Almost every day I am asked which is my favourite project and why. More often than not, I mumble something about asking a mother to choose a favourite child and attempt to change the subject.
Today, I am going to make an exception. Right here, right now, I’m going to share with you my five favourite shipwrecks. Maybe another day I’ll share another five, but for now you’ll have to settle for these. They may not be the oldest, the best preserved, or the world’s most significant (although many of them are), yet they are all very personal to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredible people on some incredible projects and these are some of the standouts.
1. Kizilburun Column Wreck
The Kizilburun column wreck is that of a Late Hellenistic marble carrier lost off the Aegean coast of Turkey, at Kizilburun, in the 1st century BC. The column wreck was first located by Cemal Pulak, during the Institute for Nautical Archaeology’s (INA) Annual Shipwreck Survey in 1993. It is one of at least five shipwrecks in the immediate area. The others include a 4th century BC amphora carrier, two Byzantine wrecks and a medieval millstone wreck.
This ship went down whilst transporting all the elements of a monumental marble column, in the form of eight individual drums and a single Doric capital, bound for the Temple of Apollo at Claros. Between 2005 and 2008, under the direction Donny Hamilton and Deborah Carlson, an international team of archaeologists, INA staff and graduate students from the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University excavated the wreck, which lies at a depth of 45-48 metres. I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2006 field season. It was incredible!
2. The Skuldelev Ships
The Skuldelev Ships are five Viking ships which, having reached the end of their useful life, were filled with stones in the 1070s and deliberately sunk near Skuldelev in the Roskilde Fjord. This was an attempt to block the channel and prevent invaders from reaching Roskilde, then the capital of Denmark.
In 1962, after almost 900 years underwater, a cofferdam was placed around the site, the water pumped out, and the Skuldelev ships excavated under the direction of Ole Crumlin-Pederson. The importance of the Skuldelev finds – a collection of warships, coastal traders and cargo boats – is impossible to overstate because until then almost nothing was known about Viking shipbuilding, seafaring and long distance trade. The Skuldelev finds turned our knowledge of Nordic maritime culture upside down and opened the door to the Viking world.
3. Nanhai One
Nanhai One is an 800-year-old Southern Song Dynasty merchant vessel from China, which sank in 25-metres of water at the western mouth of the Pearl River in approximately 1260 AD. Discovered by a commercial salvage company in 1987, Nanhai One gave birth to maritime archaeology in China.
After nine separate seabed excavations, Nanhai One was raised from the seabed in 2007, and moved into the Maritime Silk Road Museum, a unique purpose-built museum in Guangdong, where it is undergoing further excavation. Nanhai One is an incredibly rich find. More than 14,000 of an estimated 60-80,000 artefacts have been recovered so far. A time capsule in the truest sense of the term, Nanhai One has the potential to tell us more about Song Dynasty trade, society and technology than any other site in Chinese history.
4. Mary Rose
Mary Rose was England’s King Henry VIII’s flagship and the pride of his Tudor fleet. The warship was constructed in 1509–10 and after a successful 33-year Naval career, sank during a battle with the French in 1545. Henry was devastated.
In 1971, after a six-year search, diver Alex McKee located the wreck in the Solent off Portsmouth. After extensive archaeological excavations directed by Margaret Rule and involving over 600 divers, the hull of Mary Rose was recovered in 1982, along with more than 19,000 artefacts. Further excavation of the stem post, bow castle and an anchor were carried out in 2005-2006 under the direction of Alex Hildred, and I was again fortunate to be part of that.
Mary Rose has taught us more about life in Tudor times than any site ever before, for since! The ship is on display in a new purpose-built museum in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and is absolute must-see!
The ornately decorated Vasa was the pride of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus as he built his nation into a global power. Constructed in Vasa in 1626-27 Vasa unfortunately sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, having sailed barely 1300 metres.
In 1956, Vasa was rediscovered by divers Anders Franzén and Per Edvin. The ship was lying intact in 32-metres of water, pristinely preserved by the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic. Excavation of the seabed and the interior of the ship yielded approximately 40,000 artefacts, including some 700 sculptural pieces that were once attached to the hull. The finds document not only the fitting out and armament of the ship, but also the personal possessions of its crew, from the well-off to the poor, along with the skeletal remains of 16 men and women, some still wearing shoes and clothing.
After 333 years on the seabed, Vasa broke the surface again in 1961. After decades of conservation and reassembly, she stands proudly in purpose-built museum in Stockholm. To this day, Vasa remains the world’s largest archaeologically recovered ship. I was lucky enough to work on her during my student days at Southampton. If you ever get the chance to go to Stockholm, this is a must-see. Vasa is quite simply stunning!
For more information about Vasa and the incredible research work being undertaken by Fred Hocker and his team, visit the Vasa Museum online here.
Out of interest … which is your favourite shipwreck? I would love to know!
Images courtesy Vasa Museum, Mary Rose Trust, China News, Viking Ship Museum and INA.