German shipwreck's 400-year-old treasures uncovered

Archaeologists have displayed the contents of the wreck of a 400-year-old Hanseatic trading ship found near the city of Lübeck in northern Germany

Experts say the contents of the ship offers a unique insight (Photo: DW)
Experts say the contents of the ship offers a unique insight (Photo: DW)


Around 18 months after it was found off the coast of northern Germany, archaeologists have displayed what they uncovered in the wreck of a 17th century Hanseatic trading ship. This marks the first successful salvage of a trading ship from that time period in the region.

"We have found more than we hoped and we can make many inferences about the constitution and equipment present on the ship," project lead Felix Rösch announced in a press conference on Monday.

After an extensive salvaging mission, the treasure trove has now been cleaned and documented. The pieces include porcelain, parts of the rigging, including 180 pieces of wood. The stern of the ship is in especially good condition, according to news agency EPD.

Insight into civilian life

The find is especially important because it gives an indication of what daily life was like on the ship. While several warships have been found in the Baltic Sea, a trading ship offers an insight into civilian life.

These include a liquor bottle with the word "Londn" written on it. Animal bones and residue found on pieces of porcelain also offer an insight into what was eaten on board.

The finds will now be subjected to 3D scans in a storage hall in Lübeck, German broadcaster NDR reported. They will be stored in water tanks, "otherwise they will quickly dry out and decay," Felix Rösch explained. It is also possible, Lübeck's culture senator Monika Frank announced, that once investigations are complete, the found items will be sunk again to preserve them for future generations.

Found by accident

The ship was first found in the Trave River near the port city of Lübeck in north-eastern Germany on the Baltic Sea in November 2021. A routine measurement of the water by officials uncovered the ship at a depth of 11 meters (36 feet). The ship itself is 25 meters long and around 6 meters wide.

Experts believe the ship was on the way to Scandinavia — but never made it. Black marks on much of the wood indicate a large fire took place on board, which may have the been the cause of the shipwreck.

The cargo of the ship may have been part of the cause of the fire: 150 barrels of highly flammable quicklime, which was used as a building material in the 17th century, were on board.

The Hanseatic league was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of cities and merchants based around the North and Baltic Seas that stretched from the Netherlands to Poland, and north along the coast of Scandinavia.

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