Dutch archaeologists find 34 possible shipwrecks of 1573 naval battle

One of the Shipwrecks in the Hoornse Hop, Scan/ image RCE

Dutch archaeologists have found at least a stunning 34 shipwrecks near the Dutch town of Hoorn. These ships are presumed to be for a large part 16th century Spanish war ships which were sunk during the Battle on the Zuiderzee. This major naval conflict turned out pivotal for the Dutch to gain their sovereignty from Spanish rule in 1573. The ships were found using combined methods for sonar scanning.

A first scan over an area of approximately 73km2 using side scan sonar resulted in an initial batch of dozens of potentially interesting sites. Interestingly, the research team also used available data which had been gathered by amateur divers and voluntary archaeologists in previous years. These sites were then scanned in more detail using a multibeam echosounder, a more advanced form of sonar using soundwaves.

The ships were found at the bottom of the Hoornse Hop, the creek directly surrounding the town. There appears to lie at least 10 ships in good shape there and 24 more consisting of remnants only. The researchers also found that the bottom appears to be covered in a thick layer of sludge, which quickly covered the wrecks after they reached the bottom, but is also the key factor for their excellent preservation during all those years.

underwater scan shipwreck
One of the Shipwrecks in the Hoornse Hop, Scan/ image RCE

Naval archaeology using scans

Naval archaeology has seen a sharp rise recently in similar finds thanks to the use of sonar technology. The recent developments allow for greater areas to be scanned in a relatively short amount of time which makes it interesting to use. The seabed around the European coasts are littered with shipwrecks and other archaeological treasures. However, only a small portion of those have been located and studied so far.


The town of Hoorn lies in the northwest of the Netherlands. It has just over 73.000 habitants, but is well known for its rich history and for being a major seaport during the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. This period spans roughly the 17th century and is characterised as a period of prosperity where Dutch trade, science, art and military were among the most acclaimed in the world. Although the city technically doesn’t border the actual sea anymore, it does border the Ijsselmeer, which was formerly the Zuiderzee, a relatively sheltered inlet of the North Sea.

Battle of the Zuiderzee
Battle of the Zuiderzee 1573 Painting by Jan Theunisz. Blanckerhoff (wikimedia)

The Battle of the Zuiderzee

The Battle of the Zuiderzee was a naval battle during the Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648). During the battle, a Dutch fleet, mainly consisting of local revolutionaries destroyed a larger and better-equipped Spanish fleet on the Zuiderzee.

Sources (in Dutch):
NH Nieuws article.
Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed article
More from the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed.

Read more about naval archaeology and underwater scans using sonar in particular.