When you think of “landmark,” images of the Eiffel Tower and Stonehenge probably pop into your mind. We visit these places because that’s what you’re supposed to do with a landmark: Visit, appreciate, even gawk at the world-famous wonder. So why, then, is one of the world’s most famous landmarks also one of the world’s more controversial?
The Titanic is between a rock and a hard place…and not just literally. For over a century, people have itched to journey far beneath the waves to view the famed ship in person. As more people flock to the scene of a tragedy, though, experts are struggling to address the one historical issue no one saw coming.
Before it was a spectacle, the Titanic was a catastrophe. What happened the morning of April 15th, 1912, was mourned by a generation…but generations die, and what began as an international tragedy has since been transformed into something else entirely.
Titanic/Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
Once traveling to the deepest depths of the sea became a possibility, it didn’t take long for people’s grief to turn into a kind of morbid curiosity about the Titanic. The number one question was: Can we go there?
Andy Bronson/The Herald
The ship’s passengers were once mourned, but now their remains are plundered for artifacts. Rich tourists go to snap photos in front of the withering wreckage. It’s a landmark akin to the Eiffel Tower, and all because of what happened in 1985.
For decades after the Titanic sank, people have yearned to visit the wreckage themselves…and possibly even bring it back to the surface.There was a rumor that the ship’s safes were filled with diamonds, which sparked even more Titanic fever…and more failed expeditions.
By the time the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced their own voyage to the Titanic, no one really noticed or cared — That is, until the New York Times published a shocking front page headline in September of 1985.
Marley & Me/20th Century Fox
“Wreckage of Titanic Reported Discovered 12,000 Feet Down.” Despite years of failures, the expedition team had finally located the long-lost Titanic, but the world’s response wasn’t one of respectful wonderment.
Titanic/Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
Instead, people with dollar signs in their eyes saw the money-making potential of the sunken ship. Their minds ran wild with possibilities of what they could turn the underwater cemetery into, a tourist attraction being the most popular idea. Others, however, had another plan.
Instead of going to the Titanic, why don’t we bring the Titanic to us? People started to come up with bizarre ways of bringing the ship back to the surface, and each way was weirder than the last.
A salvage engineer suggested placing bags on the ship’s hull and pumping them full of Vaseline, so that the hardened Vaseline could become buoyant and lift the ship back to land. Others proposed filling the ship with ping pong balls, but the most outlandish idea was yet to come.
In an ironic twist, some considered encasing the ship in ice so it would have an “ice cube effect,” or rise to the surface like an ice cube. Surprisingly, the man who was most opposed to reanimating the Titanic was the guy who rediscovered it.
Robert Ballard, the marine geologist who led the expedition that discovered the Titanic’s location, was staunchly against turning the ship into a landmark attraction. In order to protect the vessel, Ballard did something no one could have seen coming.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
He refused to divulge the exact location of the Titanic wreckage. Instead, he proposed that the shipwreck be declared an international memorial, one that remained untouched out of respect for those who lost their lives. His reasoning for this made sense…
Ballard — and many other experts — feared the damage the Titanic might sustain if countless people visited the site. He had good reason to worry: Any damage to the site would make archaeological study impossible.
Of course, Ballard’s secret Titanic coordinates couldn’t be concealed forever. They were eventually leaked, and it didn’t take long for his fears to be realized. Numerous teams visited the ship and looted the remains, taking with them victims’ long-lost possessions.
RMS Titanic Expedition 2003/NOAA-OE
Needless to say, most of the looters were careless with history. They almost always left the shipwreck more destroyed than it already was. The ship’s rapid decomposition alarmed Ballard enough that he pushed for congress to introduce the RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act.
But because the wreck is outside American waters, the government has very little influence over what happens to it. It’s the Wild West of the Atlantic, leaving the wreckage like roadkill surrounded by vultures. It’s bound to be picked and looted to the bone…
And with no thought as to whom the items belonged. These looters didn’t even consider the possibility that the owner of said items could have perished in the room being scavenged for treasures. Worse yet, the damage the ship sustained was devastating.
In 1987, Titanic Ventures Inc. and the oceanographic agency IFREMER visited Titanic in hopes of finding the bell from the crow’s nest, but when they did, the crow’s nest promptly collapsed, causing irreversible damage. As interest in the ship grew, the deterioration only accelerated.
