Saturday, November 20, 2004


Ancient Greek vessel docks in Portsmouth for Mary Rose Treatment


24 Hour Museum
By David Prudames
November, 18

Archaeologists examining the stitching holes
that reveal the construction techniques of this
ancient ship. Courtesy Paola Palma Mary Rose
Trust/ Gela Shipwreck Project Coltamissetta.

The remains of a 2,500-year-old Greek trading vessel have arrived at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where the experts behind the conservation of the Mary Rose will preserve its ancient timbers.

Discovered in 1988 about 800 metres from the coastline off the city of Gela in Sicily, the ship dates to between 500 and 430 BC.

It was found in several layers of silt at a depth of five metres (16 feet), but wasn’t excavated until summer 2004 when some 700 timbers and fragments were raised to the surface.

Arriving in the UK on November 17 the remains will now undergo a five-year conservation programme in the capable hands of the Mary Rose Trust.

Chief Executive John Lippiett explained how, during the excavation, it was decided the trust had the necessary expertise to handle the project.

"Among the archaeologists working on the site was Paola Palma, a member of our staff," he said.

"It soon became apparent that we could offer the best equipment including the largest vacuum freeze-dryer in the world and expertise to conserve the Gela Boat."

So Paola struck a deal with the Italian authorities and the boat was carefully packed up in crates and prepared for the long journey north to Portsmouth.

Staff at the Mary Rose laboratories will now undertake a five-year conservation programme, after which the vessel will be re-assembled and returned to a new museum in Gela.

Measuring 18 metres (59 feet) long by about 6.8 metres (22 feet), the boat was built from pine planks fastened with copper and iron nails and sewn together with plant fibre cords.

Preliminary studies have suggested the Gela Boat was a trading vessel, equipped with one square sail and oars, that plied a route along the Sicilian coast.

The keelson of the Gela Wreck in the supporting
frame used to raise it from the seabed. Courtesy
Paola Palma Mary Rose Trust/ Gela Shipwreck
Project Coltamissetta.

During the excavation a cargo of Attic and Ionic pottery, amphorae, jars, pitchers and votive altars, was discovered alongside eight woven baskets coated in pitch and some oars.

Archaeologists also discovered that fabric had been inserted along the seams on the interior of the hull to prevent seepage of water, while the inner surface was sealed with pitch for further waterproofing.

Fragments of lead plates were discovered as well, suggesting the vessel might have been sheathed as protection against shipworm attack.

Having successfully raised Henry VIII’s flagship in 1982 and carrying out the ongoing conservation ever since, the team at the Mary Rose laboratories are ideally placed to carry out the necessary work on the Gela Boat.

Built between 1509 and 1511, the Mary Rose was an innovative and hugely impressive member of Henry VIII's navy and is currently the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world.

But, as John added, the project will also provide a knock-on benefit for the Mary Rose itself.

"Securing conservation projects of this calibre," he explained, "helps us considerably to support the ongoing and critical work of conserving the hull and collection of the Mary Rose."

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