Swash Channel Wreck surfaces in new exhibition

The Swash Channel Wreck exhibition launched at Poole Museum on 25 July and displays the results of work carried out by Bournemouth University (BU) staff and students, who raised and conserved the wreck.

The Seventeenth Century shipwreck was discovered outside Poole harbour in 2004 and is hailed as the most significant wreck found in UK waters since the Mary Rose in 1971. Smaller finds, recovered and preserved by students, are now on display in the museum along with replicas and related objects.

The exhibition, which is financially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, tells the story of the discovery of the ship by archaeologists and the story of the ship itself, from its building to its untimely sinking. It is part of an on-going project led by BU’s maritime archaeologists – a team known as M.A.D. About the Wreck, whose aim is to widen public appreciation of underwater archaeology.

BU’s involvement in the Swash Channel Wreck project began in 2006 when maritime archaeology students were invited to monitor the site of the wreck as part of their training. Excavation of the ship began in 2010, led by BU and funded by English Heritage, and work is likely to continue for years to come as more treasures are rescued from the seabed. Surveying, excavating and conserving the wreck was aided with sponsorship from Jenkins Marine and collaborating with Poole Maritime Heritage, Borough of Poole and Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust.

The ship is thought to belong to the Dutch East India Trading company and comes from the Dutch Golden Age of shipbuilding. The vessel would have been ornately carved, carried several cannons for protection and was destined for trade in the Tropics and the Americas. The preservation and lack of weathering on the carvings suggest it was possibly on its maiden voyage to the tropics when it was sunk by a storm near Poole. It is currently the only known example of this type of ship and signifies the transition from maritime exploration to global trading.

Gordon Le Pard, Project Officer for M.A.D. About the Wreck was involved in the public interpretation of the Swash Channel Wreck. Commenting on the historical significance of the wreck, he said, “[The ship] is the very beginning of the modern idea of international trade.”

Alongside Gordon and BU’s Programme Leader for MSc Maritime Archaeology Paola Palma, exhibition curator Katie Morton helped to bring the ship’s story to life and said,

“I think there are so many stories around the ship wreck and even though it’s a very local wreck, discovered just outside Poole harbour, it’s an incredibly international story. This ship, and you have to picture it all decorated with carvings and painted, would have been absolutely incredible.”

“It’s fabulous that it’s on our doorstep. Poole is full of amazing maritime heritage which we are lucky to have at Poole Museum but this is really special.”

Ship Building project utilises ancient building technologies


A project in underway to recreate a sunken shipwreck using the techniques that would have been used by the original builders.

The project, called ShipWrEx, hopes to provide understanding of the development of ancient ship-building techniques through hands on discovery, with the team reconstructing part of the ship’s hull using different methods.

The hull’s design is based on a shipwreck found of the coast of Sicily, which dates back to around 500 B.C.

Paola Palma, Programme Leader for the MSc Maritime Archaeology course, and Project Leader, said, “This boat is extremely important as it shows two different shipbuilding technologies, the ‘laced hull’ technology and the ‘mortise and tenons’ technology. Usually, boats of this period only showed the laced hull technology and boats of a later period showed the mortise and tenons technology. This boat is very important as it shows both techniques used on the same ship. There is no manual so we are going to learn by doing!”

To understand why shipbuilders used both techniques to create the ship, the team from Bournemouth University set to work to recreate part of the ship, to better understand why both techniques were used, and which one is better.

Paola continued, “It’s extremely difficult to do it [build the ship] properly, in a fast way. Back then, shipbuilders were doing this every day so would have done it in a very fast fashion. We are experimenting so that we can further appreciate the archaeological remains that we find, and how these ships were built.”

The project is taking place at The Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranborne – with members of the ATC also taking part in the project. Other participants in the project include current BU students and staff members, keen to improve their knowledge by taking part.

Bertram Beanland, a student at BU studying BA Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology, is working as part of the team recreating the hull.  He said, “Bournemouth University is known for its hands on courses. We get a lot more hands on experience. [With this project] already we have found that there are three different techniques we could use to drill a hole in wood using traditional techniques, and all three methods look the same at the end. We have found that the quickest way to drill the hole is by going in through the edge, and we think it is definitely the technique they would have used. But it has taken us three tries to get it right. We wouldn’t have realised that through reading a book, we had to be hands on. You get real respect for ancient ship builders because everything has taken so long to do.”

Bertram is just one of a number of students taking part in the project – with undergraduate and postgraduate students from a variety of courses involved.

It is hoped that the project will continue so that the team can recreate the entire ship – and eventually sail it in water. Paola concludes, “For the moment we are building a portion of the boat, but one day we hope to take a completed boat out sailing.”

Archaeology project nominated for Dorset Archaeological Awards


Bournemouth University’s M.A.D. About the Wreck project has been nominated for the Dorset Archaeological Awards.

The Maritime Archaeological Days (M.A.D.) About the Wreck project, promotes maritime archaeology to a wider audience through the Swash Channel Wreck, a 17th Century wreckage at the bottom of Poole Harbour.

The project gives those who would not normally being involved in the appreciation of marine heritage the chance to get close to being actively involved and learn about the heritage, the artefacts and life in the past and understand more about our history with the sea. A number of innovative and highly creative activities are designed to be accessible to all – where age, skills and geographical distance are not considered as barriers. In fact, part of the outreach approach is the work that the team is doing with Prisons, Care Homes and some minority groups. Amongst other activities, the project include a ‘human fish tank’, hands-on and interactive public participation.

M.A.D. About the Wreck is in collaboration with Poole Museum and was made possible thanks to a £140,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Dorset Archaeological Awards ceremony will be held on Friday 11th October 2013 and the awards will be presented by celebrated archaeologist Prof Sir Barry Cunliffe.

Project leader Paola Palma, Programme Leader MSc Maritime Archaeology at Bournemouth University, said, “‘I am thrilled that MAD About the Wreck is nominated for this prestigious award! Hopefully this will attract even more enthusiasm and community involvement around our heritage. It is a real pleasure to be able to manage this project and work with such a variety of different and amazing people.  I can see my passion for this work reflected in their interest. I believe that, given a chance and the right tools, everybody could become as passionate as me about the past”.

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