Over time, the techniques used to recover submerged shipwrecks have evolved significantly. The example of the Mary Rose is a testament to the numerous approaches that are now available to underwater archaeologists.
This Tudor warship was sunk in battle in 1545, and its remains lay at the bottom of the Solent strait near the Isle of Wight for centuries.
It wasn’t until 1982 that the fragmented hull, along with thousands of preserved items and the skeletons of many sailors, were finally recovered.
The shipwreck was in such a poor state, that the process of its fragmented remains was a daunting challenge and is now regarded as one of the most complex and expensive projects in the history of underwater archaeology.
Before even attempting the operation, archaeologists proposed many potential methods of recovery. This was a shipwreck unlike any other recovered before.
If they had used a conventional method of cables and pontoons, they risked the shipwreck breaking apart before it even emerged.
Some proposed the method of building a cofferdam around the wreck – an enclosure that would allow water to be pumped out there and then.
Others proposed using a flotation method, which meant filling the wreck with buoyant objects in order to allow the hull to float up gently.
After months of debate by archaeologists invested in the Mary Rose project, a more solid method was agreed upon.
It involved the strengthening of the hull with special steel braces and frames – basically surrounding it with a steel frame. This was then lifted carefully out of the water with floating cranes.
It was a nerve-wracking operation, which only goes to show that there are no rules in underwater archaeology.
Each recovery is individual, and a story to itself. Some are simple and straightforward, while others can take years before they are completed. It all depends on the location and the state of the wreck itself.
Undoubtedly, advancements in modern technology have revolutionized underwater archaeology, enabling us to recover and preserve sunken artifacts and ships that were once thought lost for all time.
We are witnessing achievements that defy all sense of logic – the uncanny marriage of industry and archaeology that allows for recovery of enormous and delicate sunken ships.
With the aid of sophisticated sonar and radar technologies, as well as cutting-edge computer systems, we have come to understand the enormity of the underwater world and the treasures it holds.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the human element, as none of these achievements would be possible without the tireless work of archaeologists, divers and volunteers who dedicate their time and expertise to the painstaking process of uncovering history’s forgotten sunken stories.
As we move forward, it is crucial to continue to support and encourage their work, so that future generations may continue to uncover and learn from our past.
Ancient Origins /ABC Flash Point News 2023.
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