From the Copper Mines of Slovakia: 15thC Trade Routes Across Europe

Wrecked in 1440 off Skaftö in the Swedish West Coast, a heavily laden cargo ship is providing answers and raising more questions about how trade was conducted across Europe in the Middle Ages.

Excavation of the Skaftö wreck in 2009. Image credit: Staffan von Arbin, Bohusläns museum

Nearly 600 years ago, a heavily loaded merchant ship foundered off the island of Skaftö, situated approximately 70 km north of present-day Gothenburg on the now-Swedish west coast, which at that time was part of Norway. The vessel came to rest in less than 10 m of water, close to the shore, in a relatively sheltered strait

Tracing Trade Routes: Examining the Cargo of the 15th-Century Skaftö Wreck

In 2003, the Skaftö wreck was found at the bottom of the sea off Lysekil, north of Gothenburg. But it is only now that researchers have been able to carry out analyses of its cargo using new, modern methods.

In 2003, the Skaftö wreck was found at the bottom of the sea off Lysekil, north of Gothenburg. The photo shows the Copper ingots. Image credit: Jens Lindström/Bohusläns museum

An international research team, headed by maritime archaeologist Staffan von Arbin at the University of Gothenburg, has succeeded in mapping the origins of its cargo and the probable route of the ship. The study contributes new knowledge about the goods traded in the Middle Ages and the trade routes in that period.

The cargo included:

  • copper
  • oak timber
  • quicklime
  • tar
  • bricks
  • roof tiles.

The researchers have discovered that the copper was mined in two areas in what is now Slovakia. From the mines it would have been transported down river to Gdansk, Poland.

The oak timbers, bricks and tar came from Poland. It is thought that the ship’s final destination was Bruges in Belgium.

Tobias Skowronek, German Mining Museum, in the process of sampling a copper ingot from the Skaftö wreck. Image credit: Staffan von Arbin, University of Gothenburg

The study, Tracing Trade Routes: Examining the Cargo of the 15th-Century Skaftö Wreck, has been published in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

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