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Heritage: Race to save mystery wreck from shipworm

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Author Topic: Heritage: Race to save mystery wreck from shipworm  (Read 27 times)
Golethia Pennington
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« on: July 02, 2008, 02:52:18 am »

Heritage: Race to save mystery wreck from shipworm

Maev Kennedy The Guardian, Wednesday July 2, 2008
Article history
In the depths of Poole harbour there is a magnificent ship in serious trouble. The vessel, lying off the Dorset coast, sank almost 400 years ago but its surviving timbers are now being devoured by Mediterranean shipworms flourishing in the warmer British waters.

Archaeologists from Bournemouth University have recovered from the wreck a spectacular merman, which was part of the decorative carving from the stern. Divers plan to descend again to lift the 8.5-metre (28ft) rudder.

The ship, and the fate of hundreds of souls on board, is a mystery.

"From the quality of the carving, this was no coal boat," said Dave Parham, a senior lecturer, and diver, at the college's maritime archaeology department. "Depending on whether she was a warship or merchant vessel carrying passengers, there could well have been up to 400 people on board. Even if they all died and were washed up on the beach, somebody would have claimed salvage rights and somebody would have had to bury the bodies."

He added: "You'd expect to find some folk memory of that big ship with all the bodies and all the good expensive booty that came in on the tide."

Near the ship, timbers up to 40 metres long lie on the seabed, and the rudder suggests the vessel had the height of a three-storey house. But a trawl through archives and local history sources has turned up nothing matching what would have been a disastrous loss for the ship's owner.

The timbers date to around 1620, and the style of the carving - there is probably a matching mermaid still to be found, and a helmeted head has also been spotted in the silt - suggests the ship was built somewhere in north-west Europe, possibly the Netherlands or Scandinavia. It had weapons: six cannon have been found, and the number of gun ports suggests many more are buried.

Small personal possessions recovered include a clay pipe, pottery, a copper saucepan and small bell.

The carving slightly resembles that of one of the most ornate shipwrecks ever discovered, the Swedish Vasa, whose lavish ormamentation was partly blamed for top-heaviness that led to the boat sinking like a stone.

The wreck has been designated as being of national importance, and has been monitored by Bournemouth University for the past two years. It escaped treasure hunters, being in the harbour's main, closely monitored, shipping lane. But as the sandbanks shifted and timbers began to rise from the protective layers of silt, the shipworms got to work and rescue archaeology became urgent.

The mystery ship will appear for the first time on the new comprehensive register of heritage at risk, to be published next week by English Heritage.

The evidence of the mollusc attack on the wreck may spell disaster for other ships, as well as jetty timber pilings, wharves and bridges.

In a study commissioned by English Heritage, Paola Palma, a marine archaeologist, found that the animals destroying the details of the carving were blacktip shipworm - or Lyrodus pedicellatus, a warm-water species which grows up to two metres and which was previously unknown in British waters.

Unlike the usual shipworm for this region, which bores only in the breeding season then swims away, the blacktip bores continuously throughout the year and remains in the same spot until the timbers completely disintegrate.
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