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Renaissance-era ship found mostly intact at bottom of Baltic Sea

The discovery marks the first time anyone has seen an almost entirely preserved Age of Discovery vessel since the 16th century.

By Sommer Brokaw

July 23 (UPI) -- Scientists said they have found a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea that's remained largely intact after five centuries.

Archaeologists discovered the vessel at a depth of more than 393 feet, some 100 miles southeast of Stockholm. Its masts still stand and two swivel guns are in firing positions -- suggesting it may have been sunk in a previously unknown naval battle. Scientists said the ship is about 52-60 feet long and was located in waters between Sweden and Estonia.

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Because the vessel is in such good shape, experts date it to the Renaissance era -- around the 15th or early 16th century, the time of explorer Christopher Columbus and painter Leonardo da Vinci.

The ship's precise origin is unknown, and it's from a time before the naming of ships was common, scientists said. For now, it's been labeled Okant Skepp, or "Unknown Ship" in Swedish.

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An international team of scientists, including archaeologists from the University of Southampton and maritime archaeologists with survey company MMT, are studying the wreck.

"It's almost like it sank yesterday -- masts still in place and hull intact," archaeologist Rodrigo Pancheco-Ruiz said Friday. "Still on the main deck is an incredibly rare find -- the tender boat, used to ferry crew to and from the ship, leaning against the main mast. It's a truly astonishing sight."

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They say the vessel was most likely built between 1490 and 1540 and could have sunk during Sweden's war of independence or the Russo-Swedish War. The ship, which is the best preserved vessel ever found from Europe's Age of Discovery, is of a Northern European design.

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The size of the ship, shape of the bow, design of the anchors and masts and rigging are similar to those of Columbus' two smaller vessels, the Pinta and La Nina, which he used to cross the Atlantic and discover the Americas in 1492.

The first clue of the boat's location came a decade ago when side-scan sonar revealed something unusual at the site. Workers returned earlier this year to survey the seafloor and lay a natural gas pipeline.

"It's amazing," Pancheco-Ruiz told the New York Times. "We're still a little bit over the moon."

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Video footage of the shipwreck marks the first time anyone has seen an almost entirely preserved Age of Discovery vessel since the 16th century. Experts say its good condition is the result of 500 years in cold, low-oxygen sea waters of the Baltic deep.

The wreck is the second recent discovery of a missing vessel. French navy officials and U.S. explorers announced this week they have found a submarine missing for 51 years.

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