Jedinorog - The Unicorn wreck
In the early 1990s the Norwegian oil company Statoil was planning to build a new gas pipeline from a platform in the North Seas to the shore. According to Norwegian law regulations, investigations had to be carried out to establish whether this pipeline could damage cultural heritage on the sea bed.
The pipeline track was chosen based on topographical and technological requirements. It soon became clear that the pipeline route was close to a small bay where a ship was once wrecked. Cannons and other objects had been found in the bay earlier, but the hull had never been discovered. Cannons are situated on shallow water from 3 to 26 meters depth. From 32 meters, the sea floor falls quickly to a depth of approximately 250 meters, and then becomes flat and sandy. The pipeline was to be built on large water depths, far from the shore, but at this point, near the bay, parts of the ships hull could be situated on the sea floor near the pipeline and potentially be destroyed by it.
A marine archaeological project was therefore initiated in 1994, funded by the oil company, and carried out by the Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology.
The ship called Jedinorog or the Unicorn, was built in 1758/59 in Arkhangelsk as a Pink. According to documents and drawings found in Russian and Norwegian archives the ship was approximately 130 feet long, carrying 22 cannons. It was on its way from Kronstad in the Baltic Sea to the Navy base in Arkhangelsk loaded with an unknown number of cannons, lead, anchors and other commodities.
On November the 16th 1760, the ship reached the Smøla island
in the middle of Norway when a storm broke. Two days later the three masts broke and the ship was drifting in the dangerous waters of the Ramsøy fjord without control. In the following night the ship hit ashore at the Sæbu island and broke up and later sank. No one seems to have survived the wrecking, apart from 12 sailors that had been put ashore at the Smøla island some days earlier.
Sæbu island where Jedinorog was wrecked
The story of the wrecking was kept alive by the inhabitants of the island, but throughout the years some elements were added and some removed until the identity of the wreck could not be said for certain.
In 1877 over 100 cannons were recovered from the shallow part of the site. With the introduction of scuba diving a few objects were recovered from the site in the 1960-1970`s by amateur divers and archaeologists.
Illustration of Jedinorog
The object of the marine archaeological investigations was to:
- Investigate the shallow part of the site containing parts of the cargo and cannons.
- Investigate if parts had fallen off the underwater cliff.
The latter of this clearly necessitated the use of remotely controlled equipment. A side scan sonar and a sub bottom profiling survey was carried out to locate possible wreck parts in this area. Together with the Department of Marine Systems Design, our remotely controlled vehicle (ROV) equipped with a sonar system and a video camera was used to find and document the wreck parts indicated by these surveys.
The ROV is about to be launched
In addition to our own ROV, several other ROVs were used in the search for wreck parts from Jedinorog. Many fragments of the wreck were found, e.g. wood, lead and iron objects. In June 1997, a work class ROV was used to investigate the area. This ROV also excavated parts of the site and brought a few additional wreck parts to the surface.
The other part of the investigation was carried out on the shallow part of the wreck site. Diving archaeologists documented the site, especially the cannons (measurements, drawings, photography, video), and made an accurate map of the site.
Divers getting ready
All together 17 cannons were found and documented in addition to wood and lead fragments.
A trial trench was also excavated with an ejector, and several objects were brought to the surface. Among these were a ship weight made of lead, several gun flints and fragments of porcelain, glass, iron and wood.
The investigation was completed in 1997. The majority of the site is still not excavated, but left for future archaeologists. The most important result is that we now know the identity of the ship and much more about the events leading to its ill fortune. In addition, this investigation enabled the oil company to lay its pipeline without damaging the wreck on the seabed. For further information see article in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology No 2, 1998.