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What Was Life Like on the Mars? Cold Water Forensics with Explorer Richard Lundgren

This summer Richard Lundgren and his select team of the Mars veterans, aka Martians will return to the source to hopefully answer the question, “What was life really like for the 600-800 sailors on Mars The Magnificent, King Erik XIV’s warship, which was lost in battle and sank in 1564 in the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, they don’t know where the bodies are buried, yet; that’s the focus of this summer’s research. We turned to Our Favorite Martian to bring us up to speed on the project and the state of their undersea forensics.

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by Michael Menduno

Header Image: Kirill Egorov

Richard Lundgren is arguably one of the most prolific shipwreck explorers of our time. The 49-year old, ex-commercial diver, photographer & filmmaker, GUE instructor trainer, and expedition leader has discovered more than 120 shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea since the 1990s. He accomplished all this while fielding photographic assignments from the likes of National Geographic, the BBC, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and others. 

The Crowning Jewel? In May 2011, with his team from Ocean Discovery. Lundgren found Sweden’s most famous shipwreck—Mars the Magnificent—King Erik XIV’s warship, which had been lost in battle and sank in 1564 in the Southeast Baltic Sea. In finding The Mars, he fulfilled a vow that he made as a precocious eight-year old boy–one day he would “find the ship” after visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. 

Most of Lundgren’s time over the last eight years has been occupied with documenting and studying the wreck in cooperation with a number of government, academic, and scientific organizations. Their work included pioneering the use of photogrammetry and 3D modeling, which not only helps scientists, but also informs the public about the find.

We caught up with Lundgren as he and his veteran team of “Martians” were planning to further explore the wreck in hopes of answering the question: What was life like on Mars? Here’s what our favorite Martian had to say about the status of the project.

InDepth: How has the Mars documentary been received?

Lundgren: It’s had great success. It’s been shown in over 30 countries, and it’s showing on the Smithsonian channel in the U.S. It’s also available online in many languages, though its not on Netflix.

I know that your photomosaic treatment of the wreck also received broad coverage.

The photomosaic was on 64 magazine covers and the 3D model adds to this success.

OMG! That must be some sort of record. Weren’t you working on a 3D model of the wreck as well?

Yes, we received a grant from National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program to build a model which is now complete. One of the most advanced 3D model of a shipwreck ever. It was created from 30,000 images and is accurate to less than centimeters. In full resolution, you need a fantastic computer to see it all. We’re creating an entire website for it. We’ve also printed a scale model that is 1:25, 2 x 1.6 x 08 m, which is in the Västerviks Museum in Västervik, Sweden. 

One of the most advanced 3D model of a shipwreck ever. It was created from 30,000 images and is accurate to less than centimeters.

I understand it was quite challenging to create.

We wanted to make a 3D model but didn’t want to make it using 2D images. We wanted to make scientifically correct. People told us that it was impossible to do.  Of course, they said that about finding Mars as well. But that made it even more motivating for us. 

How long did it take you?

It took us five years to take all the pictures and create the model. That part of the project was self-funded, so it took a lot of time. Now we have the problem that other outlets and channels are interested in the model. How can you price such a thing? How many trimix dives did it take to get 20-30k images? It’s almost funny now. They can bid for it, but what they are willing to pay only covers a few days of diving.

But the coolest thing is this. The Mars will be one of Facebook’s new Oculus Quest VR platform. That’s really going to be something!

Oculus Quest? That’s fantastic! How did that come about?

Well Mars is an incredible discovery, and we have focused on helping the public actually visualize the shipwreck. That has contributed to the huge interest. As a result, we got a call from the right person at Facebook who said that they wanted to recreate it as a virtual reality experience. 

When is the virtual dive on the Mars scheduled to launch?

We’re hoping some time this summer. We’re currently testing an alpha unit.

Mars here we come! How many actual dives have you and you team conducted on the shipwreck so far?

