The waters of Dalarö in the Stockholm Archipelago are extremely rich in wrecks. There are several wrecks here from the 16th to the 18th centuries. One of the more famous ones is the Dalarö wreck.

The Dalarö wreck is one of the world's best preserved 17th-century wrecks, lying at about 30 metres depth by Edesön. On and around the wreck are many objects – pottery, glass bottles, tools, weapons, parts of the rigging, and baskets and crates. What sort of ship was it and where did it come from?

It is a fairly small ship, about 20 metres long, with a hold and six gun ports. Two cannon have been found on board; one is still in its carriage on the quarterdeck and one has collapsed into the forebody. Several hand weapons have been found: two handles from rapiers, one musket and two pistols, one of which has a flintlock and was probably made in Holland in the 1660s.

Lions symbolise power

So far, archaeologists have not been able to determine what kind of ship the Dalarö wreck was. It is not certain that it was a warship, despite the cannon and other weapons found on board. It was common in that period for civilian vessels to be armed as well.

On the sea bed below the prow, archaeologists have found a figurehead in the form of a lion. It was originally attached to the stem. Lions have long been a symbol of power, and as such exclusively used by royalty and the highest-ranking nobility. In the 17th century, it would not have been just any ship that featured a lion on its stem. Might it have been a royal ship?

Investigating without harming

In the waters off Dalarö there are many old and well preserved wrecks. Now there are plans to create a diving park in the area. The idea is to allow recreational divers to visit the wrecks together with diving guides who know their cultural history. The wrecks must therefore be kept as untouched as possible, so that many people will be able to experience them first hand.

The archaeologists investigating the Dalarö wreck have therefore used methods that don't harm the area around the ship – no excavation has been done, and almost no objects have been salvaged from the wreck. Instead they have documented and investigated as much as possible on site, by diving and working underwater. A few finds have temporarily been taken to the surface for easier documentation. Then they have been put back where they were found.

Finds providing clues

Following the discovery, a small number of objects were salvaged, including a glass bottle with a seal in the shape of a coat of arms with three half moons. This feature occurs on a number of noble family crests around Europe. The shape of the glass bottle allows it to be dated to the period 1640-1670.

Some wood samples have also been taken from the wreck. They have been analysed by studying the annual rings in the wood. The results show that the timber was felled in northeast England in the 1650s. That appears to match the shape of the ship, which has some features of English 17th-century shipbuilding. The archaeologists therefore believe that the ship may have been built in England.

Another find on the Dalarö wreck was glazed vessels of a specific kind known as bellarmine or bartmann jugs. Large numbers of such jugs were manufactured in the German city of Frechen during the 17th century. They could be likened to the return bottles of later eras, and were used to transport all manner of liquids, such as wine, oil and chemicals. The jugs are decorated with a bearded face. In German "Bartmann" means "bearded man".

Archaeologists have found 15 bellarmines in the stern cabin. They were probably used for the officers' wine. Looking down into the hold, divers have been able to make out many more bellarmines, as well as coal. Since the hold has not been excavated, it has not been possible to obtain more exact knowledge of its contents. It is possible that the ship was carrying valuable liquid cargo from the Continent when it sank.

The wreck was discovered by the Marine Culture Society in 2003, and archaeologists from the Maritime Museum have investigated the site together with specialists from the University of Southampton and Södertörn University.