Pipeline Construction Unearths Treasure Trove in Baltic Sea

After that, scientists salvaged one of about 20 ships that had been deliberately sunk at the entrance to the Bay of Greifswald during the Great Northern War (1700 to 1721). The bulwark of wrecks was intended to block access to the island of Rügen and the port of Stralsund to ships of the allied Prussians, Danes and Saxons.

Experts had known about the formation, which is of great interest to archaeologists, for some time. But until recently they had lacked the funds to examine these treasures from the Pomeranian campaign.

The archaeologists were in luck, though. One of the wrecks lay in the path of the pipeline, which meant they could recover and inspect the material at Nord Stream's expense. Their analysis revealed that the ship had been in use for 50 years before it was scuttled in 1715.

The planks also provided astonishing insights into shipbuilding methods in the region toward the end of the 17th century. "These finds are so valuable to us because hardly any shipbuilding records exist from that period," says Detlef Jantzen, an archaeologist with the State Office of Culture and Historic Preservation in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "In those days, a father would pass on his knowledge orally to his son. The son would then expand on this knowledge and then pass it on, also orally, to the next generation."

A few weeks ago, specialists uncovered another shipwreck in the Bay of Greifswald, a freighter that had sailed on the Baltic in the late 18th century. The boat was covered entirely with sediment and, under normal circumstances, might have remained undiscovered.

But when Nord Stream started searching for mines, divers happened upon a suspicious-looking object on the seabed two kilometers north of Lubmin, Germany. This time it wasn't a bomb that they flushed out of the mud, but a cast-iron object that resembled a potbellied stove.

This discovery led scientists to the ship, entombed in the sediment in surprisingly good condition -- except for what appeared to be the devastating effects of a fire caused more than 200 years ago by the potbellied stove.

The Limits of Preservation

On the ship's planking, scientists discovered significant evidence of a fire which had apparently spread from the stern. It probably sank the ship, but the team isn't sure whether the fire also killed the crew.

However, the historic freighter won't see a future as a tourist attraction. Instead, it will be stored underwater, inaccessible to the public, held in place with sandbags.

"It's easier to preserve such objects underwater, because it keeps them away from the air," says archaeologist Jantzen. But that's only half the story.

"It would have been preferable if Nord Stream had made it possible to preserve the ship," says Förster. He points out that in Sweden, the company paid for an elaborate exhibition of all discoveries from the ocean floor. Is he implying that Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania failed to negotiate well with Nord Stream?

In fact, the state lacks both the funds and the capacity to salvage and manage the archaeological treasures lying at its front door. Nord Stream has excavated unprecedented artifacts and enabled experts to conduct exciting inspections, but scientists now resent their inability to proceed with the real work at hand.

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