A fifteenth-century shipwreck with Scandinavian features from Bremen. Interpreting the Beluga ship in the context of late medieval clinker construction in northwestern Europe

  • Daniel Zwick
Keywords: baltic timber, timber trade, timber-working, ship building, clinker


While most of this volume’s contributions trace Hanseatic influences throughout the North Atlantic, this paper examines a possible counter-influence in the shape of a medieval shipwreck discovered in Bremen in 2007, the construction of which is reminiscent of the Scandinavian shipbuilding tradition. With its radially cleft planks, inlaid wool caulking and clinkerfastenings, the wreck displays a number of features that point typologically to a vernacular Scandinavian origin. However, the planks fall into two groups outside of Scandinavia: high quality wainscot planks cut in the Baltic region in the course of the fourteenth century, and a group of locally cut timber — arguably for repairs — dating from the second quarter of the fifteenth century. This period coincides with a peak of Baltic timber export, especially wainscot for shipbuilders. Hence, the wreck is discussed within the wider context of clinker-built wrecks from this period in general and wrecks built of Baltic oak in particular. 


Alopaeus, H. and Elvestad, E. 2004. Avaldsnesskipet – et ‘nordisk’ skip fra Polen?, in T. Torfæus, Mellom Vinland og ‘Ringenes herre’, Karmøyseminaret 2004, 73–86. Karmøy: Karmøy Kommune.

von Arbin, S. 2012. A fifteenh-century bulk carrier, wrecked off Skaftö, Western Sweden, in N. Günsenin (ed.), Between Continents (Proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Istanbul 2009), 67–74. Istanbul: Ege Yayınları.

von Arbin, S. 2014. Skaftövraket – ett senmedeltida handelsfartyg. Uddevalla: Bohuslän Museum.

Auer, J. and Maarleveld, T. 2013. Skjernøysund Wreck 3: Fieldwork Report 2011 (Esbjerg Maritime Archaeology Reports 5). Esbjerg: Syddansk Universitet.

Behre, K.-E. 2013. Die Meeresspiegelschwankungen der vergangenen Jahrtausende und deren Bedeutung für das Siedlungsgeschehen an der deutschen Nordseeküste /The sea-level fluctuations over past millennia and their impact on the settlement process along the German North Sea coast. Siedlungs- und Küstenforschung im südlichen Nordseegebiet/Settlement and Coastal Research in the Southern North Sea Region 36, 13–30.

Bill, J. 1994. Iron nails in Iron Age and medieval shipbuilding, in C. Westerdahl (ed.), Crossroads in Ancient Shipbuilding (Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology), 55–64. Roskilde: Vikingeskibsmuseet.

Bill, J. 1997. Small Scale Seafaring in Danish Waters AD 1000-1600. Unpublished PhD thesis, Copenhagen: Københavns Universitet.

Bill, J. 2009a. Zwischen Kogge und Kraweel. Traditioneller Kleinschiffbau in Südskandinavien in einer Zeit der Wende, in B. Scholkmann, C. Vossler and M. Wolf (eds), Zwischen Tradition und Wandel. Archäologie des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, 251–260. Büchenbach: Verlag Dr. Faustus.

Bill, J. 2009b. From Nordic to north European – application of multiple correspondence analysis in the study of changes in Danish shipbuilding A.D. 900–1600, in R. Bockius (ed.), Between the Seas. Transfer and Exchange in Nautical Technology (Proceedings of the Eleventh International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology), 429–438. Mainz: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum.

Christensen, A. E. 1985. Boat finds from Bryggen, in A. E. Herteig, The Archaeological Excavations at Bryggen, ‘The German Wharf’, in Bergen 1955–68 (Bryggen Papers Main Series I), 47–278. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.

Christensen, A. E. 1989. Hanseatic and Nordic ships in medieval trade. Were the cogs better vessels?, in C. Villain-Gandossi, S. Busuttil and P. Adam (eds), Medieval Ships and the Birth of Technological Societies, 17–24. Valetta: University of Malta.

