Feb
20
2009

Holy shipwreck! Things are getting nautical, archaeological.

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.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

austin's picture
austin says:

wen was this bilt was it in 1989 or 1820.

posted on Sun, 01/24/2010 - 2:34pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options