Rare Elizabethan ship found in Kent quarry

The remains of a rare 16th century ship have been discovered in a sediment layer in a quarry in Kent, southeastern England. Despite the enormous significance of this period in English seafaring history, very few ships built in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I have survived.

Over 100 timbers from the ship’s hull were recovered, with dendrochronological analysis, funded by Historic England, dating the timbers that built the ship to between 1558 and 1580 and confirming it was made of English oak. This places the ship at a transitional period in Northern European ship construction. When ships are believed to have moved from a traditional clinker construction (as seen in Viking vessels) to frame-first-built ships (as recorded here), where the internal framing is built first and flush-laid planking is later added to the frames to create a smooth outer hull. This technique is similar to what was used on the Mary Rose, built between 1509 and 1511, and the ships that would explore and settle along the Atlantic coastlines of the New World.

The aggregate quarry on the Dungeness headland is now 1000 feet from the coast, but when the ship was built, the find site was likely on the coastline. It’s not clear from the remains if it met a violent end in a clash against the headline or if it was simply abandoned when it stopped being worth repairing and left to sink. The discovery has the potential to shed new light not just on Elizabethan shipbuilding and trade, but on the natural history and the commercial development of the Kent coast as well.

The ship has been documented, photographed and laser-scanned to create a detailed 3D model that can be studied without exposing the ship to the elements. Once the excavation and recording of the ship is complete, it will be reburied in the same sediment layer where it was found so the timbers will be preserved as they have been for almost five centuries.

Still from a 3D model of the remains of the Elizabethan ship. Photo courtesy Wessex Archaeology.

Amalfi’s Regatta winner “Vittoria” restored

A wooden galleon that won the southwestern Italian city of Amalfi its first victories in a regatta against its ancient maritime rivals has been restored to its former vividly-colored glory. The painstaking restoration was revealed in a ceremony that reunited the victorious crews who famously rowed Vittoria to, well, victory.

The Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics was a plan hatched by Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi to put on a history-flavored pageant to attract tourists the way the Palio of Siena attracts tourism. From the Middle Ages on, they were the four pre-eminent medieval port city-states in Italy, so iconically connected to maritime power that in 1947 their coat of arms were combined to create the coat of arms of the Navy of the Italian Republic. In 1949, representatives of the four cities met and ultimately agreed to establish a yearly boat race in which each city would field a crew of eight rowers and a helmsman from among its own residents. Each city would alternate hosting the race over a two-kilometer course. Amalfi’s course is the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The boats were built to precise specifications and painted in their cities’ colors. The figurehead on the prow of the ship was the city’s symbol: a winged horse for Amalfi, dragon for Genoa, eagle for Pisa and the winged lion for Venice. The figureheads also play a key role in determining the winner, as the jury decides which boat won by judging whether the furthest forward point cut the finish line first. For Amalfi it’s the tip of Pegasus’ front hoof.

The first ships were made of wood by the Gondolieri Cooperative of Venice. The Vittoria was the second ship made for Amalfi and it brought it nothing but luck, winning the Regatta in 1975, 1979 and 1981. This was a big deal for Amalfi, because the other three Maritime Republics had won repeatedly in the 19 regattas between 1956 and 1974. Venice dominated with 14 wins. Genoa won three times and Pisa managed to get on the board with two first-place finished. Before the Vittoria‘s hoof cut the finish line in 1975, Amalfi had never come in first. It had never even come second. It only came third once in 1957, so basically Amalfi spent two decades firmly ensconced in last place.

The losing streak was broken in the 1975 regatta held in Pisa. Pisa was lucky for Amalfi’s team again in the 1979 race, and then in 1981, they hit the dream combination: they won first place when they were hosting. Those three victories in six years had to keep Amalfi warm for the next 14 years of losses before they reclaimed the title three times in a row between 1995 and 1997, but by then the wooden boats had been replaced by fiberglass, so the Vittoria was not involved.

