19 Oct 2017

Grounded marine researcher haunted by his past

Was a priceless artefact found in Estonian waters handed over to Finnish researchers because of a petty rivalry?

Marta Tuul
Marta Tuul Eesti Ekspress, Estonia
Source: Eesti Ekspress
Grounded marine researcher haunted by his past - NewsMavens
An early 16th century Swedish war ship. Jacob Hägg/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Why this story matters:

MIn the spring, of 2015, near the Estonian shore of the Baltic Sea, a huge mine control operation took place. A total of 210 mines were located within two weeks. Researchers are pleased -- this was the most successful operation in the history of the Baltic countries.

During the operation, however, somethings else was also found. Thirty meters under the water they discovered a shipwreck from the 16th century. Vello Mäss, Maritime Museum fellow and a recognized marine researcher, identified ceramic items from the wreck strew along the seabed. In an official report, he declared that his team would retrieve up to five objects from the wreckage, and then gave orders to that effect. However, his divers brought up 52 unique and unprecedented items.

In response to this, the National Heritage Board has revoked the researcher's license and keeps him on the dry land. Though an investigation into the matter did not find Vello Mäss guilty of a misdemeanor, he has not been allowed to return to the wreck. Meanwhile, a crew of researcher's from Finland are exploring the wreck.

Estonian onlookers are disquieted by the way the National Heritage Board handled the matter, especially because the 52 objects have been given to a state-owned museum. There are also allegations that the official behind Mäss's suspension was once a student of his. Is a priceless artefact being handed over to Finnish researchers because of a petty rivalry?

Timeline of events

  • A wreck from the 16 th century was discovered by the Gulf of Tallinn near the island of Naissaar. The finding is named as a Nargen 1.
  • Vello Mäss, and underwater archaeologist with 40 years of experience, gave the command for divers to bring five ceramic items from the bottom, to ascertain the age of the wreck. 
  • Divers brought 52 items to which an official at the National Heritage Board responded by revoking his license. 
  • The National Heritage Board opened an investigation, to find out whether Mäss has committed a misdemeanor. He was found innocent.
  • Since this time, the National Heritage Board has welcomed Finnish researchers on the wreck. 
  • Vello Mäss is kept on shore. 
  • It was discovered, that the official who revoked his license was once a student of the researcher - bringing suspicion of personal revenge into the picture. 
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