Leather shoes, playing pieces from a draughtboard, pewter spoons and bowls, ammunition for cannons and muskets, a lady’s glove, knitted caps, jugs containing Spanish olives, inkwells, salt cellars — these are just a few of the enormous number of diverse objects retrieved from the wreck of an English merchant vessel that sank between 1715 and 1725.
A farmer in Noordoostpolder (land reclaimed from what used to be the Zuiderzee) stumbled on the wreck while ploughing his field. For maritime archaeologist Yftinus van Popta, a PhD student at the University of Groningen, this was the beginning of a study that reads like an adventure story for boys. It was one of the largest wrecks discovered in the last 30 years, and it confronted Van Popta, the director of the dig, with one surprise after another. The ship was unusually large for the former Zuiderzee and was armed with heavy cannons. What is also unusual is that it carried articles used by women. Now, Van Popta and his colleagues are studying the imprints and markings on the back of many objects from the wreck in an attempt to find out more about the history of the vessel. Clearly, the last page of Tintin and the Mysterious Wreck is yet to be written.
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Many of the finds are now being treated for conservation in the tanks in the basement of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Groningen. The inventive restorer, Gert van Oortmerssen, devises special ways to position and chemically clean and conserve the various objects. It is painstaking and creative work, tailored to the needs of each item. This dig illustrates the special nature of archaeology: a combination of material and human science. Seeing and touching these objects makes you realise that our forebears, as it were, once held them in their hands. The items served a purpose, and that is why they were taken on board. Perhaps the captain enjoyed a good meal in his cabin, in the company of a special guest. Indeed, the dig is more about the lives of people than about the stories of objects.
More information: our news item about the wreck .
Text: Eelco Salverda, Communication UG / photos: Elmer Spaargaren
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