Courtesy of NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island (NOAA/IFE/URI)
Even director James Cameron, who explored the site while doing research for his 1997 blockbuster Titanic, left more wreckage behind than when he arrived. With so much damage occurring over such a short time, one special voice couldn’t remain unheard.
Keystone Pictures USA
Titanic survivor Eva Hart, whose father died in the disaster, denounced these visitors as “fortune hunters, vultures, pirates!” and she wasn’t the only one who thought so. A complicated debate began: Is the site where 1,500 died really the right place for a group of tourists?
Before debaters could even argue their points, however, both sides learned that there are two forces that are far more powerful than state-of-the-art technology: Time and nature. Neither can be controlled, especially at the bottom of the ocean…
“The Titanic is becoming something that belongs to biology,” a forensic archaeologist told Popular Science. The damage the ship sustained by looters only sped up the inevitable process of decay that happens to objects that were never meant to lie on the ocean floor.
Description of the decay is chilling: Bacteria has burrowed into the ship’s body, turning its once-imposing iron into an “eggshell delicate” skeleton. These “rusticles” dissolve at the lightest touch, let alone the jerky movements of a submersible’s heavy metal arm.
Lori Johnston/RMS Titanic Expedition 2003/NOAA-OE
The Titanic has become a graveyard in more ways than one, with spooky deep-sea creatures wafting through the murky remains and nibbling the decay. Other parts of the ship have been swept up by eddies and taken who-knows-where, never to be seen again.
About 140 people have visited the Titanic since it sank in 1912, no doubt contributing, albeit accidentally, to this kind of advanced decay. Still, stopping the human-caused destruction is possible, all thanks to the shipwreck’s 100th anniversary.
Library of Congress/LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10355
Once the ship had been buried under the waves for 100 years, it became eligible for UNESCO protection. This ensured that the site would be protected, and guaranteed that any artifacts and human remains found would be treated with respect.
Michel Boutefeu/Getty Images
Still, there’s no clear winner here. Whether the ship is scavenged or remains untouched, experts believe that it will wither away within decades, leaving behind a complicated moral quandary…and sunken memories from long ago. But people will never stop exploring the deep…
The Print Collector/Getty Images
Wearing khaki shorts and a polo shirt with “In Profundo: Cognito” printed on it, Robert McCallum stood out in Tonga, a country in Oceania. The Latin phrase was the reason he was there. It means “In the Deep: Knowledge,” and the saying doesn’t just apply to McCallum.
Everyone who’s part of the Five Deeps Expedition believes in that credo, McCallum especially. One of the most legendary underwater explorers out there, McCallum was there to do the impossible, all because Victor Vescovo asked him to.
The Five Deeps Expedition
Victor Vescovo, a graduate of Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, is both brilliant and endlessly curious about the world around him. He’s made millions as an inventor, and he fancies himself something of an explorer. Still, one area has always fascinated him the most.
The ocean. The ocean’s epipelagic zone contains a majority of all known sea life, but it’s only 5% of the ocean’s volume. The other 95% is less explored than the moon, and it’s this “unknown” that drew Vescovo and his crew to Tonga.
Planet Earth: Blue Planet II/BBC America
What really attracted Vescovo’s attention was the hadal zone, the deepest layer of the ocean that contains unknown creatures and imposing trenches. Few have descended this far, and it takes a very specific kind of person to make such a rare feat their ultimate goal.
That’s just the kind of guy Vescovo is: If he can travel deeper, then he’ll do it. He’s already seen the Puerto Rico, Java, South Sandwich, and Mariana Trenches. The Horizon Deep, part of the Tonga Trench, is the fifth of six scheduled dives part of his “Five Deeps Exploration.”
The Five Deeps Expedition
Despite being brilliant and wealthy, Vescovo knew he couldn’t do the impossible all on his own. He needed people who dedicated their lives to exploration. That’s where McCallum came in, along with a quirky team of brilliant scientists and engineers.
The Five Deeps Expedition
There’s Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s Scottish chief scientist, who one crew member described as being “miserable” but with “a great sense of humor.” Then there’s Patrick Lahey, the energetic president of Triton Submarines.