It was abandoned and left exposed to the elements, so even though it’s not that old in the scale of Maritime Republics, it was already on the brink of decay. It was restored thanks to a private donor Dr. Claudio Marciano di Scala who funded a complete restoration including replacement of all rotted topside elements with prized materials like Douglas fir and mahogany. The brilliantly-colored paint colors were reapplied with traditional methods.

The medievalist prof. Giuseppe Gargano who provided a series of indications to the shipwrights, also of a historical nature: “With the restoration of the galleon, it was also possible to solve a problem linked to its decorations, i.e. the six shields which adorn the stern castle,” he explained last night. “We wanted to give order and clarity to the symbols so as to offer visitors the possibility of better understanding some dynamics in the evolution of civic symbology. Starting with the flag of the city and the duchy of Amalfi, adopted in 1266 with the adhesion to the Angevin cause up to the black and white shield (day and night), charged by a winged compass and a comet, dating back to century and which was first the coat of arms of the Principality of Citra and then of the Province of Salerno. It was applied to the lower section of the Amalfi municipal coat of arms during the 14th century. Finally, the octagonal cross on a black background, the ancient symbol of the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, founded by Blessed Gerardo Sasso of Scala.”

The Vittoria is now on permanent display in Amalfi’s spectacular Arsenale, a masonry cross-vaulted shipyard built on the seafront in the 11th century. It first appears on the historical record in 1059, seven years before the Norman Conquest, a thousand years later, it is still in its original condition. It hasn’t been destroyed, rebuilt, quarried or tampered with in any way and there is no other example of medieval architecture like it in the world.

Roman gold earring recategorizes earlier finds

A Roman gold earring discovered by a metal detectorist in Burston, Norfolk, last Christmas Eve, has been declared treasure and will go on display at the Diss Museum, an award-winning local museum occupying two former historic butcher shops in Norfolk. This small gold disc weighing a total 2.2 grams is also helping archaeologists redefine earlier such discoveries.

When Nick Bateman first unearthed the earring in a field, he thought it was an old bottle cap. When he cleaned it a little he saw that it was gold and definitely not a bottle cap. He reported it to the authorities and the piece was examined by a coin expert from the Norfolk Historic Environment Service.

The earring is circular, 20.5 mm (.8 inches) in diameter and was formed by two gold sheets of different thicknesses soldered together. Both sides are decorated with a relief in repoussé technique (pushed out from the back) of what appears to be an eagle on a ground line formed of six dots on top of a downward-pointing crescent. The eagle is encircled by a wreath and a cross is visible between the points of the crescent on one side of the earring. It is no longer visible on the other side, but must have been there originally as the decoration is the same on both sides.

There is a d-shaped projection with a perforation, but it is not at the top of the pendant. It is at the bottom, a suspension loop for a secondary pendant hanging from the gold disc. Part of the top side of the earring is missing. This damaged area must have been perforated or otherwise contained the mount which would have hung from the ear.

There are no exact matches for this design on the archaeological record. A similar gold disc formed by two thin gold sheets joined together and decorated with a repoussé relief is the closest cognate. It too was found in Norfolk and it was crumpled, but it has no pendant loop and the decoration is so hard to make out that it was categorized as an unknown with a few superficial features in common with Anglo-Saxon bracteate pendants. The discovery of the earring has now resulted in its unknown cousin being dated to the Roman period (43-409 A.D.), and similar finds are also being reevaluated in the wake of the Burston piece.

“A colleague thought it was medieval as he could see a tiny cross under one of the loops,” [numismatist Adrian Marsden] said.

“But when I looked closely I could see a laurel wreath and an eagle and that’s exactly the sort of thing you get on Roman objects.

“Other artefacts like this had gone down as medieval, so it does show you need to keep your wits about you when you examine these things.”

Complete Roman statue found in Aizanoi

The excavation of the Roman bridges over the Penkalas river in the ancient city of Aizanoi in western Turkey have unearthed a larger-than-life-sized statue of a man. This is the first complete statue unearthed in Aizanoi. The total height of the statue is 2.10 meters (6’11”) and it was found in two parts — the whole body and the head severed at the neck. The man is wearing a himation, a Greek woolen cloak that was draped over a tunic like a lighter-weight version of the Roman toga, over his shoulders forming a sling for his right arm, a posture associated with scholars and orators. Its style marks it as about 2,000 years old.

