Freaky 'Sea Monster' Recovered From Centuries-Old Shipwreck

"Last time it looked at the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were still living."

The fearsome-looking figurehead of a warship that went down in the Baltic Sea more than 500 years ago has been raised from the seafloor to the surface--and the recovery of the artifact is stirring great excitement among archaeologists.

"Last time it looked at the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were still living," Dr. Johan Rönnby, professor of marine archaeology at Sweden's Södertörn University and a member of the team that salvaged the figurehead, told Reuters.

The Gribshunden's figurehead.
The Gribshunden's figurehead.

The carved wooden artifact is about 3.5 meters long and weighs about 300 kilograms, according to a written statement issued by the university. It depicts an animal with ears like a lion's and a crocodile-like mouth--and it appears to be gobbling up or spitting out a person.

It's not the sort of thing you come across every day.

No similar item from the 15th Century has ever been found anywhere in the world,” Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum in Karlskrona, Sweden, told Discovery News. The museum was involved in the salvage effort, along with the university.

The figurehead belonged to the Gribshunden, a Danish vessel that sank in 1495 after catching fire, according to the university's statement. The flagship of King Hans, the vessel now lies on the bottom of the sea at a depth of about 10 meters along Sweden's southeastern coast, not far from the town of Ronneby.

The ship is considered one of the best-preserved wrecks of its era--and, like the figurehead that adorned its prow, is beyond rare.

"The ship is absolutely unique," Rönnby said in a written statement last month after the completion of a detailed survey of the wreck. "It is an archaeological example of large carvel-built sailing ships and is the same age as Columbus' Santa Maria, but bigger."

The shipwreck had been known to recreational divers since the 1980s, Rönnby told The Huffington Post in an email, but not until 2013 did it become clear that it was something very special--and very old.

Rönnby said a more extensive investigation of the shipwreck is planned for next summer, though it is unlikely that the entire ship will be raised to the surface.

The efforts are expected to bring a better understanding of 15th Century ships, including those sailed by Columbus and other early explorers.

"This is the same period, and we can learn very much about how the ships were made, how they were constructed, since there are no ships left from this time," Sandekjer told Reuters.