Being an owner of large parts of the coast, the National Trust ends up with some unusual responsibilities. Flotsam, jetsam and lagan land on our beaches and rocky shores, which is good and bad depending what it is!
In the seas off Studland Bay are many ship wrecks, some known about but others only appear when dredging work on the channel into Poole Harbour is needed or a trawler snags something with its nets. Or large timbers wash up on the beach!
I have had to add another string to my archaeological bow – marine archaeology and I don’t even know how to swim!
Over the last 12 years or so various timbers have appeared on the beach at Studland in Dorset after the winter storms.
The very large piece pictured above had to be cut in two to transport to a holding tank, as it had to be kept wet. Water-logged wood has to be kept wet until the water that fills the cells of the wood can replaced by another substance, like polyethylene glycol (PEG) or a sugar solution. If left to dry the cells of the wood would collapse and shrink and all the details would be lost.
We have to report our timbers to the Receiver of Wreck just in case the owner is found and they want it back. So far no owner has been traced, so they all now belong to us, which is no surprise as most are over a hundred years old and we do not know which wreck they come from!
That was until the Swash Channel wreck http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-23761128 was found eroding out of the edge of the main channel into Poole Harbour http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swash_Channel_Wreck
Dave Parham from Bournemouth University, who have taken on the recording and care of the wreck came over to look at our timbers to see if any had come from the Swash ship. The construction and condition (appearance) of some timbers were very similar to the timbers recovered from the wreck still on the sea bed. Dave had some dendrochronology (tree ring) dates so we needed to get a date for our pieces if we could find a large enough piece, with 50 plus rings. The large timber pictured above looked like a good candidate for tree ring dating, so we cut a slice to send off. It had sap wood (the wood just under the bark) and the heart wood (the centre) so should give an accurate date, we held our breath and waited for the result.
Back came the data showing the tree was felled between 1619 and 1639, based on a 162-year tree ring sequence, the one from the wreck was dated to 1628. The other pointer to it being from the Swash ship was the country the wood came from, the Swash ship is thought to be an armed merchantman possibly of Dutch origin and our piece looks like it comes from the German-Dutch border!
Yesterday Dave Parham and the University team, along with some of our property staff and volunteers removed the timbers from the cattle trough into a van for a journey to join the rest of the wreck so far recovered, ready for detailed recording and preservation. As they are large and water-logged they were very heavy and it took six of us to move each large piece!
After caring for these large wet lumps of timber I feel quite sad to see them go, but we would never have had the money and resources to study and preserve them for display etc so they are definitely going to the right place with the right team.