Europe’s oldest functioning compass found in Estonia wreck

One of the artifacts recovered from the wreck of the medieval ship unearthed near the Old Town Harbor of Tallinn, Estonia, in 2022, is Europe’s oldest dry compass still in working order.

The cog was excavated from its location on Lootsi Street and transported to the Estonian Maritime Museum in four pieces. Archaeologists of the Estonian Maritime Museum and experts in ship conservation from Finland have been cleaning and conserving the cog in a purpose-built hall where visitors can see the work in progress.

The excavation and conservation process uncovered a number of finds in excellent condition, including leather shoes, wooden spoons and tools, preserved by the waterlogged mud of the harbor. The shoes were well-worn and repaired, so not cargo intended for sale. This suggests the ship was sunk in an accident and everyone who could escape did so, leaving behind their belongings. The compass and the well-preserved remains of two rats who apparently did not desert the sinking ship were the most surprising finds.

[Archaeologist Priit L├Ątti of the Estonian Maritime Museum] aid that Estonia’s medieval ships really stand out among other similar finds because they are not empty. Medieval ships found in Germany and the Netherlands are mostly empty, the researcher said.

“Ours are full of finds, and the finds are wall to wall, giving us clues about everything from eating habits on board to clothing to navigational equipment,” he said.