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Spanish Pottery from the Tortugas Shipwreck, 1622

Oceans Odyssey 4Oceans Odyssey 4 presents a major collection of olive jars, tablewares, cooking vessels and tobacco pipes excavated from the Tortugas shipwreck at a depth of 405 meters in the Straits of Florida. The Spanish ship’s Seville dominated pottery dated to 1622 is an index of unchanged cultural tastes and production at the end of Spain’s Golden Age. For cooking the crew relied on Afro-Caribbean colonoware, possible evidence of maritime slavery in the Americas fleets. Tin-glazed plates painted with the papal coat of arms may have served Spanish clergymen from the newly formed Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. The Andalusian olive jars are compared to Roman Baetican amphoras as microcosms of distinct economics. Samples of all ceramics were subjected to Inductively-Coupled Plasma Spectrometry (ICPS) to assess vessel origins.

Greg Stemm, Sean Kingsley & Ellen Gerth (eds.), Oceans Odyssey 4. Pottery from the Tortugas Shipwreck, Straits of Florida: A Merchant Vessel from Spain’s 1622 Tierra Firme Fleet (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2014).

1 - Tortugas combo - Sean 1212

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HMS Victory: World’s First Deep-Sea Virtual Dive Trail

HomePage-VirtualTrail

Unseen by the public for 269 years, the greatest warship from the age of sail can now be visited through the world’s first virtual wreck dive trail. HMS Victory sank during a ferocious storm on 5 October 1744. Remains washed up on the Channel Isles, leading the Admiralty and modern historians to seek this First Rate English flagship off the Casquets. This great maritime mystery was solved when Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the wreck 100 kilometres west of the Channel Isles. The wreck site is owned by the Maritime Heritage Foundation following a gift from the Ministry of Defence in January 2012.

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© Odyssey Marine Exploration

Located in the western English Channel, 80 kilometres southeast of Plymouth and outside UK territorial waters, the wreck of the Victory is almost inaccessible. Her remains lie in 75 metres – beyond safe diving depths and beneath one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Changing tides and strong currents make diving by humans dangerous. Offshore fishing boats drag heavy gear across the seabed. For safety reasons the surveys conducted since 2008 have relied on Odyssey’s 7-ton Remotely-Operated Vehicle Zeus, the world’s most sophisticated archaeologically tooled robot.

Now everyone can share the warship’s deep-sea wonders. The Victory Virtual Dive Trail presents high-definition video coverage. Visitors can move across the wreck – using a bird’s eye vertical view made up of 4,535 digital photographs – to micro views of the wreck and, in turn, to high-definition video taken in 2008.

The video trail shows many of the Victory’s most prized features – its 100 bronze cannon collapsed onto the seabed (including Europe’s most powerful 42-pounder guns), hull remains, wood and bronze rigging, iron ballast, anchors and the ship’s rudder. Accompanying text sets the archaeological remains in a historical setting.

The site’s survival is threatened by many environmental and human issues and the Virtual Dive Trail shows snagged fishing gear, heavily scratched cannon, and guns dragged up to 230 metres away from the wreck mound. Video captures the position of a 24-pounder bronze cannon before it was looted by Dutch salvors in 2011.

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© Odyssey Marine Exploration

The Victory Virtual Dive Trail is part of the Maritime Heritage Foundation’s commitment to making this deep-sea site accessible to everyone through scientific and educational programmes. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage encourages non-intrusive access to shipwrecks worldwide to create public awareness, appreciation, protection and to benefit sustainable economic development. This is why a virtual dive trail has been created to bring the site to the people.

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© Odyssey Marine Exploration

The Victory Virtual Dive Trail has been developed by the Maritime Heritage Foundation, Odyssey Marine Exploration and Wreck Watch Int. The website platform and its additional sections on the historical and archaeological background of HMS Victory can be visited at: http://www.victory1744.org.

Virtual Dive Trail

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Black Rats & Spanish Pearls: The Tortugas Shipwreck, History’s First Deep-Sea Excavation

Port of Seville c. 1590 by Alonso Sanchez Coello

Port of Seville c. 1590 by Alonso Sanchez Coello

After 1,489 hours of robotic diving and 20 years of research, the results of the world’s first ever deep-sea excavation have docked with the publication of Oceans Odyssey 3. The Deep-Sea Tortugas Shipwreck, Straits of Florida: A Merchant Vessel from Spain’s 1622 Tierra Firme Fleet (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2013).

