Keith - The Molasses Reef Wreck

Keith - The Molasses Reef Wreck - E: The Molasses Reef...

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Unformatted text preview: E: The Molasses Reef Wreck Project by Donald H. Keith Beginnings “And What do you do for extracurricular entertainment?” Governor Bradley asked. That’ s a good question, I thought to myself. I used to have a more-or—less normal assortment of hobbies: hiking and camping, reading, rebuilding old cars, photography, building models, diving, drawing and painting among others. But that was before the Molasses Reef Wreck came along. His Excellency Michael Bradley, Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, was in College Station for the express purpose of viewing the Molasses Reef Wreck artifact collection—now that the task of cleaning and conserving the objects is virtually finished—and formulating plans for its eventual return to the Turks and Caicos Museum of Maritime History. The Govemor’s question reminded me of the tremendous changes the Molasses Reef Wreck has wrought in my life as well as Within the Institute itself. Almost eight years have passed since George Bass asked me to shelve temporarily my plans to research the little-known 15th—century Chinese Age of Exploration and Disaovery and direct excavation of the Molasses Reef Wreck for INA. The Institute had become interested in locating an archaeological example of the quintessential ship of exploration, the caravel. Bas made it sound so simple: Just dig the site, clean and conserve the artifacts, analyze them and make sense of it all in a final site report. Easy. Even a graduate student could do it. Mercifully, neither of us suspected how difficult it would really be. By the time I realized I had a tiger by the tail, it was too late to let go. Molasses Reef The beginning of the Project was not particularly auspicious. Amid an entanglement of controversy and confrontation with treasure hunters who insisted that the mystery wreck on Molas— ses Reef was Columbus’ Pintu, we left Miami aboard R / V Morn- ing Watch. The vessel's captain, Sumner Gerard, generously provided use of his ship for the first phase of the excavation. Whenwe arriVed on the site in the first days of April, 1982, an unpleasant surprise awaited us: the wreck had been blasted and ravaged by treasure hunters shortly before We arrived. We found the remains of home-made pipe bombs and detonators scattered across the site. A huge crater had been dug into the ballast mound amidships, and many artifacts had been inten- tionally mutilated. But if the treasure hunters hoped their deliberate vandalism would foil our project, we disappointed them. Fortunately, I had made a plan of the site in 1980, during my first reconnaissance of Molasses Reef, and this enabled us to make sense of the chaos of artifacts on the seabed. Almost immediately, We found the first coin: a U5. quarter dated 1965! Genuine artifacts Were not so readily identifiable. Most were heavily disguised'by a thick cocoon of marine encrus- tation. Our immediate task was to map the site, to assign each artifact a number, and record its location. In most cases, we would not know what the objects were until much later, after they had been cleaned in the laboratory. _ _ ‘ Five weeks later Morning Watch was back in the US, making her way up the Miami River back to her slip. The morning was grey, overcast, and a light drizzle was falling on her decks littered with hundredsof artifacts from the Molasses Reef Wreck. The first shipment of artifacts arrived at Texas A&M before the conservation laboratory had been fidly equipped. so nautical archaeology graduate students pitched in to assist in the transfer and storage of ooncretions % in an unused swimming 1 j pooL (Photo: Dennis 7- mm" _ .w,.»4'r=Ir.r-'"" . wwmmmmmnmmwnwfi 11 12 13 14 IETERS 1113 plan of the Molasses Reef Wreck shows fltedlstribuflon of ordnamaewiflflnflwsite. ’Ihatfitearmanwntswemapartqfflme ship'sequipmentandnotmerelybelngcarfiedascaryols arguedconvutclnglybythefactfllatflleyweremtched. balancedandpaired. andby fltefactflutflIenghbomCay Wreckcaniedaverysimflar—abnosttdenflcakbatterywwi respecttoguntypesandnumbers. fiemmwmlnstomgemflteshlp'shddwhenit