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The age of a unique fluit in the Baltic Sea resolved

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The age of a unique fluit in the Baltic Sea resolved

Fri, 17/09/2021 - 09:33

The international dive group Badewanne has established the age of a unique shipwreck in the Baltic Sea.

Stern of the wreck. The stern post ends to opening in planking, tiller moved in it. The transom has been above this structure. Uppermost planks on the sides of the stern have fallen away.
Stern of the wreck. The stern post ends to opening in planking, tiller moved in it. The transom has been above this structure. Uppermost planks on the sides of the stern have fallen away.

Badewanne originally discovered the wreck last year at the depth of 85m. This summer, during the filming of the documentary film Fluit, the dive team found the transom of the exceptionally well-preserved wreck.

As the divers succeeded in turning over the transom, which was lying face down on the seabed, an engraving with the year 1636 was revealed, along with an image of a swan. The swan is presumed to represent the name of the ship. The divers also took measurements of the wreck to determine the accurate size of the vessel.

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"Lower part of the transom. Transom has fallen down onto the seabed from the stern. On the left, there is building year of the ship, 1636. A "deadeye" has fallen and stuck in the middle, it doesn't belong there. Carving at the right presents swan. The name of the ship has been "Swan""photos: Badewanne Handle Productions 2021
Lower part of the transom. Transom has fallen down onto the seabed from the stern. On the left, there is the building year of the ship, 1636. A "deadeye" has fallen and stuck in the middle, it doesn't belong there. Carving at the right depicts a swan which is also the name of the shop; "Swan". Photo: Badewanne Handle Productions 2021.

 

The diving team will continue to research the history of the wreck together with maritime archaeologists Minna Koivikko from the Finnish Heritage Agency and Martijn Manders from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, along with fluit expert and maritime archaeologist Niklas Eriksson from Stockholm University.

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"Photogrammetric 3D model of the wreck. The wreck is shown from starboard-bow side (orthometric projection)" photos: Badewanne Handle Productions 2021
"Photogrammetric 3D model of the wreck. The wreck is shown from starboard-bow side (orthometric projection)." Photo: Badewanne Handle Productions 2021

The historical documentary film ‘Fluit’, produced by Handle Productions, follows the investigation of the origin and mission of the fluit, the identity of her sailors, and her untimely fate in the 17th century Baltic Sea. Since the Middle Ages, the Baltic Sea has been one of the world’s most important trade routes. During the 17th century, the efficient merchant navy of the Dutch Republic gained control of this trade.

Thanks to the profitable Baltic Sea trade, the Dutch Republic could expand to the colonies, starting early globalisation. One ship type became the mainstay of this trade: the fluit, a three-masted ship with a very capacious hull design.

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"Reconstruction drawing showing the ship with the transom in place at stern. The transom found at the seabed has propable rusted attachment point where the lantern has been. It's shown in the drawing. Drawing: Niklas Eriksson Badewanne Handle Productions 2021
Reconstruction drawing showing the ship with the transom in place at stern. The transom found at the seabed has a probable rusted attachment point where the lantern has been. It's shown in the drawing. Drawing: Niklas Eriksson, Badewanne Handle Productions 2021

Made for trade

Fluits were often unarmed, allowing them larger cargo capacity. Innovative new technical solutions allowed for smaller crew, making the trade more profitable. Other novel features onboard the fluit ships were the shared living spaces for the crew. This was unusual in the contemporary hierarchic maritime world.

Although the wooden fluit ships were dominant in the Baltic Sea trade between the late 16th to mid-18th century, very few of these ships remain today – even as shipwrecks. “It was incredible to be the first people to see the wreck since it sank nearly 400 years ago, and now we have the opportunity to take her story up to the surface,” notes scientific diver Jouni Polkko. “The identities of ships were revealed by the carved motifs on the transom.

Identification

Fragments of such motifs have been found before, but now that we have the entire composition, we are able to identify the ship in the same way as people in the 17th century did. The ship was named “Swan” and built in 1636. A closer examination of the transom will most likely reveal the coat of arms for the ship’s home port, as well,” celebrates maritime archaeologist Niklas Eriksson.

“This finding restores my faith in miracles. I have never experienced anything like this in my career spanning 30 years,” states maritime archaeologist Minna Koivikko. “These new findings are a great starting point to do more research. Knowing the launch year of the ship, 1636, and having an indication of the name of the ship helps us to learn more about the historical context. We may even be able to identify the people on board.

The new findings also help us to learn more about the fluit: a simple, common ship that created the right circumstances for early globalization. The fluit highlighted the typical Dutch approach to shipbuilding, and symbolized the flourishing seafaring trade of the time,” adds maritime archaeologist Martijn Manders.

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