Underwater excavations have uncovered more secrets – and created some new puzzles – on the 15th-century Gribshunden royal warship, which sank in the Baltic Sea off Ronneby in Sweden in 1495.
The 35m timber vessel, which lies around 10m deep, is considered the world’s best-preserved example of the type of ship used by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama on their voyages of discovery.
Divernet reported in 2019 that during the last Gribshunden excavation before the Covid pandemic divers had found one of the earliest firearms ever to be found on a shipwreck.
The flagship of King Hans of Denmark & Norway was discovered by local divers in the 1970s but identified as the Gribshunden (Griffin-Hound) only in 2013.
The latest excavations were carried out in August and September by a scientific team from Lund University, Blekinge Museum and the Danish Viking Ship Museum. Their dives have revealed further weaponry in the form of artillery pieces and hand guns, as well as major components of the historic ship’s steering gear and sterncastle.
“No other ship from the time of exploration has survived this intact,” says team-leader Brendan Foley from Lund University. “Gribshunden delivers new insights into those voyages.
“We now understand the actual size and layout of those ships that changed the world. And more, we glimpse how this vessel operated as King Hans’ floating castle.”
3D modelling of key structural components on the ship have enabled the first digital reconstructions to be made. Lund PhD candidate Paola Derudas and Viking Ship Museum specialist Mikkel Thomsen combined models of the artillery, rudder, tiller and keel to recreate the sterncastle, the confined section of the ship likely to have been occupied by the king and his nobles along with gunners and steersmen.
In the bow, 3D models of the stempost and the hawse-pieces through which anchor-lines passed are said to have provided insights into the role of the forecastle in accommodating crew, handling of the ship, and also fortifications – or lack of them.
The team found it odd that no guns had been discovered on the forward section of the ship, speculating that unless they were salvaged after the sinking, they might have been mounted only in the stern section.
One of the first warships designed to carry artillery, Gribshunden represented the new technology the King Hans felt was required to fulfil his vision of ruling a unified Scandinavia. To that end he could be based aboard the ship for months at a time.
Gribshunden’s final voyage saw the ship leading a squadron to Kalmar, where Hans expected to complete his mission by being elected king of Sweden. Aboard was a cargo of prestigious items meant to impress the electors, and many of these are thought to remain undiscovered on the wreck.
The underwater archaeologists still hope to establish the cause of Gribshunden’s sinking, because no traces of the explosion and fire referred to in contemporary records have yet been found. Excavations will be resumed next year.
‘Flower woman’ find in Med
Meanwhile in Italy a dive-team from Civitavecchia naval station has discovered the remains of an ancient Roman structure near Ponza, the largest of the Pontine Islands west of Naples.
The port of Ponza was designed to help the Roman emperors control the central Tyrrhenian Sea, and the island also became a place of exile for their political enemies.
Close to the start of the imperial period (post-27 BC), a series of ornate rock-cut caves and pools called Pilate’s Grotto was built as a fish-farm to the west of an extensive villa called Madonna’s Point.
Near the grotto the divers found a series of architectural slabs bearing a relief decoration of a “flower woman” dating to between the 2nd and 1st century BC. They believe the slabs must have come from the villa, suggesting that it is older than previously thought.