Coates, J. F. 1977. Hypothetical reconstructions and the naval architect, in S. McGrail (ed.) Sources and Techniques in Boat Archaeology (British Archaeological Reports 29), 215–226. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.

Crumlin-Pedersen, O. 2004. Nordic clinker construction, in F.M. Hocker and C.A. Ward (eds), The Philosophy of Shipbuilding: Conceptual Approaches to the Study of Wooden Ships, 37–63. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Crumlin-Pedersen, O. 2010. Archaeology and the Sea in Scandinavia and Britain. A Personal Account (Maritime Cultures in the North 3). Roskilde: Vikingeskibsmuseet.

Daly, A. 2007. Timber, Trade and Tree-rings. A dendrological analysis of structural oak timber in northern Europe, c. AD 1000 to c. AD 1650. Unpublished PhD thesis, Esbjerg: Syddansk Universitet.

Daly, A. and Nymoen, P. 2007. The Bøle Ship, Skien, Norway – research history, dendrochronology and provenance. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 37(1), 153–170.

Dollinger, P. 1998. Die Hanse (fifth edition). Stuttgart: Kröner.

Eckstein, D. and Wrobel, S. 2007. Dendrochronological proof of origin of historic timber – retrospect and perspectives, in K. Haneca, A. Verheyden, H. Beekmann, H. Gärtner, G. Helle and G. Schleser (eds), TRACE - Tree Rings in Archaeology, Climatology and Ecology 5 (Proceedings of the Dendrosymposium 2006, April 20th–22nd, Tervuren, Belgium), 8–20. Jülich: Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH.

Ejstrud, B. and Maarleveld, T. 2007. Et middelalderligt fragtskib – marinarkæologi i Knudedybet. Sjæklen. Årbog for Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet, 132–141. Esbjerg: Saltvandsakvariet.

Ellmers, D. 2006. Hansischer Handel mit Schiffsbauholz. Ein Beitrag zur Wörter- und Sachen-Forschung, in H.-P. Baum, R. Leng and J. Schneider (eds), Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Mentalitäten im Mittelalter, 63–78. Stuttgart: Steiner.

Elmshäuser, K. 2003. Bremen und seine Kaufleute – Konflikte und Kämpfe, in G. Hoffmann and U. Schnall (eds), Die Kogge – Sternstunde der deutschen Schiffsarchäologie, 206–233. Bremerhaven and Hamburg: Convent.

Eriksen, O. H. 2001. Dendrokronologisk undersøgelse af tømmer fra skibsvrag fundet på Dokøen, København (Nationalmuseets Naturvidenskabelige Undersøgelser rapport 23/2001). Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet.

Fawsitt, S. 2012a. Rapport: Dronning Eufemiasgate Sørenga 9 (Arkeologisk Rapport 2012, 9). Oslo: Norsk Maritimt Museum.

Fawsitt, S. 2012b. Rapport: Dronning Eufemiasgate Sørenga 10 (Arkeologisk Rapport 2012, 10). Oslo: Norsk Maritimt Museum.

Fritzbøger, B. 2004. A Windfall for the Magnates: The Development of Woodland Ownership in Denmark c. 1150–1830. Odense: Syddansk Universitet.

Godal, J. B. 1995. The use of wood in boatbuilding, in O. Olsen, J. Skamby Madsen and F. Rieck (eds), Shipshape: Essays for Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, 271–282. Roskilde: Vikingeskibsmuseet.

Goodburn, D. M. 1991. New light on early ship- and boatbuilding in the London area, in G. L. Good, R. H. Jones and M. W. Ponsford (eds), Waterfront Archaeology (Proceedings of the third international conference on waterfront archaeology held at Bristol 23–26 September 1988), 105–115. London: Council for British Archaeology.

