The Baltic Sea – a treasure trove for underwater cultural heritage

The dark, cold, and gloomy Baltic Sea – could it be a treasure house for anyone? Yes, it could! Globally speaking, the Baltic Sea can be considered a treasury of underwater cultural heritage, as well as an underwater museum.

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Sallamaria Tikkanen

The writer works as a curator in the Finnish Heritage Agency

The Baltic Sea works like a fridge - wrecks can survive for up to thousands of years

The Baltic Sea is cold, dark, and low in salinity. Its bottom sediments are low in oxygen and its brackish waters are devoid of the wood-boring bivalve, i.e. Teredo navalis, commonly known as shipworm. It is these factors, combined with the intensive cultural use of the Baltic Sea for millennia, which make the Baltic Sea a treasure trove of underwater cultural heritage. An entire shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, which is a microcosm of past ages can last for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Remains of the "Gold galley" or Risskär wreck in Porvoo.

10,000 years of human history in the depths and on the shores of the Baltic Sea

Under the surface of the Baltic Sea, you can find shipwrecks and ship traps, sea battlegrounds and fairway barriers, as well as old harbours. Also, the remnants of Stone Age-dwellings and hunting grounds can be found below the waves. These diverse sites provide unique information for research, as the types of ancient remains they represent are not found elsewhere. Moreover, they survive much better underwater than on land.

Well-preserved wooden figure on the wreck of Huis de Warmelo.

Modern technology helps to research underwater sites

The location of the underwater cultural heritage beneath the waves has served to protect it. Historically, underwater remains have been difficult to detect and reach and have therefore survived so well.

However, this situation has changed in recent decades. Modern technologies have made tremendous progress, producing new methods of detection and exploration, such as side-scan sonar, as well as remote-controlled video robots. These make it possible to discover and better research the treasures of the Baltic Sea.

Cannons and diver in Huis de Warmelo wreck.

Many underwater sites in the Baltic Sea can be explored by scuba diving or through virtual means

The development of diving technology, the increasing popularity of scuba diving, and the existence of underwater parks and cultural trails have turned the Baltic Sea into an underwater open museum, where visitors can experience the underwater cultural heritage first-hand.

The underwater cultural heritage can also now be accessed through three-dimensional images, models, videos, as well as various virtual applications.For example, in Sketchfab you can see many 3D models of wrecks!

The Baltic Sea is a treasure trove of common cultural heritage

Through the ages, the sea has connected people, goods, and ideas. Thus, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, we are not only cherishing our national- but our international cultural heritage also: after all, seafaring is by its very nature an international activity.