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New mysteries of Äpplet unfold

Maritime archaeologists from Vrak – Museum of Wrecks and the Swedish Navy have teamed up to further investigate Äpplet, Vasa’s sister ship. What have they uncovered?

More sculptures were discovered when the wreck site was documented in the spring, including a 4.93-metre-long corner sculpture that should have appeared on Äpplet’s transom. The figure is still a mystery, but it bears similarities to Proteus, an early Greek god of the sea that appears on the Vasa ship at the bow. The sculpture’s placement at the stern of Äpplet is even more intriguing. What message does it hold?

During the joint dives of the Museum of Wrecks and the Navy in 2023, divers found the sculpture of the presumed Greek titan Atlas. It has now been documented in its entirety. The sculpture was likely on the transom and might be the second corner sculpture, meaning that Äpplet might have had two different figures on each side of the transom. The Vasa ship is missing one of the corner sculptures. The reconstructed sculpture has been made similar to the original, which makes the stern of Vasa more symmetrical. But was that the thinking in the 1620s? The new findings at the Äpplet site might offer an answer.

Äpplet’s deck division in the aft section also seems to differ from Vasa’s – an extra gun port has been discovered at the aft end of the upper battery deck. This is of great interest, as it can provide more information about the hull construction as well as spatial arrangement. The gun port seems to have been in the cabin, which differs from how Vasa’s cabin is situated. On Vasa there is no gun port there, which raises the question of whether the cabin on Äpplet was smaller or was constructed differently than on Vasa. Or was the cannon actually in the cabin? That would be unusual for the times. The width and shape of Äpplet’s hull is very different from Vasa’s. Despite the ship’s wider hull, which should have made it much more stable, there was an apparent experimentation with Äpplet’s ballast. A document from 1630 recounts that 1,540 larger cannonballs were stowed away as ballast – which probably indicates that Äpplet's sailing characteristics were not completely satisfactory despite its width.

Next steps

We are now excited to process and analyse all the material we’ve collected about the sculptures and 3D models. We are eager to dive back into the Äpplet wreck site because so many new questions have emerged. Äpplet holds the key to unlocking new and important information about how these mighty gun-equipped ships were built and how they were continuously improved. The old ship can also give us greater insights into the symbolic language and the minds of the 1620s.