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The #Rooswijk 1740 Team at Work

Find out how the expedition team works to recover the finds, records and conserves them for the future and analyses environmental samples to see what these reveal of the wreck's story.

Go to the Rooswijk1740 Project Open Day on Saturday 16 September, 10am - 3pm at Rooswijk1740 Project, The Old Port Workshop, Military Road Ramsgate CT11 9FT, or explore our virtual open day below.

On this page:

Stay up to date with the latest discoveries from the Rooswijk on social media using the hashtag #Rooswijk1740.  

Working underwater

Maritime archaeologists use many of the same techniques that their land-based counterparts use, but with one major difference - they need special equipment to allow them to breath under the water.

Divers on the Rooswijk are using two different types of diving equipment this summer. Some divers are using SCUBA equipment with tanks of air carried on their backs. Others are using Surface Supplied Diving Equipment which provides breathing gas to divers through a hose connected to a tank on the surface.

A diving supervisor on the boat can talk to the divers and can direct their dives and ensure they do not stay down too long or come to the surface too quickly.

Divers on the expedition boat for the Rooswijk excavation project
© Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency

Maritime archaeologists record the wreck using traditional tools, such as tape measures, pencils and cameras as well as more advanced and specialist equipment like diver tracking systems.

Helmet mounted torches and cameras linked to on-board screens mean dive supervisors can see archaeology as the divers work, often more clearly than the divers themselves. To help them move the sediment that covers the wreck, they use special air lifts that suck the sand away. They are able to finely tune these to ensure important archaeology or tiny objects are not lost.

Thijs Coenen ready to dive on the Dutch VOC wreck - Rooswijk
Dutch Diver Thijs Coenen preparing to dive from the Terschelling to excavate the Rooswijk © Historic England

First aid for conservation

When artefacts are being lifted from a wreck site, they become exposed to higher temperatures and higher levels of oxygen. This means that decay is accelerated. When artefacts reach the surface they have to be kept wet and are not allowed to dry out.

These initial steps, together with the correct packaging and support material, are called 'first aid for conservation'.

An artefact from the wreck of the Rooswijk is kept wet. Artefacts are not allowed to dry out until it they can be conserved and packaged.
Artefacts are not allowed to dry out until it they can be conserved © Historic England

Even though water preserves a wide range of materials in often very good conditions, prolonged wet storage is costly and inpractical. The ultimate goal of any conservation treatment is to dry the artefacts. By stabilising them they will then be available and accessible to others.

A conservator drying an artefact retrieved from the wreck of the Rooswijk.
Historic England archaeological conservator Angela Middleton examining an artefact. © Historic England

Recording and conserving the finds

Before artefacts from the marine environment can be dried though, they have to go through a number of stages. First of all, harmful salts need to be washed out. Some materials such as ceramics or metals can often be dried carefully without any further treatment. Other artefacts, such as those made from wood or leather need more stages: impregnation with a special wax followed by vacuum freeze drying. And iron for example benefits from having corrosion layers removed. The finds below are in a freeze drying machine.

Storage of artefacts from the Rooswijk ship wreck.
Rooswijk wreck finds in the freeze drying machine © Historic England

As well as stabilising and drying, conservators also investigate and analyse artefacts. They look at how something was made and how it changed. They note and record construction features and decoration.

All this information is shared with the archaeologists and other researchers and together we can use this information to learn about the Rooswijk and the artefacts.

See the expedition finds in 3D

A conservator examining an artefact recovered from the Rooswijk ship wreck using a microscope.
Historic England archaeological conservator Eric Nordgren © Historic England

Training

Student training and capacity building are an important part of the #Rooswijk1740 project as we recognise that more opportunities like this are needed. We have a large number of Dutch and English students working on the Rooswijk project this summer. The students are based at the finds facility in Ramsgate, and are helping us to record and conserve the finds.

We’re using different methods for recording, including traditional methods such as photography, alongside newer technologies including photogrammetry, 3D light scanning and virtual reality equipment. As well as finds recording and conservation, the students are also involved in outreach activities. Historic England staff are providing training in maritime archaeology, conservation and environmental archaeology as well as facilitating hands on practical experience. The students also have the opportunity to visit the dive vessel, and see the divers and on-site archaeological recording in action.

 

Environmental sampling

Careful sampling for plant material, insects, bones and shells on wreck sites, particularly from within containers and from the structure and fittings of the vessel itself, can provide information about life on board, cargo and construction and repairs. We hope to learn about the plant, animal and fish foods used to provision the crew, as well as trade items.

Young woman on a dive expedition boat holding a glass brandy bottle from the Dutch wreck Rooswijk wich sank in 1740.
Liselore An Muis member of the Rooswijk diving team holding a glass brandy bottle recovered from the Dutch VOC East Indiaman ship - Rooswijk. Wrecked on the Goodwin Sands on 8 January 1740 © Historic England

Plant material (seeds, leaves, stems and pollen) can also tell us about bedding, flooring, packing material and fuel, as well as the vessel itself (especially ropes and caulking).

Animal bones, insect remains and some molluscs may tell us about pests (rats, fleas, lice, ship worm) and even animals kept on board.

Grape seeds and stem found on the wreck of the Stirling Castle.
Finds like these grape seeds from the Stirling Castle wreck provide important evidence for trade and life on board ships like the Rooswijk

Plants and insects are preserved on submerged sites due to the waterlogged conditions which exclude oxygen and prevent decay. Samples of sediment are placed into bags which will be lifted to the surface and then processed at Ramsgate or at Historic England facilities by sieving through a small mesh (for the recovery of bones, larger plant items and finds) or bucket flotation. Flotation involves separating the organic material (the flot) and inorganic residues (sand and stones) using water. The flot is collected in a very fine mesh sieve and kept wet until it is examined under a microscope. The residue is retained in a bucket and then sorted by eye.

A woman working at a microscope with environmental samples in labelled plastic bags in the foreground.
Historic England senior archaeobotanist Ruth Pelling analysing environmental samples © Historic England
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