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Medieval wooden 'sea monster' pulled from Baltic Sea

Nothing like it has ever been recovered before, researchers say.

By
Brooks Hays
Archaeologists have raised a 500-yearold mythic figurehead from a sunken medieval warship off the coast of Sweden. Photo by Johan Ronnby/Sodertorn University
Archaeologists have raised a 500-yearold mythic figurehead from a sunken medieval warship off the coast of Sweden. Photo by Johan Ronnby/Sodertorn University

RONNEBY, Sweden, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- After hibernating on the floor of the Baltic Sea for more than 500 years, a medieval sea monster emerged from the deep.

The monster couldn't swim on its own, as it's just a piece of wood, so researchers had to help it to the surface. The mythic creature isn't just any piece of wood, however. It's the figurehead of Gribshunden, a 15th century medieval warship that belonged to Danish King Hans.

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The ship, sunk by a fire while at anchor in 1495, remains on the sea floor off the coast of Ronneby, Sweden. It's considered one of the best preserved wrecks of its time, mostly untouched by sea worms.

The newly excavated figurehead likely adorned the bow of the warship. Nothing like it has ever been recovered before, researchers say.

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''I think it's some kind of fantasy animal -- a dragon with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth. And there seems to be something in his mouth," Johan Rönnby, professor of marine archaeology at Södertörn University and director of MARIS, the university's maritime archaeological research institute, told the BBC. "There seems to be a person in its mouth and he's eating somebody."

Because most ships of its kind have been ravaged by the sea and composted by marine life, Gribshunden is rather exceptional -- a unique opportunity to learn something about the past.

"As a preserved construction, the ship is absolutely unique. It is an archaeological example of the first generation of large carvel-built sailing ships and is the same age as Columbus' Santa Maria, but bigger. This gives us a chance, for the first time, of knowing what this type of 15th century ship looked like," Rönnby said in a press release after completing the survey last month.

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