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Viking Ships

Norway, along with Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, is famous for its Viking past.  Individual, autonomous districts each ruled by its own Jarl coalesced at the end of the first millennia into a larger kingdom.  As a result, overseas trade and exploration became more organized (Bent 2012).  The most famous type of Scandinavian vessel, and one of the most famous types of vessels in the world, is the Viking longship.  These vessels, propelled by oar or paddle, were used in Scandinavia long before the Vikings.  The Hjortspring, Nydam, and Sutton Hoo ships are three predecessors of the longboat (Hortspring and Nydam were found in Denmark, Sutton Hoo in England).  The longship has become an easily recognizable symbol of the Viking Age.  Not only did it carry the famous raiders throughout Europe, modifications of the longboat were the vehicles of expansion for those hoping to establish new settlements outside of Scandinavia (such as on the northern islands of Scotland, the east coast of England, scattered throughout Ireland, and in Normandy, France) (Crumlin-Pedersen, 2010).

The intact Viking longships that have been discovered in Norway, such as the Oseberg and Gokstad vessels, are some of the largest and most complex artifacts ever recovered by archaeologists in Norway.  Other, less intact vessels have been discovered, such as the Tune ship now housed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo along with the Oseberg and Gokstad ships.  These boats were all found as part of elite burials rather than shipwrecks.  In addition to the boats themselves, information about seafaring can be found in the sagas and laws preserved from Norway and Iceland’s Viking period.  Iconography preserved on the Gotland picture stones, coins, or town seals has also been helpful in reconstructing life at sea in the medieval period (Christensen, 1982; 20-21).

In addition to the Tune, Oseberg, and Gokstad boat burials found near Oslo, there have been other Viking ship finds in recent years.  In 1970, a shipwreck was excavated at Klåstad in Vestfold; despite its fragmentary condition, it was later reassembled at the museum in Tønsberg. Another small medieval wreck was excavated at Sørenga, in Oslo’s medieval harbor, and at Sjøvollen in Asker on Oslo fjord’s western side.  Fragments of other vessels were uncovered at Bryggen in Bergen (Christensen, 1982; 24).

Iconography indicates that Viking ships were rigged with a single mast placed amidships and fitted with a square sail until after AD 1400 (Christensen, 1982; 26).  But when did the Vikings adopt the sail? Carvings on the stones in Gotland from AD 700 provide some of the best Scandinavian evidence for sails.  The earliest example of the T-shaped keel (a strong keel is integral to supporting the mast) can be found on the Kvalsund ship from approximately AD 700 (Their, 2003; 184).  To date, the Oseberg and Gokstad vessels are the only Viking ships to retain evidence of rigging.  Oseberg, buried in AD 834, is the oldest.  Mast-steps have been found on these vessels as well as the Skuldelev wrecks from Denmark.  The mast-step, which supported the mast and could stretch to cover as many as half of the frames, replaced the keelson in Viking shipbuilding.  The strength of the mast-steps suggests that the Viking boats were rigged with free standing masts (Roberts, 1990; 124-126).

Laced Boats

The laced boats of Scandinavia, sometimes called sewn boats, consist of overlapping clinker-style wooden planks.  Laced boats have been found in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia.  In general, widespread use of these vessels predates the 4th century AD.   In some parts of Scandinavia, laced vessels existed side by side with the riveted clinker hulls, likely due to specialized function or lack of iron nails (Westerdah, 1985).

At least 14  laced boats have been found in Norway, many of them in the far north.  It is very likely that those boats found in northern Norway were built by Saami boat builders, the native people of northern Scandinavia (Westerdah, 1985).  Based upon an analysis conducted of the Scandinavian laced boat finds prior to 1985, Christer Westerdahl published a preliminary ethnic classification of laced boat building traditions.  He determined that the Scandinavian Iron Age tradition was characterized by lightly built vessels laced in running stitches with bast or gut strings.  They were calked with wool or animal hair drenched in tar.  The craft were generally used inshore on the Atlantic coast, though could also be found on the inland waterways of the Baltic coast.  They date from the 3rd century BC to the 9th century AD and include such famous vessels as the Hjortspring boat from Denmark (ca. 300 BC), Norway No. 12 Valderøy (ca. AD 250) and Norway No. 5 Halsnøy (ca. AD 350).

