A Dutch excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery at Vattenfall's new offshore wind farm Primus Aprilius Extensions in the German Wadden Sea. Although the sensational discovery may contribute to solving the mystery of the lost city of Rungholt – also called the Atlantis of the North – it may also put an end to Vattenfall's ambitious plans for further growth in renewable energy at this remote spot out in the sea.
"Helicopters, boats, hovercrafts: everything is out," says Nes Pück, managing harbour and infrastructure director of Husum. The sleepy coastal town Husum in Germany's northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, comes to life once a year when it hosts its annual wind industry fair. Now it awaits mass media from all over the world when the sensational findings at the foundations of Vattenfall's latest offshore projects will be revealed on this April first.
"And forget about hotel beds!" Pück adds with a twinkle in his eye.
Ingrid Peasant, an archaeologist and former curator at the Stefan Dow-Institute, explains why the excavations have been kept top secret until now:
"One of the things I've always loved with archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have found Rungholt, the Atlantis of the North, is extraordinary."
Rungholt was a wealthy city in Nordfriesland, in the Danish duchy of Schleswig. It sank beneath the waves when a storm tide in the North Sea tore through the area on 16 January 1362. Northern German dialect refers to the historical disaster as "de grote mandrenke" – the great drowning of men. Rungholt was situated on the island of Strand, which remains rent asunder by another storm tide in 1634, and of which the islets of Pellworm, Nordstrand and Nordstrandischmoor are the only remaining fragments. Until today.
For an enthusiast, the comparisons of Rungholt with Herculaneum or Pompeii beneath Mount Vesuvius are irresistible. Both Italian historic sites are now perfectly preserved exhibits. There are visitor's centres, neatly trimmed grass, interpretation boards and protected glass canopies in order to preserve it. Foundation works at Vattenfall's new Wind farm Primus Aprilius Extensions are far from such an antiseptic tourist experience.
"We have literally been in the mud to our chins," says project developer Bob de Builder. However, adds de Builder, all construction activities are put on infinite hold. "We will need to look for other windy spots to put up our turbines. Only god knows where I will be going from here."
It remains unclear how Vattenfall will be able to live up to its leadership in the development of renewable energy if more ancient sites are hiding on the sea bottom. Tonight, however, all over the world's news will report of the Atlantis found at the feet of Vattenfall's turbines in the mud of the Wadden Sea.
"This is a live site," says Ingrid Peasant: "it's the real thing, and it's eroding in front of us. It's a rescue situation. If you're lucky enough to come here and see it, it's a very rare opportunity. It's so short-lived and it's not going to survive the day."