A report that describes the new finds and discoveries made during an excavation of the wreck Gribshunden in 2019 is now releasing. The wreck has lain on the bottom of the Baltic Sea for more than 500 years, providing researchers with the first opportunity to study the construction of 15th-century ships.
In the Blekinge archipelago, outside Ronneby, ten metres below the surface, lies the wreck of Gribshunden, flagship of the Kalmar Union’s King John (Danish: Kong Hans). It has lain there since 1495, when it sank after catching fire as the king was travelling to meet Sten Sture the Elder in Kalmar. She lay undisturbed on the bottom of the Baltic Sea for almost five centuries, before being discovered by recreational divers in 1970.
Gribshunden was a unique ship – a large royal ship from the late Middle Ages and a representative of the large new vessels which, contributed to early modern societal change.
Thanks to the brackish water of the Baltic Sea, she retains this uniqueness as a wreck, as she is the best-preserved shipwreck of her time and the only one of this type. The ship type is similar to the one Christopher Columbus sailed to America with, and none of those ships remain.
Some new and important results are presented in the report:
- The ship’s construction shows that it was probably built in the southern Netherlands. It was an extremely modern ship for its time, the type of prestige vessel built by those in power, but also for exploring the globe.
- The archaeological investigation shows that salvage attempts were clearly carried out at the site, and cannons and valuable objects were retrieved from the wreck after it sank.
- The finds from 2019’s excavation vary widely and provide support for the notion that the king’s entire household was on board. These finds include barrels of beer and fish, as well as household utensils marked with the royal emblem.
- Two different weapons were also found: a crossbow and a small, unique “hand cannon”. These weapons reflect the transition between Mediaeval combat equipment and the gunpowder weapons of the new era.
- Some finds indicate that there may have been women and children on board. These include a spindle whorl, a toy cannon and a child-size hauberk. Could the hauberk has belonged to Crown Prince Christian, later known in Sweden as Christian the Tyrant?
- King John and his queen, Christine, belonged to the elite of late Mediaeval Europe. They were related to and socialised with kings and princes on the continent.
- The northern Italian House of Sforzas had a snakelike monster swallowing a human on its coat of arms, which bears a great resemblance to the large wooden figure salvaged from the wreck in 2015. Could there be a direct link?
The report is compiled by Professor Johan Rönnby from MARIS, the research institute for marine archaeology at Södertörn University. He has held scientific responsibility for surveys of the wreck off Stora Ekön since 2013.
In the autumn of 2019, working with Blekinge Museum, Lund University and Southampton University, among others, Södertörn University conducted a more extensive excavation of the ship. The researchers are now releasing a report that describes the new finds and discoveries made during this excavation.
Read the English summery in the report, external link, (pdf).