News Articles

Maritime history of inland sea highlighted in landscape newest province

Flevoland marks its treasures

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SWIFTERBANT, the Netherlands – To alert the public to its long history, a local group in the country’s newest province has designed markers to post on historical sites. Unlike other provinces, Flevoland’s treasures – shipwrecks - are hidden from view, buried under several feet of soil. So far, over 430 of such sites have been found, some holding wrecks dating back to the early 1300s.

Flevoland, which became an official provincial entity twenty years ago this August 1, is one of the world’s largest maritime grave yards. With the exception of two small islands, the province once was covered by the Zuiderzee, a fairly treacherous inland sea which served as a busy shipping route connecting various harbour towns, and, before the mid 1800s, as Amsterdam’s channel for ocean shipping.

The area farmer whose property posted the first marker, noticed something unusual in the soil when he plowed his fields for the first time years ago. Instead of the heavy clay, he noticed a spot that turned up white sandy soil, often along with unusual bricks and scraps of wood. He correctly guessed that these findings had given away the location of a shipwreck. Clarity to his assumptions came in 2001 when a team of marine archeologists staked out the site and dug up an 8-metres long shipwreck of the ’Kampen kogge’ class that likely had run aground on a shallow sand plate about 700 years ago. Among the objects unearthed was a pan still holding the skeleton of a bird, suggesting that the seafarers at the time may have been pre-occupied with cooking a meal.

Instead of removing the wreck, archeologists covered it up again after documenting the find preferring to conserve the centuries-old wooden structure below the surface with the soil insulating it. Moving it would have required the archeological agency to conserve the structure for future display at a museum, a very costly procedure. Meanwhile, all the heritage sites now are marked by a three-metres long pole featuring a sailing vessel model on top. The markers near cycling routes are complimented with a panel providing the public with additional information.

Most people view Flevoland as an entity without history, with just new buildings and all straight lined-roads, considered out of step with much of the country and very un-Dutch. Although unique for these reasons, Flevoland’s (hidden) history nevertheless represents the country’s very long maritime involvement very well.