The Five Deeps Expedition
Lahey’s vessel, the Limiting Factor, was the submarine that would take Vescovo to new depths. This vessel needed to be strong, nimble, and most of all, reliable. After all, the people inside depended on it for their lives.
The Five Deeps Expedition
During the dive in the Southern Ocean, the vessel’s communication systems failed as it breached the surface, leaving it (and the people inside) temporarily lost among towers of icebergs. Once, the vessel crashed into the stern of their own ship.
The Five Deeps Expedition
And who could forget the dive in the Challenger Deep when Limiting Factor ran out of battery power at the bottom of the ocean? “I’m a glass half full kind of guy,” Lahey said. For him, unveiling the mystery of the deep is worth the risks.
He even built nifty attachments for the Limiting Factor to uncover these mysteries: Three full-ocean depth landers, or sedan-sized platforms equipped with navigational tools, cameras, and bait that they hope will help them collect never-before-seen specimens.
The Five Deeps Expedition
That’s where Alan Jamieson comes in. He’s the guy behind many stunning deep-sea discoveries, one of which was recorded in one of the crew’s most recent dives in the Java Trench. At 6,000 meters, he’d glimpsed an alien life-form.
He described it as the “big sort of transparent thing with the dog head and the tentacles,” vague enough wording to prove that even this well-regarded scientist, one of the best in his field, was shocked by what they had found.
The Five Deeps Expedition
It was, they deduced, a stalked ascidian, or “sea squirt.” It was just one of many species Jamieson and his fellow researchers came across while scouring the deep. “The idea of the deep as this barren, lifeless place is just…” to finish Jamieson’s sentence delicately, it’s nonsense.
Leah Brown/Newcastle University
And that’s what Vescovo loved about it. “I’m looking around, I’m seeing sea creatures — oh yeah, I’m having a blast!” he exclaimed. Now they were in Tonga, with one last dive on the docket. As with the other four dives, there was a strict plan in place.
The Five Deeps Expedition
The plan was for Vescovo to take a solo dive with Limiting Factor first and then, after resurfacing, for a scientist to go down with him for a second dive. If you think something about this plan sounds unusual, you’d be right.
The Five Deeps Expedition
It’s a big risk having Vescovo, a brilliant man but decidedly not an ocean expert, operate the vessel all on his own. It was the part of the expedition that made the normally-unflappable McCallum stay glued to his navigation system back on their ship.
It didn’t help that the morning of the dive brought with it a red sky, never a good sign for superstitious seafaring folk. McCallum had already listed the day’s hazards. “This is the time karma will kick us if we’re not careful,” he said.
Everyone aboard the ship watched as Vescovo, alone in Limiting Factor, slowly disappeared under the Pacific waves. Then, they sprung to work. For the next four hours, the crew monitored Vescovo’s descent for anything that might look like karma.
And karma — or maybe just bad luck — struck a mere 15 minutes after Vescovo touched down onto the sea floor. Before setting off into the trench, he noticed that Limiting Factor’s batteries were draining…and fast.
He tried to locate the source of the power loss, but everything seemed to be in working order, so he continued to collect rock samples. An hour passed, then two before Vescovo realized that the power levels were critical.
With that, Vescovo and Limiting Factor made a white-knuckle ascent back to the surface. When the vessel pierced the waves, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Another close call — and another successful trip to the unknown. Still, the expedition wasn’t over yet.
The malfunction occurred when water seeped into an electrical box on the hull, causing a (flameless) electrical fire. It wouldn’t be an easy fix. With a storm brewing and a compromised electrical box, there was no time for a second dive.
Still, Vescovo and his team of scientists had accomplished something unprecedented: 5 of 6 dives below 10,000 meters, with everyone unscathed — physically, at least. In other ways, the world beyond the epipelagic layer tends to leave its mark.
For Vescovo, it means he’ll always crave some part of the deep sea, even if some of his experiences weren’t always pleasant. His other dives were filled with discovery and excitement, but Tonga reminded him of reality.
”This is the eeriest, most hostile place I’ve seen so far,” he admitted. He’d seen no visible life, except, as Jamieson later pointed out, ominous burrows made by invisible creatures in the sand. “It didn’t want me there,” Vescovo said.