Treenails do not appear in Scandinavian boat building (though they may have been utilized in other forms of woodworking) until they were used to plug the lacing holes to stop water from leaking into the boat.  They may have replaced the lacing entirely, though there is not presently much evidence for this. Alternately, lacing was replaced by iron nails.  In some cases, such as with the Sand boat from Norway, iron nails and lacing coexist in the same boat.  The transition from lacing to treenails and iron nails was likely varied for different regions in Scandinavia and more boat finds are necessary to shed light on the transitional process  (Westerdah, 1985).  Though tree roots and branches were used to lace vessels from Sweden, Finland, and Estonia, bast strings, horse hair, cobbler’s thread, reindeer sinews, and gut string were used to lace the boats from Norway.  It should be noted that the not all of the boat finds have had their laces analyzed; very few vessels have had their caulking material analyzed. Laced boat Norway No. 5 from Halsnoy had a tar-drenched woolen textile, while tarred animal hair, tarred moss and birch bark, and resin were used in other parts of Denmark.

For more information about the citations, a short bibliography about Norwegian Seafaring can be downloaded here.

Petroglyphs – Evidence of the First Norwegian Boats

The first evidence of boats in Norway is in the form of petroglyphs – the rock carvings created by prehistoric people from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages.  In fact, the only evidence of Bronze Age seafaring is in the form of petroglyphs – there have been no boat finds from this period.  Unfortunately, petroglyphs are very difficult to date.  Some of the oldest petroglyphs in the world were discovered at Slettnes on the northern Island of Soroya in northern Norway.  Due to sea level changes, the carvings of people, animals, and four boats can be securely dated to between 8,000 and 10,000 years before present.  Some of the carvings are detailed enough that structural features of boats, such as a raking or rounded sterns, can be determined.  One of the boats is clearly a fishing vessel, with a fishing line connected to a large fish (Sigfried, Stolting, 1997:).  It is likely that the crafts depicted in the petroglyphs were skin boats – a frame of wood with the tanned hide of an animal wrapped around it.  The waters upon which these vessels were used could become very rough at times.  Though it might have been possible to utilize a logboat on the open sea, a skin craft could be built with a broader beam, and thus be more stable.  Though logboats may have existed at the same time, they were used in different places and for different purposes (Brogger and Shetlig, 1951).

For more information about the citations, a short bibliography about Norwegian Seafaring can be downloaded here.

Shuttle Columbia


On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia and her seven crewmen were lost while reentering the atmosphere. Material from the Shuttle was scattered over a large area of the western United States and became the subject of an intensive recovery effort spearheaded by NASA.

ProMare was contracted by Lockheed Martin, Inc. in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emergency Response Team (EPA/ERT), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the field. Personnel from ProMare served as EPA/FEMA Sonar Data Analysts for the recovery effort, concentrating their search in the lakes and rivers of eastern Texas.

While Phoenix International and the US Navy Supervisor of Salvage eventually assumed responsibility for the underwater recovery efforts, ProMare was asked to remain on-site to continue analyzing data with the SUPSALV/Phoenix team. It was an honor to have been called in to support the EPA, FEMA, Phoenix, SUPSALV, and NASA during this tragic time. Our thoughts continue to be with the families of those who died serving not only their country, but all of mankind’s dreams.

The Georgia Gold Rush


On October 21, 1876, the steam barge Chestatee sank on the Chestatee River near the gold town of Dahlonega, GA.  The barge was used to deploy a diving bell that could house two men digging on the river bottom for gold.  Local divers explored the wreck in the 1980’s and recovered the bell in 1983.  It sat on the banks until 2010 when it was sent to conservation by a local philanthropist.  Conservation was completed in 2012 and it is now on display in downtown Dahlonega.

The wreck of the Chestatee remains on the bottom of the shallow river that runs through the Achasta golf club just outside of Dahlonega.  During the week of June 4, 2012, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Underwater Archaeology team spent four days dredging and recording the site.  ProMare archaeologist Lindsey Thomas joined them for the field work and focused on recording the wreck and creating an AutoCad plan of the site.  The Chestatee  is a simple, square barge with all machinery (boiler and engine) recovered sometime in the vessel’s past.  It does retain the signature diving bell deployment well that is positioned amidships.  Approximately 50% of the site was recorded during the field season and a great deal was learned about the vessel.


For more information about the wreck and our partners, visit the sites below

Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division, Underwater Archaeology

The Chestatee Diving Bell Barge

2016-07-04T11:31:51+00:00Georgia|0 Comments

A Gold Rush Adventure

During the Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1897), thousands of men and women made the treacherous journey north into the wilderness of Canada’s Yukon Territory to try their luck in the gold fields. Albert Goddard, an intrepid businessman and his equally brave wife and colleagues decided to join the rush. However, they didn’t plan to pan for gold. Instead, they formed the Upper Yukon Company and built several small steamboats that they would use to transport hopeful miners to the gold fields.