Expressing that they were very excited about the statue they found in the recent excavations, [excavation director Gökhan] Coşkun said, “This statue is almost the only intact statue we have found so far. It is a statue of a man with a height of 2 meters and 10 centimeters, missing only half of its pedestal and one foot. Other parts are completely preserved. I hope that we will find this missing piece in 2023.”

The earliest archaeological evidence of settlement at the site dates back the third millennium B.C. The ancient city of Aizanoi established itself as a regional capital in the later Kingdom of Phrygia (ca. 1200-700 B.C.). It took on additional political importance during the Hellenistic period, playing the rope in the tug of war between the Attalid Kingdom of Pergamum and the Kingdom of Bithynia. The game ended in 133 B.C. when Aizanoi was bequeathed to the Roman Republic by the last king of Pergamum, Attalus III.

Under the Roman Empire it achieved its greatest prosperity. It was already a metropolis in terms of population in the 1st century B.C., but the city’s monumental public buildings and major infrastructure were built by the Roman Emperors. The Temple of Zeus, the macellum (market) inscribed with the Price Edict of Diocletian that is considered the first commercial stock exchange in the world, a combined theater and stadium seating 33,500 that is unique in the Roman world, two public baths and five bridges, two of them still standing today, were built between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

Statue pieces, mostly heads, have been found in the excavations of the riverbed where the two Roman bridges are being restored, including fragments of very large statues that would have been more than 10 feet high when intact. Earlier this year a rare intact white marble sundial was discovered.

Gdańsk is 60 years older than previously known

The remains of an early medieval structure under the Main Town Hall of Gdańsk has rolled back the date of the founding of the city 60 years to the early 10th century. An archaeological excavation of the cellars of the former mayoral seat undertaken between September and December of this year uncovered fragments of Slavic ceramics and timbers used in the early city’s defensive ramparts. The style of ceramics is typical of the first half of the 10th century, and dendrochronological analysis of the timbers dates them to 930 A.D.

There is evidence of settlement in the Vistula delta area going back to the Neolithic (2500-1700 B.C.) and remains from the Lusatian culture (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) and Roman period have been discovered under modern-day Gdańsk. Its location on the Baltic Sea made it a trade stop on the ancient Amber Road. The modern city of Gdańsk was believed to have been founded around 980 A.D. by Mieszko I, Duke of Poland from 960 until his death in 992 and the first ruler of Poland as an independent state. He was the first of the Piast dynasty (named after their legendary 8th century ancestor Piast the Wheelwright) to rule Poland. Mieszko’s His son and heir would become the first crowned king of Poland, Bolesław I the Brave (c. 967-1025).

Archaeological discoveries made under and around Town Hall in the 70s also revealed wooden remains which archaeologist Andrzej Zbierski believed were sections of a 10th century rampart. His assessment was not accepted by archaeologists and historians at the time. This summer, the excavation team reopened Zbierski’s trenches from more than 50 years ago and took samples of the wood remains. Radiocarbon dating narrowed the dates to between 911 and 951, and dendrochronological analysis found the timbers were harvested in the year 930.

Museum officials informed that the finds will be secured and then buried. The director of the museum emphasized that the remains of the embankment have survived to our times only because of favorable circumstances.

“Firstly, no one destroyed them in the 14th century, perhaps because they stabilized structures erected on a wetland. Secondly, the embankment is in peat, which perfectly preserves organic material” – explained Prof. Ossowski. And as the third reason, he gave that the find was found in a wetland, and the water – according to the professor – also preserves the wood intact.

He also indicated that sharing the find would be associated with high risk. “There is high humidity in the cellars, additionally, in the summer months, groundwater enters the excavation, which rises to such an extent that it will make it impossible to clearly expose the wooden remains” – he assessed.

He added that such a valuable find would be best buried for now, so that it would survive in the state in which it has survived for over 1,000 years until there is an idea how to show it to visitors permanently and without risk.

Traces of settlement will be additionally secured with geotextile.