Control simply isn’t possible when it comes to the ocean…particularly the deep. It can’t be conquered, something Vescovo doesn’t only appreciate, but counts on. “That’s what’s so great about ocean exploration,” he said. “There’s still so much that’s unknown.”
Victor Vescovo thrived on the unknown, and Chris Lemons was the same way. While most people don’t love getting up to go to work, Chris’ commute was a bit different. Rather than heading into an office, he left dry land behind entirely.
As a member of a saturation dive team tasked with fixing oil field pipes, Lemons’ work took place hundreds of miles off the coast. One reality, however, added an extra layer of difficulty to the job.
Leonard Ortiz/ The Orange County Register
Since the pipes sat deep below the ocean’s surface, divers faced a great deal of literal, atmospheric pressure. While that was dangerous enough on its own, the phenomenon also affected divers’ lives on the surface.
National Wildlife Federation
Before heading into the depths, Lemons and his fellow divers had to live in special pressurized chambers. While they could see and hear the rest of the crew, they remained in physical isolation.
Wyatt Olson / Stars and Stripes
Independent of those challenges, there was a job to be done. Lemons and his two fellow divers, Dave Youasa and Duncan Allcock, prepared themselves to head into the dark, lonely depths.
The Sunday Times
While the ocean seemed a bit choppy on the surface, everything was clear down below. Lemons, Youasa, and Allcock climbed into the diving bell and headed towards the sea floor.
Once the diving bell reached the bottom, the men got to work. Lemons and Youasa started working on the rig’s pipes; Allcock supervised from above. Everything, however, was about to go horribly wrong…
Although everything seemed calm on the ocean floor, things were rougher at the surface. While dive ships are usually well-equipped to handle some waves, the ship was facing technical difficulties.
Scottish Energy News
The dive ship’s navigation computers had failed; suddenly, there was no propulsion system holding the vessel in place. The boat began to drift away from its initial position in the waves.
While that might not seem like a big deal, any movement on the surface would affect the divers on the ocean floor. Consequently, Lemons and Youasa’s alarms started going off. They had to get back to the bell!
That was easier said than done, though. The dive ship had drifted over the oil rig, meaning the men had to weave through the metal structure. They didn’t have a choice, though.
During the climb, the situation somehow became even worse. The ship shifted again, pulling Lemons’ umbilical cord tight against the oil rig. His literal lifeline was suddenly at risk of snapping.
U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Petty Officer Eric Lippmann
That’s exactly what happened. The cable creaked and strained against the metal rigging until the tension became too much; Lemons fell backwards towards the darkness of the freezing ocean floor.
Dogwoof / BBC
Lemons, however, wasn’t done yet. He had some emergency oxygen and managed to climb back up the rig. He saw a chilling sight, though: there was no diving bell, just empty ocean.
At that point, the clock was ticking; all hope of survival seemed lost in the vast ocean. “I took a measured decision to calm down and conserve what little gas I had left,” Lemons recalled.
“I didn’t expect to be rescued, so I just curled up into a ball,” he later explained. On the surface, however, the crew was desperately trying to save their lost teammate’s life.
The crew dispatched a controlled submarine to locate Lemons. While they did find him, it still took them about 30 minutes to get the ship and diving bell back into position. Surely it was too late…
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Eventually Youasa reached his colleague and lugged him back to the diving bell; by that point, Lemons’ body had gone cold and motionless in the frigid ocean waters.
In the diving bell, they removed Lemons’ mask. Allcock gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. While his efforts seemed like a formality, something incredible happened. Slowly, Chris stirred to life.
“I felt very groggy and there were some flashing lights,” Lemons remembered. “It was only a few days later that I realized the gravity of the situation.” But how had he survived?
Magruder Eye Institute
It was likely due to the near-freezing salt water surrounding his body! The ocean cooled Lemons’ brain; that allowed it to survive without a steady flow of oxygen for roughly half an hour.
Thankfully, Lemons’ life returned to normal. While he faced death on the ocean floor, the diver was back to work within three weeks; on the surface, he married his fiance and became a father.
While the dark depths of the ocean can be dangerous, they’re still worth exploring. In fact, the bottom of the Adriatic Sea is home to a wealth of one specific treasure…
When the University of Patras archaeology team came across a massive shipwreck lurking below the current, they knew they had to act fast. Archaeologists aren’t the only ones looking to get their hands on treasure these days.
