Last updated: May 15, 2017
Archeology of a Shipwreck the English China Site
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Transcript( adventurous music playing ) ( music ends ) Good morning, and welcome to the 2011 field season on the English China Shipwreck in Biscayne National Park. It’s out there, a little ways beyond the bay and on the other side of the islands. The ship, we suspect, was wrecked carrying a load of English ceramics from England to a destination unknown in the colonies, sometime between 1765 and 1775. We’re hoping to get a little bit more detailed information out of the site this year so that we can pinpoint that date and hopefully pinpoint the identity of the ship that wrecked so that the Park can better tell the story of one of our many shipwreck heritage resources that we’ve got. One of the reasons why we picked the English China to do this project this year is because it has had ongoing problems over the last couple of decades with looting with people coming into the park and visiting the site, which is acceptable and what we hope for them, but also taking objects away and digging holes looking for things in the site, and that causes a lot of damage and causes both destabilization and loss of archaeological information that we’re not able, then, to interpret to the public. So this year, we decided that the looting was getting to the point where it was no longer tolerable how much information we were losing from the wreck and we decided to do a little bit more detailed investigation of ceramic inventory and some minor excavations in order to find out what we can before its lost. In doing that, we’ve set up a field school with Dr. Lubkemann here, and he can tell you a little bit about the people who are participating and how the work is being done. Thanks. We’re really pleased to be participating here on this really important archaeological site and we’re excited to be helping the Park to try to document and create a baseline that it can use to manage the site in the long-term. In creating this baseline, it will enable the Park to monitor the site over the long-term to go back and see that additional damage is not done. I think that is particularly important because the site really is very interesting. It occurs at a very interesting time in colonial history and in Florida’s history and contains a lot of information that can speak to that part of the past. That’s part of the reason we’re really glad to participate in this field school, and to participate in the non-destructive documentation of this site – mapping it out – and also bringing some of our students from various institutions that have maritime archaeology programs, including my own George Washington University. And then, we also had the opportunity to bring in and train people that are working with us in Africa. And so, this is an important role as well for the field school; to build the capacity of partners, not just future heritage managers here in the United States, but internationally. We’ve had the privilege so far of bringing, I think, six people, total, to Biscayne over the last few years, and this year, you know, we’re excited to be working on this and that Biscayne is willing to play a role in helping to train partners internationally. So, let’s go out to the site. ( adventurous music playing ) ( music ends ) Let’s head on down and take a look at the site. Once we get to the bottom we’ll take a quick look at the shipwreck. What you see here is one of our site baselines that we work of while we are doing the testing and here we are at the stern of the vessel. As we move across the site you’ll see the keel, which is the largest timber on the ship, it was fashioned out of a single tree. It is on the left here with the framing timbers off to the right. You’ll also see a lot of flat bricks, and broken ceramics, these are what gave the shipwreck it name, English China. Though we hope by the end of our research we will be able to restore its original moniker. We’ve now reached the bow end of the ship. So you can see its not enormous, only about 70 feet long. But despite its size, it could have had a crew of at least 12 and carried almost 200 tons of cargo. Here we see the frames again and the keel, which is the massive timber perpendicular to the smaller ones. You also can see some of our orange pinflags which we used designate locations for mapping and sampeling. One of the most important products of this fieldwork will be an assembled photomosaic of the site. A photomosaic is an image of the entire shipwreck built out of hundreds of small photos all stitched together. We use them often in shipwreck archeology since visibility underwater rarely allows you to see the whole wreck at once. Warren is shooting these images systematically using the site baselines as a guide, that way we can assemble them into one big image later, after we get the photos back to the lab. Here we see one of the field school participants at work in the water. Sean is recording details about a site feature near the bow of the vessel. He is creating an insitu scaled drawing of the object using direct measurements with those tape measures there and by recording in his image the locations of each of the uniquely numbered orange pinflags you see. Those pinflag locations have all been mapped in relation to the site baselines. So the by combining the insitu drawings like Sean’s, with the overall site plan, we are able to map to a very fine level of detail. Every exposed timber, brick and fastener on the site was mapped using these methods. Here a couple of the field school students are gathering data on the dimensions of the flat bricks that are found all over the site. These bricks are of interest to us because they appear similar to “ladrillos” which are bricks known to have been made in the New World by Spanish masons. If they are Spanish, then we have to wonder what they are doing on a ship loaded otherwise entirely with English export trade items. The English and Spanish were not exactly seeing eye to eye during the 18th Century and there were laws that banned trading between their respective colonies. Nevertheless, here the bricks are. So, the questions that our students are looking to answer is whether or not the bricks are uniform and meet the dimensions of known Ladrillos, and also wether or not mostly broken or mostly whole. If they are predominately whole, it probably means that they were cargo and we could have an interesting situation involving illegal trade. But if it turns out that they are mostly broken, then they may have simply been loaded onboard as ballast. We will also be collecting a brick in order to do some laboratory studies on it that will tell us what region of the world the clay used in its manufacture came from. Here Dr. Lubkemann is showing us one of the interesting artifacts