Maritime archaeologists and technicians study the shipboard computer screens during the 3D photographic survey of submarine HMAS AE1, in early 2018. Image courtesy Navigea Ltd.
Expanding the Archaeologist’s toolkit
Once upon a time, the archaeologist’s toolkit was likely to consist of a shovel, trowel, bucket, brush, stakes and string. Today it includes a multitude of technological tools such as magnetometers, drones, ground-penetrating radar, 3D imaging and all sorts of acronyms including DGPS, LIDAR, ROVs, AUVs and many more. In the past, archaeologists were digging trenches in the ground or diving in shallow waters. These days even the roughest terrain and deepest of waters can be part of the archaeologists working environment. What was once thought impossible is increasingly possible – for example, the search for Australia’s first submarine AE1, lost in 1914 and thought one of the greatest unsolved Australian maritime mysteries, is now complete.
Today, an archaeologist can ‘look’ below the ground without even digging, they can send remote operating vehicles to incredible depths under water, and some are even investigating the potential for an ‘archaeology of the air’. And now with DNA analysis archaeologists can construct very human pictures from old bones.
This past September, Kieran Hosty and I travelled to Newport, Rhode Island to assist an ongoing effort to archaeologically document eighteenth-century shipwreck sites in the city’s harbour associated with the American War of Independence (1775-1783). We were invited to Newport by Dr Kathy Abbass, Director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), an all-volunteer organisation that has been locating, documenting and investigating the maritime cultural heritage of Newport Harbor and its adjacent waterways since the late 1990s. Maritime archaeologists affiliated with the museum have been working with RIMAP since 1999, and a team comprising Kieran Hosty and the museum’s Head of Research, Dr Nigel Erskine, visited Newport as recently as September of last year to assist with the project.
Our interest in RIMAP’s research stems from the investigation of a fleet of British transports scuttled at Newport during the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778— a story that has already been chronicled in a previous blog by Kieran and an article by Nigel in the scholarly journal The Great Circle. Among these vessels was the Lord Sandwich, a 368-ton bark that attained international recognition under its previous name, HMB Endeavour. Endeavour, of course, is best known for its voyage of exploration between 1768 and 1771 under the command of Lieutenant James Cook, during which it became the first European vessel to reach Australia’s east coast.
An illustration of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Image: ANMM.
The date the eruption which consumed Pompeii is normally given as 24th August, as this is the date that appears in the standard classical text of Pliny the Younger’s Letters. It is written down as nonum kalends Septembres – the ninth day before the first (kalends) of September – which, to the modern reader seems an awkward way of recording a date.
Installing the statue of Hermanubis with the assistance of a forklift. Image: Will Mather / ANMM.
Several of the most unusual and interesting items in Escape from Pompeii are from the Museum of the Parco Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei housed in the Castle at Baia on the Bay of Naples. The Archaeological park covers the ancient sites of Cumae, Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) and Baiae which were a lot more famous to ancient Romans than Pompeii and Herculaneum. The sites are on northern side of the Bay as it stretches past Mount Vesuvius and Naples.
All three sites are situated in or around the Campi Flegrei, which translates as the fields of fire. The Campi Flegrei is one very large ground level volcano with gaseous fumeroles, boiling mud pools, and numerous smaller craters – about 24 of them – some of them flooded like Lake Avernus. The caldera of the volcano continues underwater into the Bay of Naples. If it were erupt it would be catastrophic.
The rostrum in Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
One of the most amazing objects in Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue is a rostrum from a Roman warship. A rostrum is a bronze ram attached to the bow of an ancient warship. It was used to punch holes into the hull of enemy ships to disable or sink them. The Roman historian Livy gives a description of their use at the Battle of Side in 190 BC:
Whenever a ship encountered an enemy vessel head on, it either shattered its prow, or sheared off its oars; or else it sailed through the open space in the line and rammed it in the stern
The Narooma Bar on a very calm day with Montague Island in the distance. Image: Lee Graham / ANMM.
New South Wales hosts a wide variety of historic shipwreck sites. These range from large, fully exposed and intact hulls to smaller, largely disarticulated, dispersed, and buried structural components and artefacts. The environments in which these sites exist also differ significantly in terms of seabed composition, water depth and water clarity.
ANMM Shipwright and diver Lee Graham inspects a collapsed iron frame on the Centennial site that has been colonised by sponges. Image: James Hunter / ANMM.
The museum’s maritime archaeology team recently visited the shipwreck site of the late nineteenth century steamship Centennial. The dive was part of an ongoing initiative to document selected historic shipwreck sites within Sydney Harbour with digital photography and videography. Still images and video footage collected during the project will be used to generate 3D digital photo-mosaics of these sites and test the usefulness of this recording method in a variety of environments.
A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert’s published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.
Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
Archaeology on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: ANMM.
In the spirit of National Archaeology Week 2016 we took the opportunity to open the floor to you, our audience and community, with the hashtag #AskAnArchaeologist. This was a chance for you to ask your questions about all things archaeology and maritime heritage to our team.
1892 replica of Santa Maria photographed in 1904 possibly by Edward H Hart. Source: United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
Many years ago when I was attending primary school we were taught The Columbus Day poem in order to remember the momentous events of 1492. The opening stanzas of the poem went something like:
In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He had three ships and left from Spain
He sailed through sunshine and he sailed through rain
These three vessels, sponsored by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I Queen of Castile and Leon – made up a great voyage of exploration lead by Christopher Columbus – also known Cristofora Colombo in his native Genoa and as Christobal Colon in Spain – who had managed to convince the joint sovereigns of Spain that he had found a short cut to the famous spice islands of the Orient.
