Archives For Conservation

City of Medicine Hat

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
CC Image Courtesy of Space Ritual on Flickr

The Star Phoenix reported earlier last week that more than 1,000 artifacts have been recovered from what is believed to the wreck of the SS City of Medicine Hat. Designed and built by the wealthy and eccentric Scottish nobleman Horatio Hamilton Ross, the ship was intended to operate as an inland steamer in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada.The ship sank on her maiden voyage from Medicine Hat, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba on June 7, 1908. City of Medicine Hat’s rudder was rendered inoperable when it snagged an underwater obstacle and the vessel drifted against a bridge abutment where it capsized under the swift river currents of the South Saskatchewan River.

There were no casualties in the sinking and the ship sank into both metaphysical and physical obscurity. This August, though, a crew working to replace a bridge across the South Saskatchewan River recovered more than 1,000 artifacts from approximately 25 feet below the surface. Archaeologists working with the project believe with substantial certainty that the artifacts belong to the City of Medicine Hat. Miscellaneous artifacts such as an anchor were previously recovered in 2006 and 2008, but this is the first comprehensive recovery of items since initial salvage efforts concluded on the vessel in 1908. While the final disposition of the artifacts is still in question, they most certainly will assist historians in painting a more complete picture of turn of the century riverine life in central Canada.

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tall ship hawaii

Falls of Clyde
CC Image Courtesy of Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Falls of Clyde is today the only surviving four masted iron-hulled sailing ship. Built in Scotland in 1878 when the clipper ship reigned supreme, the Falls of Clyde operated as a tramp merchantman between the US and locations in the British Empire. Falls of Clyde later was converted to use as an oil tanker and even served as a floating fuel depot in Alaska.

Perhaps the most intriguing fact about the Falls of Clyde is her backdoor entry into US passenger and cargo service at the turn of the 20th century. The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 prohibited foreign flagged/built ships from ferrying passengers between US ports. Today, the Jones Act (passed in 1920) maintains a similar prohibition. A US company purchased the Falls of Clyde in 1899 and registered the ship under the Republic of Hawaii’s flag. Thus, in 1900 when the US annexed Hawaii the Falls of Clyde, despite her foreign origins, was allowed to fly the US flag and operate between US ports.

Falls of Clyde was restored in the late 1960s and served as a museum ship in Honolulu, Hawaii however the ship fell into disrepair after neglect by her parent museum. In 2008, the Friends of the Falls of Clyde purchased the ship and are working to restore her.

Mardi Gras Shipwreck

CC Image Courtesy of Andy Castro on Flickr

Mardi Gras is often associated with images of raucous partying and parades in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, for archaeologists and conservationists with the Louisiana State Archaeology Department, Mardi Gras represents an ongoing shipwreck recovery project. First located by surveyors for an oil and gas concern, the Marid Gras Shipwreck was named for the Mardi Gras pipeline that runs near where it was discovered.

Although excavations began more than 5 years ago, none of the wreck’s artifacts have been made available for public viewing until recently. Last month, the West Baton Rouge Museum opened an exhibit featuring some of the wreck’s preserved artifacts on loan from the Louisiana State Archaeology Department.

Artifacts recovered from the site as well as shipping records have led researchers to believe the ship sank during the War of 1812. Specifically, there is circumstantial evidence pointing to the ship being the Rapid, a privateer operating out of New Orleans, which sank in a squall after being pursued by the HMS Herald. Regardless of the ship’s identity, its artifacts are helping archaeologists better understand 19th century life at sea as well as educating the general public while on exhibit. Information about visiting the museum can be found at the museum’s website.

chinese shipwrecks

Li River, Guilin, China
CC Image Courtesy of olly301 on Flickr

Xinhua News is reporting that China is building its first dedicated marine archaeology vessel. The ~175 foot ship will displace 860 tons and have the ability to both locate and excavate shipwrecks within Chinese coastal waters. Operated by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, it will be put to use finding and preserving China’s numerous ancient shipwrecks.

Much like Vietnam, China has the potential to be the location of a vast number of discoveries due to its society having been stunted from revolution, insularity and the ravages of communism. Today, the increase of both nations’ wealth and openness to the world has created opportunities for marine exploration to blossom.

