Underwater Archaeology

In 1960, when the Polish Maritime Museum formally came into existence, it had to start right from scratch, having neither a collection nor a building to house it. Most of historical maritime collections were completely devastated during the 2nd WW. In this situation the first director of the Museum, Przemysław Smolarek, decided to take up the underwater investigations. In the first step he resolved to study the sources concerning Gdańsk Bay which is a kind of natural protection for potential finds and one of the simplest places for inexperience divers. Gdańsk Bay was also a roadstead for the port of Gdańsk. As the entrance to the port was fairly difficult, many accidents happened there.

In the end of 60ies our Museum started to cooperate with sport divers. Work of a training character commenced in 1968. The first object was the wreck of the sailing ship "Helena". Wrecks located during searches, as well as notified by fishermen or Marine Office, were entered on an inventory chart and marked: W-1, W-2 etc. Each wreck has its own documentation.

After short time director Smolarek decided to establish a special Underwater Research Centre within the framework of the Museum. In 1973, the Museum obtained the first research vessel to its own - the old cutter "Modra Woda". She was working until 1975 and then was replaced by similar vessel "Wodnik". In 1984 Museum received a ship from Polish Navy Rescue Service and gave her a name "Kaszubski Brzeg". The museum also established its own laboratory and conservation workshop specializing in conservation of object raised from the water.

Until now our team has been working on more then thirty wreck’s sites in Gdansk Bay. Very special site we have been working on since 1990 is early-medieval port of Puck. We were working also on land excavation in Tolkmicko in 1980-1982.

The last find which we had is wreck of English sailing ship "General Carleton" which was sunk in 1785 about 300 m from the shore near small village D´bki.

In 1995 we opened new research subject "The inventory of Polish logboats". The result of this work is a book "Study on logboats from Poland" by Waldemar Ossowski.



The team of the Polish Maritime Museum’s underwater archaeologists and skin-divers has been working on more then 30 wreck sites. Wrecks, located during searches as well as notified by fishermen or Marine Office, were entered on an inventory chart and marked: W-1, W-2 etc. Most of them are wrecks of sailing ships from 17th and 18th century- for example wrecks situated close to the enter of Gdansk Harbour (W-21, W-23, W-25) or W-27 which is probably a part of Dutch cargo ship from the end of 18th century. Two wrecks (W-5 and W-6) appeared to be the most important underwater sites in Polish archaeology.

W-5 "copper ship" (Miedziowiec)

Whilst building Gdańsk North Port two wrecks were discovered by Polish Ship Salvage Co. One of them was lying at the depth of 16 m. The cargo included a considerable quantity of crude copper in oval slabs, hence this wreck was called a "copper ship'" and she was marked W-5. The Polish Maritime Museum made excavations on the site in 1971-1975. The wreck was lying on a sandy bottom outlined as a regular concretion with some wooden elements among the cargo. It was about 16 meters long and 6 meters wide. The cargo was covered with a hard, fossil-like substance which was a mixture of tar and iron ore from the cargo and the sand from the bottom. This layer protected all objects inside the concretion as well as being the reason for considerable difficulties in underwater work. The cargo was lying on a part of the starboard side of the ships. Part of it still remains as it was stowed originally. In 1975 the main part of the wooden structure of the wreck was raised onto the Museum barge and transported to Gdańsk.

W-5 is the best-preserved medieval wreck with cargo to be found in Poland. The ship was carrying basic items — primarily forestry and mining products. The cargo included copper in 'slabs' from Hungary, iron ore and bundles of iron bars fastened with brass bands, forestry products like oak planks, staves for the production of barrels, barrels of pitch, birch tar, wood ash, resin and wax. Finally more than 3,000 objects were found on 'the copper wreck'.

The construction of the ship is also very interesting and includes transverse beams, the stern of which protrude beyond the ship side which was characteristic of the final phase of the Middle Ages or the 16th century. The wreck was dated by C-14 as coming from the 1st half of the 15th century. The sinking of the ship might have been caused by fire.



