Archaeologists from Bournemouth University have discovered the oldest medieval English shipwreck in the English Channel.
Maritime archaeologists from Bournemouth University have discovered the remains of a medieval ship and its cargo off the Dorset coast. Closer examination has determined that it is a naval shipwreck dating back to the 13th century. From a scientific and historical point of view, the discovery is extremely rare and very valuable.
All because such old wrecks are practically unheard of. Very few similar remains have survived to modern times. Moreover, no other shipwrecks from this period are known to have rested in English waters. Thus, the discovery of researchers from Bournemouth University has become the oldest known English shipwreck.
The site with the wreck was located in the waters of Poole Bay by local skipper Trevor Small and reported to Bournemouth archaeologists.
I was born into a seafaring family. I have combed thousands of nautical miles in search of shipwrecks from my home port of Poole. In the summer of 2020, I discovered what I thought was an undetected wreck site. Recent storms had revealed something unknown at the bottom of the sea. I received permission to dive on the wreck. The rest is history! I found one of the oldest shipwrecks in England – Trevor Small reported on his discovery.
Scientists investigating the site are delighted with what they have discovered. The wreck from nearly 750 years ago has allowed archaeologists to get a glimpse of 13th-century England in a way. The ship’s construction, fittings, cargo and every object discovered at the site build a picture of the world at that time. However, this is not dry information hidden in the form of letters, but tangible evidence that has survived to the present day.
Very few 750-year-old shipwrecks survive for us to see today. That’s why we are extremely fortunate to have discovered an example as rare as this one, and in such good condition. A combination of low-oxygen water, sand and stones helped preserve one side of the ship, and the hull is clearly visible – said Tom Cousins, a marine archaeologist at Bournemouth University.
The ship was made using the clinker method, i.e. from overlapping wooden planks, and carried a cargo of stone from Purbeck. Researchers have referred to the wreck as a “mortar gunner”, as much of the cargo contains stone mortars from Purbeck. These were large stones used by mills to grind grain into flour.
Analysis of the wood indicated that Irish oak felled between 1242 and 1265 was used to build the hull. Interestingly, the origin of the wood does not at all mean that the ship was built in Ireland. Irish oak was widely exported for shipbuilding during the medieval period. One theory is that the ship may have been lost en route from the Dorset coast, along with a cargo of stone from Purbeck.
Photo: Bournemouth University
Without a doubt, the area around England’s Dover is famous for the shipwrecks sunk there. One of those worth exploring is without a doubt the Mindoro shipwreck. You can read more about it in Stefan Panis’ article, which we published in the 20th issue. DIVERS24 quarterly! The digital version of the magazine is available free of charge, while you can purchase the printed version in our online store.
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