Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Reports from 6 Countries

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Reports from 6 Countries

Article excerpt

Reports from 6 countries


Exploring a 'ships' graveyard' In August 1987, during an extensive underwater archaeological operation off the "Coast of Death", Galicia, a team of 20 archaeologists discovered the wreck of a ship which had taken part in a naval expedition sent by King Philip II of Spain against England. Many of the ships, which set sail from Seville and Lisbon, were wrecked in October 1586 during a violent storm off Cape Finisterre. The archaeologists made 600 individual dives and spent a total of 800 hours under water at a maximum depth of 25 metres. The excavation and recovery of some of the remains, which were located with the aid of magnetometers and uncovered by airlifts, was no easy task since the artefacts had fused together and were covered with concretion. The wooden wreckage had distintegrated, but it proved possible to recover a large anchor, some stone projectiles, a large quantity of small arms ammunition, and numerous coins (left), as well as pottery and personal accessories. Work in this veritable "ships' graveyard" is to continue for several years.



in muddy waters

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, maritime archaeology in The Netherlands cannot be called beautiful. Eyesight is often superfluous to the diver, who is confronted with absolute darkness or a shimmering opaque green micro-world in which the shapes and features of structural remains and differences in soil texture can be felt but can hardly ever be seen. Practically blinded, the diver feels his way and digs like a mole--although his method of excavation differs greatly from the one followed by that destructive creature.

The survey of a shipwreck discovered near the harbour of the medieval town of Medemblik illustrates how underwater archaeologists in The Netherlands work in such conditions. Maximum visibility on the site was about 0.5 metres. An accurate drawing of the remains protruding from the bottom was prepared in the following way. Pins were set out in a rectangle, the longitudinal side of which was parallel to the main axis of the ship. The pins were spaced exactly 3 metres apart. They were connected by strings, thus forming a grid. This grid was simply an aid for orientation, no measurements being taken from the lines. Trilateration measurements were taken from each set of two pins (see drawing bottom right). The measurements and all other data were recorded by speaking into a tape recorder. A pencil was only used to note certain specific details. In this way trilateration was carried out in confined areas, approximately square in shape and the resulting drawings were fitted into a general plan which provided an "overview" of this barely visible site.

Next, three trial trenches were dug perpendicular to the main axis in order to establish the midships, forward and aft sections of the hull, and to provide a relatively clear picture of the construction of the ship. With little work done on site a maximum of information was retrieved.

The find is of great interest from the point of view of shipbuilding techniques and traditions. It combines features of the medieval cog with distinct differences in construction. The underwater survey and trial excavation have shown that the ship dates from between the Middle Ages and modern times--a transitional period for the building of big ships.

There are no plans for extended excavation of the site. Its importance has been assessed and it can and will be kept as it is, an object for scientific research in the distant future. Why, it might be asked, wait so long if the site is so interesting? There are good reasons for this.

Firstly, much of the scientific research on sites in the reclaimed land of the Zuiderzee and on ships such as the Bremen Cog has not yet been published. Only when it is shall we get a clear picture of what is known and of the gaps in our knowledge. …

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