See, the world of antiquities is a lot more exciting than people may realize — especially in the context of ancient artifacts. There are two groups of people with very different motives searching the seven seas for treasure from the past.
National Park Service
If you have watched any recent programming from A&E, the existence of modern-day treasure hunters might not be news to you. If you haven’t, it could be somewhat unfathomable. The truth is, treasure hunters are a real thing.
In addition, they have become a real problem for the academic community. Not only must professors and researchers contend with the mammoth task of tracking down artifacts from thousands of years ago, they must do so before treasure hunters beat them to it.
The main concern about ancient artifacts falling into the wrong hands revolves around the missed opportunity to establish a thorough narrative of human history. Missing artifacts being found helps explain or confirm many theories offered by historians.
In the event of ancient “treasure” being found by individuals whose motives center solely around the anticipated profit, the educational value is completely disregarded. Something that may inform human history massively will instead be sold to the highest bidder.
Walt Disney Pictures
So, the struggle between noble academics and sly treasure hunters persists on in the modern age, like something form the plot of the National Treasure franchise. But recently, a huge win was uncovered for team academia.
Walt Disney Pictures
Dr. George Ferentinos from the University of Patras in Patras, Greece is at the center of one of the most prolific ancient discoveries ever made. In order to uncover the archaic, Ferentinos and his team had to explore below the surface level.
The surface of the Adriatic Sea, in this case. Although the image of derelict shipwrecks covering the bottom of the sea seems odd, it’s not entirely uncommon to find them. Underwater sonar is used by teams such as the one led by Dr. Ferentinos.
This powerful tool allows treasure hunters and researchers alike to locate potentially revolutionary and quite valuable objects that have been sitting on the ocean floor for thousands of years. Whether they are seen as treasure or artifacts depends on who locates them first.
The University of Patras team was searching with their sonar equipment when they came across one of the most impressive sights imaginable. A massive shipwreck, which was later dated back to somewhere between the 1st century B.C and the 1st century A.D.
It would have almost been enough to find the remains of a ship captained around the time of Christ, but they got yet another shock when the team took a closer look at the ship measuring over one hundred feet long.
A massive cargo load was still present in the hold and spilling onto the surrounding sea floor. It mostly consisted of thousands of amphorae. The amphora is a common container used by Greeks and Romans. Normally, it’s utilized for one specific substance.
Whether you’re watching The Bachelor in 2020, or attending the feast of emperor in the 1st century, there is one thing you’ve got to have — wine. The type of amphora uncovered at this particular scene is known for transporting wine.
Dr. Ferentinos is still sampling the chemical make up of what is in the sealed and preserved jars, but the chances that it is over one thousand jugs of ancient wine is likely. However, you may want to think twice before strapping on your scuba gear.
The team is still processing the ancient wreck and may or may not resurrect it from the watery grave it has been preserved in for so long. There is concern over damaging the artifacts, as well as worry they might be raided by treasure hunters if they remain.
Either way, the implications of this finding are monumental. Researchers say it confirms nearby Fiskardo as an important stop on an ancient Mediterranean trade route. Further excavation and processing of the site could yield even more information.
As this wreck was the first of its kind discovered through the use of sonar technology in place of human divers, it broadens the potential possibilities in the world of academia and, of course, does so for treasure hunters.
In the battle for uncovering the lost items of our ancient world, you have to root for the “good guys.” This particular discovery was a major win for those who plan to utilize the findings for the greater good.
Writer Peter Campbell asked, “Profit for some, or education for all?” summing up the issue succinctly. When it comes to the pieces of the puzzle that could inform us about the past, they are better off in the hands of experts.
The Goonies/ Warner Bros.
The Swedish Ocean X diving team might disagree. Lead by Peter Lindberg and Dennis Åsberg, they didn’t expect to find much while treasure hunting 300 feet from the surface of the Northern Baltic Sea. After all, the water was freezing, dark, and difficult to navigate.
They were trying to find the remnants of an old shipwreck, so they were keeping an eye out for anything oddly shaped and weirdly colored. It was slow, quiet work on the sea floor…until the eerie silence was punctuated by a beep.