The Tortugas wreck was found by Seahawk Deep Ocean Technology of Tampa, Florida, in 1989 at a depth of 405m in the Straits of Florida, south of the Dry Tortugas, the southernmost islands of the Florida Keys. Too deep for divers, the exact positions of 16,903 artefacts were recorded and all recovered by the Remotely-Operated Vehicle Merlin, custom-built for the project.

Tortugas Wreck - ROV Merlin

Tortugas Wreck – ROV Merlin. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

These ground-breaking operations ushered in the birth of a new discipline, deep-sea shipwreck archaeology, for which the core tools of the trade were fine-tuned to enable accurate surveying using a Sonardyne acoustic long baseline positioning system, stratigraphic excavation using a customised suction dredge with integrated sediment removal and filtration (SeRF) system (prototyped from a beer keg), heavy duty lifting with two advanced Schilling manipulators, and delicate artefact recovery based on a limpet suction device innovation. All underwater activities were fully documented by video camera and three still photography cameras.

Limpet suction device recovers an olive jar

Limpet suction device recovers an olive jar. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

The lost ship has been identified as the Buen Jesús y Nuestra Señora del Rosario, a 117-ton Portuguese-built and Spanish-operated navio owned by Juan de la Torre Ayala. Sailing with the infamous 1622 Tierra Firme fleet returning home to Seville, the Buen Jesús plummeted into the deep 20km offshore in the ferocious hurricane of 5 October that consumed eight ships, including the Atocha and Margarita, sweeping their remains across more than 80km of the Florida Keys. Around 550 people, including 121 priests, drowned. The gold, silver, pearls, indigo, cochineal, tobacco and other products lost on all eight ships were valued at 4,000,000 pesos. The fleet’s loss was a fatal blow for debt-consumed Madrid, suffering 300% inflation since the turn of the 17th century, and its fading Golden Age.

Monitoring ROV work, Tortugas wreck

Monitoring ROV work, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Unlike the rest of the fleet, journey’s end for the Tortugas ship was Nueva Cordoba (Cumana) on the Costa de las Perlas in modern Venezuela. A daredevil itinerary took the Buen Jesús to the edge of the Spanish colonies, waters teeming with Dutch and English privateers, for three reasons: pearls, possibly contraband, tobacco and as a sign of Spanish colonial power over the Peal Coast, which had become heavily eroded by the early 17th-century by the Dutch assault on the region’s abundant salt reserves.

As a small merchant vessel operating at the opposite spectrum to the great Tierra Firme treasure ships the Atocha and Margarita celebrated off the Florida Keys, the Tortugas shipwreck ultimately provides a rare window into the everyday world of colonial Spain’s trade with the New World at the end of its Golden Age.

4-Plex with artefacts safely recovered from 405m deep. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

4-Plex with artefacts safely recovered from 405m deep. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

While the 39 gold bars and 1,184 silver coins represent in part profits from the outwards-shipped sale along the Pearl Coast of wine, olives, hazelnuts, iron goods, women’s shoes and a tapestry depicting the Souls of Purgatory, the 6,639 pearls harvested from the Pinctada imbricate oyster beds are split symbols of luxury and brutality. At the one extreme pearls were Europe’s hottest fashion accessory. Symbolising purity, integrity and wisdom, Venezuelan gems like those shipped on the Buen Jesús featured in resplendent paintings of the period, such as the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (1588, by George Gower) and were coveted by King Philip II, Queen Margarita and Lucrezia Borgia alike. Venezueala’s pearls were fished from the seas under extremely harsh conditions for man and nature: 60,000 divers from the Bahamas, followed by tens of thousands of imported African slaves, were wiped out in what is considered to be the earliest recorded example by Europeans of species overkill causing ecological collapse.

Pottery, astrolabes & gold bars, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Pottery, astrolabes & gold bars, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

At the other end of the spectrum, the Tortugas wreck turned up evidence of an industrious crewman, who idled away the hours cutting lice combs and cases from the shells of hawksbill turtles, Eretmochelys imbricate. A well-appointed shipboard merchant owned an onyx inkwell and an octagonal ivory sundial made in Nuremberg, useless for telling the time in either Seville or the Americas but a sign of high fashion. Most curious of all are two greenstone whetsones and a greenstone labret (tribal lip ornament) that hint at the presence of a Native Indian woman accompanying the ill-fated Tortugas ship. Whether as a slave or dependent is uncertain.

