AT SEA NEAR RONNEBY, Sweden (Reuters) - A wooden figurehead of a sea monster with ears like a lion and a crocodile's jaw was carefully lifted from the sea in southern Sweden on Tuesday by divers bringing up treasures from the wreck of a 15th-century Danish warship.
The figurehead came from the wreck of the Gribshunden, which is believed to have sunk in 1495 after it caught fire on its way from Copenhagen to Kalmar on Sweden's east coast.
Although the hull suffered extensive damage, the remaining bits make it one of the best preserved wrecks of its kind, dating from roughly the same period as Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria.
"Last time it looked at the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were still living," Johan Ronnby, professor of marine archaeology at Sodertorn University, said as the ferocious-looking figurehead, which was intended to scare the enemy, was brought to the surface.
"It's a monster. It's a sea monster and we have to discuss what kind of animal it is. I think it's some kind of fantasy animal - a dragon with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth," Ronnby said.
"I'm amazed, We knew that it should be a fantastic figure, but it was over our expectations when we saw it now. It's a fantastic figure, unique in the world."
Researchers are hoping to bring more of the wreck to the surface in future. They say the hulk is well preserved, because sea worms do not like the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea.
"The ship comes from a time just when Columbus was sailing across the ocean and Vasco da Gama also went to India, and this is the same period and we can learn very much about how the ships were made, how they were constructed since there are no ships left from this time," said Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, which is involved in the salvage effort.
"It's unique in the world and I think there are going to be more excavations around here and we're going to find some more unique objects. But this ... today is just fantastic."
Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Larry King