In August Nicole Schoute from MSDS Marine had to opportunity to dive with the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) in the Netherlands. In this blog Nicole shares her continued professional experience working on the project.
From the 19th until the 30th August I had to opportunity to dive with RCE in the IJsselmeer near Stavoren in the Netherlands. We dived on a possible 18th century wreck and our main aims were to find out the exact date of the wreck and the ship type. During the fieldwork we used two boats: the Gerdia, which was our dive boat, and the Verwondering, where we lived and ate.
On Monday we made our first dives, in order to explore the wreck before we would work on it properly. This turned out to be more difficult than we had hoped as we had absolutely no visibility! Moving slowly, following the structures of the wreck, we started to get an image of the site. There were several frames towards the west, and the frames seemed to be in better condition in the north side than in the south. Almost all the way in the west, at keel height, was a big concretion that would require more attention, to find out what it exactly was. In the east, only the outer planking was left and the keel disappeared into the sand, so we were uncertain of the exact length of the ship. Once everyone had made their dives, we had a debriefing and discussed what we thought about the wreck and what we would do over the course of the following days. Cleaning was of great importance here because many features were still unclear and covered with shells. The next few days we started cleaning the wreck, visibility had improved a bit: we could see about 10 cm now! Unfortunately, because of all the cleaning and the fact that there are no currents in the big lake, visibility changed to nothing again and we had to work completely by touch.
The following days we all did several different tasks underwater: cleaning the timbers, putting cow tags in some locations to prepare for measuring, trying to understand the wreck better and taking pictures of the wreck (as far as that was possible in the limited visibility). Once the cow tags were put onto the wreck and a schematic overview was drawn of it, Noortje – an archaeology student at my old university Saxion University of Applied Science – and I could take some measurements of all these datum points. These points would then be entered into a computer programme (Site Recorder) and we would have a fixed position of the wreck. Since visibility had not improved at all by this point, it was very difficult to read the measurement tape, fortunately it was just enough and measurements could still be taken.
During the next few days visibility got a bit better, with a highlight of about 30 to 40 cm which meant all the underwater tasks were a little easier to carry out. Unfortunately it was not good enough for photogrammetry, but luckily we have the drawings. Heidi (maritime archaeologist at the RCE), Noortje and I could draw the wreck, where we would make sure to have some overlap to check each other’s measurements at the same time. And how good does it feel when it seems to all fit together in one go!
During the fieldwork, several artefacts were recovered as well. For me it was really nice to see that so many artefacts from this wreck were so similar to those found on the VOC wreck of the Rooswijk, which I am currently working on. This was another clue for the team that the wreck sank during the 1700’s. Most artefacts were recovered from the east side, where we cleared the sand off the keel to determine the exact length of the wreck. Many pipe stems and bowls were found, but also glass fragments, bricks, tiles, several concretions in which artefacts could be seen and even a complete nit comb were brought up. One artefact was a bit more difficult to recover, as it was encrusted in the big concretion in the west part of the wreck. This was a cordon oil lamp.
On the last day we cleaned up the site and lifted some timbers that were suitable for dendrochronology. After taking some dendro samples, they were put back into the lake and the samples were carefully wrapped up. At the very end, I even got a little surprise: I could sail (steer) myself plus the skipper Maud and first mate Hannah from the ship Verwondering back to Enkhuizen, which is close to where I had to be. Really cool of course!
During these two weeks of diving I learned so much: of course it is always a challenge to dive with no visibility, but doing work underwater, taking exact measurements, draw and write is even more difficult than you might think. It was great to work with this team of enthusiastic, helpful maritime archaeologists and divers and I hope to be part of the team next year again.