Archaelogists research 1619 shipwreck off Bermuda
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Piotr Bojakowski, 32, has been working in Bermuda for about a year as an archaeologist and conservator at the National Museum of Bermuda. We interviewed this native of Poland who has been researching the wreck of the Warwick, a 17th-century ship.
Q: What's the story on the wreck?
A: In October 1619, the Warwick came to Bermuda with colonists and cargo; it was a stopping point for the English ship, which was bound for Jamestown in Virginia. The ship was here about a month, offloading some colonists and food and preparing to leave. But on Nov. 20, according to chronicles, a hurricane struck Bermuda. The Warwick's crew was prepped, but the moorings gave way and the ship crashed into the reefs and rocks surrounding the anchorage, one of the best inside Castle Harbour.
The ship was completely lost -- sunk with everything it still had on board. The governor of Bermuda, Capt. Nathaniel Butler, had been on board; he had a journal and wrote down events day after day. So we had very good data about the Warwick's location.
Q: You weren't sure where it was?
A: This is one large bay. Everyone knew it was there ... but not exactly where the remains were.
Q: Over almost 400 years, there weren't "Look what I found!" discoveries?
A: People started salvaging cargo and cannons right away. Butler came to the site a year later and recovered at least three cannon and barrels of beer. The following year, five more cannon and more provisions were recovered. The cannon went to the newly constructed Southampton port at the mouth of the harbor.
The ship belonged to the Virginia and Bermuda Company, so it was sort of protected. We know Butler issued a proclamation that everything looted had to be returned as the owners demanded. The only official salvage was by Butler.
We believe some parts of the Warwick were sticking out from water, which is about 15 feet deep there.
Over the years, we're sure some cargo was taken from the ship, but there wasn't much interest in salvaging. There are a lot of other shipwrecks in Bermuda -- a dangerous place for navigation. The Warwick wasn't as valuable a prize as others.
Q: How was the Warwick rediscovered?
A: A Bermudian discovered the site in 1967; he only recovered some artifacts and never did real archaeology on the site. Our involvement started in 2008. We learned about the Warwick while working on some other research here.
We went to the Warwick site and did a survey to find out what was there. Underwater archaeology is extremely expensive.
We found the preservation level of the Warwick's timbers is amazing. Lots of artifacts were still at the site.
Q: Who owns it?
A: At the time of the wreck, it was owned by the 2nd Earl of Warwick. Based on Bermudan law, it now belongs to Bermuda National Heritage.
Q: Can you offer a status update?
A: The last day of current research was July 17. Before then, we were uncovering a large section we believe is mid-ship. We slowly and carefully removed sand and silt. We've explored the hold,where the cargo was and found shards of bottles -- beer and wine -- and pieces of bones, mostly of cows. We've found broken barrel staves; the barrels probably had salted beef for the voyage and for the Jamestown colony.
When we wrapped up the research season, we re-covered the site with sand and silt -- protection against storms and marine organisms that would eat the wood. The whole ship is oak.
We hope next summer, we can come back and uncover the bow of the Warwick and finish the project.
Q: Artifacts you've recovered -- where are they?
A: They go straight to the National Museum's conservation lab, where they're stored in tubs of water until proper conservation.
We hope to display some artifacts soon. We're currently working on a large exhibit at the museum that's dedicated to shipwrecks. A special section will be devoted to the Warwick.
Brian Young, manager of Bermuda's Rosewood Tucker's Point Resort (www.rosewoodtuckerspoint.com), explains how guests there can participate in Warwick research:
"We were approached by the director of the maritime museum about the project. The wreck sits only 700 meters from our resort, at Castle Harbour on the eastern end of the island.
"We provided the archaeology team with accommodations and meals in the staff section of the resort while they were working here: The previous year they were billeted at the other end of Bermuda, about 20 miles from the site.
"So their staying at Rosewood Tuckers Point worked out well for them, and Piotr and his team give talks each week here on everything from marine archaeology to what it was like on a 17th-century ship.
"Also -- when research is going on -- our guests who are certified divers can join the team on an afternoon dive and watch how the site is surveyed.
"We're an 88-room luxury resort with an 18-hole championship golf course and our own dive operation, a private beach club, tennis, and world-class spa and other amenities. Summer rates start at $600 a night; the bulk of rooms are in the $775-$1,000 range."
First Published August 21, 2011 12:00 am