Archaeologia Maris Baltici et Septentrionalis

New publication: “Auf den Spuren des ältesten See-Itinerars der Ostsee: Eine archäologische Zeitreise”

In January 2014 the popular scientific volume “Gestrandet – versenkt – versunken: Faszination Unterwasserarchäologie” was published, which encompasses articles on current projects directly or indirectly concerned with underwater archaeology, carried out by students and staff members of the University of Kiel. I contributed a chapter on the 13th-century route description from Utlängan to Tallinn – colloquially known as King Valdemar’s Itinerary – which is one of the oldest and most exiting written sources on navigation in the Baltic Sea.

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Re-used planks, compass timber and sintels from Harburg’s merchant quarters

At the Schloßstraße excavation

In the ongoing excavation in Harburg’s medieval merchant quarters at Schloßstraße, a great quantity of caulking clamps (sintels) and several reused planks and compass timbers have been unearthed adjacent to the town canal. The preservational conditions are outstanding and the sheer quantity of caulking clamps will undoubtedly  contribute to the refinement of the sintel-typology.

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Hanseatic Trade in the North Atlantic

Computer simulation of the anchorage of the Hanseatic trade post of Avaldnes (source: Avaldsnes and the Hanseatic League Facebook Group)

On 28. May – 1. June 2013 the conference Hanseatic Trade in the North Atlantic became the venue for archaeologists and historians from Austria, Denmark (i.e. the Faroese Islands), Germany, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom (incl. the Shetland Islands) and the United States. The occasion for the location and theme of this conference was prompted by the recent discovery of a Hanseatic trading post and a shipwreck in Avaldsnes, some 100 km further south to Bergen. While historical sources remain mute on this trading post, highlighting instead the importance of the Tyskebryggen in Bergen, an international team of archaeologists under the direction of Natascha Mehler (University of Vienna) and Endre Elvestad (Maritime Museum Stavanger) drew attention to this site, proving that surprising new discoveries can be made in the field of historical archaeology, despite the written record is comparatively good for this period. “Hanse Archaeology” itself is a new chapter and set new impulses for Hanse historians for re-evaluation of the sources in the light of these new discoveries. The symbiosis of archaeology and history proved once again interesting and necessary, although the opening statement by the Hanse historian Stuart Jenks on “Interdisciplinary: Who are we kidding?” pinpointed the many pitfalls in pooling two fields dedicated to the same period of interest, but seperated by distinctive methodologies and approaches. Click here to view the conference flyer.

13th International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology

Group photo of ISBSA 13 participants in front of the BATAVIA reconstruction, a Dutch East India Company ship built 1628 (Photo: Ton Hendriks)

On 8.-12. October the 13th International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology (ISBSA) was held in Amsterdam, on naval premises next to the Dutch Maritime Museum. Aside from meeting friends & colleagues, one highlight was the excursion to the BATAVIA (1628) reconstruction in Lelystad. On this principle international conference – taking place only every three years at varying venues – new research on shipwrecks from all over the world and from all periods is presented. I contributed to the poster session with a case study from Bremen, introducing and re-evaluating three distinctively constructed shipwrecks from high/late medieval times. The poster can be downloaded in full resolution. A more detailed article on these finds will appear in print in the ISBSA proceedings.

Winter school ‘Hanseatic History as Regional History’


On 20.-25. February 2012 a Winter School on “Hanseatic History as Regional History” was hosted by the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald. Historians dedicated to Hanseatic history and a number of archaeologists flocked together to this event, which started with a series of conventional lectures by the most distinctive scholars in this field and followed by more informal sessions of student exchange. Even more so than archaeologists, historians are fixated on the exact and holistic definition of terms and methodological approaches, so – to untrained ears – the generically sounding “regional history” encompassed in fact quite an oppositional approach to other histories and was – not surprisingly – also intertwined with the topical issues of today, like the current political landscape of the European Union of regions rather than nation states. Although I tend to be suspicious whenever politics (and selective funding) tend to influence the narrative, in the case of the Hanseatic League this approach is absolutely justified. Also in archaeological terms, it was deemed difficult to associate material culture explicitly to a  ”Hanseatic identity”. The general tone of the debate suggested that it was by no means a homogeneous identity at all, but largely bound to regional traditions, naturally often stemming from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, but not exclusively so. For a more detailed report on the papers, please visit this website.

Guest-speaker Dr. Damian Goodburn in Kiel

Damian Goodburn in front of the Kiel reconstruction of the Bremen Cog of 1380

Still remembering an awe-inspiring experimental weekend at Buckler’s Hard in New Forest few years ago, encompassing old-style timber conversion with prehistoric and medieval tools under the guidance of Dr. Damian Goodburn, my proposal to invite him as guest speaker to our graduate school’s bi-weekly colloquium was accepted.  On 13. February, finally, the Museum of London’s woodwork specialist visited Kiel to give a lecture on the topic “How Selected Boat & Ship Finds and Timber Structures can Help us Reconstruct Ancient Extinct Wooded Landscapes”.

What has maritime archaeology actually to do with landscapes? Terribly much! Forestry – or the management of woodlands – is not a modern practise. Particularly the choice of timber in terms of species and growth patterns highlights its importance for ancient shipbuilding – be it compass timber from crutches for knees or planks from cleft logs – the highly selective use of timber has been a striking feature throughout the ages. The quality and workmanship are a direct reflection of the local economy, the availability of resources, cost-benefit assessments and – not least – of the cultural tradition and social affiliation. Apart from the significance of early arboricultural pracises for ancient shipbuilding, the findings of maritime and wetland archaeologists are highly relevant to other scientists dealing with ancient landscapes, amongst other, paleao-botanists and archaeologists in general, for ancient wood can only survive in waterlogged conditions – sealed off in an anearobic milieu und thus relatively unharmed by biological deterioation processes. Damian’s paper dealt with a multitude of these aspects from a diachronic perspective and regional case studies across Europe. His abstract can be found here.

2nd Baltic Workshop for PhD Researchers in Maritime Archaeology

Soumenlinna – the Gibraltar of the North (Photo: M. Pise – Wikipedia Commons)

On 18.-20. November the 2nd ‘MARIS Workshop for PhD Researchers in Maritime Archaeology’ was hosted by our Finnish colleagues at the UNESCO world heritage site Soumenlinna: “the Fortress of Finland” – or until 1809 known as Sveaborg: ”the Fortress of Sweden”. This impressive sea fortress – often referred to as the “Gibraltar of the North” – provided the right setting for our maritime-themed sessions. The meeting was dedicated on ongoing doctoral research projects in the field of maritime archaeological from the Danish, Finnish, German, Lithuanian and Swedish shores of the Baltic Sea and – this time – the workshop reached out westwards to include also recent fieldwork from the North Sea and Irish Sea, with the sensational find of the well-preserved Doel Cog from Belgium and a clinker-built vessel from Ireland.

After the session we visited Soumenlinna’s Museum, where some finds from underwater archaeological campaigns is on display, like some shot and lead weights from the Swedish man-o-war KRONPRINS GUSTAV ADOLF. Underwater footage of the largest submerged timber structure was shown, with which the Swedish sought to block off navigable channels to Helsinki during the Russo-Swedish wars. Currently a gunboat is reconstructed after the plans of the renowned Swedish shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman. Last not least, we visited the largest historical dry dock in the world, which construction began as early as 1750, and which is still in use for historical vessels.



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