Divers from Finland made an unexpected discovery while exploring the depths of the Baltic Sea, discovering an incredibly well-preserved shipwreck dating back almost 400 years.
Volunteer divers from the Badewanne non-profit team are more likely to encounter destroyed 20th-century relics sunk during World War I and World War II naval battles, so the discovery of what appears to be a largely undamaged Dutch merchant vessel from the 17th century, was a huge surprise.
The ship, an example of a Dutch “flute” (or flute), was found near the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, in the easternmost waters of the Baltic Sea.
At a depth of about 85 meters (approximately 280 feet), the Badewanne diving team found this Dutch time capsule lying on the seabed, almost completely preserved and intact.
Showing only minor damage caused by subsequent pelagic trawling with fishing nets, the ship was otherwise frozen in some kind of 17th-century stagnation, the team said, thanks to water properties in this part of the sea – where a combination of low salinity, temperature and light can allow sunken remains to survive virtually unchanged for hundreds of years.
In warmer waters, woody organisms thrive and can cause innumerable damage to relics like this, but here the chemistry of the Baltic Sea – and the unknown nature of the sinking of the flute – left us a remarkable relic for further investigation.
Even the ship’s holds are full, divers say, still carrying supplies and goods when Dutch cargo ships largely dominate maritime trade in this part of the world, thanks in part to the pioneering progress demonstrated by the flute itself.
These ships, which first appeared in the 16th century, sacrificed everything for their most important cargo. Unlike other boats of the time, which were designed to switch between cargo ships and warships, the three-masted flute had a cost-effective and capacious design designed entirely to maximize cargo capacity.
As a result, it can carry twice as much cargo as rival ships, and advanced rigging systems ensure that its skillful sailing capabilities can be controlled by small crews, which also makes the flute a more profitable ship to operate.
Despite the success and popularity of design between the 16th and 18th centuries, relatively few flutes survive to this day. Further investigation of this particular find may reveal interesting facts about these historical treasures.
“The wreckage reveals many of the characteristics of the flute, but also some unique features, not least the construction of the stern,” said marine archaeologist Niklas Erickson of Stockholm University in Sweden, who will work with Finnish authorities and others to study discovery.
“It could be an early example of design. In this way, the wreck offers a unique opportunity to study the development of a ship type that has sailed around the world and become the tool that laid the foundation for early modern globalization.”