The wreck was discovered in 1969 by divers from the Polish Salvage Company. It was recognized as a Swedish warship "Solen" which had sunk during the battle of Oliwa on November 28, 1627. She was probably a 150-last galleon built of oak, with caravelbuilt planking, armed with 38 guns. Her crew consisted of 53 men.

The wreck was lying at the depth of 18 meters on a sandy, flat bottom. The find comprised the remains of a wooden structure of a sailing ship, whose bottom part, filled with stone and sand ballast, was intact. About 6,000 objects were recovered from the W-6 wreck. The most valuable find was a group of cannons. They were all cast in bronze, mainly in Sweden, in the second half of the sixteenth century and in the beginning of the 17th century. Among them there were two Polish cannon, one of them made in 1560 for king Zygmunt August (1548-1572).

The findings also included gun carriages, cannon-balls of various types, powder spoons, fragments of side-arms and fire-arms, musket shots and a collection of several score powder horns (in leather sheaths) etc. Another group of artefacts were the personal effects of the sailors, such as fragments of leather jackets, boots, gloves, hats, leather belts, clay pipes, ink-pots, boxes and leather purses with coins. Moreover, the find included a beautiful collection of Swedish silver and copper coins, the so-called Klippingar 1- and 2-ore. There were also other relicts which merit mentioning: human and animal bones, navigation instruments, kitchen and table utensils, barrels for victuals, tools belonging to the ship’s craftsmen and sailmaker, elements of rigging and fittings, sculptured elements, etc.


Tolkmicko I

Tolkmicko is a small town, situated on the shore of the Vistula Lagoon in the northern part of Poland, well known for a local boat-building tradition. In 1969 fragments of wrecks were found at the bottom of a drainage ditch about 300m from the present shoreline of the Lagoon.

In 1980-1982 the Polish Maritime Museum carried out archaeological excavations in the course of which five wrecks were found. The first and best-preserved one was Tolkmicko I dated by C 14 at 1550+/-80. The keel was made from a single straight oak trunk, twelve meters long. The only thing to be preserved was the stern-post. This wreck bears some resemblance to the wreck from Frombork which was reconstructed by Heydeck as 'a Viking ship'. Both the Frombork and Tolkmicko finds were flat-bottomed with relatively low sides. Both were clinker-built, two strakes of the planking on either side of the keel formed the bottom. The third formed a transition from the floor to the side proper, which in turn consisted of 4 strakes. Both of them were built on a keel and some of their uniform floor-timbers and frames were made from natural-grown crook. Both craft were sailing vessels with identical sail-masts. The Frombork ship was the older of the two but it can hardly be classified as 'a Viking boat from the 6th to the 7th century'. P. Smolarek has suggested 'that the Frombork boat and Tolkmicko wrecks are representative of one and the same boat-building tradition'. This tradition, developed on the Vistula Lagoon, was connected with the autochthonous Western Balt population.



Puck finds

Puck, a small town situated about 40 kilometres from Gdańsk on the shore of Puck Bay is one of the most interesting sites we have been working on.

In 1145 a settlement was in existence here. Puck was a castellan’s seat as well as a military and administrative centre of the region. A part of the town by the waterside was called 'Korabne' ( 'a ship') - probably the place boasted a harbour and a shipyard.

The site was discovered in 1977 by sport divers and excavated by W. St´pień in 1977-1985. He was joined by the Polish Maritime Museum’s team and a group of archaeologists from the Toruń University in 1990.

The finds were scattered over a 12-hectare area and included constructions of a medieval harbour and marine barrage made from oak logs, 4 wrecks of clinker-built boats and a logboat. Mention should also be made of animal bones, pieces of pottery from the 9th to the 14th century, iron objects, fishing-leads and a number of structural elements whose design resembled those used in the 9th and the 12th c. boats.

