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Exhibition texts Dive deep into the archives


First follow the curved left wall. Then move to the exhibit wall on the opposite side of the room, and move from right to left.

In the middle, the game continues with its third and final part.

Dive deep into the archives, introduction

Maritime archaeologists often work with more sources besides archaeological materials. For example, if they are going to study a shipwreck from the 17th century, there is plenty of information to gather from the paintings, models, drawings, maps and texts of the period.

Historical sources and depictions can complement the archaeology. The histories of the ships, people, events and places become richer, and perhaps more accurate. Modern reconstructions and computer simulations can also increase our knowledge of what ships looked like and what it was like to sail on them.

Drawings and models

Start top left and proceed counterclockwise through the section.

Drawing and 3D model

Here, a historical source – a 17th-century drawing of a pinnace – has been superimposed on a newly made 3D model of Resande Man. We see what the ship might have looked like and how much is actually left of the original ship.

The rig defines the ship

Ship types were often named after their rigging, meaning the sails, masts and ropes. Since ships were sometimes re-rigged, the same ship can have different names in different historical sources. In addition, wrecks often lack rigging, which makes it difficult to accurately determine the type of ship.

Model of a ship of the line

During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was no two-decked Swedish ship with gunports arranged as in the model. Perhaps the model was built as a model for a ship that was never built, or perhaps it represents a foreign ship.

Model segment

Model of the ship of the line Gustav IV Adolf, launched in Karlskrona in 1799. The model has probably been used for teaching purposes. The ship changed its name several times. When it was taken out of service in the 1870s, it was called Försiktigheten.

Ships on picture stones

Sailing ships are sometimes depicted on ancient picture stones. At the bottom of this one from Tofta on Gotland, you can see a ship with sails. The image gives us clues as to how the sails were constructed and what they looked like.

Digital reconstruction of the Bremen cog

Modern technology enables us to simulate the characteristics of older ships. Thanks to laser scanning and archaeological data, you can see the Bremen cog sail again. The analysis reveals that the ship was likely built for sailing across smaller seas such as the Baltic Sea.

Film, Sailing like a Viking

In the early 1900s, a well-preserved Viking ship was found in a burial mound at Oseberg in Norway. By building a replica of the ship and testing it, you can learn more about how the original ship was constructed and how it sailed.

The film has no spoken content.

Ship types

People have been travelling by ship across the seas and oceans for many thousands of years, but the appearance and characteristics of ships have varied. Changes in the types of ships depend in part on technological innovations – but mainly, ship construction and design reflect the shifting needs and ideals of society and maritime trade.

Trade interests and politics have been key drivers behind the design of merchant ships and warships of various kinds. For example, fast-sailing slender ships and stable, cargo-carrying ships have different characteristics that serve different purposes.

Here, you can explore eight types of ships that have travelled across the Baltic Sea during different periods, from 4th-century wooden rowboats to 19th-century steam-powered iron ships.

Interactive section, presentions of ship types

The digital text content is not available for synthetic speech.

Dangerous waters

The power of the elements is perhaps the most common cause of ships’ destruction. Long ago, seafarers observed cloud formations, movements of the water, the behaviour of different animals and other signs to predict changes in the weather.

Some locations are also more accident-prone than others, with hidden rocks, dangerous shallows and skerries, or difficult passages with tricky currents. Numerous ships have also sunk during naval battles or other acts of war at sea.

End-of-life vessels have been reused, as filling materials for quays, piers and bridges and to block sounds or key shipping lanes.

Battle at sea

In August 1941, one of the Baltic Sea’s greatest wartime disasters occurred. Some 60 ships sank during the evacuation of Soviet ships from the besieged port of Tallinn, Estonia. 10,000 people perished amid mines, aerial bombs and artillery fire.

Armour plate

This armour plate was manufactured for testing purposes in 1950. It is 30 millimetres (1.18") thick and the material is much harder than regular sheet metal. It has been shot at with two anti-armour grenades, and one is stuck in the plate.


For a couple of hundred years, end-of-life vessels were sunk in Oxdjupet, in the shipping lane leading into Stockholm, to block hostile ships. In 1839, the barrier was considered clear – but by then the merchant ships had a draught too deep to pass. The shipping lane had to be dredged again.

Upper part of section

Stormy weather

In July 1566, the allied Danish–Lübeck fleet anchored off Gotland, despite warning signs of an approaching storm. Of the 39 ships, 15 were driven ashore and destroyed. Several thousand people lost their lives.