sarflcmflierflmnattheready. Theswlvelgunsmondeck. andendeduplnaclusterofpairsofequlvalenttypesfourorfive VIIIOS fibrin”! ——-‘—~‘ f chamhu: - '- + m a. a L ' + Mastofiteeastoffliebaflastmoundwhentheshlpheeled overonttsside—tmsimrlzontaldlfi'erenoe reflectingtheorlg‘nal distanoebetweentlwkeelandthemamdeclc Gtventhe reconstructeddlmenslons of the Molasses Reef Wreck—about 19 Masmlerlgfllandfiveorstxmetersinbeam—theordxmncelt mniedwouldhaueaddedconsida-ablechltbertousmdsand decks. particularly them which. when mounteth thelrcan-iages.wouldhauehadanovemll lnemessof 4.5m. Ittsmumnderflwyumkeptbelowdeckswhenflne shtpwasw'ldermy. (Drawing: D.H.KelthandJJ.Slrrurwns. HI] INA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 [1;] ELL] E] [:4] [W] If] [73 d I13 [g 12/13 sand and pebbles sand JIM NFF‘ .loESmuous ’M— - encrustalion 'rind' Careful mapping and sampling of the Molasses Reef Wreck's ballast mound enabled Bill Lamb to demonstrate that two common rock types may have comefmm Lisbon. Portugal. fliemcks. aMtoenelimestoneandanEocene htgh-alumtnabasalt, wereamongflielargestmflieballastandmayhaueservedasflieshlp's 'pennanent'ballast, loadedtntotheshlp tmmediatelyafierconsbuctiontoadjustttshim. Hllustrutlom J.J. Slmmons,lllandJ.A. Dufi) There was no fanfare, no celebration. We knew that the real work had only just begun. We loaded the artifacts into two large U-Haul trucks, covered them with burlap and wet newspapers for protection, and set out on the 1,200 mile drive back to College Station. . 3 All told, we conducted four seasons of field work betWeen ‘1982 and 1986, totalling more than six months on Molasses Reef. :Our agreement with the government of the Turks and Caicos :lslands permitted us to take all the excavated artifacts, samples, Lballast stones and hull remains back to our headquarters at Texas 3‘A&M University for cleaning, conservation and analysis. It was here that the real archaeology took place. The Molasses Reef Wreck Conservation Laboratory With the artifacts safely ensconced in a swimming pool, We ‘set about modifying the building assigned to the Project, a fire ‘station at the Texas A&M University Research Extension Annex. Although we all knew basic conservation theory, we had no idea 3how to tackle the job of cleaning and conserving thousands of entire shipwreck—efficiently and in a reasonable amount of time. After a number of false starts and some timely ladvice from Herb Bump and James Levy, conservators at the lstate of Florida’s laboratory in Tallahassee, we designed and ibuilt an elaborate system which enabled us to clean and stabilize all the large iron artifacts simultaneously using electrolytic INA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 reduction. With our main concern thus under control we turned our attention to other matters. 3 a Not content merely to do what others before us had done, we experimented with new methods and techniques. The most successful of these was the ballast study, in which nautical archaeology graduate student Bill Lamb managed to trace some of the stone ballast in the ship to its mostlikely place of origin: Lisbon, Portugal. Joe Siminons, our ordnance expert, directed a series of experiments designed to discover how the wrought- iron breech-loading ordnance was constructed and how the mysterious lead-iron "composite" shot were made. These ex- periments included cutting sections out of and shot, reveal- ing their interior. secrets. The scant ofithe Molasses Reef Wrecks wooden hull and pump vsl'ere painstakingly analyzed by Tom Oertling, who derived the dimensions of the vessel and identified a set of constructio‘n features diagnostic of 15th- and 16th-century European sci-going; ship design— despite the fact that less than 2% ofthe 1“:in remained. Another pioneering ‘ technique was lless: successful. We hoped that sclerochronology; the of armual growth . as on coral heads, would‘help us‘ date but the ship turned out to older any of the surrounding corals. The Molasses Reef ‘ ‘ ‘ i j 1 ‘ ‘ A number of independent lines of investigation, as well as artifactual clues; give us a Window in tiine which to view the ship that became the MOIasses Reef Wreck: Ult was small to medium in size for