Here at Jay's Maritime History I am always on the search for more interesting maritime topics, and this subject is no exception.
New knowledge and often fundamental revisions to previously held idea's. Artistic representations are more often than not and inaccurate and need careful interpretation and research, which can usually only be substantiated or disproved by studies of the remains of ships.
Much of what is known about the evolution of ships and of the history of shipbuilding is owed a great deal to marine or nautical archaeology, a field so new by comparrison with history, that each year brings new discoveries.
The oldest known accurate models date from the mid seventeenth century and shipwright's plans from the eighteenth, but these frequently do not show many important details, A good book which I refer to many times on this subject is ( The British Museum Encyclopedia of Underwater and Marine Archaeology ) which I might add is a must have for anyone interested in this field of maritime history.
The study of actual, preserved ships, is therefore of enormous interest. Two ships spring to mind here, One a viking ship the "Oseberg" ( A viking ship from around A.D. 800 ) Which we will soon be featuring here as well, and the other ship the Swedish warship the WASA, which we have already featured.Both of these ships are the results of marine archaeology and many details of other ships are known because of the work of marine archaeologists.
Mariine Archaeology can be said to have started in the late nineteenthh century when viking ships tombs were unearthed in Scandinavia. The ships had been preserved by the particular quality of the soil in which they had been buried. wooden ships are rarely preseved. Some have decayed, or been broken up for re-usable parts and fire wood when they became unserviceable. Those ships which escaped the scrap heap have usually done so by shipwreck. ( You may say what about preseved ships from the past, HMS Victory, Cutty Sark and many more, here we are in a different realm not related to Archaeology ) and wrecks are hidden under water.
It is only since the 1940's that perfecting the aqualung SCUBA Diving ( Self contained underwater breathing apparatus ) , has allowed submarine exploration to expand and many wrecks have since been located. I know from personal experience from my time in the Royal Navy doing a Scuba diving course and whilst in Malta exploring some of the wartime wrecks in and around the island , so I know how fascinating this subject is.
A good example of underwater marine archgaeology is provided by the salvage of a seventeen metre Greek merchant vessel which sank about 300 BC off the coast of Cyprus, near Kyrenia. ( The ancient Ship of Kyrenia was a small Greek trade vessel carrying a cargo of wine in Rhodian amphorae (left), and sunk North of Kyrenia around 306 B.C. The hull was about 15m long, and was protected from fouling by a lead cover. ) . She is the oldest sea going ship to have been found and studied. In 1965 a sponge diver, Andreas Caruiolou, using aqualung gear, discovered a pile of amphoras at a depth of nearly thirty metre's. Two years later he showed the spot to Michael Katzev and other archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Only a hundred jars were on the sea floors surface: there was nothing to show that this mound hid a full sized merchant Hulk. A cord grid was staked out on the bottom to map the area for a preliminary survey and divers with metal sounding rods felt that the wreckage extended below the sand over a distance of 23 by 12 m. A futher survey with a metal detector and proton magnetometer indicated metal concentrations and revealed the hidden position of the wreck.
The following summer the salvage work began, using air lifts ( Underwater vacuum cleaners ) to remove the unwanted sand and silt. The divers dug with spatulas, with their hands and they even used brushes for the delicate work, just as land archaeologists do. It was however, a most time consuming operation than a land dig, because not only is working in water more awkward, but the depth of thirty metres meant that a lot of diving time had to be spent in decompression ascents to avoid the danger of the bends.
A permanent reference grid of plastic pipes was used to note the exact position of each find and twice a day the whole site s covered by a series of stereo photographs to record and map the three dimensional structure of the wreck, a necessary precaution for future reconstruction and interpretation.
By August 1969 all the cargo had been raised and a remarkably well preserved hull had been uncovered. The hull was of much greater interest than the amphoras, millstones, coins and other artifacts, which were of well known types. The cargo and artefacts are intersting, however, for the story they tell us about the ship.( I believe that this has been discussed and shown onTV on the history channel )
Some of the amphoras at the bottom of the pile had been loaded at Samos, the probable port of departure for the ships last voyage.They probably contained wine. Some millstones were picked up, perhaps at Kos, and most of them were sold, perhaps at Rhodes where more wine in amphoras was loaded. A few reject millstones were retained as ballast,on the ships floors. There were other amphoras which may have contained olive oil and foodstuffs, and of almonds. The sacks and the kernels have long since disappeared, but the shells have been preserved. Then the ship set course for Cyprus, and she must have been overwhelmed by a squall off Kyrenia,she sank in deep water.
Tableware for four were found, indicating the size of her crew. Perhaps they managed to escape in a boat, for there is evidence that the ship had been abandonded in an orderly manner. Only a few bronze coins were found and these indicate that the wreck did not occur before 306 BC, drinking cups were found in the forepeak. In todays Greek caiques water is still kept there, how old is tradition one asks oneself.
More than half the hull was found on the sea floor, but it was not possible to lift the wreck up bodily. It had to be mapped and dismantled and was reassembashore, in Kyrenia's Crusaders Castle. Before the jigsaw pizzle ( with its many missing pieces ) could be put together, the wood had to be treated by long immersion in polyethylene glycol. The method is described in our account on the Wasa. A full size midsection replica and a sailing model were made to test various hypotheses. Radio carbon datings of the timbers indictate thst the ship was about eighty years old when she sunk and there is evidence of several repairs done during her career.
The bow planking had been covered with veneer of pine as reinforcement when she had past her prime. An interesting feature I have discovered whilst researching this was the fact the use of lead sheathing as a protection against teredos ( Marine Borers ) Copper sheathing was applied for the same reason on wooden ships from the late eighteenth century onwards. The mast and sail had disappeared, but there is the intriguing possibility ( Deduced from the position of the mast step ) that the Kyrenia was a ship fore and aft rigged. ( The wreck lies on a sandy bottom at a depth of -30m; a large part of the hull has been well preserved by sediments, together with the complete cargo, including almands and several hundreds of amphorae.)
The Kyrenia ship is just one example of the way marine archaeologists work. Tresure seekers have eagerly adopted SCUBA diving techniques and many more shipwrecks are now being investigated. Whatever the motives of the divers, it seems likely that our knowledge of early ships and of the men who sailed them will be gradually be greatly enlarged, But not all divers are so helpful, Many wrecks sites are as often as not just plundered for the treasure they crried and therefore are not reported,
I trust you have enjoyed this as much as we have in presenting it, Shortly as soon as we receive them we hope to add photos to this page,
Good web links connected to this page:
To read about the man who found this ship: http://www.greece.org/poseidon/work/cyprus/kyrintro.html
Added Notes:Kyrenia ship, Cyprus. Amphora transport sunk around 306 BC on 30 m depth. This was one of five wrecks located in 1967 by M.L. Katzev, University of Pennsylvania. The hull was recovered and conserved in PEG. The cargo included almonds and hundreds of amphoras from Rhodes. Under the sediment, a large part of the hull was preserved. It was ca 12-15 m long with one mast, built with the shell method, edge-joined planks, and had a lead sheathing. A full scale sailing replica (photo) was constructed in 1985 by professor Richard Steffy. A reduced scale replica has been built for the Manchester Museum, UK. Ref: National Geographic, June 1970 and Nov 1974
Sourced from Writings by Erik Abranson
Ships of the High Seas,
Published by Euro Books ltd
Universitetets Oldsaksamling Oslo