Goodburn, D. 2003. Rare fragments of a 13th century clinker galley found in London and the use of the Irish wildwoods for shipbuilding, in C. Beltrame (ed.), Boats, Ships and Shipyards (Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Venice 2000), 289–295. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Gøthche, M. and Høst-Madsen, L. 2001. Medieval wrecks at Dock Island, Copenhagen. Maritime Archaeology Newsletter from Roskilde, Denmark 17, 28–33.

Hammel-Kiesow, R. 2002. Lübeck and the Baltic trade in bulk goods for the North Sea region 1150–1400, in L. Berggren, N. Hybel and A. Landen (eds), Cogs, Cargoes, and Commerce: Maritime Bulk Trade in Northern Europe, 1150–1400, 53–91. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Haneca, K., Ważny, T., van Acker, J., Beeckman, H. 2005. Provenancing Baltic timber from art historical objects: success and limitations. Journal of Archaeological Science 32, 261–271.

Haneca, K., Čufar, K., Beeckman, H. 2009. Oaks, tree-rings and wooden cultural heritage: a review of the main characteristics and applications of oak dendrochronology in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 36(1), 1–11.

Heinsius, P. 1986. Das Schiff der hansischen Frühzeit. Cologne and Vienna: Böhlau.

Heußner, K.-U. 1999. Wieviel fehlt? – Ein Beitrag zur Genauigkeit von dendrologischen Datierungen, in E. Cziesla, T. Kersting and S. Pratsch (eds), “Den Bogen spannen...” Festschrift für Bernhard Gramsch, 523–525. Weissbach: Beier and Beran.

Hill, T. 2004. Die Stadt und ihr Markt: Bremens Umlandsund Aussenbeziehungen im Mittelalter (12.–15. Jahrhundert). Stuttgart: Steiner.

van Holk, A. F. L. 2003. Clenched lap-strake boat finds from the Netherlands, between 1200 and 1600, in C. Beltrame (ed.), Boats, Ships and Shipyards (Proceedings of the ninth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Venice 2000), 296–305. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Jahnke, C. 2006. Dronningens skibe for kongens flåde. Dronning Dorothea af Brandenburgs skibsbygning omkring 1486. Maritim Kontakt 28, 85–94.

Kapfenberger, D. 2003. Holz und Holzhandel in Preußen von 1399–1409. Unpublished master’s thesis, Erlangen: Universität Erlangen.

Kiesselbach, T. 1901. Grundlage und Bestandteile des ältesten Hamburgischen Schiffrechts. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des norddeutschen Seehandels und Seerechts. Hansische Geschichtsblätter 28, 49–93.

Krąpiec, M. and Krąpiec, P. 2014. Dendrochronological analysis of the copper ship’s structural timbers and timber cargo, in W. Ossowski (ed.), The Copper Ship – A medieval Shipwreck and its cargo/Miedziowiec – Wrak średniowiecznego statku i jego ładunek. (Badania Archeologiczne Narodowego Muzeum Morskiego w Gdańsku 2), 143–160. Gdansk: Polish Maritime Museum.

Lahn, W. 1992. Die Kogge von Bremen. Band 1: Bauteile und Bauablauf. Hamburg: Convent.

Larsen, L. K., Baittinger, C. and Bonde, N. 2011. Reused boat timbers from Aarhus. Maritime Archaeology Newsletter from Denmark 26, 21–23.

L’Hour, M. and Veyrat, E. 1994. The French medieval clinker wreck from Aber Wrac’h, in C. Westerdahl (ed.), Crossroads in Ancient Shipbuilding (Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Roskilde 1991), 165–180. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Litwin, J. 1985. The Copper Ship of Gdansk Bay; recent discoveries from the wreck, cargo and site, in J. Heermann (ed.), Fifth International Congress of Maritime Museums Proceedings 1984, 42–49. Hamburg: Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte.

Madsen, P. K. 1999. Ribe between west and east – a North Sea harbour and its Baltic connections 700–1600, in J. Bill and B. L. Clausen (eds), Maritime Topography and the Medieval Town (Papers from the Fifth International Conference on Waterfront Archaeology in Copenhagen, 1998. PNM Series: Studies in Archaeology and History 4), 197–202. Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet.

