A pair of archaeologists with Lund University in Sweden has found “a treasure trove” of plants aboard a sunken 15th-century Norse ship. Mikael Larsson and Brendan Foley describe their findings in PLOS ONE.
In 1495, Danish King Hans docked his ship Gribshunden off the coast of Sweden in preparation for a meeting with Swedish ruler, Sten Sture the Elder.
His plan was to broker a deal that would give him control over Sweden as he had done with Norway, creating a united Nordic kingdom.
Unfortunately for Hans and many of his crew, the ship caught fire and sank. To give himself the upper hand, the King had filled his ship with both warriors and goods worthy of a rich and powerful man.
The loss of the ship led to a change in plans—Hans attacked Sweden soon thereafter and conquered the country instead of negotiating for it.
But the sinking of the ship also created a motherlode of artifacts for modern historians to study.
The wreck of the ship was found in the 1960s and was studied by marine archaeologists in the years thereafter, but not very thoroughly.
The new study was launched in 2019 and continued through 2021.
The team found that most of the expected artifacts had already been found in earlier expeditions, but something important had been overlooked—containers holding well-preserved plant material—more than 3,000 specimens.
The researchers found spices such as nutmeg, cloves, mustard and dill. They also found samples of other plant material, such as saffron and ginger, peppercorns and almonds.
Some of the spices would have come from as far away as Indonesia, suggesting that King Hans had developed an advanced trade network.
The researchers also found snack items, such as dried blackberries, raspberries, grapes and flax, each find showing just how rich and powerful Hans had become.
The researchers also found one non-edible plant, henbane, which, in the past, was used for medicinal purposes.
The researchers note that the plant specimens were in excellent condition due to the unique conditions of the site where the ship was found, a part of the Baltic Sea that is cold and low in salinity.
Sweden’s Mysterious Shipwrecks Found Full of Medieval Household Goods
When underwater archaeologists discovered the sunken ruins of two medieval-era ships in Sweden’s Baltic Sea coastal waters last spring, they knew it would take some time to find answers explaining what the ships were and where they’d come from.
Those answers have perhaps come more quickly than expected, as the researchers examining the remains of the ships have now determined the ages of the vessels. These ships date to the 14th century, a time when the maritime-oriented Hanseatic League dominated the region commercially and politically.
According to a press release from the Scandinavian archaeological consulting company Arkeologerna, the key factor allowing for the discovery of this information was an analysis of wood samples taken from the wreck.
Dating procedures have revealed that the largest of the two vessels, which has been labeled Varbergskoggen 1, was constructed from wood that was harvested in the year 1346, or 676 years before the present.
The timber used to make the vessel was collected from quite a distance away, having been sourced from forests in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
Meanwhile, the second and smaller of the two ships, labeled the Varbergskoggen 2, was built from wood harvested in northern Poland sometime between the years 1355 and 1357.
Needless to say, the archaeologists were quite intrigued to find two ships sunk side by side that had come from entirely different places. It seems they sunk at the same time, victims of what at this time is an unknown event.
Why Did the Ships Sink? The Mystery is Still Open
The two merchant vessels were discovered during the construction of a rail tunnel near Varberg, approximately 120 miles (193 kilometers) north of Copenhagen, Denmark.
They are a common type of medieval ship known as cogs, which the Estonian Mere Museum website identifies as “large, with a spacious cargo space, and were mostly equipped with one mast and one large square sail.”
The Varbergskoggens 1 and 2 were located only 30 feet (nine meters) apart on the shallow coastal sea bottom, and that is something that archaeologists say almost never occurs. One of the wrecked ships had a nearly intact port site, and as of now is the most complete cog wreck ever found in Swedish waters.
Inside the wrecked ships underwater explorers found significant quantities of household goods. Among these discoveries were wooden spoons, engraved wooden kegs, and pairs of leather shoes.
All the items would have been moved to be sold or traded, and the researchers involved in studying the wrecks are hoping these goods will provide some clues to the ships’ destinations and missions.
