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Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

Wreck of the Swedish warship Mars, which exploded during the first battle of Öland, 1564 (Baltic Sea). Well preserved for almost 500 years


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Diver for scale.

It was the largest and fiercest warship in the world, named the Mars for the Roman god of war: But it went up in a ball of flames in a brutal naval battle in 1564, consigning 800 to 900 Swedish and German sailors and a fortune in gold and silver coins to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

Now, a few years after the ship's discovery, researchers have concluded that it is the best preserved vessel of its kind, representing the first generation of Europe's big, three-masted warships.

Naval historians know a lot about 17th-century ships, but very little about warships from the 16th century, said Johan Rönnby, a professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University in Sweden, who is studying the 197-foot-long (60 meter) wreck.

"It's a missing link," said Rönnby, whose work is funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society's Global Exploration Fund. The 1500s is an important period, he said, because it's when big three-masted warships started being built.

Researchers have found cargo from early warships called galleons—slightly later iterations of the type of vessel the Mars exemplifies. And they've recovered pieces of actual ships, including the English flagship Mary Rose, which sank during a battle in 1545. But never have they found something as well preserved as the Mars.

How is a 500 year old wreckage suddenly discovered?