The king's spice cabinet-Plant remains from Gribshunden, a 15th century royal shipwreck in the Baltic Sea

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Maritime archaeological investigations of the wreck of the medieval warship Gribshunden (1495), flagship of King Hans of Denmark and Norway, have revealed diverse artifacts including exotic spices imported from far distant origins: saffron, ginger, clove, peppercorns, and almond. The special circumstances of the vessel's last voyage add unique context to the assemblage. Gribshunden and an accompanying squadron conveyed the king, courtiers, noblemen, and soldiers from Copenhagen to a political summit in Kalmar, Sweden. At that conference, Hans expected the Swedish Council to elect him king of Sweden, and thereby fulfill his ambition to reunify the Nordic region under a single crown. To achieve this, Hans assembled in his fleet and particularly aboard his flagship the people and elite cultural signifiers that would convince the Swedish delegation to accept his rule. Along the way, the ships anchored near Ronneby, Blekinge. Written sources record that an explosion and fire caused Gribshunden to sink off Stora Ekön (Great Oak Island). Exotic spices were status markers among the aristocracy in Scandinavia and around the Baltic Sea during the Middle Ages (1050-1550 CE). Until the Gribshunden finds, these extravagances have rarely or never been represented archaeologically. Evidence of their use and consumption in medieval Scandinavia has been limited to sparse written references. We present here the botanical remains from the Gribshunden shipwreck and compare them to previous archaeobotanical finds from the medieval Baltic region. These opulent status symbols traveled with a medieval king en route to a major historical event. The combination of textual and archaeological evidence allows a novel analytical view of the social environment in which these luxurious foods were consumed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0281010
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Archaeology

Free keywords

  • archaeology
  • food
  • Archaeological excavation
  • medicinal plants
  • seeds
  • fruits
  • hops
  • grapes


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