Dangerous shallows and skerries

In Öregrund’s archipelago lies Argos Grund, a dangerous underwater rock formation. There are many wrecks here, most of them unidentified. But one of them is the steamer Cedric, which sank in a winter storm in 1910. Only the captain, the machinist and a sailor survived.

In the drawers

Shipwreck in the 12th century

Runestone in Vallentuna outside Stockholm, 12th century. The text reads:

He drowned in the Holm's sea
His Knarr went under
Of the survivors there were only three.

Holm's sea can refer to several places in the Baltic Sea.

Viking age underwater barrier

Orthophoto of underwater barrier of piles, stones and sunken ships, from the Viking Age/ Middle Ages. In Foteviken in southern Sweden.

Trumpeters lost on Kronan

From the naval archives of 1675-1678, stating that the navy's drummer and most of the trumpeters perished when the warship Kronan sank in 1676.

Steamer lost in Christmas storm 1901

Pamphlet about the sinking of Polstjärnan in 1901, when the entire crew perished. Written by ACS, 1902.

Steamer sunken by submarine 1944

The steamer Venersborg, sunk by a Russian submarine in 1944. Everyone an board survived the sinking, but only ene sailor survived the sea and winter storm. Aftonbladet, 1 January 1945.

Accident statistics 1911

From statistics on Swedish ship accidents in 1911. The mest common cause in peacetime was the force of nature. Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, 1912.

Planning with maps

Historical maps, perhaps hundreds of years old, can have many stories to tell. They indicate not only what areas looked like geographically, but buildings and structures are often marked including shipyards, harbours, anchorages, shipping lanes and fishing grounds. Maps can also reveal activities carried out further inland, but that have left remains in the water or along the coast.

Therefore, archaeologists study historical maps as they prepare to explore an area. The maps give an idea of what types of artefacts they might find and what equipment they should bring along.

Shipwreck maps. On the glass.

A map of Karlskrona from 1804 with several wrecks depicted, some named. Historical maps sometimes contain this information. They are often deliberately sunken ships used to block a shipping lane, or as foundations for bridges, piers and quays.

On this map from 1804 many wrecks are marked. Several of the have been verified with side scan sonar. Some have also been investigated and identified by archaeologists.

Many of the wrecks are today completely or partially under filling masses.

Wrecks marked on the glass, year of sinking:

  • Råbocken, 1676
  • Victoria, 1658
  • Solen, 1667
  • Blekinge, 1682

Upper section

Elleholm, present and past

A map of Blekinge from the 1650s shows that there was a town on the island of Elleholm. In a recent aerial photo, not much of it is visible. But hidden beneath the water around the island is a layer of cultural heritage from the era when the city flourished.

Shipping lanes

A map from the 1690s showing the Stockholm archipelago with marked shipping lanes. As they do today, the shipping lanes showed which route was the safest and best to take. Shipwrecks often occur in shipping lanes with heavy traffic.

In the drawers

Bridges over Nyköping river

Central Nyköping and Nyköping River. Several bridges and other structures are marked, including a bridge at Nyköping Castle. 1666, Swedish land registration authority.

Ship accidents in Sweden

Ship accidents along the Swedish coasts, from Strömstad to Haparanda, during 1868. 119 shipwrecks, including 52 complete sinkings and 67 groundings are recorded. Swedish National Archives.

Shipping lanes and taverns in the Stockholm area

Taverns are marked where seafarers could get food and sometimes shelter. The map is possibly from the first half of the 18th century. Swedish National Archives.

Wrecks in Stockholm

Draft of a map of Skepps­holmen and Kastellholmen in Stockholm. 46 wrecks are marked. By C.F. Hauswolf. 1736, Swedish Royal Nautical Chart Office.

Bridge over Trosa river

Åbro, near Trosa in Södermanland. A now lost bridge over Trosa River is drawn near the settlements. 1691, Swedish Land Registry Administration.

Salmon traps i Torshälla

Salmon traps in central Torshälla in Södermanland. The Torshälla River used to be rich with migratory fish. 1783, Swedish Land Registry Administration.

Three case studies

Continuation from the other side of the exhibit wall.


On Skeppsholmen, right across the bay outside this museum, parts of a wreck were found in 2017. It appeared to be a warship. Dendrochronological analyses showed that the wood was felled in the winter of 1612/1613. According to historical sources, four major warships were built at that time. One of them, Scepter, matched the wreck’s features.

Scepter was the flagship of King Gustav II Adolf. He sailed with it to Brandenburg in 1620 to propose to Maria Eleonora, his future consort. The sources allow us to follow Scepter’s voyages, from the conquest of Riga in 1621 up until 1640. That’s when the proud flagship was given one last mission – as a foundation in Skeppsholmen’s quay.

