Rare 17th century shipwreck found in Baltic Sea

A rare 17th century shipwreck was recently discovered in the River Trave. (Christian Howe/uni-kiel.de)

A local waterways and shipping authority was carrying out a routine measurement in the river Trave in northern Germany when she stumbled on a rare piece of history – a 17th century shipwreck. Researchers from the University of Kiel, who revealed the discovery of July 26, 2022, believes that the ship sank at the end of the Hanseatic period. This is the period between the 13th and 17th centuries when a network of 190 cities in 16 Northern European countries dominated maritime trade in the Baltic Sea.

Independent dating of the ship’s timbers in three different laboratories revealed that the ship must have been built in the middle of the 17th century,” said Dr. Fritz Jürgens from the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archeology at the University of Kiel. “You’re always hoping to make a discovery like this, and suddenly you have one in front of your eyes.”

A graphical reconstruction of the sunken ship and the layout of the wreckage (Credit: Dr. Fritz Jürgens/uni-kiel.de)

All that remains of the ship are a few of its wooden beams and much of the cargo. Researchers identified the ship as a fluyt – a single-masted Dutch freighter. Measuring between 66 and 82 feet (20 and 25 meters) long, medium-sized freighters were commonly used to transport goods across the Baltic Sea.

The ship was carrying quicklime – used in building construction – from Scandinavia to Germany. Of the 150 barrels found, 70 remained on board the vessel, while the remaining 80 were scattered at the bottom of the nearby ocean. This suggests that the boat did not capsize. Instead, it may have sunk after being damaged trying to make a Bend in the River Trave.

Divers conducted extensive research on the ancient vessel. (Christian Howe/uni-kiel.de))

Underwater archaeologists, who have been studying the wreckage since July 2021, say the ship is rapidly eroding and its exposed sections are infested with earthworms. They warn that the precious artifact will be lost forever if no protective measures are taken. Researchers at the University of Kiel are currently working with the city of Lübeck and other institutions to find a way to rescue the wreckage of the river and preserve it’s for the future generations.

Resources: uni-kiel.de, DW.com, Gizmodo.com