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Spectacular discoveries made during excavation of 15th century warship

The wreck of a fifteenth century warship has been excavated on the seabed of the Baltic Sea off the coast of southern Sweden. Among the items found has been an early firearm and a beautifully formed drinking tankard, with a crown-like engraving.

Divers spent three weeks this summer at the remains of Gribshunden (Griffin-Hound), a royal warship which sank in 1495. It is considered the world’s best-preserved ship of its kind, and the ship’s construction a very important focus for an international team of 40 researchers.

“We have had a fantastic team from 10 different countries which has managed to accomplish what we set out to achieve with this year’s excavations – to both salvage finds and to advance with the study of the ship’s construction”, says Brendan Foley, marine archaeologist at Lund University.

“We have managed to identify several new keys to the ship’s construction and we are getting closer to solving the riddle of how these kinds of ships were actually built. It increases our knowledge of an important period of transition in the world, the time of the great explorers”, says Johan Rönnby, professor in marine archaeology at Södertörn University.

The Gribshunden was a ship belonging to John I, King of Denmark, and the ruler of the Kalmar Union. Manned by a crew of 150, it had been sent to Sweden in the summer of 1495 to help deter Swedes from breaking away from the union. However a fire struck the ship while it was anchored near the port of Ronneby.

Hand gun discovered in this year’s excavations – photo by Ingvar Sjöblom

Divers came across the wreck in the 1970s, but archaeologists were not told about its discovery until the year 2000. Since then several archaeological investigations have been carried out on the site.

It is believed that King John lost his best “Fatabur” – his most valuable objects and clothes –  in the wreck. Parts of these possessions may now have been found, among other items, a coat of mail with the maker’s mark on it (in the form of a small monogrammed ring), a pewter plate and the uniquely ornamented beaker.

Photo by Brett Seymour

Among the other finds are everything from tools to food, not least sturgeon bones and a number of barrels, including probable Danish beer barrels from 1495.  An early firearm, a so-called “hand cannon”, probably used by soldiers on board, is attracting attention.

The objects have yet to be analysed, and more details are expected to emerge from the analysis, that will include both DNA technology and 3D visualisation. Previous recovery efforts included the retrieval of the ship’s wooden figurehead. Researchers believe there is more to be found: ”We hope to be able to return for more investigations next year – there are so many secrets down there”, concludes Brendan Foley.

The ship’s masthead – photo by Ingemar Lundgren

The members of the research team have also been working on other ship remains, including a sixteenth-century vessel that sank in the waters between Sweden and Estonia. Rönnby adds that, “the Baltic Sea is incredible for preserving shipwrecks. It is dark, there are no currents and, most importantly, there are no shipworms to destroy the wreck.”

Top Image: The wreck of the Gribshunden – photo by Brett Seymour



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