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A sunken ship reveals life in Europe 400 years ago – DW – 7/5/2023

A sunken ship reveals life in Europe 400 years ago – DW – 7/5/2023

In November 2021, archaeologists began examining the remains of a shipwreck off the northern coast of Germany. On Monday (3/7) the team revealed to the public their findings on what turned out to be a 17th-century merchant ship belonging to the Hanseatic League.

After a thorough salvage mission – the first successful commercial craft of the period in the region – the undersea treasure is cleaned and documented, and includes ceramic objects and parts of marine hardware, including 180 pieces of wood. The stern is well preserved.

Coordinator Felix Roche presents the findings to the pressPhoto: Jonas Walzberg / picture alliance / dpa

“We found more than we expected and can infer a lot about the constitution and the equipment on board,” project manager Felix Roche said at a news conference.

The find is especially important for illustrating the daily life of time. While many warships have already been rescued in the Baltic Sea, this merchant ship offers glimpses into civilian life. Among the pieces is a liquor decanter with the word “London” engraved on it. Animal bones and offal on the pottery pieces indicate what was eaten on board.

Cut a vessel immersed in the water tank
The remains of the merchant vessel must be kept submerged to avoid decompositionPhoto: Jonas Walzberg / picture alliance / dpa

Back to the water for posterity

The wreckage was found at a depth of 11 meters in the Trave River, near the port city of Lübeck, on the Baltic Sea in northeastern Germany. A routine measurement revealed a vessel about 25 meters long and 6 meters wide.

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Experts conclude that he was on his way to Scandinavia. Black marks on a large portion of the wood indicated a fire on board as a possible cause of the sinking. The cargo may also have contributed to the disaster: 150 barrels of quicklime (calcium oxide), a highly inflammable substance used in the 17th century as a building material.

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Experts present part of an ancient shipwreck
Parts of the 17th century ship are very well preserved.Photo: Jonas Walzberg / picture alliance / dpa

The finds will now undergo 3D tracking in a warehouse in Lübeck, and are kept in tanks filled with water, “otherwise they will quickly dry out and decompose,” explained Roche.

According to the city’s culture officer, Monica Frank, it is possible that the 400-year-old items could be immersed again after studies, in order to preserve them for future generations.

Old worn wooden drums
The quicklime barrels may have contributed to the fire and sinkingPhoto: Jonas Walzberg / picture alliance / dpa

Founded in the late 12th century, the Hanseatic League was a trade and defense union of cities and merchant guilds in the Baltic Sea region and north, stretching from the Netherlands to Poland, and further north along the coast of Scandinavia.