17th-century Hanseatic sailing ship with cargo found in a river in northern Germany

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(ORDO NEWS) — Until now, such vessels dating back to different centuries have been found only in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea, but not in the western one.

Employees of the Department of Waterways and Navigation of the German region of Kiel-Holtenau, located at the end of the Kiel Canal, near the Kiel Bay in the Baltic Sea, were carrying out planned work in the Trave River in the winter of 2020 when anomalies were detected in the readings of a multibeam echo sounder.

More than a year later, in August 2021, the place was explored by divers: it turned out that the wreckage of a ship lay at a depth of 11 meters. Finally, after another couple of months, scientists from the University of Kiel began to study the fragments.

They spent eight months, together with divers, made 13 dives for a total of 464 minutes to explore the vessel. The report is published on the website of the university.

“Independent dating of the beams, carried out in three different laboratories, showed that the ship was most likely built in the middle of the 17th century,” said Dr. Frits Jürgens from the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistorical Archeology of the University of Kiel.

“You’re always hoping to find something like this, and suddenly it’s right in front of your eyes. It’s really unique, including for me personally.”

Using images and videos, the researchers created 3D models to determine the original length of the ship. It turned out that it was equal to 20-25 meters, which corresponds to a medium-sized cargo sailing vessel.

“This find is unusual for the western part of the Baltic Sea,” Yurgens said. “Until now, such sunken ships dating back to different centuries have only been found in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea.”

The merchant ship was transporting quicklime, which was widely used in construction – about 150 barrels. In the Middle Ages and early modern times (the second half of the 15th century and until the end of the 18th century), this material was mined by burning natural limestone, and then extinguished in special pits and made a mortar. In general, the ancient Indians were the first to use lime mortars for plastering temples.

17th century Hanseatic sailing ship with cargo found in a river in northern Germany 2
Reconstruction of the vessel and its cargo

Apparently, the ship was heading from Scandinavia to the port city of Lübeck on the Baltic coast, but did not reach its destination. Presumably, it ran aground on a bend in the Trave River, received serious damage and eventually sank. The exact cause of the crash is yet to be determined.

After 400 years, only wooden beams and large parts of the cargo remained, stuck around and eaten by a shipworm.

A little more time would have passed, and the evidence of the developed maritime trade of the Hansa – the political and economic union of the port (and not only) cities of Northwestern Europe, which existed from the middle of the 12th century to the 17th century – would have been destroyed.

To save the find, the staff of the University of Kiel, together with the Port Authority of Lübeck and other institutions, are developing a plan for further action.


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