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A dozen ancient shipwrecks have been discovered in the Baltic Sea, just east of Sweden. The well-preserved ships are hundreds of years old. The oldest wreck may date back 800 years.

Andreas Olsson is the head of the archeological unit of the Swedish National Maritime Museum, and he joins us via Skype from Stockholm. Welcome.

Mr. ANDREAS OLSSON (Swedish National Maritime Museum): Thank you very much.

LYDEN: Would you give us a picture of what these ships look like?

Mr. OLSSON: Some of them are very well-preserved. They're standing intact on the bottom. The masts are still standing, and they're preserved as if they were sailing just yesterday, actually.

LYDEN: Wow. So I know that the ships are far too submerged for a diver to reach, but you mentioned how well-preserved they are, and you have had robotic submersibles taking pictures. What do they look like? Do they have the big wheels we associate with the old merchant ships or what?

Mr. OLSSON: Yes, the medieval one, for instance, is more deteriorated. You can see the cargo, made up of limestone, and you see wooden barrels with some kind of unidentified content. The young ones, the more well-preserved ones, you see the whole equipment on the ship. You see the wheels, You see rigging details, doors. Everything is still there.

LYDEN: And why aren't they more deteriorated?

Mr. OLSSON: The Baltic Sea has really good conditions for preservation of wood. That is due to the low salinity in the Baltic Sea. And the ship worm, which is quite common in other seas, can't survive here. But we also have a very intense seafaring in this area. You know, it's bordered by many countries. It's quite a small sea. And we also have the Swedish Archipelago, which is difficult navigating. And I think that's also a reason.

LYDEN: You mean a reason that they were wrecked along the...

Mr. OLSSON: Exactly.

LYDEN: ...30-mile corridor. The Baltic Triangle, you might say.

Mr. OLSSON: Yeah, yeah. We have so many shipwrecks there, it's quite amazing.

LYDEN: Remind me not to take a cruise. What's going to happen to these ships? Will they be raised or protected in some ways?

Mr. OLSSON: We don't have any plans to raise anything at this moment. The company, Nord Stream, they plan to lay a gas pipe on the seabed, and the gas pipe can be placed without damaging the ship.

LYDEN: So as an archaeologist, Mr. Olsson, how excited were you to come across these old vessels?

Mr. OLSSON: I'm very excited. You know, I'm still so fascinated. I've seen many shipwrecks and I've been diving on many, of really well preserved. But each time you see footage of a wreck with all these details from the past, you know, it's really a time capsule that's lying there underneath.

LYDEN: Andreas Olsson is the head of the archaeological unit of the Swedish National Maritime Museum, and he spoke to use from Stockholm via Skype. Thanks again.

Mr. OLSSON: Thank you very much.

LYDEN: And you can see pictures and a video of the ancient shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea on our Web site, NPR.org.

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