17th Century Ship Replica Burns


This picture is not from a film. It is something you would see back in the 17th century: a burning real tall ship. At the Djurö bridge, not far from Djurhamn where I have done fieldwork, is Point Brännskeppet, “the burnt ship”, which commemorates the wreck of the Rikswasa (“Sheaf of the Realm”) that burned and sank there in 1623 and was clumsily salvaged in the 1960s. But the image shows the death of the Prins Willem, a 1980 replica of a 1649 trading ship of the Dutch East India Company. It burned the night before last in Den Helder harbour.

Burning is a common and often intentional end for archaeological replicas of buildings. We find a lot of burnt-down houses, so one way to learn more about how to interpret such sites is to build a replica and burn it to the ground. It improves our understanding of the sites and it allows us to evaluate whether the replica was close to the originals or not. (See Iron Age houses in flames. Testing house reconstructions at Lejre, Lejre 2007).

But the Prins Willem wasn’t set on fire by its owners, as far as known. I hope it was an accident and not an act of vandalism. (Nobody seems to have been hurt.) The original sank off Madagascar after 13 years. The replica survived for 29 years.

Photograph by Peter van Aalst.


7 thoughts on “17th Century Ship Replica Burns

  1. Also, I’m told that this replica used a lot of modern materials where they don’t show. So it wouldn’t have been the best choice if someone wanted to see what happened when you set a Baroque ship on fire.

    I hadn’t thought that it might have been arson. That would be sad. But nobody was hurt, and the ship did make a beautiful spectacle as she burned.


  2. Cool photo, I’d never really considered how useful burning a recreation could be. Yes, I understand that wasn’t the case here, but it was mentioned in the post. Very informative.


  3. And here I thought Scandinavians were recovering their long-lost ship-burning cultural roots. Perhaps I can still be right! Was there any King or Warlord lying down inside?


  4. I’ve aquaintances who built a replica Viking Ship down in Washington State, and treated the wood with linseed oil and all that period stuff. As the daughter of a forensics detective, I know better than to leave linseed oil soaked rags in the sun. They did not, so between coats, the “painter” took a nap and woke up to a raging inferno. Much to my chagrin, he cleaned it all up before I had a chance to examine the “archaeological evidence”… (Folks, please DO NOT leave linseed oil soaked rags anywhere near anything combustible.)


  5. Was there any King or Warlord lying down inside?

    Maybe some stoned exchange student from Stockholm who walked over to the ship from the nearest “coffee” shop and passed out on board with a lit cigarette dangling from his fingers.


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