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Gribshunden now being investigated

Last year, the excavation of the royal Danish flagship Gribshunden outside Ronneby in Blekinge made headlines. The ship, from the late medieval period, attracted the interest of researchers from twelve different countries, and a U.S. film crew filmed it for a documentary. The ship type is similar to the one Christopher Columbus sailed to America with, and none of those ships remain. The Museum of Wrecks spoke with Marcus Sandekjer, museum director at Blekinge Museum, to learn about the next steps in the project.

Last year’s excavation took place at a depth of nine metres in the waters outside Ronneby. A trench with the disintegrated Gribshunden ship was examined and the wreckage scanned. The excavation succeeded in pinpointing the ship’s kitchen area, the galley. The objects now being studied include barrels that may have contained beer or food, a suit of chain mail that can be traced back to its maker and a fine wooden tankard.

“Pieces of a crossbow and some type of firearm were also found,” says Marcus Sandekjer, who is not revealing any more details before the researchers come up with their results.

He continues to tell us about the two different parts of the Gribshunden project, one related to a museum and one focused on research.

Museum in Ronneby

During the year, a beautiful wooden house in Ronneby Brunnspark was converted into an office for the project and a related exhibition. There, the story of Gribshunden is being brought to life using images and films. A process is now underway that will enable a new museum to be built in Ronneby and feature Gribshunden as the main attraction.

An estimate places the cost of building the museum at 150 million kronor, but the medieval town of Ronneby can then boast a star attraction – a completely unique wreck that tells of an era not so much in focus in other museums in the country.

A friends association has been formed to lobby for the new museum, led by chairman and attorney Peter Althin, who hails from Blekinge.

The research results

Although the objects are located at – and are managed by – Blekinge Museum, Lund University is mostly conducting the research efforts, led by archaeology researcher Brendan Foley. Several scientific articles are in the making, and already published articles have garnered attention from around the world. One such article reported the discovery of remains of an Atlantic sturgeon, which would have been lavish food if only the fish had come ashore on that fateful day when Gribshunden sank.

“Because of the corona pandemic, we cancelled this year’s planned dives,” Sandekjer says. “But we’ve instead had the chance to more carefully analyse last year’s finds, some 60 objects from a trench containing the wreck.”

Although neither Swedish nor international researchers have been able to travel to Ronneby, some of the work on the project has been able to continue. Johan Rönnby, professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University, will soon release a diver’s report about the ship’s construction and the status of the research on this project, which is sure to interest many people.

The most well-known part of the Gribshunden shipwreck is the front beam of the ship which is in the form of a voracious figurehead, the so-called Gribshunden monster. Maritime archaeologist Niklas Eriksson from Stockholm University has recently written about the symbolic language of the Gribshunden figure.

So, plenty of exciting stories from the 15th century are waiting to be told and a scientific documentary about the unique wreck is expected next year.

A bit of history

King John of Denmark, who was also king of Norway, set sail for Kalmar with Gribshunden and his fleet so he could become king of Sweden. When they arrived in Ronneby in 1495, Gribshunden suddenly caught fire and sank along with the papers that would have been signed. It took an additional two years before King John was finally crowned John II of Sweden.