Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nine medieval ships found in Oslo mud

The largest collection of antique shipwrecks ever found in Norway has been discovered under mud at the building site for a new highway tunnel in Oslo, the project's lead archaeologist said Friday.

The archaeologist, Jostein Gundersen, said at least nine wooden boats, the largest of them 17 meters, or 56 feet, long, were found well preserved nearly 400 years after they sank at Bjoervika, an Oslo inlet near the new national opera house.

"For us, this is a sensation," he said. "There has never been a find of so many boats and in such good condition at one site in Norway."

The wrecks were remarkably well preserved because they had been covered in mud and fresh water, where river waters reach the sea, he said.

"We have a fantastic opportunity to learn more about old shipbuilding techniques and the old harbors," said Gundersen of the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo.

He said the wrecks were believed to have sunk sometime after a fire swept the wooden buildings of old Oslo in 1624. After that disaster, the Danish-Norwegian king, Kristian IV, ordered the city center moved before reconstruction started.

The discovered boats were moored at the old port, which became a remote area after the city was moved. He said the boats might have been 30 or 40 years old when they sank.

"There is nothing to indicate that the ships were deliberately scuttled," Gundersen said. "They could have sunk one by one, because of sloppy mooring or poor maintenance, or maybe sank in a storm."

He said the wreckage would be charted and removed as quickly as possible, so construction of the undersea tunnel could continue. It will then take years, he said, to examine all the ship's remnants back at the museum.

Gundersen said the find will help fill gaps in knowledge of vessels between Norwegian Viking ships of about 1,000 years ago and more modern vessels.

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