Construction workers in Tallinn, Estonia were stunned when they came across an 80-ft long ship that has been lost for 700 years just 5 feet beneath street level.
The vessel would have sunk near to where the mouth of the Härjapea river once was. Now on the Estonian coast near the Baltic Sea, the area was once completely underwater.
The Hanseatic Cog
It’s thought that the 13-century vessel was a Hanseatic cog, a type of ship that was mainly associated with trade and sea freight in the north-west medieval Europe. It was a popular model thanks to the large cargo space and flat bottom, making it easier to navigate shallow water and settle in the harbour, for ease of loading and unloading. The cog would have also had high sides, so it would be more difficult to board, keeping the crew and cargo safer from pirates. Overall, the cog required a smaller crew to operate it, hence its popularity.
The found ship is 24-metre long and nine meters wide, consisting of huge oak logs that have been sealed with animal hair and tar to make it watertight.
The Hanseatic League
It’s believed that this found ship would have been owned and used by the Hanseatic League, a powerful confederation of nearly 200 merchant guilds and market towns across central and Northern Europe.
The League would have held a virtual monopoly over trade across the North Sea and Baltic Sea. Its commercial reach extended as far as Portugal, England, Novgorod and Venice, with multiple trading posts, factories and branches in many towns and cities across Europe.
The Hanseatic League was so powerful that it even went to war with Denmark, sacking Copenhagen and forcing King Valdemar IV to give them 15% of profits from Danish trade.
Excavation of the Hanseatic Cog
There are very few surviving cogs that belonged to the confederation. Previously, the most famous was the Bremen cog, discovered in Germany in 1962. It dates to 1380 and was fairly well-preserved. The newly-discovered Hanseatic cog is thought to date back to 1298 and looks to be in even better condition.
As the vessel is excavated, archaeologists have also found fragments of leather shoes, tools, and woollen packing material from the time period. Experts are hopeful that more artefacts will be found as work continues to excavate.
However, the ship cannot be moved in one part, due to its size and also because of construction conditions. When excavation allows, the vessel will be moved to either the maritime museum or the wreck preservation area in Tallinn Bay.
Why Did it Sink?
Its thought that the Hanseatic cog would have sunk due to shallow underwater sand ridges. Although there would have been about two meters of water in the area, these ridges would continuously change their shape and location due to storms and ice drifts. This would have made them nearly impossible to map and therefore navigate successfully.
A similar wreck was discovered in 2008, just 50 meters away from the current site. This has prompted experts to be hopeful more finds could be excavated in the area that was once completely underwater.