a ship of the period—-about 19 In long, 5 - 6 m wide, and 2 m or slightly more in draft. It had at least three masts. The main and foremasts were probably square-rigged. lt carried about 40 metric tons of stone ballast in addition to cargo and stores. The "permanent" ballast may have been loaded in Lisbon, Portugal, a possible indication of where the ship was built. It was heavily armed, but most of the armaments were stored and unloaded, rather than at the ready. Most of the ship’s provisions were carried in wooden casks and barrels, rather than in ceramic storage The creM/ s modest possessions were predominantly utilitarian, almost paltry. Even the tableware was spartan. The ship ran aground on Molasses Reef some time before the Lucayan Tainos, the native inhabitants of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, became extinct in the middle of the second decade of the 16th century. Most, if not all, of the crew survived—although they never returned to salvage their ship. So now we know a little more about at least one of the ships which explored the New World. But the mystery remains: We still know it only as the Molasses Reef Wreck. What ship was it? Who was the explorer? How can we identify it? Where did it come from? What was the nature of its voyage? And why are we having so much trouble fitting it back into history? Oertling’ s careful comparison of the Molasses Reef Wreck hull remains with those from other sites on both sides of the Atlantic led us to redefine the subject of our study as the Atlantic Ship, a broad concept including a variety of ship types and nationalities-—a pool of nautical technology and experience to a great extent shared by seafarers along the Atlantic coast of Europe from Gibraltar to the Low Countries. At the same time, the Project’ 5 archival researcher Denise Lakey turned her attention to the problem of identifying the ship. Once again, our peculiar perspective gave us insights that ter- restrial historians and archaeologists typically are not privy to. Reevaluating the traditional wisdom of history, we found an accommodation to the archaeological discoveries we were making. First, we reduced exploration to its simplest terms, the objec- tives of which were: 1) To find something worth bringing back, 2) To take _it away from whoever already had it, 3) To get it back to civilization and convert it to wealth and prestige, and 4) To make note of where it was found so that the explorer or his designates could go back for more. It is easy to see how this process led to conquest and coloniza- tion. In fact, exploration, conquest and colonization are all part of the same continuum. Reading accounts of the voyages of Columbus, Pinzon, Vespucci, Juan de la Cosa and the other "first order” explorers, one gets the impression that all discovery voyages began and ended in Spain, ignoring the fact that there was a permanent Spanish presence in the New World from 1493 on. The Spanish capitol in the New World was Santo Domingo. lts excellent harbor was home port for numerous ships owned and operated by traders and shippers who had taken up residence there. No place in the Caribbean was more than a few days sail from Santo In order to determine how the wmught—iron m or swivel guns were built. ordnance expert Joe Simmons cut one in two. longitudinally. Not only did we learn how many individual pieces of iron were forge-welded together to make the guns and breech chambers. but also the order in which they were assembled (Photo: J.J. Simmons. III) Domingo. How much more logical it is to hypothesize that significant explorations were canied out from Santo Domingo than it is to assume that the mariners there sailed only for Spain. Santo Domingo was the hub of New World exploration. This would explain certain other discrepancies in the histori- cal recerd as well; inconsistencies which have bothered his- torians for more than a century. One of the most troublesome of these discrepancies involves "cartographic prescience,” the ap- parent ability of 16th century map makers to represent correctly the shapes and locations of islands and continents in the New World even though, according to the tenants of traditional wis- dom, no European