Mysterious Shipwreck Artifacts Found Off England’s Coast To Be X-Rayed
A sum of £150,000 (US$ 168,000) has been pledged to deep scan a hoard of mysterious artifacts found off England’s coast. The £150,000 grant from The Wolfson Foundation to the Historic England scientific and archaeological analysis center at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth will pay for the analysis of a range of unidentified archaeological objects, presently obscured with rust deposits, with state-of-the art high resolution X-ray equipment.
According to a report in Portsmouth, Historic England will replace and upgrade their aging equipment at its Fort Cumberland X-ray facility with a new type of hi-resolution X-ray equipment, which will “play an important role in providing a cost-effective diagnosis of the condition of artifacts while advising the best possible treatment.”
X-ray of a chest containing thimbles from the Rooswijk shipwreck (Image: © Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed/Historic England)
Mysterious Artifacts: Evidence of Kent’s Rich Maritime Heritage
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said that this generous grant will place Historic England at “the forefront of heritage X-radiography for many years to come.” And as an example of how the new equipment will be applied, he discussed the famous hoard of artifacts recovered from the Rooswijk shipwreck that sank off the Kent coast in 1740 AD loaded with trade-goods including a chest of metallic thimbles and a hoard of silver coins, many of which are covered with concretions caused by hard mineralization.
In July 2018, Ancient Origins reported on the wreck of the Rooswijk with a headline reading, “ Black Market Bounty: Experts Find Coins Sewn into Clothes at Shipwreck” telling the story of divers investigating the three-hundred-year-old shipwreck who found coins sewn into people’s clothing. Archaeologists said the find provided insights into the lives of ordinary people in the 18th century, “demonstrating the rich maritime heritage of Kent.”
Roman armor shown, via X-ray, covered in concretions (Image: © Historic England)
The Rooswijk Wreck, Where the Mysterious Artifacts Lie
The Tudor-period Rooswijk vessel sank in the winter of 1740. It was found in 2018 on the bed of the English Channel at Tankerton Beach, having struck the Goodwin Sands, a notorious shipping hazard that the BBC reported is known locally as 'the great ship swallower '. The Rooswijk’s 237 passengers and crew were all lost, and they took with them a heavy cargo of “silver bullion, iron, and cut stones, that was destined for the East Indies.”
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Over the last two years maritime archaeologists, working with the #Rooswijk1740 project, have discovered silver coins some 85 feet down on the seabed. Many of them had holes drilled in them so they could be attached to the inside of clothing, as transporting currency to the Dutch Indies was prohibited to protect the economy of Batavia, the capital of the East Indies. According to the Daily Mail, the leader of the project, Dr. Martijn Manders, said that the Rooswijk “is special” because it tells us so much about the lives of ordinary people almost three centuries ago.
Pillar dollar, 8 reals and minted in Mexico. At the top there is a small hole, probably used to sew the coin into clothing. (Image: © Historic England/RCE)
A New Age of X-Rays for Mysterious Artifacts
A Historic England article says the Rooswijk shipwreck is classified as “High Risk” on the Heritage at Risk register due to its exposed remains and vulnerability, and that this marine archaeology project will broadly record and assess areas of at-risk Rooswijk remains, contributing to “a better understanding of the wreck and establishing a way forward for the future management of the remains.” In particular, the investigations aim to contribute to a better understanding of the wreck and site formation processes, including the ship's design and the ship’s state of preservation.
The new equipment that the £150,000 grant from The Wolfson Foundation will pay for can penetrate the deep build-up of dirt and debris around objects of interest. And Duncan Wilson added, “With this new technology, we will be able to analyze, conserve and better understand many more objects recovered from historic shipwrecks or excavated from archaeological sites.” Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of The Wolfson Foundation, said in the Portsmouth article that he is excited to support the purchase of this important piece of equipment and that “the beauty” of this particular X-ray technology is the way in which “it reveals hidden secrets of the past as well as helping with conservation.”
Top image: Close up of a selection of the thimbles found among the mysterious artifacts on the Rooswijk shipwreck. The concretions around the artifacts is holding the thimbles together in these straight rows. Source: © Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed / Historic England
By Ashley Cowie