450-Year-Old Swedish Sunken Warship Is Treasure Trove

By  //  July 14, 2014

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cargo included fortune in gold and silver coins

By Jane J. Lee, National Geographic

The Mars lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it sank during a naval battle in 1564. A diver at upper right provides scale (COMPOSITE PHOTOGRAPH BY TOMASZ STACHURA, OCEAN DISCOVERY

The Mars lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it sank during a naval battle in 1564. A diver at upper right provides scale. (COMPOSITE PHOTOGRAPH BY TOMASZ STACHURA, OCEAN DISCOVERY

Researchers and divers have started studying the secrets the Mars, the pride of Sweden’s 16th-century navy, has held for 450 years.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – It was the largest and fiercest warship in the world, named the Mars for the Roman god of war, but it went up in a ball of flames in a brutal naval battle in 1564, consigning 800 to 900 Swedish and German sailors and a fortune in gold and silver coins to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

FINDING MARS

NG STAFF, JAMIE HAWK. SOURCE: RICHARD LUNDGREN, OCEAN DISCOVERY

The Mars sank on May 31, 1564, off the coast of a Swedish island called Öland. (NG STAFF, JAMIE HAWK. SOURCE: RICHARD LUNDGREN, OCEAN DISCOVERY)

Treasure hunters, archaeologists, and history aficionados have sought the Mars over the years.

But they were unsuccessful until the late spring of 2011, when a group of divers located one of maritime archaeology’s greatest finds in 246 feet (75 meters) of water. (See “5 Shipwrecks Lost to Time That Archaeologists Would Love to Get Their Hands On.”)

Legend has it that a specter rose from the inferno to guard the Mars, the pride of the Swedish navy, against ever being discovered.

Now, a few years after the ship’s discovery, researchers have concluded that the one-of-a-kind ship is also the best preserved ship of its kind, representing the first generation of Europe’s big, three-masted warships.

A TIME MACHINE

 Johan Rönnby

Johan Rönnby

“It’s not just a ship, it’s a battlefield,” said Rönnby. Diving on the wreck, “you’re very close to this dramatic fire on board, people killing each other, everything was burning and exploding,” said Johan Rönnby, a professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University in Sweden, who is studying the 197-foot-long (60 meter) wreck..

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BELOW VIDEO:  Mars, a Swedish warship that sank during a naval battle in 1564, was the largest warship of its time and went down with all her crew and hundreds of enemy soldiers. 

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