On average we have had 12-14 divers diving the wreck for two weeks for seven years now. On average one diver performs 8 dives during these two weeks.  Since 2011, we have only skipped one year. We did approximately 600 dives, all, I should note, without a single incident.

Diver swimming along the remains of the warship, the Mars.
Diver swimming along the remains of the Mars. Photo by Kirill Egorov.

Wow. That’s a great safety record! Congratulations! So what are your next steps for Mars?

One of the most important things right now is the ongoing scientific project to understand life aboard Mars. That’s our main focus this summer. To do that we hope to find more bodies, and armour, and things like boarding nets.  It’s a forensic study. We find some gruesome stuff. There should be 600+ bodies from Mars and 2-300 from the enemy ship as they were boarding the ship as it blew up. We have only found a few of them. Also, we haven’t figured out why the bodies aren’t spread out evenly throughout the shipwreck.

One of the most important things right now is the ongoing scientific project to understand life aboard Mars. That’s our main focus this summer. To do that we hope to find more bodies, and armour, and things like boarding nets.  It’s a forensic study.

One speculation is that the boat surrendered before it blew up and sailors were gathered in one area. We’re hoping to find clues. I mean aliens haven’t taken them! We should find bones and skeletons, but we haven’t seen them yet. We have seen bone parts, but not skeletons. It’s odd because their bodies were in armor, and there was no one to take the bodies away.  There is a very marginal bottom current. They should be there.

Fascinating! Wasn’t there another wreck involved as well?

Yes, we are also trying to find the Danish warship the Long Barque. Der Alte Bark in German, which Mars sank. We have a strong candidate that we found two years ago. It’s the right age but the wreck has not yet been confirmed. To my way of thinking, it’s one of the best-preserved shipwrecks I have ever seen. It sits upright on the bottom with two masts. We discovered the wreck on the northern tip of the Island of Oland. That’s part of our project this summer. 

We plan to build a 3D model of the wreck using ROVs. We’ll scan the bottom and the wreck.  We need something to identify her, like the inscriptions on the cannons on Mars. We’re still looking, but it’s pretty hard. The wreck has been underwater for five centuries. There were no ship bells back then with the ship’s name inscribed on them. 

Diver peaks into the side of the shipwreck of the Mars.
Diver looking into the side of the Mars during the 2018 project. Photo by Kirill Egorov.

Who do you have working with you this summer?

They’re all Mars veterans. We call them Martians! They are all GUE divers. All are very experienced. We’re working with the Swedish Defense College, and MARIS is the scientific leader. We also have Professor Jon Adams on the team from the University of Southampton, who worked on the Mary Rose shipwreck. We’ll have graduate students and five to ten scientists present. It’s a cool interaction for the divers.

What is a typical dive profile?

The depth is 250 ft/76m on average. The water temperature is close to 2 C/36F. It’s a little warmer above 100 ft/30 m, like 10-15 C/50-59F, but that’s still fairly cold. We’re running 40-50 minute bottom times and then we’re “in the freezer” for 120-180 minutes. We investigated using a diving bell for decompression, but it was too complicated. We’re using full body electric heating and electric gloves from Santi. They’re super good. We also only do one dive a day. We leave early and we’re back by 2:00 pm. By 4-5 pm we hand over all the data.

I think it was explorer and engineer Dr. Bill Stone who said, “the difference between exploration and adventure is data.”  

We’ve got the data brother! 

A group of researchers and divers on the 2018 Mars Project look at the data collected on a computer.
Lundgren and team working hard during the 2018 Mars Project. Photo courtesy of Ocean Discovery.