explorer had been there. Early maps show that Spanish navigators knew of and had often visited the Turks and Caicos islands. The purpose of such voyages was to round up Lucayans to work in the mines and fields of Spanish Hispaniola. Could the ship which came to grief on Molasses Reef have been engaged in this enterprise? If so, are we wasting our time combing Old World archives for reference to a voyage which originated in Santo Domingo and may never have been documented officially? We started out with the intent of finding the archaeological remains of a caravel, and from them, reconstructing the quintes- sential Ship of DiscoVery. Along the way we became suspicious that we were really researching the "Atlantic Ship,” not just the INA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 [L] [L] L) A] [ E3 [:3 m r fl SHELEWILNEO‘ SpanishcemmicsonboardfliefllghbomCayandMolasses ReefWreslcssudtasfllesesher-dsfiomutllltaflanmeladcrware bowlscalled MWMWshlps'crewsum-e Spanish. Theobmbinaflonofpaste.glazeandbaseshape matches thatan manufactured before 1495. acwrding toaserlationworkedoutfiraflre'sflequsares-Seghlrh Homrguese Morocco. Photo: M. Adams) I 2 CENTIME TERS Evenmore arethesesherdsofaverydlsflncfive cemndctypecalled 'Palmetto Ware' whichwasmodeonly by ImyanTainolndlans—AiwpeoplemhabitingflreBahamas and fire’hu-ksandCalcoslslandswhenCohnnbus univedlnthe New World. Time sherds. found on the Molasses Reef Wreck. indicatethattheshlpuusoontemporwywiththelmyans- who, duetolntroducedOldWofld diseaSesandSpanish slaving midsummdyattindby 1513. Wgwesusatgmms mm, ordarebq‘orewluchflteMolassesReq‘shlpsank Photo: JJ.Slmmons.llD - caravel, and that much of the exploration of the New World was done by “second echelon” explorers: unknown, unsung, private entrepreneurs for whom discovery was just a natural consequence of the objectives of exploration Reflections It now appears that the Molasses Reef Wreck may provide evidence of an alternative explanation for who actually explored the New World. But that is just the The small but dedicated team of researchers who first worked together on the Molasses Reef Wreck Project have created a new and vigorous thematic specialty: the Ships of Exploration and Discovery Re- search ‘ INA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 On a more personal level, the Molasses Reef Wreck Project reshaped my understanding of archaeology and taught me a number of invaluable lessons. In the course of completing the Project, I discovered that although the Director of any nautical archaeology project should be multi-talented, the only charac- teristic that is absolutely essential is m Once a project advances beyond the exciting stages of excavation and dis- covery, most people begin to lose interest, archaeologists and sponsors alike. Before long, the project is all but forgotten and the Director is the only one who cannot walk away from it with a clean conscience. Very quickly, the Director learns that it '5 ‘ much easier to raise funding for field work—which constitutes only about 5% of the total project—than it is to fund the conser- vation, analysis, archival research, sample preparation, photog- raphy and final reporting. ' Asomewhatomlnous artifactlsthls set ofleglronshereshownhsketdtfonn forclaruy. Thesimplemechanlsm consists of four pieces:me loops. onekeeperrodwtthaheadatoneend andaneyeattheothehandasofitmn wedgeorkeybywhlchthetmnscould belocked. Upon cleardngti'dsartifacr. wedbooveredtlmtthekeywaslnplaoe lntheeyeofthekeeperandpeened over. Itdoesnotreqldrenurdr tmaglrmtientoreallzetluttheselmns uiere‘ln sewice'whentheMolasses In the eight years since the Molasses Reef Wreck Project began, the Turks and Caicos have had three governors and three chief ministers. INA has had three presidents. Literally dozens of people have been involved in the Project at one time or another, but only one has stayed with it from the beginning. The Director learns that the penalty for limited funding is increased time required to finish the job. Perhaps this is why manyan archaeologists best work is doneas a graduate student, before the idealistic zeal has run out. An archaeologist is lucky to see more than two site excavations through to