Oldest Sailing Ship in Baltic Sea Found

Aug 12, 2011 by James Freeman

The archeological excavations in Salme, soon to be completed, have yielded evidence that the ship that had been buried with 35 warriors and nobles had a keel, which in turn leads to the conclusion that it used sails. This represents the earliest known use of sails on a vessel in the Baltic Sea region.

‘One piece of new information that we have been anticipating since winter was still to be found – namely, confirmation of whether it was a sailing ship or not. Now we have evidence that it used sails,’ said archeologist Jüri Peets of Tallinn University.

Archeological excavations in Salme, Estonia (ERR)

Peets called this discovery the cherry on top of the cake that was the nearly two-year-long archeological dig. ‘It is thought that sails were first introduced in the North Sea and Baltic Sea region at about 700 A.D., which is the conventional date. Our ship dates from the year 750. The ship from the year 700 was from the North Sea region, near Norway. However, here in the Baltic Sea region, this is without a doubt the oldest sailing ship that has been found,’ said Peets.

In addition to the discovery of the keel, the irregular rows of strong rivets found on the bottom of the vessel also prove that the ship used sails.

Maritime archaeologist Vello Mäss confirmed that the Salme ship was without a doubt a warship that used sails. Although sails had been long in use in the Mediterranean Sea region, it was the Norwegians who first started using them in the North Sea region. Mäss also suggested that perhaps two separate war parties on two different ships had met in Salme centuries ago. Such hypotheses concerning the Salme ship burial site are sure to keep the scientists busy for years to come.