Soil samples taken from the wrecked vessel may show what types of food were stored on the vessel. This information could also help researchers pin down the exact location where the ships were before they met their tragic demise.
Up to this point, the Arkeologerna archaeologists have been unable to determine exactly why the two ships sunk from examining their remains. Presumably both ships went down at the same time, if indeed they were traveling together at the time of the disaster.
The primary reasons why medieval ships sank would have been bad weather accompanied by high seas, collisions with other vessels or with submerged rocks along shorelines, flooding and shifting of poorly stored cargo, and possibly attacks by pirates (the latter was unlikely to have occurred in this instance).
In Swedish Waters, Shipwrecks Abound
This is just one of several ancient shipwrecks recovered off the coast of Sweden.
In 2012 in southern Swedish waters explorers found the remains of a 500-year-old ship that had been carrying soldiers and the Danish nobles they were guarding.
In October of this year, archaeologists announced that scuba divers had discovered yet another Swedish shipwreck. Timber samples revealed this to be the wreck of a 17th century warship known as the Äpplet, commissioned for battle by the king of Sweden.
Many of the sunken ships still undiscovered in this region are likely cogs, which adds to the urgency to find the ones that remain. From the 13th through the 17th centuries, the Hanseatic League, which consisted of cities from Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Livonia, was active in trade throughout the Baltic Sea region.
Trading ships moved back and forth across the Baltic, connecting Hanseatic cities and settlements, and cogs were frequently the ship of choice for the members of the League.
Were flexible enough to be used as cargo vessels or warships. These sailboats were distinctive in appearance, with their giant square sales and single mast styling. They featured multiple structural anomalies that set them apart from other medieval sailing vessels.
Unfortunately, medieval vessels of this type were seldom preserved for long once they were off the water. That is why the shipwrecks found off the coast of Sweden have generated so much attention among archaeologists and historians who specialize in medieval Scandinavian history.
The largest hoard of Viking silver was found accidentally while filming a news report about illegal treasure hunting
The Spillings Hoard is the world’s largest Viking silver treasure, found on Friday 16 July 1999 in a field at the Spilling farm northwest of Slite, on northern Gotland, Sweden.
The silver hoard consisted of two parts with a total weight of 67 kg (148 lb) before conservation and was made up of, among other things, 14,295 coins most of which were Islamic and from other countries. A third deposition containing over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal was also found. The three caches had been hidden under the floorboards of a Viking outhouse sometime during the 9th century.
On Friday 16 July 1999, a team of reporters from the Swedish television TV4 were in the socken of Othem on Gotland to film a cultural feature from Almedalen Week.
They chose to do a segment on the problem with looting of archaeological sites with archaeologist Jonas Ström acting as their guide along with Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of numismatics, who happened to be on the island at that time. Spillings farm was selected for the filming since about 150 silver coins and bronze objects had been found there earlier by the landowner Björn Engström.
With filming complete, Ström and Jonsson decided to continue their survey of the field. Twenty minutes after the TV-crew had left, they heard a strong signal from their metal detector, which led them to the smaller of the two silver caches.
A couple of hours later and only 3 metres (9.8 ft) from the first find, they received another signal from the detector:
The site was hurriedly cordoned off, back-up crew from the museum was sent for, permission for an archaeological excavation was immediately sought at the County Administrative Board and guards were posted.
However, instead of keeping the find a secret, the Gotland Museum decided to go public with the find immediately. During the first weekend, over 2,000 people visited the excavation site.
Some days later, the metal detector indicated a third metal cache approximately 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) from the first find. The archaeologists concentrated on uncovering the two first finds before starting with the third. Due to the size of the hoards and the fragility of the objects, the bottom layers of the depositions were encapsulated in plaster.
Only when they tried to lift the finds out of the soil did the archaeologists realize how heavy the hoards were. The smaller weighed 27 kg (60 lb) and the larger one 40 kg (88 lb). An attempt to X-ray the finds at the local hospital failed because they contained so much silver that the X-ray plates remained blank.