The beeping came from their sonar equipment, which seconds before had shown only murky blackness. Now, however, its screen was covered with a mysterious sight: A tall, mountainous structure surrounded by rock.
This turned out to be a canyon made out of stones, sand, and molten rock. But what really caught their eye wasn’t at the bottom of the deep, dark cavern — instead, it was just a couple feet nearby.
“We were really surprised and puzzled,” Dennis said of the new discovery. “We were thinking…this is not a wreck.” It was easy to verify Dennis’ theory that their new discovery wasn’t a shipwreck, but its true identity was more difficult to figure out.
Jeffrey L. Rotman/Corbis
If you’re an explorer worth your salt, you don’t immediately jump to extraterrestrial conclusions as soon as you see something unusual. Peter and Dennis, then, were quick to bounce around some logical explanations for the object.
The Instructor/Ocean X
First, they thought it was some kind of submarine left over from World War II, or perhaps an old battleship gun turret. But each time they referred back to the blurry sonar image, they couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else entirely.
The object was a circle, about 200 ft. in diameter, with odd rivets and cracks across its top. The image they captured was so grainy, however, that it was difficult to see much else. So, they returned a year later…but this time, with back-up.
Mystery History/Ocean X
“It could be something really awesome that we’ve found,” Dennis said, and he hoped that “back-up” in the form of more advanced equipment would answer the biggest question about the object: What the heck it even was.
Ocean X Team
But they immediately encountered an issue. The problem wasn’t the clarity of the image, but the equipment itself: It just wouldn’t take a photo. According to the explorers, every time the cameras got close to the object, they would cut out completely…
Stefan Hogerborn, a professional diver with Ocean X, was baffled by the malfunctions. “Anything electric out there…stopped working when we were above the object,” he claimed. Though the team was at a loss, one group of people quickly came to the rescue.
Ocean Explorer/Ocean X
See, the sonar photo of the structure had leaked online despite Peter and Dennis’ claim that they wished to keep it “totally quiet.” It wasn’t long before the internet took in the object’s rivets and cracks and arrived at a sound conclusion.
“Yeah, definitely the Millennium Falcon,” one person commented on a news story about the discovery. It’s true that the object’s appearance looked strikingly like Han Solo’s beloved spaceship, but could it really be an object from outer space?
What really piqued the interest of the explorers wasn’t the size or shape of the object, but what it appeared to be made of: Metal. After all, why would a 200-foot object made of metal be chilling on the ocean floor?
The Lip TV/YouTube
The theory that the object was actually metal and not a rock formation only intensified the spaceship rumors, so in order to ease the public and their own nagging curiosity, Peter and Dennis opened the mystery up to experts…and the experts had thoughts.
Scientist Charles Paull said the original grainy image was sediment dropped from a fishing trawler, a school of fish, or even something as simple as a pile of rocks. The spaceship theory, he claimed, is “curious and fun, but much ado about nothing.”
Another scientist, Göran Ekberg, agreed that “the finding looks weird since it’s completely circular…but nature has produced stranger things than that.” The most incinerating claim, however, came from an actual expert on extraterrestrial life…
Doubtful of Peter and Dennis’ motives, Jonathan Hill of Mars Space Flight Facility said, “Whenever people make extraordinary claims, it’s always a good idea to consider…whether they are personally benefiting from the claim.”
Still, Peter and Dennis had at least a little support: Geologist Steve Weiner claimed that, according to his own tests, the structure was not a geological formation. He was even quoted supporting one of the most outlandish claims…
The object, Steve claimed, was made out of “metals which nature could not reproduce itself.” Peter hoped this kind of support from Steve would solve the mystery of the sunken “ship” — and help his team go further than ever before with their research.
In 2019, Peter suggested that Ocean X may return to the object…with an entire camera crew in tow. With a TV series, Peter hoped more light would be shed on the object’s identity. As for now, they’re at least sure about one thing.
Howard Hall/IMAX/Deep Sea 3-D
“[There’s] something we do not usually find in nature sitting in the…depths of the Baltic Sea,” Peter concluded. Whether or not this is true is still anyone’s guess, but as any good explorer knows, the mystery is the best part of the expedition.
