Nowhere else in the world are there as many well preserved wooden shipwrecks as in the Baltic Sea. So far, we know of about 20,000 remains of ships and smaller boats – just along the coast of Sweden alone. And not all the wrecks have been discovered yet.

Ever since the end of the Ice Age close to 10,000 years ago, people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea – people who have sailed, hunted and warred. Traces of these activities remain under the sea, and wrecks and other remains are preserved there. They make up a cultural heritage – a memory of our shared history.

What can we learn from old wrecks?

The water, seas, lakes and rivers have long been key travel routes. In fact, the Baltic Sea is one of the world’s busiest seas. Ship and ferry wrecks are like time capsules on the bottom of the sea. The wrecks of the Baltic Sea are also among the most well-preserved in the world. They act as a window into history – shedding light on everything from major historical events to the stories of individual people, revealing how boats are built and what objects were in use during different periods of time.

No shipworms on board these wrecks

The reason the wrecks are so well preserved is that shipworms do not like the cold brackish waters of the Baltic. Shipworms are actually a type of small clam that lay their larvae in wood. In salt water, wrecks can disappear in a short time since the larvae eat the wood. In the Baltic, wrecks can look just as they did when they sank, even though several hundred years have passed.

The Cultural Heritage Act

The waters of the Baltic are relatively shallow, so recreational divers can reach many of them. If one hundred years have passed since a ship sank, the wreck is considered as a permanent ancient relic and is thus protected under the Cultural Heritage Act. This means that you are not allowed to touch, alter or damage it, unless you have obtained special permission. Many interesting younger wrecks are also fragile, so divers need to be careful.