The discovery and excavation of a late medieval Scandinavian-built clinker wreck in Bremen
The rescue excavation of the Beluga Ship (named after the company whose headquarters were built here, i.e. Beluga Shipping) was carried out in March 2007 under immense time pressure. Before the wreck was recovered and prepared for PEG-conservation, an in situ documentation was made in only two days, in which the major features were recorded. Time and circumstances did not allow a more comprehensive recording, but nevertheless it was possible to observe a great number of details to make preliminary conclusions. While the excavation itself took the least time, more work is invested in putting the wreck into its context locally, and internationally.
Although the remains are by no measure visually impressive, as only 8 strakes and the fragmented keel and stem are preserved, this find has some very remarkable details:
- The planks were fastened with rivetted square-shanked nails
- the constructional method is reminiscent of Scandinavian shipbuilding: clinker planks were connected by rivets and luted with tarred wool.
- the planks were radially cleft wainscot planks of the highest quality oak, virtually knotless. Their height and thickness is therefore much lower than in sawn planks, yet strong enough as the wood’s grain and vascular rays are left unharmed.
- according to the dendrological analysis there are two groups of planks: The first has a Baltic provenance with felling dates up to the late 14th century and the second has a local provenance with felling dates in the second quarter of the 15th century. The first were probably imported as wainscot and the second most likely stem from subsequent repairs.
- all frames had been removed, arguably for re-use. This is not surprising, since the wreck has been scrapped at Bremen’s Teerhof – the old shipbuilding site – only about 20 metres away from a slipway and another medieval wreck.
The in situ plan of the Beluga Ship shows the inner side of the starboard planking. On this drawing a loose plank from the second strake was not included and thus the wreck does not show in its maximum extent of 7m. The symbols for the connection elements are slightly magnified.
- Zwick, D. A fifteenth-century shipwreck with Scandinavian features from Bremen. Interpreting the Beluga ship in the context of late medieval clinker construction in northwestern Europe. In: N. Mehler, M. Gardiner & E. Elvestad (eds.), German Trade in the North Atlantic c. 1400–1700. Interdisciplinary Perspectives. AmS-Skrifter 27, (Stavanger 2019), 187–206.
- Zwick 2017: D. Zwick, A 15th-century shipwreck with Scandinavian features from Bremen, Germany. In: J. Gawronski, A. van Holk and J. Schokkenbroek (eds.), Ships and Maritime Landscapes. 13th International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology 8-12 October 2012, Amsterdam. Groningen: Barkhuis.
- Zwick 2010: D. Zwick, Neues vom ‘Beluga Schiff’ – ein Bremer Klinkerwrack aus dem 15. Jahrhundert. In: Nachrichtenblatt Arbeitskreis Unterwasserarchäologie 16: 62-71.
- Zwick 2008: D. Zwick, Das Beluga‐Wrack vom Bremer Teerhof. Vorläufige Untersuchungsergebnisse. In: Bremer Archäologische Blätter 7: 145-151.