What ensued was a fantastic story of human perseverance and ingenuity in the face of enormous odds. The Klondike gold fields, located outside of the newly formed Dawson City, were in the middle of the wilderness, hundreds of miles from the sea. Access to the gold fields was provided by the Yukon River – a long, easier route would take one around Alaska and into the Yukon from the west, whereas the quicker route would come from the south. The group wisely chose the quicker route that allowed them to beat the winter freeze-up that would halt the Yukon River. The downside, however, was that this route required them to carry their two steamboats over the mountains until they could reach the headwaters of the Yukon River.

The Upper Yukon Company’s perseverance in the face of great odds allowed them to be the first to run a small steamboat on the Upper Yukon River and to reach the gold fields before any other steamboats from either the south or the west. The small boats that Albert Goddard designed and had constructed in San Francisco were disassembled, loaded onto a steamship to be taken to Skagway, carried over the mountains on the backs of men and horses, rebuilt in the wilderness on the shore of a frozen lake, and then steamed down the river to the gold fields when the ice broke in the summer of 1898. Albert Goddard recorded this adventure with his camera, and with the kind permission of his great-niece Fay Goddard, the slide show of his photos can be seen to the right (hovering your mouse over the image will give more information about the image).


The A.J. Goddard is on the Yukon Register of Historic Places. Check it out here.

More great images of the ship can be found on the National Geographic website here.

The A.J. Goddard Project in the news

The A.J. Goddard  was

National Geographic published an article here.

CBC News published an article here.

The L.A. Times published an article here.

National Geographic has posted a short underwater video here.

The  Vancouver Sun has published an article here.

The Whitehorse Star has published an article here.

The A.J. Goddard is on the list of National Geographic’s top ten finds of 2009.  Click here for more.

2017-03-02T10:53:41+00:00Canada|0 Comments



In 2002, ProMare and CNANS (Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica E Subaquática) has surveyed the seafloor near Cascais in Portugal to locate the archaeological remains of the Clipper Ship Thermopylae. After only a brief survey at sea a large shipwreck was detected using a side-scan sonar. Archaeologists from CNANS have subsequently verified this sonar target as the Thermopylae, after a diving visit to the site.

Thermopylae (1868) was the second composite ship built at Walter Hood’s shipyard. The vessel had wooden planking but iron frames. Composite ships were cheaper to build and had a greater capacity for cargo. Cargo capacity would have been quite important as Thermopylae was intended for the tea and wool trades.

Thermopylae soon gained a reputation for speed. On its maiden voyage, the vessel sailed to Melbourne, Shanghai and Foochow, breaking records on each leg of the journey. Thermopylae’s greatest rival was Cutty Sark but it is uncertain which vessel was faster. The two sailed together from Shanghai in 1872 but Cutty Sark’s rudder was carried away, ending the contest.

Despite its fame as a tea clipper, Thermopylae more often sailed to Australia in the wool trade. The ship continued to make these voyages until 1890 when Thermopylae was sold to Canadian owners. In later years, Thermopylae was bought by the Portuguese Navy and renamed Pedro Nunes. The vessel was converted to a coal hulk and finally sank in 1907.

General Bibliography about Thermopylae:

Crosse, John: Thermopylae and the Age of Clippers. Historian Publishers, Vancouver, 1968.

Crosse, John: Thermopylae v. Cutty Sark: The 1872 Official Logs. Mariner’s Mirror Vol. 60, London, 1974. pp 63-72, 1 plate.

Day, Thomas Fleming: “Designs, Clipper Ship Thermopylae”, Rudder (New York: The Rudder Publishing Co) 35 (December 1919): 583–585.

Hume, Cyril L.; Armstrong, Malcolm C. The Cutty Sark and Thermopylae Era of Sail. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1987.

Matheson, Marny. Clippers for the record: The story of ship Thermopylae, S.S. Aberdeen, and Captain Charles Matheson. Melbourne: Spectrum, 1984.

2016-07-04T11:29:42+00:00Portugal|0 Comments



In 2002 Promare and CNANS (Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica E Subaquática) conducted a collaborative underwater archaeological survey of a selected segment of the Portuguese coastline near Ericeira, based on historical documents pointing to ship losses in this area, as well as on reports of scattered artifacts. Considering the range of the side-scan sonar available for the survey, the harbor regulations in Ericeira, which only allow boats to leave and arrive at a strict schedule, and the size of our team, we concentrated on a relatively small area to test our hypothesis of where a number of historically known shipwrecks might be found.

