Shipwreck discovered from the time of Columbus

Even after 500 years at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, the wreck is almost completely intact

This ship wreck on the Age of Discovery survived 500 years at the bottom of the Baltic Sea almost intact. © Deep Sea Productions / MMT
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Sensational find: Archaeologists have discovered a nearly intact shipwreck from the time of Christopher Columbus off the coast of Sweden - a unique find. The 500 year old ship is so well preserved that even the wooden masts are still standing and parts of the sail suspension are recognizable. Also particularly rare is a dinghy on the main deck, which leans against the mast almost untouched even after centuries.

It was the time of the great sailors and explorers: About 500 years ago, several European seafaring nations began to push further and further into previously unknown marine areas. Vasco da Gama searched and found the sea route to India, Christopher Columbus wanted to reach India and discovered America. Sea voyages such as these were made possible by advances in shipbuilding, but above all by improved navigational aids.

Shipwrecks can provide exciting insights into the seafaring of those times, but many of them have decayed dramatically through the centuries on the seabed. Most underwater archaeologists find only a few wreckage parts and parts of the cargo and equipment as in the wrecks of Columbus' ship Santa Maria or the Esmeralda from the fleet Vasco da Gamas.

500 years on the seabed

All the more spectacular is the current find: At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, about 150 kilometers southeast of Stockholm, archaeologists have discovered a stunningly intact shipwreck from the time of Christopher Columbus. According to data, the 16-meter-long ship must have been built in the period between 1490 and 1540 - most likely at the beginning of the 16th century, as the researchers report.

"This ship dates back to the time of Christopher Columbus and Leonardo da Vinci, " says project leader Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz from MMT, which specializes in underwater exploration. "Thanks to the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic Sea, however, it is remarkably well preserved even after 500 years at the bottom of the sea." The ship's size, shape and masts are very similar to those of Pinta and La Nina, the two smaller ships of Columbus, as the archaeologists explain. display

"As if it had just sunk yesterday"

The shipwreck stands upright at a depth of about 120 meters and is completely unscathed except for the damaged aft deck. "It's almost as if it had just fallen yesterday, " says Pacheco-Ruiz. Even the masts are still standing and parts of the rigging are recognizable. The bowsprit and the straight, carved tail are preserved as well as the wooden windlass and the bilge pump. Swiveling guns also prove that the ship was armed.

"On the main deck is a particularly rare discovery: a dinghy, " says Pacheco-Ruiz. Once the crew used this boat to row from the anchorage of the ship ashore and back. Today, about 500 years later, it leans against the main mast as if it had just been used recently. "This is a really amazing sight, " says the underwater archaeologist.

According to the archaeologists, this find could even be the best preserved wreck ever from that time.

Video footage of the 500 year old shipwreck. Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz

Reason of sinking still unclear

But why did this ship sink? Because the name of the wreck is not recognizable, the origin of the ship is so far unclear. Due to its construction, however, the researchers suspect that it is a Swedish or Danish merchant ship. The destruction of the quarterdeck as well as the cannons indicate, however, that this freighter was not traveling in peaceful times.

According to the archaeologists, the ship could have been sunk as part of the Swedish Independence War - a war raging between 1521 and 1523 between the Danish rulers and the Swedish people. However, it would also be possible for the ship to sink in the war between Russia and Sweden between 1554 and 1557.

The underwater archaeologists hope that further exploration of the shipwreck will provide them with more clues about the origin and fate of this historical relic in the near future.

Source: University of Southampton

- Nadja Podbregar