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Magnificent wreck from 500 years ago found in the Baltic Sea

A pristine and fantastically preserved wreck has been found in the waters of the Baltic Sea, which dates back to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The discovery was made by an international team of scientists using the latest in underwater robotics. This is an extremely important find, as it is extremely rare
Published: July 23, 2019 - 13:48
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 18:25
Magnificent wreck from 500 years ago found in the Baltic Sea

A pristine and fantastically preserved wreck has been found in the waters of the Baltic Sea, which dates back to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The discovery was made by an international team of scientists using the latest in underwater robotics. This is an extremely important find, as it is extremely rare to find such well-preserved wrecks from this period.

The wreck was first detected by the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) as a side scan sonar target in 2009, as part of research work for the construction of Nord Stream 2, 24 nautical miles off the Swedish coast. From information made public, we know that the find is located in international waters, almost in the middle of the Baltic Sea, at a maximum depth of 140 m. A series of ROV surveys were carried out in March 2019 and the results were made public on Monday 21 July 2019.

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Photogrammetric model of the ship's looking from the top

[blockquote style=”2″]”We called it Okänt Skepp (unknown wreck, nameless), and the reason we did that was because at that time it had no name. This is such a period that there is not even a tradition of naming ships or vessels. Even if it had a name, it wouldn’t be a name that was unique, for this particular vessel,” said Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, who led the work[/blockquote].

During a thorough inspection conducted by MMT, it became clear that the object under investigation is of great archaeological and historical significance. In addition, it was found that not only does the 16-metre wreck date back to the times of Christopher Columbus and Leonardo Da Vinci, but it has been preserved in a way that is unparalleled by any other known wreck from five hundred years ago.

Photogrammetric model of the ship's bow showing the anchor still in place

The structure of the explored wreck is still a compact unit despite the passage of years, you can see the rotating cannons on the deck, part of the rigging, a wooden winch, bilge pump, bowsprit or decorative stern, and what is more, even the masts are still in place! The real treasure discovered on the wreck, however, is a light boat, used to transport crew members from ship to shore and back. An extremely rare and therefore valuable find.

Launching the ROV from Stril Explorer

In terms of age and general condition, it is a unique find and the best preserved of those discovered so far in the Baltic Sea. It is also another example of how kind the Baltic Sea can be to wooden wrecks hidden in its depths. The specific mix of conditions, such as lack of sunlight and oxygen, low temperature and absence of ship’s drill, allow to preserve the sunken vessels practically in the state in which they crossed the waves during their last journey.

It is possible that the found vessel was sunk during an unknown battle, fought as part of the Swedish War of Independence. This was a three-year conflict between Swedes and Danes, which took place between 1521 and 1523. It is also possible that the ship was sunk during the Russo-Swedish War between 1554 and 1557.

The size of the ship, the shape of the perfectly preserved bow, the design of the anchors and the masts and rigging, are thought to be very similar to those found on Christopher Columbus’s two smaller ships, the Pinta and La Niña, which he used with the larger Santa Maria to cross the Atlantic and reach America in 1492. The discovery will certainly help maritime archaeologists and historians to better understand some of the technology available to Columbus.

ROV control room. from here the archaeologists direct the survey

On the basis of archaeological research, it is believed that the investigated shipwreck may come from the late 15th or early 16th century (1490-1540). It is certainly an older vessel than the now legendary warship Mars, which sank at the Battle of Öland in 1564, the English Mary Rose (1510-1545), and the Swedish warship Vasa (1628).

Students from Southampton University and Stockholm KTH joined the expedition onboard Stril Explorer

The archaeological work and subsequent photogrammetric survey was supervised by Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, MMT marine archaeologist and deep-sea archaeology expert. Activities on the wreck were carried out in collaboration with Deep Sea Productions, the Institute of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Södertörn (MARIS) and the Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA) at the University of Southampton.

Source: Press release

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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