Quarry Workers Unearth 16th Century ‘Rare Elizabethan-Era’ Ship In England

A ship from the time period of the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth was unearthed by quarry workers in England last April, Wessex Archaeology, the group who studied the find, announced in a late December press release.

Discoveries of ships from the Elizabethan era, or any time before the 1700s, are a rare find, according to an archeologist who studied the ship. Workers of CEMEX U.K. were dredging a lake at a quarry on the Dungeness headland in Kent, England, when they unearthed the ship’s remains. They weren’t sure what it was, so they called in the experts.

“To find a late 16th-century ship preserved in the sediment of a quarry was an unexpected but very welcome find indeed,” Andrea Hamel, a marine biologist at Wessex Archaeology said in the press release. “The ship has the potential to tell us so much about a period where we have little surviving evidence of shipbuilding but yet was such a great period of change in ship construction and seafaring,” she added.

As archeologists studied the find, they determined that it was a ship from the 16th century, a “rare-Elizabethan-era” find. Over 100 timbers from the hull of the ship were recovered, and it was still intact. They were able to determine the timbers were English oak from between 1558 and 1580 using dendrochronological dating, which uses the tree rings to determine the year each ring was formed.

“For anything to survive from before 1700 is so rare that it would be nationally significant,” Hamel said.

In April, the remains of a rare 16th-century ship were found unexpectedly in a Kent quarry by @CEMEX_UK. 👷

We provided emergency funding for @wessexarch to investigate with @Kent_cc. 🔍

The story features on #DiggingForBritain tonight on @BBCTwo with @theAliceRoberts. ⛏️ pic.twitter.com/GCy3T9RsoG

— Historic England (@HistoricEngland) January 1, 2023

The archeologists note that this vessel was built during a “transitional period” of ship construction in Europe. The construction of the ship used the “carvel” technique, which means the frame of the ship was built first, then planks are added to surround the frame and were fixed flush, creating the hull. This is different from another type of ship-building technique, favored by the Vikings, called “clinker” built, where the planks overlap each other.

The remains of the ship were found around 1,000 feet from the sea, which was likely on the coastline at one point, the press release stated. Researchers believe the ship either wrecked on the headland at the site, a narrow piece of land projecting out into the sea, or was placed where it was found after determining the ship was no longer seaworthy.

“The remains of this ship are really significant, helping us to understand not only the vessel itself but the wider landscape of shipbuilding and trade in this dynamic period,” Antony Firth, the head of marine heritage strategy at Historic England, the group that funded the research, said. “CEMEX staff deserve our thanks for recognizing that this unexpected discovery is something special and for seeking archaeological assistance.”

The ship remains unidentified, but the group says it would have once been an important asset in a period of expanding trade during part of the period known as the Age of Exploration. The ship has been digitally photographed and laser scanned by Wessex Archaeology. The group says that when their work is complete, they will rebury the ship in the quarry lake for silt to continue its preservation, potentially allowing future generations the opportunity to study it with more advanced technology.

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