A Cursed 16th-Century Swedish Warship Reveals ‘Missing Link’ and a Trove of Treasure and Bones
by Owen James Burke
A 3D photomosaic of the Mars, accurate to 0.08 inches (Composite Photograph: Tomasz Stachura/Ocean Discovery)
The 450-year-old shipwreck has revealed silver and gold coins, and the value of one of which has been estimated at over $40,000, but among the remarkably preserved remains of the ship are also the remarkably preserved remains of over 800 sailors and soldiers.
Researchers have spent years scouring the Baltic Sea and trying to track where the Mars may have been, but it wasn’t until 2011 when a team of archaeologists found her 246 feet beneath the waves.
The Mars, named for the Roman god of war, is believed to have been the biggest warship of her time, but she went down in flames during battle in the Seven Years War (1564), taking 800-900 sailors and a fortune in silver and gold along with her.
Naval historians know quite a bit about 17th-century warships, but 16th-century ships are important because they were the first big three-masted warships to be built. Other 16th-century warships have been located, but only in part (the English flagship Mary Rose, for example, which sank during a battle in 1545). The site is remarkably well preserved, and it’s been decided that this is by far the most intact wreck from the time period.
There are even “quite a few human remains down there, making the wreck site even more erie to dive,” says diver and cinematographer Richard Lundgren, who himself has spent 20 years, or the better part of anyone’s career seeking out the site.
Together with Johan Rönnby, a professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University in Sweden, Lundgren is building a 3D photomosaic of the wreck in order to decide how to proceed, because raising the ship would cost entirely too much, and pose far too big a risk (financially, historically, and perhaps spiritually).