Medieval cog parked beneath building in Tallinn

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Photo: Jaanus Lensment

Till the beginning of August, all those interested are welcome to come glance at ship wrecks unearthed while building apartment houses in Tivoli Quarters, Tallinn. 

Meanwhile, the fence around construction site offers a photo exhibition of items found with the wrecks. The developer Metro Capital CEO Mart Habakuk is sad to say they won’t be able to let all history fans unto the site. Even so, they have erected a special platform allowing peeking into the vessel in the hole. In all likelihood, a person buying an apartment will be able to proudly state: my parking lot was first occupied by a cog dating back to 14th century.

The Tivoli residential quarters are being built on a one-time port area formerly under the sea. The place was filled up at the end of the 1930ies. «The sediments of former seabed held three intact wrecks, which were covered by near four metres of land filled in. Manifold information has been documented and items accumulated during the excavations. Future research and analysis into it will provide us with fresh insight into life back then, the trade and the shipbuilding,» said senior National Heritage Board inspector Maili Roio.

Mr Habakuk admits they have never run into anything of the sort before. «There came this day when the excavator hit something. The guys stopped what they were doing, took a look, and it was obvious something historic had been unearthed so they summonsed the heritage board. A few days later, another vessel was found at the other side of the site. X-ray showed a third was around. We are still according to schedule with the construction, though, and the houses are supposed to be ready by fall next year,» said Mr Habakuk.

The alleged cog will go to Estonian Maritime Museum. Its director Urmas Dresen says it’s yet to be determined if this is indeed a cog or just a «cog-like ship». «It will have to be identified. Something like a cog, we can safely say. Around here, no such wrecks have ever been found before. The last cog was found in Poland, about 15 years ago. Cogs have also been found in Holland and Denmark, one in Germany and three in Sweden. The find is unique for containing such an abundance of various materials and items which were near the ship, helping to date it and tell the story,» said Mr Dresen.

No matter the precise type of the vessel, for the museum it is quite a challenge because such finds come with no quick solutions. The world’s best preserved Bremen Cog underwent conservation for 18 years.

«We are currently planning to place the wreck in a temporary pool so it would be totally submerged. Sinking it in the sea and taking it up afterwards might damage it. While it is under water we will be trying to find the way to conserve it. This tales long and costs much money, so we will be assuming quite a risk. But then the find is so interesting that the risk is justified,» said Mr Dresen.

The wreck of a smaller ship also discovered have been set aside and the plan is to sink it in Tallinn Bay after being examined, for preservation. It will be covered with geotextile and sacks of sand.