Pearls, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Pearls, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Finally, as Mother Nature united well-heeled merchants and slaves in tragedy, the analysis of the animal bones shows that rats ran amock beneath the feet of the ship’s cat, who licked his lips at caged blue-headed parrots. Bones from the latter are the first archaeological evidence from any shipwreck worldwide of the transport of precious birds to Spain from central and northern South America.

Blue-on-blue Seville tablewares, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Blue-on-blue Seville tablewares, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

In an ideal world, perhaps submerged resources like these could rest untouched in the deep from the ravages of man. Idealism is a luxury that science can ill afford. Rumours about the discovery of a ‘Spanish galleon’ off the Tortugas Islands came to light in 1965, when the fishing-boat Trade Winds, trawling for shrimp, snagged its nets and pulled up three intact Spanish olive jars, metal artefacts, and pieces of ship’s rigging and wood. Numerous internationally important Spanish wrecks have been found through the same fishing impacts off Florida, Louisiana and Texas since the lucrative ‘Pink Gold’ shrimp grounds were discovered in the 1960s – with Key West at its epicentre.

Gold bars, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

Gold bars, Tortugas wreck. © Odyssey Marine Exploration

The pioneering work of Greg Stemm, John Astley, John Morris and Dave Moore on the Tortugas shipwreck using nascent computer coding, deep-sea technology, creativity and a can-do mentality that seems to be vanishing today represents an exciting moment in the history of marine exploration.

We hope that the publication of the first of two volumes on this shipwreck, saved from trawlers hunting pink shrimp, demonstrates the potential and necessity of deep-sea projects to save key sites from harm’s way and is a matter to be celebrated.

*** Meanwhile, Wreck Watch Int. would like to hear from anyone who can suggest parallels to the Tortugas artefacts from archaeological sites and wrecks in Spain, especially for the ceramic tablewares, which were largely manufactured in Triana, Seville.

  • The Tortugas Shipwreck collection is curated by Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida, who have made key artefacts publicly available through its Virtual Museum.
  • A popular article on the Tortugas shipwreck, ‘Black Rats & Spanish Pearls Shipwrecked off the Florida Keys’ is published in the February/March 2013 issue of Current World Archaeology.
  • A preliminary scientific study of the ceramics from the Tortugas shipwreck is published in the 2012 issue of Ceramics In America, kindly made publicly available by the Chipstone Foundation.

Oceans Odyssey 3. The Deep-Sea Tortugas Shipwreck, Straits of Florida: A Merchant Vessel from Spain’s 1622 Tierra Firme Fleet, edited by Greg Stemm & Sean Kingsley, is available from Oxbow Books in the UK and USA.

Oceans Odyssey 3

Oceans Odyssey 3

Odyssey Virtual Museum

Odyssey Virtual Museum

Current World Archaeology, February/March 2013

Current World Archaeology, February/March 2013

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JUST PUBLISHED, 2011

Oceans Odyssey 2. Underwater Heritage Management & Deep-Sea Shipwrecks in the English Channel & Atlantic Ocean

 Edited by Greg Stemm & Sean Kingsley

Oceans Odyssey 2 presents the results of the discovery and archaeological survey of ten deep-water wrecks by Odyssey Marine Exploration. In the Western Approaches and western English Channel, a mid-17th century armed merchantman, the guns of Admiral Balchin’s Victory (1744), the mid-18th century French privateer La Marquise de Tourny and six German U-boats lost at the end of World War II are examined in depth. From the Atlantic coast of the United States, the Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ wreck’s British ceramics, tobacco pipes and American glass wares bring to life the story of a remarkable East Coast schooner lost in the mid-19th century. These unique sites expand the boundaries of human knowledge, highlighting the great promise of deep-sea wrecks, the technology needed to explore them and the threats from nature and man that these wonders face. Challenges to managing underwater cultural heritage are also discussed, along with proposed solutions for curating and storing collections.

ISBN-13: 978-1-84217-442-5
ISBN-10: 1-84217-442-8

354 pages, full colour throughout (Oxbow Books, 2011) – £25

To order your copy: Oxbow Books, Oxford.


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Sunken America’s Holy Grail – Earliest Human from Mexico’s Black Abyss

A human skull found in the Hoyo Negro cave, Mexico. Photo: Daniel Riordan-Araujo.