Madsen, P. K. 2000. Ribes baltiske handelsforbindelser, in P. Ingesman and B. Poulsen (eds), Danmark og Europa i senmiddelalderen, 243–263. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

Marsden, P. 1996. Ships of the Port of London (English Heritage Archaeological Report 5). London: English Heritage.

McGrail, S. 1993. Medieval Boat and Ship Timbers from Dublin. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

McGrail, S. 1998. Ancient Boats in North-West Europe. The Archaeology of Water Transport to AD 1500. London and New York: Longman.

Milne, G. 2004. The fourteenth-century merchant ship from Sandwich: a study in medieval maritime archaeology. Archæologia Cantiana 124, 227–264.

Myrhøj, H. M. 2000. The late medieval wreck from Vedby Hage, Denmark, in J. Litwin (ed.), Down the River to the Sea (Eight International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Gdansk 1997), 229–234. Gdansk: Centralne Muzeum Morskie.

Nævestad, D. 1998. Lokaliserte middelaldervrak i Øst-Norge. Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum Årbok, 159–208.

Nayling, N. and Jones, T. 2014. The Newport medieval ship, Wales, United Kingdom. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 43(2), 239–278.

Nayling, N. and Susperrigi, J. 2014. Iberian dendrochronology and the Newport medieval ship. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 43(2), 279–291.

Nielsen, X. 2014. Dock Island’s Wreck 3: Hull Description and Comparative analysis of a Fifteenth Century Clinker Built vessel, with a Review of its Documentation Methodology. Unpublished Master’s thesis. Esbjerg: Syddansk Universitet.

Olesen, J. E. 2005. Riga und Dänemark im Mittelalter, in I. Misāns and H. Wernicke (eds), Riga und der Ostseeraum. Von der Gründung 1201 bis in die frühe Neuzeit (Tagungen zur Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 22), 180–192. Marburg: Herder Institut.

Overmeer, A. 2006. Searching for the missing link? A research on clinker built ships in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. SOJA-bundel 2006, 63–72.

Overmeer, A. 2008. Schepen van verre kusten? Overnaadse schepen in Nederland in de 15de en 16de eeuw, in R. Oosting and J. van den Akker (eds), Boomstamkano’s, overnaadse schepen en tuigage (Inleidingen gehouden tijdens het tiende Glavimans Symposion, Lelystad 2006), 41–55. Amersfoort: Glavimans Stichting.

Overmeer, A. 2009. Scheepswrak aan het Wrakkenpad. Waardestellend onderzoek van scheepswrak B 36, gemeente Nordoostpolder (Grondsporen: Opgravingsen onderzoeksrapporten van het Groninger Instituut voor Archeologie 5). Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Overmeer, A. forthcoming. Clinker-built ships in the Netherlands. PhD thesis, University of Groningen.

Pāvulāne, V. 1975. Rīgas tirdzniecība ar meža materiāliem XVII-XVIII gs. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinatnu Akademija Vestures Instituts.

Reinders, H. R. and Aalders, Y. 2007. Frisian traders and the clinker technique, in T. Arisholm, K. Paasche and T. L. Wahl (eds), Klink og seil – Festskrift til Arne Emil Christensen, 109–122. Oslo: Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum.

Reinders, H. R. and Oosting, R. 1989. Mittelalterliche Schiffsfunde in den Ijsselmeerpoldern, in W. H. Zimmerman and L. Spath (eds), Ländliche und städtische Küstensiedlungen im 1. und 2. Jahrtausend (Wilhelmshavener Tage 2), 107–122. Wilhelmshaven: Nordwestdeutsche Universitätsgesellschaft.

Sauer, A. 1996. Das Seebuch – Das älteste erhaltene Seehandbuch und die spätmittelalterliche Navigation in Nordwesteuropa (Schriften des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums 44). Hamburg: Kabel.