One of the best known historical accounts from the seventeenth century, by João Mascarenhas, depicts the voyage and demise of a ship named Nossa Senhora de Conceição. Built in India, the ship was loaded with a precious cargo of pepper, and other merchandise. Valuable gifts intended for the King of Portugal from the King of Persia were also on board. But most importantly, the ship was full of merchants, including Mascarenhas, who were returning to Lisbon having invested their earnings in diamonds. Conceição left Goa on March 1, 1621, and after a journey of about nine months, reached the Azores. Upon leaving Terceira, Mascarenhas reports that the ship was attacked by seventeen North African pirate ships armed with 30-40 cannons a piece. After a few days of battling its attackers in the open sea, Conceição managed to sink two of the pirate ships, but was unable to escape. She was set on fire, and foundered with most of her cargo. Surviving passengers and crew were captured by the pirates. While Mascarenhas’ memoir concentrates on his period of slavery in Algiers, it also provides very valuable information about the events that led to the capture of the ship, and consequently offers clues as to the possible location of the shipwreck. Dating to an important period in the development of ship construction technologies, this vessel, along with the two pirate ships that sank in its vicinity, would be a very valuable archaeological find.

Our survey, unfortunately, did not locate these sites. However, following the historical accounts, while assessing navigation parameters in this area based on the estimated capabilities of seventeenth century ships, was a valuable practice. Our survey benefited us in terms of understanding the routes followed by the Portuguese Indiamen in this era, and acquiring experience in working in the difficult conditions of the North Atlantic.

Esclave à Alger, Récit de captivité de João Mascarenhas (1621-1626). Paris 1993 (Chandeigne).

2016-07-04T11:29:07+00:00Portugal|0 Comments



In the winter of 2004, ProMare teamed with archaeologist Guillermo de Anda at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Merida (Mexico) to explore ritual cenotes, or sinkholes, used by the Mayan peoples as sacrificial/religious sites.  Several cenotes in proximity to the ancient site Chichen Itza had never been explored and had only recently been opened for study.

An initial reconnaissance trip to Mexico was an opportunity for the ProMare team to probe cenotes Sabak Ha, Maya for “Dark Water,” south of Merída, and Santa Maria, in the Yucatán, providing equipment and expertise to de Anda and his team of students as they developed a plan to explore these sinkholes. With some cenotes extending to depths beyond the range of regular diving (such as with Sabak Ha), ProMare initiated the use of ROVs to view the extent of, as well as the potential obstacles inside, each sinkhole. Each cenote presented unique challenges for the archaeologists, and ProMare assisted in devising specialized plans for each site, suggesting the equipment and techniques that would generate the most accurate picture of what lay beneath the surface.

ProMare continued its support of the ongoing investigation of numerous cenotes throughout the Yucatan/Merida region in 2005 providing technology and funds to uncover critical data about this important aspect of Mayan culture. The partnership between Guillermo de Anda and ProMare was chronicled in Archaeology Magazine’s Interactive Dig Series, and was featured as the cover story for the publication’s May/June 2004 issue.

2016-07-04T11:28:21+00:00Mexico|0 Comments



In July 2001 ProMare conducted an ROV survey in Malta in cooperation with INA (Institute of Nautical Archaeology), and the Malta National Museum of Archaeology. INA began a systematic survey of the Maltese archipelago in the fall of 1999, under the direction of Ayse Atauz. However, after two years of investigations in Malta, with no shipwrecks discovered in shallow water it became obvious that possible shipwrecks would be situated in relatively deep water off the coast and out of reach of conventional divers. The work in 2001 constituted the first deep water survey in Malta.

A scatter of hundreds of amphoras was located and surveyed at a depth of 100-120 meters outside the ancient harbor of Xlendi on the island of Gozo, approximately 1 mile off the coast and covering an area of 100 by 400 meters. The majority of the amphoras date from the 3rd century BC and provide the first archaeological evidence about ongoing trade during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage.

Punic settlements on Gozo indicate that Xlendi was the only sheltered anchorage on Gozo and along the western Maltese archipelago in antiquity. The multiplicity of amphoras and other ceramic artifacts at the site indicate that ships headed for the Xlendi bay were caught in the storm or otherwise wrecked; it should be noted that the estimated size of the contemporary Gozitan population makes the island an unlikely final destination.

2018-05-06T10:07:19+00:00Malta|0 Comments