Deep within the flooded cave of Hoyo Negro, the ‘Black Hole’ in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, explorers from PET (Projecto Espeleológico de Tulum) have possibly discovered America’s earliest human remains. After diving along 1,200 metres of underwater passages through an eerie submerged Ice Age landscape using underwater propulsion scooters, the team of Alex Alvarez, Franco Attolini and Alberto Nava touched down at a depth of 57 metres and started surveying a 60 x 36 metre cavern.

Near to several megafauna remains, including a mastodon bone, the team came across a sight that caught their breath. “I was searching for more of the mastodon remains”, recalled Alvarez, “when I saw what looked like a human skull. I had thought we already had a great discovery after finding the remains of several Pleistocene animals… but finding a human skull was totally amazing for us. All of our efforts… walking through the jungle, carrying all the gear, securing the helium required to do such a deep dive… paid off at that moment. This is the Holy Grail of underwater cave exploration.”

Remains of an extinct mastodon in the Hoyo Negro cave, Mexico. Photo: Daniel Riordan-Araujo.

Some 12,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene period, the Earth was rocked by great climatic change. As the ice caps melted, a global flood triggered a colossal rise in sea levels, which flooded low-lying coastal landscapes. Many of the underground spaces where for millennia animals had rested and taken on water, and where tribes escaped the sun and performed cultic rituals, were inundated.

Although radiometric dating of the bones is still pending, the bones found with the megafauna remains in Hoyo Negro could represent the oldest evidence of humans in the Americas. Guillermo de Anda, an archaeologist from the University of Yucatan in Merida, believes that “The findings of Hoyo Negro are a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. The skull looks pre-Maya, which could make it one of the oldest sets of human remains in the area… Therefore, protecting and learning the secrets of Hoyo Negro should be one of the main priorities for the archaeologists in the region.”

Detailed analysis of the human skeletal remains from Hoyo Negro, a site located inside the Aktun-Hu cave system in the state of Quintana Roo, is expected to help reveal when these Paleoindian peoples reached this area and, ultimately, who were the First Americans, one of the great mysteries in American archaeology.

 

Source: NatGeo News Watch.

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Odyssey’s Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ Wreck: a Mid-19th Century East Coast Schooner

Plan of the 370 metre-deep Jacksonville 'Blue China' shipwreck (Site BA02), mid-19th century. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Just published – the first two reports by Odyssey Marine Exploration on its rescue archaeology on a mid-19th century wreck (Site BA02) lost at a depth close to 370 metres, 70 nautical miles off Jacksonville, Florida.

The wreck was brought to Odyssey’s attention in 2003 by a fisherman, whose nets had snagged ceramic wares over the last 40 years. A small selection of artifacts was recovered in 2003 and the wreck arrested in court. The site was revisited by Odyssey in 2005, when disturbing further impacts were documented, caused by recent dragging of trawl nets in the interim years by shrimp boats seeking fish for America’s booming sushi restaurants. Further diagnostic material culture was recorded in relation to its contexts prior to select recovery to identify and date the site before the wreck became even more extensively disturbed and data lost.

Lines of ceramics disturbed and cleared by trawl gear running across Site BA02. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Site BA02 contains the remains of a small American coastal schooner that was transporting a consignment of British ceramics manufactured in Staffordshire in the decade 1850-60 alongside American glass wares and building materials. The most plausible theory is that the ship was lost in a hurricane, with the great storm of September 1854 the most likely candidate.

The vessel appears to have been a two-masted schooner typical of the East Coast’s thriving regional maritime trade based in New York City. The Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ shipwreck reflects the lure of high status, yet relatively cheap, Staffordshire and US products that prevailed across middle class America and permeated down into the lower classes. This is surprisingly the first wreck of any mid-19th century coaster found off America with a substantial cargo and reflects the roots of New York’s original mercantile and economic rise to urban stardom.

Two further reports on the Jacksonville ‘Blue China’ wreck’s tobacco pipes and glass wares will be published soon.

Download OME Papers 19 and 20 from Odyssey Marine Exploration’s website.

The only preserved stack of British shell-edged plates and platters on the 370 metre-deep Jacksonville 'Blue China' shipwreck. Photo: © Odyssey Marine Exploration.

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Moby-Dick Wreck Found in the Pacific

“No mercy, no power but its own controls it. Panting and snorting like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider, the masterless ocean overruns the globe” (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851).