2019 Mars Team i.e. Martians: Johan Rönnby,  Ingvar Sjöblom, Ingemar Lundgren, Kirill Egorov, Jesper Kjøller, Marco Al,  Kees Beemster Leverenz, John Kendall ,Rachael Kendall, Oleksiy Sverdlov, Marcus New, Su Eun Kim, Kyungsoo Kim, Ellen Ingers, Joachim Ande,r Joakim Holmlund, Matilda Fredriksson, Rolf Warming, and Veronica Palm

Additional Resources:

GUE 2018 Annual Report

The Man From Mars, X-Ray Magazine, FEB 2014

Explore a 16th Century Underwater Battlefield, National Geographic Society

Archaeologists reveal new finds from legendary Swedish warship Science Nordic July 2018  

MONSTER SHIPWRECK: MYSTERY OF THE MARS

The 1564 Maritime Battlefield of “Mars”

National Geographic Society Supports Exploration of Famed Swedish Warship Mars the Magnificent

Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

450-Years Old cursed warship yields treasure trove of artifacts

Schiffswrack “Mars”: Kampf um die Ostsee

Svenskt örlogsfartyg från 1500-talet avslöjar historiska hemligheter

National Geographic Society stödjer utforskning av svenskt krigsfartyg

Researchers explore cursed 450-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea

The Explorers Club Flag # 215: Mars the Magnificent with Richard Lundgren

 The Explorer’s Club Flag #215 Report

Team to Complete Digital Reconstruction of Sunken Warship “Mars”

Related Stories:

EXPLORING THE BIKINI ATOLL’S USS SARATOGA

EXTENDING THE ENVELOPE REVISITED: CORRECTING THE RECORD OF THE 30 DEEPEST TECH SHIPWRECK DIVES


Michael Menduno is InDepth’s executive editor and, an award-winning reporter and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving”(1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving. He also produced the first Tek, EUROTek, and ASIATek conferences, and organized Rebreather Forums 1.0 and 2.0. Michael received the OZTEKMedia Excellence Award in 2011, the EUROTek Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the TEKDive USA Media Award in 2018.


Community

Brits Brew Beer Booty

What do you get when you combine British divers’ proclivity for shipwreck exploration with their strong affinity for beer? A tasty treasure hunt on the “Wallachia” that resulted in swilling 126-year old reconstituted British beer. GUE Scotland’s detective chief inspector Andy Pilley recounts the tale.

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by Andy Pilley
Images courtesy of
A. Pilley

Header Image: GUE Scotland’s brewmeisters enjoying their brew (L to R) Top: Owen Flowers, Andy Pilley, Wayne Heelbeck. Middle: Steve Symington, A. Pilley, O. Flowers, Bottom: W. Heelbeck, Sergej Maciuk, S. Symington

“Give my people plenty of beer, good beer, and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them.”

Queen Victoria

I never thought when I started diving 10 years ago, that one day I would be able to sit down for a pint of beer with the team from GUE Scotland recreated from a brew that has been hidden under the waves for 126 years. Let me explain.

The Wallachia was a single screw cargo steamer that was owned by William Burrell & Son of Glasgow, and employed on regular trips between Glasgow and the West Indies. On 29th September, 1895 she left Queen’s Dock, Glasgow at 10am bound for Trinidad and Demerara. On board was a valuable general cargo including whisky, gin, beer, acids, glassware, and earthenware plus building materials and footwear. By 1pm that afternoon she had settled on the seabed of the Clyde Estuary after colliding with another ship in a fog bank, she was forgotten until 1977 when a local sub-aqua club rediscovered the wreck site.

The wreck of the Wallachia lies on an even keel in approximately 34 metres of water on a sandy seabed. The wreck itself is largely intact and has six holds in total, three forward and three aft. In the rearmost hold there are thousands of bottles of beer, some still inscribed with the name of the maker, McEwans of Glasgow. This is where myself and the team from GUE Scotland enter the story.

The Wreck of the Wallachia 

The Wallachia is one of the more accessible sites on the west coast of Scotland, where we carry out most of our diving. Depending on weather and tidal conditions, visibility on the wreck can be +10m/33 ft on a very good day or less than 2m/6 ft if there has been a lot of rain due to the amount of particulate in the water. Other elements to consider are the tide as this can vary in its intensity, as well as surrounding boat traffic. The wreck lies in close proximity to a ferry route and care must be taken not to dive when the ferry is closeby. However despite the challenges, the wreck is very rewarding and offers a diver plenty of places to explore and items to look at. 