completion during a normal 20- or 30-year career. And the Director learns how difficult it is to balance the realities of fund-raising, management and public relations with the scientific requirements of the discipline. Often they are at cross purposes. The Director must be optimistic and confident that his research objectives will be met, but careful that this optimism does not impair his ability to recognize the truth and, when necessary, admit that he was wrong. Because archaeology is not normally self-supporting, it relies on public support. The magnitude of that support varies directly in proportion to the value of the product the archaeologist returns to the public. Product? What product? Surely not the artifacts themselves. Pretty though some of them may be, they are but dumb objects having little intrinsic value. AnsWers, then: What the objects teach us about the past. Unfortunately, ar- chaeology produces far more questions than answers. No, the product of archaeology is the story it tells, the key it provides to unlock our imaginations. The Turks and Caicos Museum of Maritime History The proper place for the telling of that story is in a museum. The last remaining objective of the Molasses Reef Wreck Project is the creation of a permanent home for the artifact collection. At present, no museum exists in the Turks and Caicos Islands, although there is a great deal of interest in creating one. I propose that it should be alled the Turks and Caicos Museum of Maritime History, because the history of the Turks and Caicos Islands parallels the development of seafaring in the eastern Caribbean. The Molasses Reef Wreck collection will furnish the nuclear exhibit for the Museum, but appropriate attention will be devoted to the Lumyan Taino Indian, Spanish, English, Ber- mudian, and American Loyalist episodes in the Islands’ past. I thought again about the Governor s question and the hob- bies I used to enjoy. Hiking and camping? Our search for Columbus’s caravel Gallega last season was a two-month camp- ing trip. Photography? Not only is itan integral part of archaeol- ogy, but also the places where archaeologists are required to go often offer spectacular exotic settings and photogenic action. Rebuilding old machinery? Plenty of opportunities for that in nautical archaeology, as well as for the design and construction of special mechanisms and devices to assist the tasks of excava- tion, survey, artifact analysis, and conservation. Building models? Why, it‘ s a veritable sub-field within nautical archaeol- ogy, as are mechanical drawing, artistic sketching, and computer graphics. Reading science fiction? Archaeology is science fic- tion. I still do all of those activities; the difference is that they are no longer hobbies, but part of the job. For Further Reading 0 Keith, D.I-I. et al., 1984, "The Molasses Reef Wreck, Turks and Caicos Islands, B.W.I.: A Preliminary Report,” Interm- tional journal of Nautical Archaeology 13.1:45-63. - Keith, D.I-I. and 1.1. Simmons, III, 1985, “An Analysis of Hull Remains, Ballast and Artifact Distribution of a Six- teenth-Century Shipwreck: Toward a Better Understanding of Wrecking and Reconstruction,” Ia urnal of Field Archaeology 12.4:411-424. 0 Keith, D.H., 1988, “Shipwrecks of the Explorers," in Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based on Underwater Archaeology, G.F. Bass, ed. Thames and Hudson, London and New York. - Lakey, D.C., 1988, “Records Usually Conceal the Hap- penstance of Life," INA Newsletter 14.3/4:11. - Myers, M.D., 1986, “Conservation from Scratch: Don’t Panic,” in Proceedings afthe Conferenceon UnderwaterArchaeol- ogy, 1. Foster and 5.0. Smith, eds. Coyote Press, Salinas. - Simmons, 1.1., III, 1987, "W rough t-iron ordnance: Revealing Discoveries from the New World,” Inter-national Ioumal of Nautical Archaeology 17.1:25-35. - Toner, M., 1982, "The Mystery Wreck of Molasses Reef,” in Tropic Magazine, May 5, 1982. Miami Herald, Miami. INA Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3 ELL] [:3 E3 [.3 a T] [:I E: ...
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Keith - The Molasses Reef Wreck - E: The Molasses Reef...

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