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The ship captained by the man whose adventures at sea inspired one of the great American novels, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, has emerged from the battered shallow reef where it sank on 11 February 1823, some 600 miles northwest of Honolulu. The Nantucket whaler the Two Brothers was under the captaincy of George Pollard Jr. when it struck the French Frigate Shoals in today’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean, at 139,797 square miles the largest conservation area under the US flag. After abandoning ship, the crew survived a harrowing night by clinging to the ship’s boats, fortunately to be picked up the next morning by another Nantucket whaler.

Just a few years earlier Pollard had earned infamous notoriety in 1819 as captain of another Nantucket whaling vessel, the Essex, which had the ill fortune to be rammed and sunk by an 85 foot-long spermaceti whale in the South Pacific.

Dr Kelly Gleason with a whaling trypot off French Frigate Shoals. Photo: NOAA/Greg McFall.

As Owen Chase, First Mate of the Essex, would later recount in his Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex of Nantucket (New York, 1821), “He spouted two or three times, and then disappeared. In less than two or three seconds he came up again, about the length of the ship off… he came down upon us at full speed, and struck the ship with his head, just forward of the fore-chains, he gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar, as nearly threw us all on our faces. The ship brought up as suddenly and violently as if she had struck rock, and trembled for a few seconds like a leaf. We looked at each other with perfect amazement, deprived almost of the power of speech… the ship had settled down a considerable distance in the water, and I gave her up as lost”. During their trials on the sea voyage home, home George Pollard and his crew only survived by resorting to cannibalism as they drifted across an empty sea.

The Two Brothers was part of a fleet of several hundred whaling ships that played a major role in America’s economic and political expansion into the Pacific, transforming the region, including Hawaii, both economically and culturally. This colonialism resulted in the near extinction of many whale species.

Dr Kelly Gleason with a blubber hook off French Frigate Shoals. Photo: NOAA/Greg McFall.

Marine archaeologists identified the scattered wreck, heavily pounded by the waves, through the survival of two large anchors, three cast iron trypots used to melt whale blubber to produce oil, and the remains of part of the ship’s rigging – all typical of the gear used on early 19th-century whalers. The location of the wreckage matched the general location of where the Two Brothers had grounded. The picture was confirmed by recent fieldwork that found blubber hooks, five whaling harpoon tips, three whaling lances, four cast-iron cooking pots and American ceramics and glass wares, confirming the date and nationality of the wreckage.

The 19th-century whaling industry was one of the most prominent businesses in America. By 1846, 736 whalers were based in the ports of southern New England and Long Island. Whales were thought of as swimming oil wells. The waxy oil derived from the head of the sperm whale, spermaceti, was highly prized for making the finest candles in the world. The bones and teeth of various species, meanwhile, were exploited for numerous products from collar stays to buggy whips, toys and even for springs in early typewriters. Baleen from the mouths of some species of whale was the de rigueur fashion accessory for the manufacture of ladies corsets. Whalebone was the plastic of the 1800s.

Dr Kelly Gleason with a ginger jar from the French Frigate Shoals whaler wreck of the Two Brothers, lost in 1823. Photo: NOAA/Greg McFall.

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Extreme Booze From the Deep

Examining a beer bottle from an early 19th-century wreck in the Baltic Sea. Photo: VTT Technical Research Centre, Finland.

If the 168 bottles of Veuve Clicquot and Juglar types of champagne recovered from an early 19th century wreck off the Åland archipelago at the bottom of the Baltic Sea are not to your taste – or at an expected $70,000 a pop don’t suit your wallet – fear not. It seems the ship, found between Finland and Sweden, catered for all tastes and occasions. Five bottles of beer from the wrecked schooner are now being heralded as amongst the world’s oldest preserved pints.

The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland hopes its analysis of a sample of the ‘pale ale’ will determine the original brewing recipe through identification of microbes, such as yeast or lactic acid bacteria. VTT scientist Arvi Vilpola has had a sneaky first gulp of the brew and reported that “It was a little sour and you could taste the saltiness of it slightly.” The team hopes to use these remains to bring the beverage back to life for modern consumers.

Chateau Jiahu, a Neolithic beer available from the Dogfish Head Brewery, Delaware.

All good fun, but for age this is literally small beer compared to the hard stuff knocked out by early Celtic revellers at Eberdingen-Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. Excavations in a series of 2,500 year-old ‘industrial’ ditches were stuffed with thousands of barley grains from high-quality barley malt, a key ingredient of beer.

