Saturday, November 25, 2006

 

RECOVERING CHILE'S 19TH CENTURY SHIPWRECKS IN VALPARAÍSO’S PORT

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The Santiago Times
November 25, 2006


A delicately elaborated nautical telescope, metal handheld lamps, intact pieces of dinnerware, and even a sailor’s shoe buckle are among the artifacts recovered from a sunken merchant ship in the bay of Valparaíso, discovered by a submarine sent out to monitor the progress of a project to make the bay deeper.

This archaeological discovery comes from one of the nearly 600 shipwrecks that occurred over the past three centuries in the Valparaíso bay.

The remains were discovered by experts contracted by the Terminal Pacifico Sur firm (TPS), who are carrying out the bay expansion project to accommodate larger boats.

Little is known for certain about the ship. Nevertheless, through an analysis of the pieces recovered and an archaeological report done by the company Arka Consultores, it appears to be an English merchant ship, which in the mid-nineteenth century ran a route from Great Britain to the west coast of North America. The ship used Valparaíso as a port of call. “The elements we’ve recovered ought to be of British origin, but we have to confirm that, given that at that time many ships were built in US shipyards,” explained Renato Simonetti, one of the firm’s specialists.

Through submarine investigation, it was verified that the ship was found nearly entirely buried and covered in sediment at about 17 meters depth. Only a thin layer of the ballast was exposed, which has been attributed to the ship’s cargo of steel and the structure of the hull on the bottom of the boat. These clues lead the researchers to think that the ship is split in two.

On various trips to the sea floor, specialists brought back various artifacts of British origin, among them a telescope, dishes, bottles and a sailor’s shoe buckle, dated between 1850 and 1880. “Regarding the dishes, there was one plate with a stamp on it. At that time sets of dishes were done in series, and, in accordance with some documents we’ve consulted, we’ve established that the dishes are from 1860,” Simonetti said.

The Region V Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) approved a project for the dredging of ports, but in accordance with the Council of National Monuments, they inserted as a condition that TPS must develop a recovery project in order to leave the archaeological site unharmed.

The firm must finance a new archaeological expedition to collect the artifacts and the most valuable pieces, with the purpose of documenting the shipwreck. The parts of the wreckage which remain submerged after the project’s conclusion will be covered with fabric to avoid their dispersion.

In related nautical news, another submarine mission with potential for historically significant results will be carried out in Valparaíso on December 4th at 8AM.

The project, led by researcher Juan Enrique Benítez with the support of the Chilean navy, is to refloat the “Flach,” the first submarine built in Chile. The vessel was the second of its kind in South America and the fifth worldwide. The submarine, twelve and a half meters long and weighing nearly 100 tons, sunk near the bay in Valparaíso on May 3rd, 1866. Karl Flach, the German who built the submarine, perished in the wreckage along with 10 crew members.

The submarine lies in the middle of the bay, no more than 300 meters from the Prat Dock at a depth of between 35 and 50 meters. The pedal-powered, two-propeller vessel was commissioned by the Chilean government for defense against the Spanish.

Source: La Tercera
Translated by Cynthia McMurry (
editor@santiagotimes.cl)


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