A huge cargo of large blocks of the marble stonework apparently sank to the bottom of the Vistula river almost four centuries ago. The blocks were likely being transported back to Sweden by Swedish invaders. Record drought and low water levels have revealed the blocks. They are are covered in a yellow foul-smelling mud.
Researchers had known about the artefacts but retrieving them had been difficult as they were several feet under water. However, the task is still difficult because the water level is so low large floating cranes cannot get near enough to lift up the blocks and regular equipment sinks into the mud. Even so researchers are thankful the drought revealed the blocks.
of the University of Warsaw Museum said:
"The drought helped us a lot because what had been lying underneath is now at the surface,"
Previous to the revelation of the blocks, knowledge about what had happened when the Swedes invaded was quite sketchy but now there is clear material evidence of the invasion.
Historians think that the Swedes were trying to move the loot to Gdansk where the Vistula flows into the Baltic Sea and then ship the blocks to Sweden. As yet, it is not known exactly why the barges sank. Kowalski said that so far they have located 10 tonnes of stonework but they think there is much more. The barges had a capacity of about 50 to 60 tonnes each.
The Museum authorities intend to take the masonry to Warsaw's Royal Castle one of the sites believed to have been looted by the Swedes. However until the river level is a bit higher again progress will be quite slow.
The lowest water levels
since records have been kept about 200 year ago have also revealed World War II explosives and pieces from Jewish gravestones. If water levels do not rise soon, power stations in the city that use the river water for cooling may be forced to close down.