Nowhere else in the world are there as many well-preserved wooden wrecks as in the Baltic Sea. Tens of thousands of ships and boats rest on the sea bottom. Wrecked for different reasons, carrying different loads and bound for different destinations, they rest quietly here like time capsules from different epochs. The wrecks have many stories to tell about the history of the Baltic countries, and more and more of them are being discovered thanks to new technology. In 2021, a new museum dedicated to this underwater cultural heritage will open on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm: VRAK - Museum of Wrecks.
The Maritime Museum brought the history of wrecks to the surface
Maritime archaeology is about investigating objects and other remains that people have left behind in the water – on the seabed and in lakes, near shorelines and on islands. It helps us better understand the societies that existed before us. Maritime archaeology is a fairly new science. It developed in Sweden during searches for the Vasa ship in the 1950s and the following surveys and salvaging of the ship. The Maritime Museum was given responsibility for the Vasa. Ever since then, maritime archaeology has become an increasingly prominent part of the Maritime Museum’s activities. In recent times, a wide range of fantastic discoveries have been made along our coasts. The Vasa Museum in its present form opened in 1990, and soon maritime archaeology will have its own museum next door. And in 2021 Museum of Wrecks will open on Djurgården. Our maritime archaeologists have already started working under the flag of the new museum.
The Baltic Sea – An underwater museum
Ever since the end of the Ice Age close to 10,000 years ago, people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea. People who have sailed, hunted and waged war. Traces of their activities remain under the sea’s surface. There, wrecks and other remains are preserved. These objects constitute a cultural heritage – a memory of our history – that we share with all the people who live around the Baltic Sea. Nowhere else in the world are there as many well-preserved wooden wrecks. The reason why they are so well-preserved is that the shipworm does not thrive in the Baltic Sea’s brackish waters. Shipwrecks here can look just like they did when the ships sank, even though several hundred years have gone by. To date we know of about 20,000 wrecks involving vessels both large and small, but archaeologists believe that far more are still undiscovered.
Key pieces of the puzzle in the Maritime Museum collections
New technology has made it easier to find and investigate shipwrecks. But in order to locate and identify a wreck and to understand the entire history of a ship, we also need to search in archives and libraries to find pieces of the puzzle that fit. The Maritime Museum is a knowledge bank of resources, containing documents, drawing and photo archives, and object collections, and it provides expertise on ships and their history, context, function and technical development. And stories about the people on land and on board.
A new museum on Djurgården
Vrak – Museum of Wrecks will become a new public forum linking the expertise and collections of the Maritime Museum, Vasa Museum and Naval Museum with information gathered from field work like sonar surveys, dives and samples. This way, the new museum can bring the full story of the ships’ different destinies to the surface. And by using new technology, visitors can travel along down to the bottom of the Baltic Sea and its remains. The museum is set to open in late 2020 in Boat Hall 2 close to the Vasa Museum.
Follow the maritime archaeologists at Vrak – Museum of Wrecks
The Maritime Museum, Vasa Museum, Naval Museum and Vrak – Museum of Wrecks, together with the Railway Museum and various transport history collections, are part of the Swedish National Maritime and Transport Museums (SMTM). As of November 2019, the maritime archaeology activities will fall under the management of the new museum. This means that Vrak – Museum of Wrecks will serve as a new home for our collective expertise in maritime archaeology, including consultancy services and reporting. For more information and contact details, please visit the new museum's website.