Stories tagged underwater archaeology


The Danton: The 150 meter long Danton carried about 1,000 men, 296 of whom went down with the ship when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.
The Danton: The 150 meter long Danton carried about 1,000 men, 296 of whom went down with the ship when it was torpedoed by a German submarine.Courtesy Joao Carvalho
The BBC has really outdone itself today, as far as maritime archaeology goes—it’s running a story on how cool Elizabeth I’s naval guns were, and one on the recent discovery of a French WWI battleship, found 3000 meters under the surface of the Mediterranean.

The first story is based on the finds from another shipwreck, a small fighting ship from the late 1500s. Archaeologists and historians were surprised to discover that the cannons on the ship were all the same size and used the same size ammunition. Older ships had plenty of cannon, but they were often mismatched and not necessarily designed for fighting at sea. It appears that Elizabeth began to standardize England’s naval artillery earlier than people had though. This sort of efficiency allowed for England’s eventual naval supremacy of Europe, and contributed to worldwide political changes that still affect us today blah blah blah. Whatever—we’re still interested in those cannons.

The archaeologists actually had a replica of the recovered cannon built, so they could test its effectiveness. It turned out that it was very effective at making a loud noise and throwing a ball of iron very far, very hard. These smallish cannons would have been able to lob a cannon ball about half a mile, and could penetrate the oak hulls of other battleships at 100 yards.

Is it just me, or does almost all experimental archaeology involve weapons? (I’m not complaining.)

The other article is interesting because it demonstrates how some of the coolest shipwrecks are found: accidentally. This one was found by a company doing underwater surveys on the proposed route for an underwater gas pipeline. A large section of the pipe’s path goes through an exceptionally deep part of the Mediterranean Sean, a plain of seabed about 2,850 meters below the surface, and the company was surveying it with their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle—sort of a little remote control submarine.

The AUV spotted the French battleship the Danton, resting right side-up among a field of its own debris. Apparently the path the ship had plowed through the sea floor as it hit the bottom is still visible.

The Danton was sunk by a German submarine in 1917, but was supposed to have gone down several nautical miles away from where it was actually found.

Pretty cool stuff.

If you’re interested in shipwrecks and maritime archaeology, be sure to check out the Titanic exhibit coming to the museum this summer. We’ll be displaying, among other things, Leonardo DiCaprio’s undying love.

If you’re interested in the watery part of this stuff, and not the shipwrecks so much, maybe the Water exhibit that’s running right now is the place to start.

Later, mateys.


Map of Lake Ontario: Planned route and estimated shipwreck area (in yellow) of the HMS Ontario.  (After NOAA, Kennard and Scoville diagrams)
Map of Lake Ontario: Planned route and estimated shipwreck area (in yellow) of the HMS Ontario. (After NOAA, Kennard and Scoville diagrams)Courtesy Mark Ryan
A long-sought 18th century British warship has finally been discovered on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes bordering Canada and the United States. The HMS Ontario, a Royal Navy sloop that patrolled Lake Ontario during the American Revolutionary War, was sailing to Oswego, New York from Fort Niagara when it sank in a violent storm on October 31, 1780, taking with it all on board.

The shipwreck was discovered a couple weeks ago, sitting in mud under about 500 feet of water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, two shipwreck enthusiasts who share credit for the discovery, used side-sonar and an unmanned submersible device to locate the wreck. The two men have been searching together for the HMS Ontario for more than three years. And now that they’ve found it, they’re keeping the location secret, at least for the time being. They’ll only say that it’s in deep water somewhere between Rochester and Niagara.

"It's a British war grave and we want to make sure it remains undisturbed,” said Kennard, a veteran diver who has found over 200 wrecks. Despite the HMS Ontario’s age and present location, it would still be considered property of the British Admiralty.

The HMS Ontario was constructed in the spring of 1780 on Carleton Island
at the lake’s east end where it flows into the St. Lawrence River. The 80-foot sloop was fitted with two masts and 22 cannons and used mainly to ferry soldiers and supplies back and forth across the lake during the summer of 1780. Some historians speculate the warship never fired any of its cannons. When she sank, the Ontario took with her 88 souls - at least according to official records. Letters from an individual living at Fort Niagara at the time claim there were also 30 unlisted American prisoners on the ship who also died in the tragedy.

Debris from the HMS Ontario washed up on shore about 30 miles east of Fort Niagara, and the ship’s sails were found adrift a few days after the storm. Months later, six bodies were recovered about 12 miles east of the Niagara River, and that was the last evidence of the sinking anyone saw. That is, until Kennard and Scoville located Ontario’s final resting place two week ago.

The discovery has been called a miracle of archaeology, and may be the oldest Great Lake’s shipwreck ever found.

"It's the oldest confirmed shipwreck in the lakes," Scoville said. "And very few warships went down." He added that it’s definitely the most intact warship ever discovered.

The ship’s condition surprised even its seasoned explorers. Kennard said the 228-year-old wreck might have gone down more gently in the storm than previously thought, because it doesn’t appear to be very battered. Two crow’s nests remain on both masts, and eight cannons still line the deck. One anchor is attached to the side of the ship, while another rests on the lake bottom. Some of the windows in the quarter galleries are even intact, despite tremendous underwater pressures. They also contribute the high level of preservation to the lake’s cold temperatures and lack of light and oxygen.

Here's some video of the historic wreck.

More than 4700 shipwrecks litter the bottom of the Great Lakes, 500 of them in Lake Ontario. But for Kennard and Scoville any future discoveries they make are going to be hard to match their discovery of the HMS Ontario.

"This is the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks," Kennard said. "There's nothing more significant than this one."


Shipwreck World story
Naval Operations in the Americian Revolutionary War
HMS Ontario shipwreck photos at the LA Times
Story in Tononto Star


Submerged treasures: Underwater archaeologists, like this one, are now swimming and searching the upper Nile River looking for ancient Egyptian artifacts.
Submerged treasures: Underwater archaeologists, like this one, are now swimming and searching the upper Nile River looking for ancient Egyptian artifacts.Courtesy Viv Hamilton
Archaeologists dig and sift their way to finding the clues of previous cultures, right?

Not all the time. A recent project in Egypt has archaeologists donning wet suits and scuba gear to find cool things from ancient Egyptian culture.

The changing course of the Nile River has necessitated archaeologists going “hydro” in their search. And last month they discovered an entryway to a temple near Aswan in Upper Egypt.

It’s the first major underwater discovery of Egypt antiquities for a multi-year project that began this year. The under-water discovery is an entryway to a temple dedicated to Khnum, the ram-headed god of fertility.

Made of massive rocks that weigh in the tons, the portico can’t be taken away from its submerged home, but divers were able to remove a one-ton stone that are part of the entryway that has inscriptions that could give more clues to when it was built, what its purpose was or other information about life from that ancient time.

The larger scope of the project is to do a complete survey of the riverbed of the Nile from Aswan to Luxor starting this fall. Along with the changing course of the river of the centuries, archaeologists think they’ll be able to find artifacts that had fallen overboard while being shipped on the river. Some artifacts are known to be in the waters having been recorded lost through accidents from Egyptian treasure seekers in earlier centuries.