Underwater archaeologists find mysterious bone fragments in a 500-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sweden. What could they belong to?
Mysterious Bones Found in 500-Year-Old Shipwreck
Published: June 8, 2021
ONSCREEN: Archaeologists are excavating a 500-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sweden.
NARRATOR: More clues are emerging from the wreck.
JOHAN RӦNNBY: I think we are in the kitchen store or something like that, because there’s so many barrels down there.
NARRATOR: In one of those barrels: bones…
BRENDAN FOLEY: And I just couldn’t see if that was wood or bone or what that was. What, what is that?
NARRATOR: …mysterious skeletal fragments. But they don’t appear to be beef bones or other common food animals.
STELLA MACHERIDIS: Okay, so, Brendan, the bones that we recovered are called scutes. Based on a few of the scute fragments that you excavated, they are the remains of something at least one meter, and probably around two meters long. So, it’s quite impressive.
NARRATOR: They are bones from an Atlantic sturgeon, a massive fish, all but extinct in these waters.
STELLA MACHERIDIS: It’s kind of like bony plates that works as a shield construction on the fish. I think that this fish would have been used to be presented as a gift to the royalties. Because the sturgeon was considered one of the king’s fishes.
NARRATOR: A fish considered so valuable that, if caught, it must legally be given to royalty.
STELLA MACHERIDIS: And you would be punishable by law. And you know, you don’t want to be punished by law during the medieval, right. There’s a lot of evidence for this actually being one of the things that they would have had with them as a manifestation of power or just royal status.
NARRATOR: As they dig deeper into the cargo hold of a king, it is like a window into long-forgotten lives.
BRENDAN FOLEY: We were excavating down in the hole, amidst all those barrels, and I thought at first it was a gun, but it’s not a gun, it’s some sort of vessel. What we have here is a completely intact wooden tankard from 1495. Handle, cover, completely intact, and possibly the King’s mark on it.
The experience of excavating on a site like this is really quite visceral. Every once in a while, though, we’ll find an object that just makes us realize that we’re looking back half-a-millennium in history. And you think, “Some nobleman was the last one to hold these objects 500 years ago.” It’s the sense of, almost, time travel.
JOHAN RӦNNBY: That’s the real benefit of our archeology, traveling back in history in quite a unique way. I will say that written sources can never get you that close to history as archeology sometimes can.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
R. Jameson Smith
HEAD OF PRODUCTION / LINE PRODUCER
ADDITIONAL / UNDERWATER CAMERA
Edgeworx Studios, LLC
POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
ONLINE EDITOR AND COLORIST
Fundacion Nao Victoria
The Library of Congress
Naval History and Heritage Command
Lund University - Lund, Sweden
NOVA SERIES GRAPHICS
yU + co.
NOVA THEME MUSIC
ADDITIONAL NOVA THEME MUSIC
CAPTIONING AND AUDIO DESCRIPTION
Media Access Group at GBH
POST PRODUCTION ONLINE EDITOR
Lindsey Rundell Denault
SENIOR DIGITAL PRODUCER
DIGITAL MANAGING PRODUCER
DIGITAL ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
DIGITAL PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
PROGRAM MANAGER, NOVA SCIENCE STUDIO
DIGITAL EDITOR, EDUCATION
DIRECTOR OF AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
SENIOR DIGITAL EDITOR
DKC Public Relations
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL AUDIENCE RESEARCH
PROJECT MANAGER, SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
LEGAL AND BUSINESS AFFAIRS
SENIOR PROMOTIONS PRODUCER AND EDITOR
Michael H. Amundson
POST PRODUCTION ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, EMERITA
Paula S. Apsell
SENIOR SCIENCE EDITOR
SENIOR SERIES PRODUCER
DIRECTOR, BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCE
Julia Cort Chris Schmidt
A NOVA Production by Lone Wolf Media for GBH Boston.
© 2021 WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved
This program was produced by WGBH, which is solely responsible for its content. Some funders of NOVA also fund basic science research. Experts featured in this film may have received support from funders of this program.