Underwater archaeologists hailing from the northern German city of Lübeck completed salvaging a centuries-old shipwreck discovered in the mouth of the Trave River on Monday. The credit goes to good underwater visibility and weather conditions; work was executed ahead of schedule. The scientific team that participated in the efforts had expected the work that started in June to go on for three months and be executed by September.
The total cost for the assignment, funded by Lubeck’s citizens, is approximately €2 million. Archaeologist Felix Rösch said that black marks on some of the cargo found with the midsized sailing ship suggest it may have submerged due to a fire. There was a more significant fire on deck, he mentioned.
Among the ship’s cargo were barrels of calcium oxide, referred to as burnt lime or quicklime, a material used typically for housing construction at the time. There are nearly 170 barrels down there; they will be hauled out over the coming few days, explained Rösch. Rösch also added that water seeping into barrels could have resulted in a chemical reaction, generating excessive and intense heat that led to a fire. Initial indications suggested that the vessel was likely on its way from Scandinavia to Lübeck when it sank. Crew members excavating the ship were trying to vacuum sediment from the sea bed to uncover the remains one layer at a time.
Pieces brought to the surface are being taken to a warehouse in Lübeck to be documented and cleaned. Three-dimensional digital scans are made of objects taken to the surface, and the pieces are also treated to safeguard them from rapid deterioration. Scientists suggest that such effective measures would preserve the discovery in a few years.
Lübeck’s history as the capital of the Hanseatic League
By carefully analyzing the wreckage, the scientists hope to gain valuable insights into the history of Lübeck and trade relationships in the Hanseatic League — in which Lübeck took on a leading role for centuries. Scientists say that it may be possible that the discovery relates to a 1680 shipwreck that was mentioned in documents stored in the city’s archives.
Even though many warships from that period have been found in the Baltic over the years, finding such a well-preserved trade vessel in the southwestern basin of the sea was a sensation, particularly considering the well-preserved state.
The Hanseatic League — derived from the Old High German “Hanse,” indicating band — was a defensive and commercial confederation of European cities and city-states that started in northern Germany back in the 12th century and also flourished to dominate trade in the Baltic and North Seas until it dissolved eventually in late 17th century. The wreck, which lay 11 meters below the surface, was discovered coincidentally during usual surveying by the regional Water and Shipping Office (abbreviated the WSA) and made public in July last year.
Hanseatic League inspires European trade relations even today.
At its height, the League stretched from Novgorod in today’s Russia to London. Hansa members used to trade in what are now Latvia, Sweden, Estonia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, with Lübeck at the centre. Traders, who had amassed much private wealth, could enjoy special privileges and legal autonomy, unlike Freeports today. The discovery of the Americas and the rise of transatlantic trade indicated the confederation’s wane and the loss of the London Steelyard in the Great Fire of London in 1666, marking the disintegration.
Beyond the porcelain, animal bones and the ship’s tackle were found among the ruins of the wreck, which measures 25 meters in length and six meters in width; experienced archaeologist Rösch was proud to see a schnapps bottle in the wreckage.
On it, “Londn” was likely a reference to Britain’s capital and the nation’s key trading port. Despite its demise, the idea of the confederation has continued in different iterations; the latest is in the New Hanseatic League — also famous as the Hanseatic League 2.0. This was established by the EU finance ministers from Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Estonia, and Sweden back in February 2018.
Reference: DW, The Guardian, Hindustan Times
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