If they want to preserve their find, they’ll need to work quickly. The Baltic Sea is a hot spot for explorers. Swedish archaeologist Jim Hansson from the Stockholm Maritime Museum, for instance, received an unexpected phone call came from workers who found something rare in its waters.
A construction crew had to halt their renovation of a quarry in Stockholm when they came across a big surprise in the dirt. Like the Ocean X team, none of them could at first identify the mystery object, but it looked to be made of wood — very old wood.
Doubling Jim’s interest was the location of the quarry: it was on Skeppsholmen Island, smack dab between center-city Stockholm and the Baltic Sea. If you were to visit the island today, you would mostly come across charming tourist attractions. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Historically, Skeppsholmen served as a prime military location for Sweden. It acted as a waypoint where officials could send out troops and supplies as well as a line of defense against any powers attempting to invade Stockholm. In other words, it was rich with military history.
Flickr / Marcin Zajda
Jim and some of his colleagues ran over to inspect the construction site. As they surveyed the wooden beams lying deep beneath the ground, Jim was immensely grateful the workers hadn’t interfered any more with the object. He had a feeling this was something big.
In fact, Jim theorized this Skeppsholmen dig might connect to one of his recent findings. A few months earlier, he mounted an extensive underwater expedition in southern Sweden. This was no recreational dive.
On the dive, he and his team were the first humans in hundreds of years to set their eyes on the Blekinge. The Swedes built this mighty ship in the late 1600s while at war with Russia and Denmark. So what did this have to do with Stockholm?
As Jim unearthed more of the wooden artifact, he confirmed his suspicions. They were looking at a ship, perhaps one of the most important vessels in the history of Sweden. However, Jim knew he couldn’t get ahead of himself.
To determine the exact identity of the mystery vessel, Jim and the other scientists got down and dirty in the pit. Specific details within the ruins would tell them everything they needed to know.
Jim turned his attention to some of the best-preserved timbers. You could actually see the axe marks where the shipwrights cut and fit together the wooden beams! That wasn’t all that caught Jim’s eye either.
By taking just a small sample of the wood — small enough to not damage the overall vessel — they could figure out what time period the ship was from. Jim shipped the fragment off to the lab for radiocarbon dating.
Jim’s team came back with good news: the oak timbers were from 1612 or 1613, meaning the ship’s construction wrapped up a couple years after. Fortunately, the Maritime Museum had detailed records of all the major vessels built in Sweden.
This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology
Using the records and some other clues — including this ornamental copper plate — Jim surmised they’d found the famous Scepter. It seemed almost too good to be true. After all, it was the flagship of the greatest Swedish monarch of all time!
The tactical brilliance of King Gustavus Adolphus the Great transformed Sweden into a major European power back in the 17th century. He commissioned the Scepter to lead a fleet to conquer nearby Latvia. The ship never made it.
As it approached the Baltic Coast, the Scepter suffered heavy damage from a storm. It turned back to Sweden and never sailed on a major voyage again. But how did it end up beneath a historic island in Stockholm?
Historians could not find any record of a shipwreck in Skeppsholmen. However, Jim had a wild suggestion: maybe Gustavus sunk it on purpose! It was, after all, a regular practice for the Swedish navy to sink retired vessels to provide a foundation for new shipyards.
Now that Jim and his team unearthed the top deck of the famed warship, they had to decide what to do next. A couple individuals raised the possibility of restoring the Scepter. After all, there was precedent for such a course of action.
Historians salvaged another sunken 17th century ship, the Vasa, in 1961 and put it on display at the museum. The impressive restoration soon became one of the most noteworthy cultural sites in all of Sweden. Could the Scepter follow in its footsteps?
Unfortunately, Jim knew it was not to be. While the Scepter had multiple decks in its prime, none of them remained in good enough condition to warrant the restoration. The project would simply cost too much for too little reward.
Scientist Sees Squirrel
Nevertheless, Jim and his colleagues chalked up their discovery as a major victory. He explained, “It’s a really important find because the ship is from the generation before Vasa, so we can see the technical building methods that were used, and it can help us understand what went wrong with the Vasa as well.”
Twitter / Jim Hansson
In other words, the knowledge attached to an artifact is always more important than the object itself. Plus, it will certainly lead to even bigger finds in the near future. Who can say what other secrets Jim Hansson will uncover in his hometown?