Haithabu 3

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During the seismic survey of the Haithabu harbour some of the areas where anomalies occurred were later investigated by divers. Some of these near the southern end of the town rampart turned out to represent a wreck of a large cargo vessel. Only a few of the timbers were raised, but it has been possible to present a fairly reliable reconstruction on the basis of these. The ship was probably built in the Schleswig region by the very end of the Viking period. Some of the foremost frames were broken, which points to the possibility that the ship was moored to a piling during a storm without attendance and thus lost.


Recording of the Haithabu 3 wreck

The diving investigations following the seismic survey of 1979-80 took place in September 1981, and during 3 days the keelson and some frames were raised. The positions of the timbers were marked on the surface with buoys which were mapped.

The wreck lies parallel to the shore, and by the orientation of the keelson it can be determined that the stem points towards the south. It lies on its port side and planking can be felt along 18 metres of coherent structure. The keelson and its knees and framing were raised because they were sticking out of the sediment and in danger of degradation. Today the have been conserved and are on display at the Wikinger Museum Haithabu.

Constructional features of the Haithabu 3 wreck

The dimensions and lines of the ship have been determined to a surprisingly high degree when the amount of recorded material is taken into consideration. The keelson and its standing knees of various sizes contain information about frame spacing and planking. In this area it was thus possible to reconstruct the lower part of some sections with the spacing of 83 cm indicated by the notches for the floor timbers in the keelson. The turn of the bilge and uppermost part of the sections are indicated by bites, bite-knees and cross beam knees. In the stem and stern areas frames in one piece have been found that by themselves indicate entire sections. The recorded timbers did in this way describe parts of 9 frame stations and one intermediate station, some of which were at known positions along the keel. With the distance between frames given by the notches in the keelson, the other sections thus had to be placed according to this pattern at positions where they would fit into faring lines. In this way a whole set of lines was drawn, and with the regularity of the framing pattern it is possible to describe the internals for the entire hull as well as the planking.

The floor timbers are of oak and very short which means that the bites are at low positions in the hull. The bite-knees are very long and cover a considerable number of strakes above the turn of the bilge. A peculiar feature in this wreck is the two recovered "keelson frames" that lie between two frame stations and support the keelson directly. The keelson itself has a preserved length of 5.40 m and is made of oak. It has a mast step of 16 x 16 cm, and immediately fore of this a vertical mast support. The frame station at this position probably had two cross beams, which also might have been the case by the ends of the half decks that must have covered the stem and stern areas. The deck planks would have been resting on cross beams at every frame station. Between the decked areas was a large open hold.

According to the reconstruction the ship had a total length of 22.08 m, a width of 6.2 m and a height of 2.52 m. The cargo capacity would have been about 60 tons.

Dating and interpretation of the Haithabu 3 wreck

Built within the Scandinavian clinker tradition this ship must have been among the largest cargo carriers of the time. Its closest parallel example is the Skuldelev 1 wreck which is considerably smaller, and both of these ships have been capable of ocean voyages. Some of the timbers show damage in the bow that must have happened in antiquity, and it is believed that the ship was smashed against a group of pilings during a storm. This probably would only have happened if the ship was laid up for an extended period of time.

Several dendro-samples have been cut which suggest that the ship was built around 1025, from trees felled in the Schleswig region.

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Text: Otto Uldum
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