Currently, Chinese marine archaeologists must rely on rented fishing vessels to serve as expedition platforms, although in the case of the Awa Maru project, the Chinese government spent millions on a dedicated salvage barge.

alaskan ferry

Kalakala Ferry Today
CC Image Courtesy of rbanks on Flickr

Once a majestic art deco ship shuttling passengers across Puget Sound, the Kalakala is today rusting away at her moorings in Tacoma, Washington. For nearly a decade, owner Steve Rodrigues has attempted to restore the ship to her former glory, but has faced serious funding issues and legal troubles with the US Coast Guard and the state of Washington. Unless someone with deep pockets steps up soon, the ship is most likely destined for the breakers yard.

Originally built in 1926, the Kalakala has had a colorful history and began life as the Peralta, a traditionally styled ferry operating in San Francisco, California. In 1933, a fire at Peralta’s terminal wrecked the ship’s superstructure and, instead of rebuilding the vessel in its prior form, the ship was graced with a sleek art deco superstructure to become the world’s first art deco ship.

Kalakala entered service in 1935, but a design defect obstructed the view of the bow from the bridge and the ship was plagued with poor handling in the tight confines of ferry terminals. Kalakala continued ferrying passengers around Washington and British Columbia until 1967. The vessel then sailed to Alaska where she was purposely run aground and converted into a shrimp processing plant on dry land. In 1982, the Kalakala’s owners declared bankruptcy. Thus began a 30 year dance of legal maneuvering and fundraising during which the vessel was moved back to Washington and efforts launched to restore the ship.

art deco ship

Kalakala Ferry in 1958
CC Image Courtesy of kitchener.lord on Flickr

Portimao shipwreck

Portimao, Portugal
CC Image Courtesy of Juan Antonio Canales on Flickr

Last week, archaeologists began dive operations on a wreck in the Arade River near Portimao, Portugal. Amphora have previously been discovered at the wreck site, pointing to the ship having sunk during from Roman times. The survey of the site is the first in a series of expeditions to the ship planned for the next 3 to 4 years. Archaeologists are hoping to learn more about Portimao’s role in Roman trade routes. Dives are also planned to wrecks discovered in the 1990’s that are believed to be Spanish ships from the 17th century.

The surveying of the wreck site coincides with the deliberate sinking of two decommissioned Portuguese warships to create artificial reefs. Local authorities are hoping to make Portimao a diving tourism site and the warships, which will eventually be joined by two more ships, into an underwater diving resort.

kublai khan

Ha Long Bay
CC Image Courtesy of Aftab Uzzaman on Flickr

Australian news site The Age reports that Australian archaeologists are continuing to assist Vietnamese cultural authorities in the development of their maritime archaeological program. Every month Australian advisers from various universities spend time in Vietnam holding seminars on the tools and best practices techniques necessary for excavation of wrecks located off the Vietnamese coast. Additionally, the advisers are assisting with two specific projects – the porcelain shipwreck found earlier this year off Quang Ngai and the search for Kublai Khan’s 1288 invasion fleet.

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, founded China’s Yuan Dynasty in 1279 and set off on a campaign of expansion. Khan set his sights on northern Vietnam and in 1288 dispatched an army and fleet to subjugate Vietnam’s Dai Viet dynasty. The Yuan fleet arrived off Ha Long Bay with the aim of re-supplying the Yuan army and maneuvered up the Bach Dang River. Unfortunately for Khan’s fleet, the Dai Viet had prepared for such a contingency. The Dai Viet had placed wooden stakes in the riverbed and prepared fire ships to attack Khan’s fleet. As the tide began to ebb, the Dai Viet released their fire ships in the narrow confines of the river. In an attempt to avoid the fire ships, the Yuan fleet fled down the river and holed themselves on the wooden stakes which had been exposed by low tide.

The destruction of the Yuan fleet effectively ended Khan’s designs on Vietnam and preserved the Dai Viet dynasty. Archaeologists have located some of the wooden stakes and ships from the battle and efforts are underway to excavate and preserve artifacts from Khan’s fleet.