Mysterious, 500-Year-Old Shipwreck Discovered in Baltic Sea Is ‘Astonishingly Preserved’

Shipwreck Discovered in Baltic Sea

A team of scientists has shown the remains of an intact and unbelievably preserved 500-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic, using state-of-the-art underwater robots. But the ship’s identity is still a mystery.

The perfectly preserved but unknown ship (or “okänt skepp” in Swedish) is probably “the best-preserved shipwreck of its period to be found in recent times,” according to archaeologists from the University of Southampton. It is thought to be from the Early Modern Period (late 15th – early 16th Century).

The ship was first discovered with sonar by the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) in 2009, but in the start of this year, as part of work carried out by seabed survey specialists MMT, the wreck was recognized as having magnificent archaeological and historical significance, a press release states.

“This ship is contemporary to the times of Christopher Columbus and Leonardo Da Vinci, yet it demonstrates a remarkable level of preservation after five hundred years at the bottom of the sea, thanks to the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic,” said MMT’s maritime archaeologist and deep-sea archaeological expert Dr. Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, who led the discovery and inspection of the ship.

“It’s almost like it sank yesterday – masts in place and hull intact,” Pacheco-Ruiz said. “Still on the main deck is an incredibly rare find – the tender boat used to transport crew to and from the ship, leaning against the main mast of the ship. It’s a truly astonishing sight.”

An archaeological survey dated the ship earlier than the warship Mars, which sank after an explosion in the First Battle of Öland in 1564 and Henry the VIII’s Mary Rose (1510-1545 AD) as well as the Swedish warship Vasa (1628 AD).

Experts say it is very hard to find a ship in such an extraordinary condition that predates the larger and more influential vessels involved in the later Northern Seven Year’s Wars (1563-1570) – a period of high importance which set the path of modernization of Scandinavian countries.

The ship rests on the Baltic seabed with her hull structure protected from the keel to the top deck and all of her masts and some parts of the standing rigging still in place, scientists said.

The shipwreck was explored by two undersea robotic cameras, one of them seen here being launched from the vessel the Stril Explorer. (Credit: Deep Sea Productions / MMT)

The bowsprit and a rudimentary varnished transom stern are still clearly visible, as are other rarely seen elements, such as the wooden capstan and bilge pump. The ship sports swivel guns, which are still in place on the gun deck — “a testament of the tension” at the time, according to the statement.

The team that discovered and examined the shipwreck is a collaboration among the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton; the Maritime Archaeology Research Institute of Södertörn University in Sweden; Deep Sea Productions in Sweden, and MMT, a Swedish company that performs seabed surveys.

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