There’s no doubting that archaeologists and explorers serve a tremendously meaningful purpose to humanity. Without their desire to uncover history’s greatest mysteries, there’s a chance many important historical events would be forgotten forever.
When a group of Swedish archaeologists recently set off in search of a sunken warship in the Baltic Sea, they hoped to unlock some secrets that had long fascinated them.
After they finally reached the maritime vessel, however, they realized their discovery was even more meaningful than they thought…
It goes without saying that many important piece of history would be forgotten without explorers like Swedish maritime archaeologist Johan Rönnby (pictured). While Johan himself is responsible for numerous discoveries, his search for a missing ancient warship might be his greatest work yet.
The story began when a determined Johan phoned the owner of the Ocean Discovery diving company, Richard Lundgren, for help finding a vessel in the Baltic Sea. Little did Johan know that Richard, his brother Ingmar, and their colleague Fredrik Skogh had already been searching for the exact same battleship—with no results.
The ship that captivated them was the Makalös. Meaning “astounding or peerless,” the Makalös was a massive ship. It was 48 meters long (over 157 feet) and fully loaded with 107 guns. The men joined forces in order to find any trace of this enormous piece of history…
The Makalös was built in 1563 for Swedish King Eric XIV, who had requested a beautiful ship. While it was in use, the battleship lead the Swedish fleet, and it saw its most extensive action during the Northern Seven Years’ War.
This war pitted the Kingdom of Sweden against a coalition of Denmark, Poland, and the north German city-state of Lübeck and lasted from 1563 to 1570. It eventually ended in a stalemate, since the loss of life and overall exhaustion became too much.
The Makalös eventually met its match during a battle with the Danes. Even though it survived the first day of combat and successfully routed the Danish forces, on the second day, the Germans arrived and gave it a beating. Nevertheless, its crew pushed on.
After that first battle, the Makalös became somewhat of a legend, having been the first ship in history to sink another warship purely with gunfire. Sadly, during the 1564 battle of Öland in the Baltic Sea, the famous ship caught fire and sank.
While it was regarded as the strongest and most ferocious warship in existence at the time, it wasn’t invincible. Upwards of 800 German and Swedish soldiers, as well as all of the silver and gold coins onboard, were lost in the Baltic Sea the day Makalös sank.
Rumors began to spread claiming that Makalös was cursed from the start. Some even believed that King Eric’s desire to own the biggest and deadliest ship was his own undoing. After all, the king ordered church bells to be melted into cannonballs, which did not please the Catholic Church.
Regardless of whether that was true, the legend of the Makalös‘ splendor hardly faded over the centuries. Ever since the warship sank in 1564, archaeologists, historians, and treasure hunters alike have all searched tirelessly for it; all to no avail.
Then, in 2011, Johan, Richard, and their crew finally discovered the damaged remains of the warship near the coast of Swedish island Öland, just 246 feet below the surface. Best of all? It appeared to be in fairly remarkable shape!
The researchers surmised that the ship was so well-preserved because of slow currents, low sediment levels, pure water, and the absence of shipworms, which like to attach themselves to wood and destroy it by breaking it down. The men couldn’t wait to explore the cursed shipwreck!
“The 1500s is an important period… because it’s when big three-masted warships started being built. Indeed, [the ship’s] many cannons were also in remarkable condition despite their five-century slumber beneath the sea,” Johan explained to reporters.
Furthermore, in comparison to other early galleons and warships discovered through the years, the Makalös presented the best opportunity to learn, since the others had only ever been found in small fragments and pieces.
Excited to begin their research as soon as possible, Johan and Richard scrambled to find a way to bring the enormous ship to the surface without damaging it. Luckily, with the help of Ocean Discovery, they devised an innovative plan…
Utilizing a mix of photographs and three-dimensional scanning products, Ocean Discovery was able to take laser scans of the ship underwater. The scans were said to be accurate to within a fraction of an inch.
Johan and Richard planned to use these innovative methods to fully reconstruct the ship as it would have appeared prior to its sinking. With the reconstruction, the researchers hoped to learn more about how the vessel would have operated all those years ago.
“It’s not just a ship, it’s a battlefield,” Johan explained to reporters. “You’re very close to this dramatic fire on board, people killing each other, everything was burning and exploding.”
Conducting such in depth research was the true reason that archaeologists enter the field—at least, that’s what Johan and Richard believed. “In the end, I think, that’s the aim of archaeology, to discuss ourselves and the human aspects of a site,” Johan added.
As Johan, Richard, and their crew continue to conduct in-depth research on the Makalös, they hoped to learn everything they possible could about the enormous warship and the soldiers who lived onboard.
Thankfully, people like Johan and Richard dedicate their lives to learning everything they can about history. It makes it much more interesting for us to read our history books later on!
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