The larger find was intact but the smaller had been damaged by a plough. A previous landowner who visited the excavation commented that he had found metal wires around the find-spot several years earlier, but thinking that they were only steel wire, he had thrown them away. It was therefore concluded that the treasure had originally been even larger.
With the two first caches taken care of, the third deposition was excavated almost a year after the first discovery. It contained over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal, most of which had been partially melted into a ‘cake’. This find was deemed even more valuable since very few finds contain such large amounts of bronze intended for smelting.
Additional excavations were conducted in the summer of 2000 and in 2003-06. Remnants of wood, iron rivets and mounts as well as a lock mechanism were found, leading to the conclusion that the caches had been stored in chests.
An extended survey and excavation revealed the foundations of a building and indicated that the hoards had been placed under the floorboards of what would probably have been a warehouse, shed or storage rather than a dwelling since it had no hearth. Carbon dating showed that the building had been in use between 540 and 1040.
The foundations and the remaining postholes indicated a regular Viking Age structure, about 10 by 15 m (33 by 49 ft) with a slanting sedge-covered roof, much like other similar finds on Gotland. It had been built on an older Iron Age foundation.
The silver deposits were roughly square-shaped with rounded corners, about 40 cm to 45 cm × 50 cm (16 in to 18 in × 20 in), suggesting that they had been in sacks of cloth, leather or pelt, inside boxes or chests of wood.
In the bronze deposit were found substantial pieces of wood and iron, such as fittings, ironwork, nails and a lock-device, showing that the bronze had been kept in a sturdy chest. A carbon dating of the chest dated it to approximately 675, making it older than the objects stored inside it.
Although silver hoards and treasures are not unusual on Gotland, this was an exceptionally large find. One explanation may be found in the location near some of the island’s best and most significant harbours during the Viking Age. The silver in the caches would have been enough to pay the tax to the Swedish king for all of Gotland for five years.
The following surveys and excavations of the fields surrounding the find-site showed that the site had been inhabited continuously over 1,000 years up until the 19th century. Over 700 more objects were retrieved, such as objects of bronze and copper, fired clay, clothes pins, a piece of glass, tile pieces, chains, needles, glass beads, slag, iron nails, polished semi-precious stones and brick.
The Spillings Hoard is the world’s largest Viking silver treasure. A finder’s fee of SEK 2,091,672 (approx. US$242,400) was paid to the landowner for the treasure, although the real value of it is much higher. It was the largest amount of money ever paid for a find in Sweden, according to director of the Swedish National Heritage Board Sven Göthe. The hoard was dated to have been hidden some time after 870–71.The treasure is on permanent display in the Gotland Museum.
As of 2015, more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) silver from over 700 caches deposited between the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on Gotland. This includes 168,000 silver coins from the Arab world, North Africa and Central Asia.
The caches contained silver objects ranging from coins, bars, thread and hacksilver to be used as raw material, to jewelry such as fingerings, bangles and pendants. Much of the material had been bundled up to correspond with the mark-weight system of the Viking Age, in which 200 grams (0.44 lb) made one mark.
Two Viking Ships Unearthed Reveal Extremely Rare Viking Burial Practices
Incredibly revealing burials found inside two viking ships have been unearthed in Sweden. Archaeologists are never entirely certain what they will find when they begin digging in any given location.
History lends them clues, of course, about the settlements established nearby and what may be found deep within the earth. But it’s always something of a science-based lottery, one that sometimes rewards their dedication to discovery, but just as often does not.
That wasn’t the case for a team in Sweden recently, who knew precisely what they were going to find under a section of modern homes in this rural area. This past summer, a team of experts were thrilled to come upon unique Viking burial ships near the village of Gamla Uppsala.
When a nearby parish decided to build a new hall for the community, they discovered, instead, extremely rare Viking burial remains. Experts were called in, and a dig proceeded immediately.
The team discovered two burial boats, a unique burial ritual used by the Vikings during the period from 550 — 1000 A.D. One boat was in remarkably good shape, although the other was less well preserved.
