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Brendan Foley and a coin similar to the ones found on Gribshunden.

Ship Gribshunden in a new light

Gribshunden is an intriguing shipwreck along the coast of Blekinge. King Hans of Denmark was on his way from Copenhagen to Kalmar in 1495 to meet Sten Sture the Elder to convince the Swedes to remain in the Kalmar Union. But the ship sank at Ronneby, probably due to an accident. Gribshunden is a ship that might have been like the ships of contemporary Christopher Columbus, long gone. Coins on board have recently been X-rayed, and the ship’s shape will be reconstructed this summer.

15th-century coins have emerged, thanks to X-rays

Many interesting artefacts have been discovered at Gribshunden, including a handgun, parts of cannons, crossbows, spices, chainmail – and a thumb-sized clump of metal. The tiny clump of silver turned out to be about 100 coins from both King Hans’ time and earlier from the 15th century. The Lund University Historical Museum was able to identify the coins of three Danish regents* including coins from Christopher of Bavaria, king of Denmark until 1448, Christian I, who took over the throne thereafter, and King Hans, who became king in 1481 and who survived when Gribshunden sank. Most likely, these older coins were intended as means to pay soldiers during wartime.

What did the ship look like?

This summer, archaeologists and other researchers intend to carefully examine the ship’s construction. Thanks to wood samples, we already know that the ship’s timber comes from the Ardennes in south-eastern Belgium. We also know that the Danish royal family had contacts with Holland and neighbouring countries, and that they might have been inspired by the preeminent Portuguese shipbuilders of the day.

“Now, we want to concentrate on how the ship was constructed – there’s a lot of interest from abroad in this. We don’t want to remove more objects from the wreck than the 500 that we’re now preserving and are going to store,” says Brendan Foley, archaeologist at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History in Lund.

Power and control

“King Hans’ ship Gribshunden wasn’t just a ship – it was a castle and a mobile government too,” Foley says. “He travelled around to maintain his position from Gotland, Scania and Blekinge in the east – to Iceland, Norway and the Scottish islands in the west.”

This year the researchers will also compare Glimmingehus, the fortress and centre of power on Österlen in Scania, with Gribshunden. The owner of Glimmingehus was on board Gribshunden, and the researchers expect several interesting connections.

The research project

About forty scientists from ten countries have taken part in the Gribshunden excavations. Lund University and Blekinge Museum are overseeing the new excavations in consultation with Blekinge’s county administrative board and Ronneby Municipality. The Crafoord Foundation has been the primary funder. Many international researchers, from the U.S., U.K., Italy and Denmark, are also participating.

*Recently, a scientific report on the silver coins was published by Gitte Ingvardson, numismatist at the Lund University Historical Museum, in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.