Late Medieval Cog raised from the river Ijssel near Kampen in Holland
In 2012 a late medieval ship was discovered in the silt in the river Ijssel near the Dutch city of Kampen. The wooden ship is 20 meters (66 feet) long, weighs 50 tons and is a type of vessel known as a cog, a single mast flat-bottom ship. Such ships were the workhorses of the Hanseatic League’s maritime trade. However, some of the oldest wrecks of cogs have been found in Danish waters and it is believed the ship-type developed from the wider Viking ships – the Knarrs – used for trade. From mid 13th century cogs were fitted with stem rudders. It was characterised by its straight stem and sternpost and the galleys, which came to be fitted both fore and aft.
According to the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat the new-found vessel is the best preserved medieval cargo ship ever discovered in the Netherlands. Two smaller vessels, a barge and a punt, found at the same time were recovered last October, but the cog is the largest, the heaviest, the most intact and the most historically significant of the three ships. Raising it required years of advanced planning. First, the team constructed a platform and crane on the river, then they built a protective frame around the ship in order to lift it out of the water. At the same time the archeological team created 3D images of the shipwreck. Only then were the team members ready to carefully lift the boat out of the water, using a basketlike structure made of straps, crossbeams and jacks. Each strap had its own motorized control to allow perfectly precise maneuvering in response to the forces experienced in the ship. Sensors inside the ship reported on the pressure inflicted on various parts of the ship while forty motors lifted the cage and the 50 tons of oak ship within. The raising was expected to take all day, but the cog was in even better structural condition than experts realized, so they were able to lift it out of the water in a few hours. Crowds on the shore cheered when it emerged from the river for the first time in 600 years.
“The fact that we were able to raise the Ijssel cog [a type of wooden vessel] in its entirety and in one attempt is a fantastic achievement by the entire team,” said maritime archaeologist Wouter Waldus, from ArcheoProjekten in a statement. “If it can be preserved, the shipwreck might become a symbol of our rich maritime history and the Hanseatic period’s fascinating story.”
After it was raised, the cog was transported to the Nieuwland Heritage Centre in Lelystad, where the wreck is undergoing a detailed study. Its future fate will be decided in 2016. However, conservation will take at least three years, as the ship has to be dried out very slowly in order to prevent the shrinking, warping or cracking. Conservators will also attempt to reattach parts of the cog that were recovered separately.
After it has been conserved, the city of Kampen hopes to have it back. It already has a replica of a 14th century cog, but this is the real thing. As such it might become an icon of Kampen’s trade history. Kampen’s location between the Zuiderzee bay and the Rhine made it a bustling centre of trade starting in the 13th century. At its peak in the 14th and early 15th centuries, Kampen even eclipsed Amsterdam. However, with the St. Elizabeth flood and the silting of the IJssel, the city’s fortunes began to decline.
When the cog was first discovered, archaeologists thought it was deliberately sunk as a part of waterway management. On the night of November 18th-19th, 1421, the St. Elizabeth’s flood broke through the dikes of a large part of what is now the Netherlands. Due to the massive destruction of the coastal landscape, the Rhine river, which before the tidal wave had flowed into the IJssel, changed course and flowed over the Waal to the North Sea. The IJssel’s water silted up, severely hampering the commercial value of the city of Kempen. The heavy cog and smaller ships might have been sunk onto the riverbed in an attempt to narrow the width of the fairway and raise the water level to make the channel once more suitable for cargo shipping.
Accordingly, archaeologists didn’t expect to find anything inside the vessel. Much to their surprise divers discovered the ship’s galley with brick dome oven and glazed tiles. This is the first full galley ever discovered on a medieval ship. They also found a water pump, a willow twig fish trap and two pilgrim badges. However, the galley is the really important find.
After it is conserved and in stable condition, the vessel will need a permanent home. The city of Kampen is keen to have it back. It already has a replica of a 14th century cog, but this is the real thing, an icon of Kampen’s independent trade and Hanseatic League history. Kampen’s location between the Zuiderzee bay and the Rhine made it a bustling center of trade starting in the 13th century. At its peak in the 14th and early 15th centuries, Kampen was a major city eclipsing even Amsterdam. With the St. Elizabeth flood and silting of the IJssel, the city’s fortunes began to decline. The cog, therefore, is an example of Kampen’s great prosperity in its many years of service as a merchant cargo ship as well as being an example of Kampen’s loss of prosperity in the means of its demise.
A number of cogs have been found since the 19th century and in 1926 the ship was first reconstructed in Lübeck. However, it was the cog in Bremen discovered in 1962, which started the craze to reconstruct this medieval type of ship. Today, copies can be found in Lübeck, Hamborg, Bremen and Kempen. Most places, however, the upkeep of the ships has involved volunteers. At some point energy and funding have petered out and the ships have been “abandoned”. For instance two cogs built in Malmö were sold in 2013 to Västerås historiska skeppsmuseum for $15.
One of the oldest cogs has been found near Kolding in 1943. This was recently dendrochronologically dated to 1188 – 89. This is currently being conserved in order to be exhibited in Kolding. The oldest find, however, is the cog from Kollerup, dated to c. 1150. Found in 1150 it had obviously been wrecked trying to sail around Skagen at the North of Jutland. This was recently reconstructed as part of the new Hansa-museum in Lübeck.
Medieval Shipwreck Hauled from the Deep
by Tia Ghose
The Ijssel Cog being sprayed to keep wet. Foto © Freddy Schinkel, IJsselmuiden/Rijkswaterstaat, the Netherlands