Schwarzwälder, H. 1994. Bremen als Hansestadt im Mittelalter. Hansische Geschichtsblätter 112, 1–38.

Steen, K. 2012. Rapport: Dronning Eufemiasgate Sørenga 8 (Arkeologisk Rapport 8, 2012). Oslo: Norsk Maritimt Museum.

Teisen, M. 1994. A medieval clinker-built wreck at Hundevika, Norway, in C. Westerdahl (ed.), Crossroads in Ancient shipbuilding (Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Roskilde, 1991), 73–76. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Thowsen, A. 1965. Foldrøyskipet: Et middelaldersk skipsfunn fra Vest-Norge. Sjøfartshistorisk Årbog, 38–57.

Tinniswood, J. T. 1949. English galleys 1272–1377. Mariner’s Mirror 35(4), 276–315.

Tossavainen, J. 1994. Dutch Forest Products’ Trade in the Baltic from the Late Middle Ages to the Peace of Munster in 1648. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Jyväskylä.

Vlierman, K. 1996. Kleine bootjes en middeleeuws scheepshout met constructiedetails (Scheepsarcheologie 2. Flevobericht 404). Lelystad: Rijksdienst voor de Ijsselmeerpolders.

van de Moortel, A. 2011. Medieval boats and ships of Germany, the Low Countries, and northeast France – archaeological evidence for shipbuilding traditions, shipbuilding resources, trade, and communication. Siedlungs- und Küstenforschung im südlichen Nordseegebiet 34, 67–104.

Ważny, T. 1990. Aufbau und Anwendung der Dendrochronologie für Eichenholz in Polen. Unpublished PhD thesis, Hamburg: Universität Hamburg.

Ważny, T. 2002. Baltic timber in Western Europe – an exciting dendrochronological question. Dendrochronologia 20(3), 313–320.

Ważny, T. and Eckstein, D. 1987. Der Holzhandel von Danzig/Gdansk – Geschichte, Umfang und Reichweite. Holz als Roh- und Werkstoff 45, 509–513.

Weidinger, U. 2002. Die Entstehung der Schlachte als mittelalterliche Hafenanlage Bremens, in K. Elmshäuser (ed.), Häfen – Schiffe – Wasserwege. Zur Schiffahrt des Mittelalters (Schriften des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums 58), 116–132. Hamburg: Convent.

Zunde, M. 1998/99. Timber export from Old Riga and its impact on dendrochronological dating in Europe. Dendrochronologia 16/17, 119–130.

Zwick, D. 2010. Neues vom ‘Beluga Schiff’ – ein Bremer Klinkerwrack aus dem 15. Jahrhundert. Nachrichtenblatt Arbeitskreis Unterwasserarchäologie 16, 62–71.

Zwick, D. 2012. Variationen in der mittelalterlichen Schiffbautechnik anhand von Wrackfunden in Bremen. Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Archäologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit 24, 283–298.

Zwick, D. 2014. Conceptual evolution in ancient shipbuilding: an attempt to reinvigorate a shunned theoretical framework, in J. Adams and J. Rönnby (eds), Interpreting Shipwrecks: Maritime Archaeology Approaches (Southampton Monographs in Archaeology New Series 4), 46–71. Southampton: Highfield Press.

Zwick, D. 2017. A 15th-century shipwreck with Scandinavian features from Bremen (Germany), in J. Gawronski, A. van Holk and J. Schokkenbroek (eds), Ships and Maritime Landscapes (Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology 8–12 October 2012, Amsterdam), 315–322. Groningen: Barkhuis.
How to Cite
Zwick, D. (2020). A fifteenth-century shipwreck with Scandinavian features from Bremen. Interpreting the Beluga ship in the context of late medieval clinker construction in northwestern Europe. AmS-Skrifter, (27), 187-206. https://doi.org/10.31265/ams-skrifter.v0i27.273
  • Abstract 333
  • pdf 211