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Europe's oldest compass found in Lootsi wreck, even older cog still underground

Compass found on the wreck of the Lootsi cog.
Compass found on the wreck of the Lootsi cog. Source: Estonian Maritime Museum

Archaeology researcher Priit Lätti of the Estonian Maritime Museum took to the "Terevision" studio a number of artifacts discovered on the wrecked Lootsi cog, among which is Europe's oldest still functioning dry compass.

Lätti said that there is even an older wreck in the ground near Lootsi tänav.

"But it is best preserved in the ground for now – it has been there for centuries and will be there for centuries to come. We hope that research methods and understanding will eventually improve, so we don't have to rush to dig everything up now. Whatever comes to the surface during construction works will of course be excavated," he added.

The Lootsi cog, the wreck of a well-preserved medieval ship that turned out to be one of the largest in Europe, was found near the Old Town Harbor of Tallinn on Lootsi tänav in 2022.

The excavations were led by Mihkel Tammet and Silver Jäger and after the work was completed the wreck was moved to the Estonian Maritime Museum.

Excavations of the wreck of the Lootsi cog. Source: Estonian Maritime Museum

Works for the conservation of the ship are currently underway.

Using tree-ring dating, museum researchers have determined that the wood used to build the ship was cut around 1360.

Excavations of the ship on Lootsi tänav and its cleaning in the museum have yielded several remarkable finds, such as tools, leather shoes and weapons.

"The expert examined the shoes and found that they had been well worn. In some cases, they had even been repaired with handy tools," the researcher said. For example, one shoe he brought to the studio had a loose sole.

Lätti said the footwear found suggests the ship was involved in an accident. "I don't think the inventory was just left on the ship, it was most likely a shipwreck. People had to get off the ship in a hurry and everything was left in a mess," he said.

Shoes found on the wreck of the Lootsi cog. Source: ERR

The researcher brought a wooden spoon to the studio, which dates back to 1300 and was probably used to eat a meal similar to porridge.

The most surprising and fascinating finds, however, are the well-preserved remains of two ship rats and a ship compass, believed to be the oldest surviving dry compass in all of Europe.

Archaeologists of the Estonian Maritime Museum and conservators from Finland are working on the wreck.

Lätti said that Estonia's medieval ships really stand out among other similar finds because they are not empty. Medieval ships found in Germany and the Netherlands are mostly empty, the researcher said.

"Ours are full of finds, and the finds are wall to wall, giving us clues about everything from eating habits on board to clothing to navigational equipment," he said.

Rats found on the wreck of the Lootsi cog. Source: Estonian Maritime Museum

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Editor: Sandra Saar, Kristina Kersa

Source: Interview by Reimo Sildvee

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