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Exceptionally Well-Preserved 16th-Century Shipwreck Found In The Baltic Sea

The ship's stern. Credit: Deep Sea Productions/MMT

Deep-sea archaeologists have discovered what they say might just be the best-preserved shipwreck from the Early Modern Period (late 15th to early 16th century), or "Age of Discovery".

The remains of a ship were found on the ocean floor of the Baltic Sea by the Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) in 2009, but thanks to work carried out by survey specialists at MMT, archaeologists at the University of Southampton in the UK, and others, it can now be seen in its full glory – or at the very least, depicted in a ghostly green photogrammetric model.

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The "okänt skepp" (Swedish for "unknown ship") is thought to predate infamous ships such as Henry VIII's Mary Rose (1510-1545 CE) and Mars, a Swedish warship that sank in an explosion during the First Battle of Öland (1564 CE). It is rare, the researchers say, to find a precursor to the larger (and more powerful) vessels used in the Northern Seven Years' Wars (1563-1570 CE) in such good condition.


"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," Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, MMT’s maritime archaeologist and deep-sea archaeological expert, said in a statement.

"It’s almost like it sank yesterday – masts in place and hull intact. Still on the main deck is an incredibly rare find: the tender boat, used to ferry crew to and from the ship, leaning against the mainmast. It’s a truly astonishing sight."


Remarkably, the hull structure of the ship is preserved from the keel to the top deck, as shown in the photogrammetric model. The masts, the bowsprit, and even some parts of the standing rigging are intact, while it is still possible to make out the wood capstan, a bilge pump, and a rudimentary decorated transom stern – not to mention the ship's swivel guns, standing on the gun deck.

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This specimen is just the latest wreck investigated in collaboration with MMT and the University of Southampton. In total, over 65 shipwrecks in the Black Sea have been surveyed, some whose origins go back to Ottoman, Byzantine, Roman, and Greek times.


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