Skeppsholmen. Upper part of section.

Skeppsholmen in Stockholm was home to the naval fleet’s base and a shipyard where many ships were built, such as Kronan and Svärdet. End-of-life warships were often used as building materials for quays and bridges. This is why the area is full of wrecks – a maritime archaeology treasure trove.

Shipyard accunts and ship timber. On the bench.

When researchers compared the age of wood samples to Scepter's historical record, the dates corresponded very well.

Documents from the Stockholm navy yard reveal that shipbuilder Isbrand Johansson is commissioned to start construction of a ship ('to put it on the stocks') in the autumn of 1612. In letters from 1613, Master Isbrand complains that the wood is running out. The king then immediately gives an order to chop down more oak in order to finish building the ship.

The information is consistent with the researchers' dating of the ship's timber found on Skeppsholmen. The were identified as coming from oak trees that were felled during the winters of 1612-1613 and 1613-1614.

Opportunity to browse and read the sources.


In the early 2000s, archaeological surveys of a wreck were initiated outside Ronneby in Blekinge. A tree-ring sample showed that the ship’s timber had been felled in the winter of 1482/1483. Attention then turned to a special story in the medieval chronicles: the dramatic sinking of the warship Gribshunden.

In 1495, a ship caught fire and sank at Stora Ekön outside Ronneby. The ship belonged to King Hans of Denmark, who was travelling to Kalmar. The fleet was seeking a safe harbour in Ronneby, due to an approaching storm. A chronicle tells us that the king was ashore and watched as his proud ship caught fire and sank in the waves. of section

Figure heads. Upper part of section.

It is not unusual to encounter different types of ships with figure heads in archival material relating to the Middle Ages. Many times the figure can be linked to the name of the ship, as in this depiction of Saint Olov's ship Oxen (the Ox).

Chronicles and maps. On the bench.

Researchers needed both maps and chroniclesto determine Gribshunde's identity.

In historical sources, names can have different variants. The Dansh King John's ship Gribshunden is called, alternately, Griffen, Gribhund or Der Grifun, for example. The town Ronneby can be called both Rendenbye and Rottenby, and the strait at Ekö outside Ronneby can be called Egesund or Ekösund.

The puzzles surrounding information from medieval texts and historiscal maps helped the researchers determine which shipwreck had been found off the coast of Blekinge.

Opportunity to browse and read the sources.

Arado AR 196-3

In 2006, an aircraft wreck was found outside Karlskrona. It was a seaplane from World War II, and it would become the first aircraft wreck to be classified as an ancient monument in Sweden.

In February 1943, a Swedish cruiser forced a foreign aircraft down off the coast of Blekinge. The single-engine seaplane was German, and it had violated Swedish airspace. The plane’s crew claimed to have flown over Sweden by mistake. But a photo journal from the plane reinforced suspicions that they were actually on a reconnaissance mission.

After the war, Swedish armed forces used the plane for exercises. But on a landing it came in too low, flipped over and sank. The two people on board were rescued.

Arado seaplane. Upper part of section

The film shows seaplanes from the series Arado AR 196-3. The small single-engine floatplanes could take off from and land on the surface of the water, and were used by the Germans during World War II.

A classified document

The minutes from the interrogation of German airmen on board the plane were classified for a long time. Now, we can read that they claimed to have flown into Swedish airspace by mistake because their compass was off. But we also see the interrogating officer's remark in the margin when the compass was checked: 'it read correctly!'.

The minutes also include information from the eyewitnesses, who saw a sack being thrown overboard when the plane crashed. Could it have contained a camera? The German airmen claimed that they had no camera on board. But the interrogating officer suspected their real mission had been to photograph the Swedish coast.

Opportunity to read the source.

In the archive

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Wrecking news

For major projects in and at the water, an archaeological site survey is often needed. Such projects can involve laying undersea cables, reinforcing quays or building a new marina.

These surveys are often minor ones and do not attract much interest. But, almost always, new finds are made. They can be anything from plastic boats and cars to massive ancient shipwrecks. Sometimes the surveys lead to extensive excavations that can last for years.

Thanks to all these discoveries, both great and small, we are always broadening our collective knowledge of how people lived and worked by the sea.

The digital text content is not available for synthetic speech.

Films about ongoing research

The films have spoken content with subtitles.


Proceed to next exhibition: The Epilogue

Back to The Assignment, introduction

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Page last updated: 2021-09-09