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stepping stones of maritime history


During the preparations of a planned port development in 2016, three medieval shipwrecks were discovered in the Bay of Wismar in Northern Germany which were later investigated within the framework of a rescue excavation.

The wreck called the Wismar 'Big Ship' is the largest of the three, excavated in 26 days in November and December 2017 by maritime archaeologists under the direction of Dr. Jens Auer of the State Department for Archaeology in Mecklenburg -Vorpommern (Landesamt für Kurtlur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, LAKD).

The wreck was dismantled under water and the individual ship timbers were subsequently raised to the surface and transported to the LAKD conservation facility for waterlogged timber. The timbers were 3D recorded ex situ by using an Artec scanner, which also prompted the development of an innovative methodology for swift timber-recording with a great cost-benefit factor, which was called '3D annotated scans method'.

The wreck has some diagnostic features of the Nordic clinker shipbuilding tradition, most notably the presence of bitis (a type of cross beam on which rowers could sit typical for Viking ships). The results of the dendrochronological analysis show that the vessel was built from oak and pine cut in western Sweden between 1184 and 1190. The construction shows striking similarities with a number of other large 12th century cargo vessels, like the wreck from Karschau (Northern Germany), the Lynæs 1 wreck (Denmark), and the 'the Big Ship of Bergen' (Norway).

M. Ditta

Composition drawing by M. Ditta of how the wreck was found.


A 3D model of the wreck created by M. Ditta for the LAKD.


The ship timbers are conserved at the LAKD waterlogged timber storage and research is still ongoing.


  • Auer, J., Ditta, M. (2019).
    Bergung und Dokumentation des Bodendenkmals Wismar, Ostsee II, Fpl. 32 im Rahmen des Projektes „Seehafen Wismar, Fpl. 32” (3544-5504).
    Schwerin: Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege.
  • Ditta, M., Auer, J. (2021).
    The 'Big Ship' of Wismar: A well-preserved 12th century cargo vessel from the harbour of Wismar.
    Open Sea … Closed Sea. Local and inter-regional traditions in shipbuilding (= Proceedings of the 15th International Symposium on Boat & Ship Archaeology, Marseille 22-27 October 2018).
    pp 191;195;209.
  • Van Damme, T., Auer, J., Ditta, M., Grabowski, M., Couwenberg, M. (2020).
    The 3D annotated scans method: a new approach to ship timber recording.
    Heritage Science 8:75.
    pp 1-18.

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