When this fierce and ancient sea monster last looked upon the world, Christopher Columbus was traveling the seas.
That’s the sentimental observation of marine archaeologist Johan Rönnby, one of a lucky group of scientists who’ve unearthed not just an extremely rare shipwreck, but one that had a phenomenal figurehead at its helm, Reuters reported.
The shipwreck and its sea monster emerged from the Baltic Ocean on Tuesday off the coast of Sweden. Divers were already plucking treasurers from the 15th century Danish warship, which once belonged to King Hans.
Dubbed the Gribshunden, or “Grip Dog,” the warship sailed the seas at the same time as Columbus’ Santa Maria, Discovery added. But that historic ship had nothing to compare with this sea monster — “a dragon with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth,” Rönnby said.
“There seems to be something in his mouth. There seems to be a person in its mouth and he’s eating somebody … I’m amazed, We knew that it should be a fantastic figure, but it was over our expectations when we saw it now. It’s a fantastic figure, unique in the world.”
This sea monster was meant to frighten enemies, and with a description like that, there’s no doubt it got the job done. The figurehead was most likely affixed to the prow of the warship — though the hull is damaged, the shipwreck as a whole is one of the most well-preserved from the 15th century, United Press International reported.
“No similar item from the 15th century has ever been found anywhere in the world,” Johan noted.
Historians believe the warship sunk in 1495 after it caught on fire while at anchor — it was likely on its way from Denmark to Sweden at the time. The sea monster at the shipwreck’s helm is 660 pounds and had been carved — by someone with an obviously active imagination — from the top of an 11-foot-long beam, Discovery added.
As a well-preserved and very rare shipwreck, the Gribshunden can also give archaeologists insight into shipbuilding methods of the time period — the director of a local museum, Marcus Sandekjer, noted that there are “no ships left from this time… The ship comes from a time just when Columbus was sailing across the ocean and Vasco da Gama also went to India. The wreck may give clues to the building methods used for those journeys.”
“As a preserved construction, the ship is absolutely unique. It is an archaeological example of the first generation of large carvel-built sailing ships and is the same age as Columbus’ Santa Maria, but bigger,” Rönnby added. “This gives us a chance, for the first time, of knowing what this type of 15th century ship looked like.”
For now, the shipwreck’s frightening sea monster is floating in a water bath for preservation, while archaeologists turn back to the waters of the Baltic to bring more of the ship to the surface.
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]