categories we found on the site. A number of these padlocks were discovered, all locked, none attached to latches. It may be that the locks, like the ceramics and maybe the bricks, were also cargo. What Steve is showing us now is the bow of the vessel. Here the vessel structure is so broken up that we believe that this part of the ship struck the seafloor violently during the sinking event. Also, there is substantial evidence that when this ship sunk it was engulfed in a huge fire. The fire was so hot that it burned some of the ceramic cargo on board, Steve is showing us burned and unburned ceramics here, most of which are at the bow. All of the wooden timbers like these at this end of the wreck are burned and fragmentary. What is preserved out here on the site are only the timbers that were in the lowest part of the ship, those that were below the waterline. The fact that a fire reached this far into the belly of the ship before it sunk indicates it must have been a rapid and massive fire. Lets head on up before we run out of air. The most exciting part of archeology may be in the field, but we’ve got a lot of work to do back in the lab if we’re going to piece together everything we’ve learned down here. ( Unintelligible background chatter ) Justine has been doing a lot of the ceramic analysis back here in our makeshift laboratory here underneath Biscayne’s Headquarters, so I’m curious as to what her take is on these particular patterns. What have you seen more of than anything else? Well, this particular plate, the wieldenware with the green spots and the tortoiseshell back; this is pretty much the most common thing on the ship, which is great because this is the best for dating. And the barley corn pattern it kind of looks like corn it’s definitely the most common. It shows up also on the stoneware. Here’s one over here. See, you can see that. The barley corn also shows up with different designs, such as the basket barley corn on this particular stoneware. So, Chuck, what’s this? Why is it all discolored? This is a piece of creamware with a feather edge molding decoration, another common type that’s down there. The reason it looks like all this blackening on the plate is because it was burned and there’s significant evidence on the site of burning that took place that was either a cause or a direct effect of the actual wrecking incident. A lot of times with old wooden shipwrecks, colonial wrecks, after the ship sank the sailors would burn it to the waterline and that would be mostly to hide it from other people. They knew where their ship was and where their cargo was at and they would come back and salvage it. But if you left it half out of the water sunk, then other people would find it, too. But that, I don’t believe, is the case on this site. We’ve found all of the cargo, just about every ceramic down there, is burned. There is ash all over the site, and the most telling thing is that the lowest portions of the boat the keel, the keelson they’re burned; charcoal it looks like right out of a fireplace. So, to have the flames reach the bottom of the ship like that is pretty good evidence that fire played a role in the actual wrecking incident. This is John Bright. He’s an employee of the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center in Denver, Colorado. They work projects like this all over the country and in National Parks with submerged resources all over. John has been here this last week helping us with the mapping of the ship’s timbers. And if he’d be so kind, I’d like him to tell us a little bit about what he’s found so far and what he’s drawing here on this map. All right. Well, what we’ve been working on is called a site plan a bird’s eye view of the site and in particular at capturing the remaining ship structure that is down at the site we’ve been working on. So, just as the ceramics and bricks and various artifacts are important to tell us the date, where the ship was from, what it was carrying, all that kind of information; the manner in which the ship was constructed and the type of wood that was used is also very informative. It helps us figure out where it came from and what it could have been. So, what we’ve done is gone down and measured out and now we’re drawing in various features. So, if you think of a ship, a wooden sailing vessel from the 1700s, like you’d think of a skeleton, it has a backbone – what we’d call a keel and that is this piece right here. It runs from end to end. We think, based upon the features that we’re seeing here, that we found both ends of the vessel. So, we’re looking, then, at a ship or a type of wooden vessel that was approximately 60 to 70 feet long. And, just like the skeleton metaphor where you have a backbone, you also have ribs that come out. You have things that are called frames. You have your floor timbers, futtocks – big wooden timbers that come off of the backbone and come up and make those rounded sides of the vessel. So just like you see a boat now and it has those big rounded sides, so did a wooden ship. And that was made by bringing in these various wooden ribs all along the keel from end to end. Also like a skeleton where you have those ribs, you also have a sort of layer on top and underneath them, sort of like you would think of skin. So, we have the outside wood that would form the outside skin of the vessel and then the inside wood that would form the inside skin of the vessel. So once they would have that built up, then they could put the different layers in the different deck layers: the mast, the rigging; pack the ship with cargo and sail to wherever they were going. Now luckily for us, different countries that were plying the waters at this time built their ships differently. So, if they were building their ships in France they had relatively distinctive construction form versus building ships in North America, Great Britain, or in the Netherlands - Dutch, Scandinavia. So, we can look at the manner in which these parts, the keel and the frames, were arranged; the way that they were fastened; the sizes of them, things like that, and that is a pretty good clue, along with the ceramics and artifact data as to where this vessel was from, where we think it could be going, what it was carrying, and the reason why it ended up in the bottomlands here in Biscayne National Park. Well thanks, John, and I’ll let you get back to work. Thanks, Chuck. Well, I hope you enjoyed visiting with us today on our field project this summer and we hope that you will visit with us again, come back to Biscayne, maybe see some of the stuff that we’ve collected this year in our Visitors’ Center or come and see us and take a look at the shipwrecks for yourself. ( adventurous music playing ) ( music ends ) [Transcribed by Ariana Lawson 2013]
Archeology of the English China Shipwreck Site. Hosted by Charles Lawson.