The main point of interest for most has been the rearmost hold, where the bottles of whisky and beer were stored. The majority of the whisky was removed in the 1980’s however a few bottles can be found on occasion, depending where you look. What remains are thousands of bottles of beer, still with the corks and contents intact. Over the course of 2018 & 2019, the team at GUE Scotland dived on the wreck and recovered a number of bottles from the hold. 

After a chance discussion with a friend at dinner one night, I was given contact details for a company called Brewlab, which is based in Sunderland in the north east of England. Brewlab specialise in the provision of specialist brewing training, as well as laboratory services such as quality assurance, product development, chemical/microbiology testing as well as long term research options. I made contact with Keith Thomas, the Director of Brewlab, to discuss whether he would be interested in analysing the beer and investigating whether it could be recreated. Needless to say the proposal piqued his interest and arrangements were made for the bottles to be shipped to his lab.

Unbeknownst to me, the recovery of historical beers is rare, due to various sources of degradation/contamination which can affect any residual microbial cells and chemical components left in the beer that were used as part of the brewing process. So these samples are a valuable source of information on past brewing and microbiology. Over the course of 2019/2020, Keith and I kept in regular contact over the progress of the investigations and the full analysis of the beer has recently been published.

A Brewing Interest

Between 1850 and 1950, the application of scientific principles to brewing was becoming increasingly prevalent and microbiology was playing an increasingly important role. A pertinent issue in brewing microbiology around 1900 was the application of pure Saccharomyces yeast cultures developed by Hansen at the Carlsberg laboratory in 1888. These were readily adopted by continental breweries as providing more controlled production and purer beers. Application to UK brewing was, however, less positively received, in part because of the belief that British beers possessed particular flavours arising from mixed yeast cultures and, specifically, the involvement of Brettanomyces species. This was especially believed to be essential for the character of ‘stock’ ales which were matured for extended periods.

While a number of breweries did try pure culture yeasts, UK brewing was resistant to change and, with the intervention of World War I, retained its indigenous yeast cultures. Since the 1940’s a more biotechnological approach to fermentation demonstrated the value of pure culture and was progressively applied to the larger breweries developing at that time. 

During the formative period of brewery microbiology after Pasteur, brewing yeast were identified as Saccharomyces species based on morphological features of shape, filamentous propensity and spore characteristics. Non brewing, ‘wild’ yeast was recognised and termed ‘Torula’ if non-sporulating. Of these Brettanomyces strains were identified as contributing important character to stock ales. It is also clear from brewing texts that bacteria were recognised as spoilage organisms in beer, as had been initially demonstrated by Pasteur in 1863. These species were mostly categorised as bacilli and typically portrayed as rods and associated with sarcina sickness – generally producing sourness. Some studies, nevertheless, identified lactic acid bacteria as indigenous components of standard beers.

Contemporary breweries are increasingly interested in using novel microbiology, either unconventional yeast strains or mixes of species and strains for sour and natural products. Identifying the specific strains and species of yeast and bacteria present in Victorian and Edwardian beers is directly relevant to this and has particular value if cultures of authentic microorganisms can be retrieved. Reports of retrieved historic brewery microbiology are limited but hold interesting promise for identifying novel microorganisms.

The specific parameters of the analysis are contained in a published research paper, Preliminary microbiological and chemical analysis of two historical stock ales from Victorian and Edwardian brewing.”

As I mentioned, the primary objective of the analysis was to confirm whether detail could be provided on the original brewing ingredients and the fermentation microbiology. The analysis confirmed the use of Brettanomyces/Dekkera bruxellensis and Debaryomyces hansenii, which are brewing and fermentation yeasts respectively. The presence of Debaryomyces is interesting as this genus has not been noted as a historic feature of historic brewing, but has been identified in spontaneous fermentations, for example in Belgian lambic beers. Although the strain was reported to the brewing industry in 1906, it has not featured as a major contributor to beer fermentations since.



