you should not smile when having your photo taken – no cheese, so to speak – and that he did have humour and was a cheerful person.

In some of his letters to Birger, Olov Janse is critical to Sigurd Curman, who was the Custodian of heritage (Riksantikvarie) until 1946 and Birger’s boss. The impression from the letters is that Birger had a hard time. This is not true. They did, of course, not always agree, but things calmed down rather quickly.

When in France in the 1920s Olov Janse is immediately drawn into the Glozel affair. Having close colleagues in the French heritage and archaeological establishment he can conclude that the Glozel finds are frauds, even though many French scholars did believe that they were authentic. Birger being in Sweden did not have all this information and thought that the objects found at Glozel must be authentic prehistoric objects. In letters to Birger, Olov questions this and Birger was later, according to his daughters, ashamed for having been tricked into believing this.

Birger Nerman was borne 1888 and died 1971. He became a well know archaeologist, professor and was the head of the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm between 1938 and 1954. He played a central part in the opposition against the annexation of the Baltic countries by the USSR.

From left: Birger Nerman, the Japanese archaeologist S. Umekara and Olov Janse in the Museum of National Antiquities at the time housed in Nationalmuseum. 1927.

Courtesy of the Nerman family©