Reconstructions of Celtic ceremonial boozing at the site by archaeobotanist Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart suggest that the barley was soaked in specially constructed ditches until it sprouted. The grains were then dried by fire, instilling the malt with a smoky taste. Lactic acid bacteria stimulated by the slow drying of the soaked grains added sourness to the brew. In the place of modern hops, the Eberdingen-Hochdorf brew was probably flavoured with spices like mugwort, carrot seeds or henbane. But beware: Prof. Stika warns that this drink would have been an “extreme beer”. Little wonder the Roman emperor Julian condemned Celtic beer as smelling “like a billy goat.”

Even millennia older than Celtic and Egyptian beer, however, is the 9,000-year-old hard stuff recreated by an American brewery after analysing the linings of Neolithic pottery found at a burial site in Henan province in central China. The brew was identified by Dr Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, after he came across sherds from the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province. The Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware has started making Chateau Jiahu from wildflower honey, muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit and chrysanthemums. The wort is fermented for about a month with Sake yeast until the $13 a bottle beer is ready for packaging.

This winter there’s plenty of options for all manner of adventurous tipples – salty malt, Billy goat beer or fruity Dogfish brew. Or you could just go down the pub.

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UK Maritime Funding Hits the Gravel

Photo: courtesy British Marine Aggregate Producers Association.

Hot on the heels of the government’s decision to abolish after 30 years of service the crusaders of Britain’s vast submerged heritage, the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites, the lid to marine archaeology’s limited resource coffers in the UK has closed some more. The ‘white knight’ that was the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund will disappear in a puff of smoke in March 2011.

This pot of silver earmarked for reducing the environmental impacts of the extraction of aggregates was a success story for a cog of marine science that has traditionally had to beg for funds at the bottom of the food chain. Gravel dredging is big business. The UK has the largest offshore dredging industry in Europe and is one of the biggest in the world. Figures for 2006 suggest an annual processed sale value of £293 million. The marine aggregates industry operates 28 purpose built dredgers with a total replacement value of £1 billion.

Some 138 square kilometres of the UK’s continental shelf was actively dredged in 2008 to provide aggregate for the building industry. The war chest levy was introduced in April 2002 at a rate of £1.60 per tonne, and since 2009 had stood at £2.00 per tonne to enable the effects of dredging on shipwrecks and submerged prehistoric settlements to be modeled and managed.

According to DEFRA, “We have had to look very carefully across all the Department’s priorities to see where we can make best use of available funds in a very tight spending context. Unfortunately, the Department is no longer in a position to be able to continue the funding of the ALSF programme.” It is unclear how these funds are to be otherwise ‘prioritised’.

All seemed to be running particularly smoothly. The ALSF 2008-11 Evaluation concluded only in 2010 that “The Fund will generally deliver good value for money with potentially more significant gains in the longer term… The ALSF is now a mature programme with considerable momentum behind it, a good reputation and a wide community of interest. In some areas it has an influential European and international profile…”

You only have to peer over the sea to Holland’s Flushing wharf, where recent dredging has brought up 16th-century coins, boat and ship fittings, a British aircraft part, anchors and mammoth teeth – all declared to Wessex Archaeology – to see the value of this excellent scheme. In the UK, Wessex Archaeology reported the discoveries in 2009 and 2010 of a Roman mortaria in Licence Area 107 off Lincolnshire and a collection of late 18th-century hallmarked silver dredged from Licence Area 254 bearing the crest of the 6th Earl of Stair, John Dalrymple (1749-1821).

A Mesolithic site of around 8,500 BC off Great Yarmouth only came to light after a Dutch dredger declared the discovery of wood, bone, antler and struck flint. Since 2005 Wessex Archaeology has secured filings on 784 finds dating from the Palaeolithic period to the modern day. Hopefully the Awareness Programme that has so successfully monitored landings of dredged underwater cultural heritage, and generated great interest amongst ‘Site Champions’ on the wharves where the dredgers land, will find another income stream and live on.

Defra’s mission statement says that “We deal with environmental risks and work towards securing a sustainable society and a healthy environment.” What does the latest development tell us about the sustainability and health of underwater cultural heritage? The £2,715,759 that the ALSF allocated English Heritage in 2005 for various multi-year projects may seem like a cheap investment if an intact wooden wreck sunk in the middle of an aggregate licence area demands future rescue excavation. What price the sunken past?

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