The analysis has also provided relevant information of the beer character and has confirmed that the beer recovered from the Wallachia was a stout, close to style expectations of the time and had an alcohol content of c. 7.5%. The colour gravity was high, resulting in a much darker beer however a much lower level of bitterness. Again this was typical style of the time and differs from other modern stouts.

More interestingly is the presence of various types of bacteria, which will likely have been picked up during the brewing process. The table below lists these for reference. Needless to say, historic brewing was not a sterile process in comparison to modern methods!

Bacillus licheniformisPlant and soil bacterium
Finegoldia magnaCommensal skin bacterium
Fusobacterium sp.Possible pathogenic bacterium
Kocuria roseaPossible urinary tract pathogen
Mogibacterium pumilumPossible oral cavity bacterium
Shigella sonneiEnteric pathogen
Staphylococcus epidermidisCommensal skin bacterium
Stenotrophomonas maltophiliaSoil bacterium
Varibaculum cambriensePossible pathogenic bacterium

Table 1: The bacteria found in the Wallachia beer bottles

Due to the relatively stable conditions on the wreck, being in near darkness and at a relatively cold temperature (between 6º–14ºC/43º-57ºF depending on the time of year), the live yeast structures within the beer were protected from sources of stress and allowed them to survive over the past 126 years. Luckily, Keith was able to extract these samples and begin to recultivate the yeast, specifically the Debaryomyces, with the hope of being able to rebrew the beer.

Cheers Mates

Just before Christmas, I finally received word from Keith that he had completed a trial brew and seven bottles of the brew were on their way to me. A few excitement laden days later and a nondescript box arrived at my office with the beer inside. I called the guys on our Facebook group chat to show them the case and got each bottle packaged up and sent out to them. 

A few days later, once everyone had received their sample we got together again to try the samples. There was an air of excitement after the two years it had taken us to get to this point, the most anticipated pint ever! I’m no expert in the flavour profiles of beer so you will have to forgive me for my relatively basic analysis. In summary, I got flavours of coffee and chocolate and there was a relatively low level of carbonation, which made it very drinkable. The rest of the team got similar flavours, the only complaint being there wasn’t more to try!

There will of course be slight differences in flavour since we don’t normally add the bacteria listed above as ingredients. However, the recipe we have is as close as we can make it to the original stock version.

The next steps for the project are to carry out further investigation on the characteristics of the Debaryomyces yeast strain in order to determine their suitability for fermentation and potential use in future brewing production. We are making approaches to various commercial breweries in order to discuss future commercialisation of the recipe and produce the brew on large scale. With the story behind the original recipe, we’re hopeful that the provenance would be a key selling point to consumers. It is my hope that the recovery of these samples will open up new possibilities for different types of beers to be developed, and offer something different for beer enthusiasts to try.

I have also found out that there are other types of beer to be found on the wreck, specifically an IPA style. Once we’re allowed to begin diving again, I am hoping to return to the Wallachia and recover some of these bottles so we can carry out the same analysis and keep the project moving forward.

In the mean-time, cheers!

Additional Resources:

The Brewlab Podcast, Episode 2 (March 30, 2021): Lost Beers Recreated from Shipwreck Bottles

GUE Scotland vlog -Episode 1


Andy Pilley is a Chartered Surveyor, team member of GUE Scotland, passionate wreck & cave diver and Ghost Fishing UK team diver. Andy started diving with the Scottish Sub-Aqua club in 2011 and began diving with GUE in 2018. Andy dives on the east and west coasts of Scotland where there is a rich maritime history and an abundance of wrecks to be explored. He has a passion for project diving and is developing objectives for a number of sites with the GUE Scotland team. He hopes to assist on the Mars Project and with the WKPP in the future.

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