A Seagoing Ship of c1650 AD in Bessarabia, Ukraine

by Klavs Ransdborg

During the 1998 season of archaeological excavations at Suvorovo, Bessarabia, Ukraine, a seagoing wooden (pine?) vessel was located near Ismaël, in a dead arm of the Danube. The ship had come to light during digging of canals for irrigation of vegetable fields. The vessel, lying under 3+m of packed silt, is extremely well preserved. It is 30, or rather, 35m long and possibly relatively wide. All wood is sawn. A large end-piece of the keel, several boards, heavy angular (90+ degrees) supports or knees of the deck, etc. were recorded. The 1.6+m long end of the keel is from 25 to 50+cm wide, 21cm thick throughout, and carries grooves 5 cm deep for the lowermost set of boards plus a similar one for a slightly oblique, probably stern-plank. The boards are 2.3++m long, 23cm wide, and 4-5cm thick. The angular supports are up to 1.1+/0.8+m long/tall, up to 28cm wide and c15cm thick.

The nails of the ship are of iron, containing very many inclusions of slag (H. Lyngstrøm); the end is often bent 90 or more degrees. The measurements of the nails are the following. Length c13cm, diametre of the roundish head 1.9cm, width of shaft 0.8cm, thickness 0.3cm. A fair number of butterfly-shaped iron cramps (Dutch "Sintels", ref. C. Westerdahl) were also recorded, all with a length of c7cm, a width of 6cm, and a thickness of 0.5cm. These conform to the northwest European types of around 1300 AD, e.g., found on the "Kogge" (K. Vlierman Types D, cf. "Een breeuwmethode als hulpmiddel bij het dateren van scheepswrakken uit de Hanzetijd", Scheepsarcheologie I = Flevobericht 386, 1996). The slag of the iron might also indicate a relatively high age.

A high-quality C-14 date of wood from the keel, at the point as far away as possible from the centre of the log, has, however, yielded a date as late as 245+/-45 BP = c1650 AD (or slightly later). This is the Ottoman or Turkish period in Bessarabia (although the nationality of the ship is unknown). Nevertheless, the extreme degree of preservation of the wood, iron, etc. makes the ship a higly interesting specimen among the Mediterranean-Black Sea wrecks. A military function of the vessel cannot be ruled out.

At Suvorovo (cf. Archaeological Notes 1, 1998), ongoing excavations include new sections of the cross-country double-moated so-called "Trajan's Wall" (but probably of the Great Bulgarian Early Medieval period), the relevation of at least two phases of this, and a Great Bulgarian fenced complex on top of the wide wall. Other excavations include a Late Bronze Age settlement, and several kurgan barrows. Reports and manuscripts on the field-work of the past four years are translated for publication in English (Acta Archaeologica).

by Klavs Randsborg, Copenhagen University

published in Copenhagen University Archaeological Notes, 1999

publ Aug '00, rev jan '03

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