A team of archaeological divers investigating a mid-17th-century shipwreck unique to the western Baltic Sea expressed surprise at a recent presentation about the quantity of well-preserved timbers and artefacts they have been able to uncover.
Divernet reported on the initial archaeological dives on the wreck last September. These had been carried out following a routine waterways authority survey of the Trave river, near the port of Lübeck in northern Germany, that had revealed timber beams and barrels lying at a depth of 11m.
Kiel University archaeologists had dived to establish that the remains were those of a Hanseatic ship and that it had been carrying an estimated 150 barrels of the building material quicklime.
The Hanseatic League was a mediaeval commercial and defensive confederation of cities and merchants that once stretched from the Netherlands to Poland, and north along the coast of Scandinavia.
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck has now reported on progress made by its archaeological dive team, who had enjoyed favourable weather conditions and underwater visibility of 1-2m during all but the last part of their recent excavations. The biggest problems reported had been caused by “careless boaters” who had failed to observe warnings to avoid the wreck-site.
Twenty of the 300kg barrels had been recovered, all still containing quicklime. Those timber parts of the casks that had remained buried in the sediment through the centuries had been well-preserved – not only the staves and lids but even the hoops that encircled them.
The divers’ plan to recover all 75 visible barrels had been paused when, removing sediment to a depth of 80cm on the broken-off starboard side of the hull, they found more than 100 pieces of well-preserved timber, including a section of wall, planks, wedges, frames and knees.
Oak, beech and pine had been identified, with some charring of the wood suggesting that there could have been a fire onboard that might have caused the shipwreck. Quicklime is highly flammable.
“The quality and sheer volume of superbly preserved wood exceeds anything we could have hoped for months ago,” said Dr Dirk Rieger, City of Lübeck’s head of archaeology and monument preservation. “We can use the finds to salvage, document and show large parts of the ship, such as the entire stern at a height of more than 5m.”
“Individual parts of the ship, such as the fully preserved 3m stern anchor or the fully preserved rudder, which is more than 5m long, underline the uniqueness of the find in the western Baltic Sea,” added Dr Ingrid Sudhoff, head of the archaeology department. “It has never existed in this form before.”
The salvage had also yielded “a number of exciting small finds, including parts of the rigging and a completely preserved pulley or block”, said City of Lübeck underwater archaeologist and project leader Dr Felix Rösch. “Also very interesting is a brandy bottle, which probably comes from London and found its way to Lübeck on the sunken ship.
“Many of these small finds tell us multi-faceted stories about life on board and the journeys the crews took. We have found more than we had hoped for.” Other artefacts included a wine bottle; high-quality Faience ceramic dishes; simple cooking and eating utensils, some with food residues; a leather pouch and animal bones.
The ship sank with its bow pointing towards Lübeck and is thought to have been arriving from Scandinavia. With both sides of the stern revealed, the length of the keel was estimated at 17-18m, suggesting a ship 20-23m long.
A 5.1m transom that would have served as a substructure for the deck-planks indicated that the ship’s beam would have been 5.5-6m. Such medium-sized traders have been found in the Baltic before but only in the eastern part of the sea.
As the salvage continued, 3D scans and conservation of the recovered barrels and timber was being carried out as well as tree-ring dating, for which the results are awaited.
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