Maritime archaeologists in northern Germany have discovered the wreckage of a 400-year-old cargo ship that “sank almost standing,” escaped decay from ravenous shipworms and still has the barrels of lime it was carrying for the stone-building industry centuries ago.
The ship, a rare discovery, is from the Hanseatic period, when a group of northern European trade guilds dominated the Baltic and North seas from the 13th to 17th centuries, Live Science previously reported.
Wood quickly rots away underwater in this region, and few shipwrecks of this age have ever been found. But maritime archaeologists think the wreck survived beneath the waves because it was quickly engulfed and protected by a layer of fine mud carried there by the river Trave, which leads to the city of Lübeck about 5 miles (8 kilometers) inland.
The remains of the ship were first found in 2020 during a routine sonar survey by authorities of the navigable channel in the Trave. The vessel lies at a depth of about 36 feet (11 meters) in the predominantly saltwater outer stretch of the river, between Lübeck and the port of Travemünde at its mouth to the Baltic Sea.
The wrecked ship was between 66 to 82 feet (20 to 25 m) long and may have been a galliot, a single-masted cargo ship common during the Hanseatic period, Fritz Jürgens, the lead maritime archaeologist on the project and assistant chair of protohistory, medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Kiel University in Germany, told Live Science.
At that time, the towns and guilds of northern Germany and elsewhere in Europe made up a successful bloc — the Hansa — that dominated trade throughout the Baltic and the North Sea.
The layer of river mud over the wreck may have prevented it from being colonized by Teredo navalis, a type of saltwater clam called “shipworm” that rapidly eats submerged wood, Jürgens said.
The bivalve quickly destroys wooden wrecks in the western Baltic region, but it doesn’t live in the colder waters of the eastern Baltic; as a result, centuries-old wooden wrecks like the one in the Trave are almost never found in the west, he said.
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