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stepping stones of maritime history

History

In the North Sea north of Vlieland, a shipwreck was found during the salvage of containers that were lost by the MSC Zoe on the night of 1 to 2 January 2019. The remains are those of a Dutch wooden shipwreck dating to the first half of the 16th century.

Bruegel,_fall of icarus

The fall of Icarus with the depiction of a (Dutch) Carrack ca. 1550 by Pieter Breughel the elder. 

Copper plates, wooden frames and planks were found during the salvage operation. With a group of specialists, the wood and a cargo of 4700 kilograms of copper plates were investigated. Dendro-analysis dated the wood to ca. 1536. And that makes it the oldest shipwreck found in the Dutch part of the North Sea.

 hout
Wooden parts of the shipwreck.

Description

The ship was probably ca. 30 x 7 metres and was carvel-built. Meaning that hull planks are laid edge to edge and fastened to a robust frame, thereby forming a smooth surface. In this way, much bigger vessels could be built than with the conventional lap strake (clinker-built) method.

This new way of building bigger ships was still in full development in the 16th century. These ships were called carrack (Kraak) and were developed on the Iberian Peninsula from the caravels. A three-mast system was developed to deploy more sailing power.

The new carracks were perfect for long-distance voyages. The age of great sea voyages started with the carrack in 1519 when Magellan set out to circumnavigate the earth. The development of this type of ship was a major maritime stepping stone.

copperplates
Part of the cargo consisted of 4900 kilograms of copper plates (source: RCE).

A part of the cargo has been salvaged. The cargo of copper plates is also special. About 5000 kilograms of copper have thus far been salvaged. The plates are marked with the sign of the well-known Fugger family. The Fuggers were German bankers and one of the most influential families of Europe at the time. They owned copper mines in Bohemia in what is now modern Slovakia. They probably made use of Dutch shipping to bypass the Hanseatic league.

 fugger_2

Left: the Fuggers with their distinctive 'logo'. Right: the logo depicted on the copper plates.

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