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Exploration in Gulf of Gdańsk

The CMM Underwater Archaeology Department staff have started next stage of research of the remnants from the two ships dating back to the turn of the 14th and 15th century (the so-called Copper Ship and Falburt) located at the bottom of the Gulf of Gdańsk. The project is being carried out as a part of the Cultural Heritage programme, Protection of Archaeological Monuments priority, co-financed from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage funds.

Both of the researched objects are located in shallow waters, from 5 to 14 metres under water in the area of intense anthropogenic impact due to the long history of functioning of the port of Gdańsk. “Due to a long period of human activities, especially such as trawling with nets, trawls, anchors and works aimed at regulation of the Vistula mouth course, shipwrecks resting at the foreground of the port of Gdańsk planned for research are badly damaged, and their remnants are scattered around a large area and covered with sand,” says Ph.D. Waldemar Ossowski, coordinator of the works under this project. As a result, a major part of remnants of shipwrecks and cargo is not visible on the bottom surface, but lies in the bottom sediments of the Gulf. Therefore, the scientists will apply geophysical methods which will enable them to determine the area occupied by the remnants of the hull, its cargo and the area of remnants consisting of mobile historic items scattered around during the catastrophe as well as elements relocated as a result of human activities.

This June, the scientists carried out their research works using caesium magnetometer which enabled them to determine the exact location of changes in the magnetic field value in the place where wrecks are situated. “Thanks to this we could find objects rich in iron which are located under water and determine the exact area of remnants of the shipwreck,” adds Ossowski. Works in cooperation with specialists from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw – Prof. Krzysztof Misiewicz and Wiesław Małkowski – were carried out by the team of the CMM underwater archaeologists headed by Waldemar Ossowski. The acquired data will serve as a starting point for a series of archaeological works planned for September.

The so-called Falburt Wreck was discovered in the process of hydrographical works led by Jacek Koszałka from the Marine Surveys Department at the Maritime Office in Gdynia in 2010 and its construction date was estimated around the year 1396. In 2011 the CMM Department of Underwater Archaeology completed archaeological and conservational records of the hull’s remnants protruding from the bottom. These works resulted in the discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved, broken lengthwise, upper part of a starboard, 23 metres long and 3 metres wide, located in the sandy bottom. As far as the research of ships from the late medieval period is concerned, the preserved elements of the hull should be placed among very rare ones, and as a consequence, among valuable discoveries on European level. At this moment it is difficult to indicate analogous discoveries of this type made in other areas of the Baltic Sea.

Unfortunately, the research conducted in 2011 has failed to determine the location of other parts of the hull as a result of the scope and method of works. Therefore, the application of geophysical prospection will provide conditions for thorough study of the area of remnants.

Merchant vessel called the Copper Ship (the name derives from the type of its cargo) was built around 1399. It sank around 1408 as a result of fire which destroyed the vessel shortly after its departure from the port of Gdańsk (the ship was discovered in 1975). More than three thousand historic items were found in the shipwreck during its examination in 1970-1976. They were preserved due to the fact that during the fire most of the hull and cargo were covered with a layer of liquid tar transported in barrels on board the ship. Having congealed, it created an incrustation, a type of a time capsule protecting unique evidence of medieval North European trade. In 1975 the largest preserved part of the hull was excavated among other elements, it was a stern part of a starboard with a keel and a stern frame fragment, which made up almost 10 per cent of the whole vessel. It may be possible to find other parts provided they have not been destroyed by fishing activities.

The exhibition organized in the Polish Maritime Museum on Ołowianka Island presents construction parts of the Copper Ship wreck, as well as copper plates, iron bars, iron ore, wood planks, barrels of wax and wood tar, and also onion and garlic which required substantial conservation skills. The Copper Ship wreck is believed to be a remnant of a holk-type ship, built in Gdańsk or Elbląg.