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Dutch and British Archaeologists To Excavate 300 Year Old Shipwreck

Archaeologists will research and partially excavate the Dutch East Indiaman the Rooswijk this summer. The ship was on its way to the Indies with a large cargo of silver ingots and coinage on board when she sank on the Goodwin Sands in Kent in January 1740.

The Rooswijk is threatened by natural conditions such as currents and shifting sands and an exploratory study of the wreck last year has made the need for excavation even more urgent.

From July to October 2017, an international team based in Ramsgate, Kent, will map the wreck and secure archaeological material and the silver cargo on board for future generations. This project is being run by The Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency in partnership with Historic England.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) wreck is of enormous value to archaeologists as it will help them better understand this period of seafaring history. There are a total of 250 Dutch VOC shipwrecks, of which only a third have been located. Never before has a VOC wreck been researched or excavated scientifically on this scale.

Silver coins found in the Rooswijk wreck from 2005
Silver coins found in the Rooswijk wreck from 2005 © Collection of the Zeeuws maritiem MuZEEum

Excavating the Rooswijk

The decision to research and partially excavate the wreck by Minister Jet Bussemaker (Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) marks a significant moment in the management of Dutch heritage overseas.

Minister Jet Bussemaker said: "Increasingly we realise that these traces of our maritime past, of which many rest invisible on the sea floor, are an important part of our identity. Shipwrecks are time capsules that provide a unique view into the past and tell us a story. The two centuries of VOC are part of that story and our collective memory, including everything we are still proud of, but also from which we are ashamed. The archaeological information we can gain from this wreck is a unique tangible and objective source and extremely valuable to describe this period in history."

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "The shipwrecks that dot the British coast are unique pieces of maritime heritage and windows into Europe’s seafaring history. This exciting joint excavation project will safeguard important material for future generations, develop underwater research and support the new Ramsgate Heritage Action Zone initiative."

Shared maritime past

In recent years, the Maritime Programme of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency has actively developed the management of maritime heritage in the Netherlands and Dutch shipwrecks abroad. The latter is used in conjunction with other countries, including England, to facilitate management and research.

Partners in the Rooswijk project

The Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency and Historic England are jointly undertaking this project with the help and support of many partners from both countries. The project is designed so that it allows young professionals in the field of maritime archeology, students and sports divers from the Netherlands and England to actively participate in the research, supervised by experienced archaeologists and conservators.

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