Shipwrecks outside Vaxholm discovered to be from the early 17th century

09 March 2020 15:03

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Oak samples for analyse. Photo: Anneli Karlsson

The results are in. Wood samples from the two large warships found in November by divers outside the island of Vaxholm have now been analysed. The wood samples, taken from the ships’ massive oak planks, confirm assumptions by maritime archaeologists at the Vrak – Museum of Wrecks that the ships were built in the first half of the 17th century.

Following the discovery of two warships outside Vaxholm in November last year, laboratory analyses of the samples were carried out by maritime archaeologists at the Museum of Wrecks in order to obtain a date and discover whether they are Vasa’s sister ships.

The wood samples from the shipwrecks have now been analysed. Somewhat disappointingly, they reveal that an unknown number of tree rings was missing, making it impossible to determine the exact year the tress were felled. The cause might be due to erosion, or because the shipbuilders cut away some of the wood. This complicates the process of identifying the ships.

However, the samples show that the ships were likely built between the 1620s and 1630s, which is in line with theories that it could be one of Vasa’s sister ships. One of the samples in particular had a good dating. A beam from one of the wrecks was dated to 1646–47. A sample from the second wreck was also dated to the 1640s, with the exact year remaining unknown. This is likely an indication of repairs made, which would be natural if the ships were built in the late 1620s or early 1630s.

Maritime archaeologists note with interest that the warship Scepter was damaged during the naval battle at Kolberger Heide in 1644 (in Puttgarden, Germany), in which the Crown also participated. Both ships, which were built at the same time as the Vasa ship, should therefore have been repaired shortly after the battle.

“We don’t know whether what we’re seeing now is the repair work, but the idea is tantalising,” says Jim Hansson, maritime archaeologist at the museum.

The wood analysed comes from Northern Europe. Experts cannot currently determine the precise location since the samples do not contain enough tree-ring data.

Next steps

In order to identify the two warships with certainty, more dives and investigations must therefore be carried out. The primary goal will be to try and find more samples that are not too eroded and that can hopefully provide more accurate dating. If this succeeds, work in the archives can begin in earnest and hopefully confirm the identity of the large warships found at Vaxholm.

Such is life in a typical day for maritime archaeologists.

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