The logboat was dated by C 14 at 760+/-25 AD. It is a 4-m long oaken boat for fishermen.

*P-1. A well-preserved 12-m long and 2.5-meter wide clinker- built boat caulked with animal hair and fastened with iron rivets. On the site still.

*P-2. An 18-m long and 2.3-meter wide clinker-built boat caulked with animal hair (in the investigated sections) and fastened with wooden pegs. The mast-step had been hewn out of a large, profiled tree-trunk forming the keelson in a characteristic Scandinavian shape. The wreck was dated by C 14 twice. The first dating was 555 AD ; the second - 810 AD. On the bottom of the wreck there were a few pieces of ceramic from the 8th to the 13th century, typically Slavonic in origin.

*P-3. Partly preserved clinker-built boat, caulked with moss and fastened with wooden pegs, probably from the 7th to the 9th century. The wreck was taken to the Polish Maritime Museum conservation laboratory where it is waiting for reconstruction.

*P-5. A clinker-built boat caulked with moss and fastened with wooden pegs. It was dated typologically as coming from the 9th to the 13th century.


General Carleton

The last find which we had is wreck of English sailing ship "General Carleton" built in 1777 in Whitby for Nathaniel Campion. Ship was sunk in 1785 about 300 m from the shore near small village D´bki. Wreck was accidentally discovered by an amateur diver who gave us information. In 1995 we decided to make surveying. Under the layer of sand archaeologists found hundreds of artefacts. One of the firsts finds was the ship’s bell which identified the vessel. The unique artifact is a stove - only two other contemporary stoves are known. The most spectacular class of items found on the ship is the sailor clothing, like "slops" (clothing purchased by the ship’s purser or steward for issue and/or sale to the crew), stockings, shoes, breeches, jackets, remains of shirts, felt hats, woolen mittens, 42 unattached buttons etc. The find represents an important collection of common sailors’ clothing dating to the late-18th century, previously seen only in illustrations.



Iwona Pomian, Head of Underwater Archaeology Department
Dr. Waldemar Ossowski
Marcin Laskowski


Wojciech Joński, Chief of Underwater Works
Lech Nowicz
Zbigniew Jarocki


MS "Kaszubski Brzeg", our vessel from 1984, obtained from the Polish Navy Rescue Service. She is 32 m long, and can easily accommodate a research team of 20 people. What is also important she has a decompression chamber.


Proceedings of the Polish Maritime Museum:

Vol. I Przemysław Smolarek, Zabytki szkutnictwa skandynawskiego [Relics of Scandinavian Boatbuilding], Gdańsk 1963

Vol. III Przemysł.aw Smolarek, Studia nad szkutnictwem Pomorza Gdańskiego [Studies on Gdańsk Pomeranian Boatbuilding in Xth-XIIIth Centuries], Gdańsk 1969

Vol. X Jerzy Litwin, Polskie szkutnictwo ludowe XX wieku [Working boats of Poland. A Study on their Building and Use in the 20th Century], Gdańsk 1995 (still available)

Vol. XI Waldemar Ossowski, Studia nad ł.odziami jedno piennymi z obszaru Polski [Study on Logboats from Poland], Gdańsk 1999 (still available)

Publications of the Polish Maritime Museum:

Adam Koperkiewicz, Solen, Gdańsk 1986

Edward Sledz, Miedziowiec ["copper-ship"], Gdańsk 1986

Przemysław Smolarek, Centralne Muzeum Morskie, Gdańsk 1991


Lawrence E. Babits & Waldemar Ossowski, 1785 Common Sailors’ Clothing and a Ship’s Camboose from the General Carleton of Whitby, Underwater Archaeology 1999:115-122




Medieval boats and ships from Eastern Pomerania (Poland) in the light of dendrochronological analyses - project for the years 2000-2003 granted by the Polish Science Researches Committee.