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Archaeology breakthrough: Divers revelled at ‘oldest shipwreck we’ve found’

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The ship, dating back to 1540, was filled with a cargo of copper plates – some of them were put on display in 2019 just after when the find was revealed. The vessel was owned by what was one of Europe’s richest banking families, the Fuggers, representing a significant historical find. The wreck was described as “the missing link” in shipping construction.

Maritime archaeologist Martijn Manders told the BBC last year: “It’s the way the ship was built that’s very interesting because you have to think 100 years later the Netherlands was in the middle of its Golden Age – and this ship is from a transition period.”

The ship was left on the seabed at which it was found by a salvage company. It is considered to be the oldest seafaring ship ever found in Dutch waters.

The story of how the ship was found is not the usual tale of a discovered shipwreck.

When 345 containers fell from merchant ship MSC Zoe into the North Sea during a storm in January last year, some spilled onto land in the subsequent days, but many more remained in the sea.

As salvage teams scoured the Dutch North Sea, their sonar equipment found an unknown object on the seabed a few miles to the north of the island of Terschelling in the Wadden Sea.

The discovery of copper cargo along three wooden planks and 12 wooden ribs from the ship’s frame shocked the divers.

Underwater archaeologist Martijn Manders said the early 16th Century ship marked a period of transition in medieval history, when shipbuilders moved away from the traditional clinker-type model of overlapping timber.

This ship too had elements of the old period, but featured the newer carvel system, with a hull made of planks flush at the seams.

Experts believe the 30m by 7m ship could have been carrying as much as 5,000kg (five tonnes) of copper.

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Mr Manders continued: “It was filled with copper plates, which have the stamp of the Fugger family – one of the richest families in the world.”

“They were financing emperors and kings so they were enormously rich. They pushed away the Hanseatic traders so they hired Dutch ships to avoid working with them.”

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