Nonetheless, Anton Seiler, a spokesman for the dig, was delighted by the items recovered. He told CNN that the folks buried belonged to a select few in the community, probably well-off individuals who were respected.
“It’s a small group of people who were buried in this way,” he explained in an interview last July. “You can (assume) that they were distinguished people in the society of the time, since burial ships in general are very rare.”
The one boat that was in good shape contained within it — and beneath it — important objects from the period, including a spear and pieces of one shield. Also discovered in the boat were the remains of a dog, a horse, and other animals and birds, including falcons and pigs.
“This is a unique excavation,” said Anton Seiler of Swedish archaeology firm The Archaeologists. “The last excavation of this grave type in Old Uppsala was almost 50 years ago.”
These finds were even more striking, the experts said. Seiler told CNN, “It is exciting for us since boat burials are so rarely excavated. We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses, and answers.”
The site was kept out of the news initially, said Johan Anund, a member of The Archaeologists, part of the state-run National Historical Museums, because the team was concerned about vandalism.
In a July interview with the New York Times, Anund confirmed that the find was highly significant in part, because the remains proved that the common custom at the time, cremation, wasn’t undertaken.
“Uncremated boat graves are extremely rare,” he stated in the interview, “and the chance to excavated them is even scarcer.” He added that the dig represents a “once in a lifetime opportunity for archaeologists.”
He added that Gamla Uppsala was an important place during the Viking era, one of political and economic importance.
Anund went on to explain why animal remains were buried. Although the burials were “very pagan,” he said, the fact that they were not cremated, demonstrates that the edicts of Christianity were taking hold.
“It was a message to the ‘other side’ about who was coming there,” he continued. Burying the man with his animals was a way of telling the ‘powers that be’ that a man of significance was resting there. (To strict Catholics, cremation is not an accepted practice even today.)
Archaeologists Unearth Trove of Viking Age Jewelry in Sweden
The 1,000-year-old neck rings, finger rings, pearls and coins were in near-pristine condition.
Archaeologists in Sweden have unearthed a once-in-a-lifetime trove of jewelry dating back an estimated 1,000 years to the Viking Age. Despite their age, the pieces are in near-pristine condition and look like they’re “almost completely new,” says Maria Lingström, one of the archaeologists who made the find, in a statement.
Researchers with the National Historical Museums in Sweden were digging at a Viking Age settlement in Viggbyholm, a neighborhood north of Stockholm, when they stumbled upon a small ceramic pot tucked beneath the remnants of a building’s wooden floors.
Inside, they found eight torque-style neck rings, one finger ring, two pearls and two arm rings. They also found a linen pouch that contained 12 coin pendants (which are coins used as jewelry).
Archaeologists sent the jewelry pieces to Acta Konserveringscentrum, a conservation company in Stockholm, for cleaning.
“This is something you probably only experience once in a lifetime,” says Lingström in the statement.
“When I started to carefully remove the neck rings one by one, I had this extraordinary feeling of, ‘They just keep coming and coming.’”
The researchers believe people lived at the settlement for several hundred years, starting around 400 C.E. through the Viking Age (800-1050) and into the early Middle Ages.
So far, they’ve discovered more than 20 houses and buildings at the site, as well as an array of other artifacts, including amulet rings and arrows.
Though the researchers were surprised and delighted to find all of the jewelry, they were particularly interested in the 12 coins. Some originated in Europe—probably from regions like Bohemia, Bavaria and England—while others were Arabic coins called dirhams.
Coin-makers minted one of the European coins in Rouen, a city in Normandy, France, sometime during the tenth century. Until now, researchers only knew of this rare coin’s existence from drawings in an 18th-century book.
Taken together, the coins suggest that people living in Scandinavia during the Viking Age participated in wide-reaching trade and made far-flung connections.
Researchers don’t know why the historic owners chose to hide the jewelry, though they say people have a tendency to bury valuable items underground during periods of unrest or tumult.
The team will need to conduct further research to determine if that’s the case, or if something else triggered the burial of such a precious cache of belongings.