These famous ships were, of course, the caravels Pinta and Nina and the larger Galician nao (ship) Santa Maria and with them Columbus discovered, although the Native Americans would have been a bit bemused by the term, not the Orient but in fact the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti – before returning to Spain with the Pinta and the Nina – the Santa Maria having been wrecked in Caracol Bay, Haiti in on Christmas Day, 1492. Columbus lead several other voyages of discovery to what became known as the Americas and the rest as they say is history. Continue reading →
Miles away from my office at the Australian National Maritime Museum and the lapping waters of Darling Harbour, is my temporary workspace in the south east corner of the spectacular Jordan Rift Valley. Here, rimmed by ancient and multi-coloured mountains, the valley descends to the salty shores of the Dead Sea. At over 400m below sea level, this is the actual lowest place on the earth’s surface.
Despite the bare and beautiful mountains and a sea void of life, communities have flourished in this region for tens of thousands of years. The rich history of those people who have lived by the Dead Sea is now the focus of a brand-new purpose built-museum: The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth.
The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth with the Dead Sea at its lowest point visible in the background. Photo: Peter Edwell 2013
Viking activity extended from Asia in the east to Greenland and North America in the west, and from the islands far up in the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and northern Africa in the south. During the Viking Age, exotic and exclusive goods flowed into the Viking homelands in Scandinavia and were made available, for those who could afford them, at trading places such Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang and others. Along with the material goods came ideological, political and religious currents.
A bronze pouch made fom fur, bronze and paper, currently on display at ANMM.
Among the many exotic artefacts that have been discovered at Viking-Age sites are a Persian glass beaker, an Irish cross, an Indian statuette of the Buddha, a Coptic ladle from Egypt, and shells from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean intended to be made into pendants. Such artefacts are evidence of what great melting pots many of the Viking Age communities were. Much of what we call ‘Viking-Age culture’ was in fact created from encounters between norrænir menn and other peoples.
After an exciting trip back down from the Great Detached Reef – Silentworld II and its full time crew headed up by Captain Michael Gooding responded to a Mayday call on late Thursday evening and rescued two professional fishermen from their sinking fishing vessel north of Cooktown – the team arrived off Flora Reef, south of Cairns on Friday morning.
Flora Reef is the location of HMCS Mermaid, the former surveying vessel of Phillip Park King, which was wrecked whilst on voyage from Sydney (New South Wales) to Port Raffles (now in the Northern Territory) in 1829. After several searches the wreck site of the Mermaid was located and surveyed by the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2009 in the first, of what has turned out to be many, successful underwater archaeological research projects.
Blue water on the surface. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
Flora Reef is also close to the site of, an as yet unresolved mystery, dating back to 1943.In February 1943 the Royal Australian Air-force Catalina A24-25 from 11 Squadron RAAF – went missing off Cairns whilst returning from an anti-submarine patrol – the last garbled message from the aircraft – which was received at Townsville contained the words ‘Force land’. Because the message was received at Townsville rather than Cairns and because of eyewitness accounts from soldiers at a military installation on one of the islands south of Cairns the aircraft was presumed to have crashed near the Frankland Islands. Despite an extensive search the aircraft was not located and the crew of 11 presumed lost – missing in action.
Another perfect day on Great Detached Reef – seas almost mirror smooth – with only a slight breeze from the north – however a 20-knot change from the south-east is predicted to come in sometime in the late afternoon which will make diving on the outer edge of the reef difficult if not impossible – so it is time to get cracking.
Two dive teams away nice and early from the back of Silentworld II – Dive Team One, consisting of John, Peter and Xanthe headed south across the lagoon to exam some possible shipwreck sites that Bungee in his helicopter had seen the day before and Dive Team Two, made up of Frits, Meri, Jacqui, Rob, Kieran and Michael heading south east, also across the lagoon, to the site of the Charles Eaton.
Charles Eaton’s stove. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
The Charles Eaton was a 313 ton, three masted, wooden barque under the command of Captain J.G. Moore when it was wrecked on a speculative voyage to India in 1834. On board the vessel were Captain William D’Oyley of the Bengal Artillery, his young family and several other passengers. The vessel struck the eastern edge of the Great Detached Reef and some of the crew deserted in the only serviceable boat leaving the passengers and remaining crew stranded on the wreck. The survivors built a small raft on which they successfully sailed to the mainland but unfortunately they encountered a group of Aboriginal people who killed all the survivors except for a young crewman called John Ireland and two year old William D’Oyley – they were subsequently rescued two years later by Captain Lewis of the schooner Isabella – by which time young D’Oyley had become completely assimilated into an Aboriginal family and could no longer speak English. Continue reading →
With Bungee searching the reef from overhead we sent out Xanthe, Rob, Meri, Frits, Jacqui, Kieran and Michael to commence surveying the buoyed shipwrecks starting with the one on the northern arm of Great Detached Reef.
This site consisted of a single iron anchor out on the edge of the reef on the other side of the surf break, two large mid-19th century iron anchors – one lying flat on the seabed the other picked into the reef top some 120 metres in from the edge of the reef. Surrounding these substantial anchors (4.0m long by 2.8m wide) are several lines of stud link anchor chain running in a north-westerly direction from the edge of the reef across the reef top and towards the centre of the site. Around the anchor chains are large iron concretions (an iron / sand / corrosion product matrix), a number of copper-alloy fastenings, copper-alloy sheathing (a metal coating used to protect the lower hull of timber sailing vessels from fouling and marine borers).
Peter Illidge (GBRMPA) inspected a ship’s windless on Great Detached Reef. PHOTO: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
Scattered forward of the two anchors are several composite piles of chain, stone ballast and iron knees and rigging components – the largest mound being some 5.0 metres long, 2.0 metres wide and 1.5m high.