In 2015 and 2016 the Maritime Archaeology Trust began working together with the ForSEAdiscovery: Forest Resources for Iberian Empires: Ecology and Globalization in the Age of Discovery project, a Marie Curie Initial Training Network funded through the European Union Framework 7 program to investigate the Yarmouth Road timbers in detail.
One of the project’s aims is to reconstruct past Iberian forests and how shipbuilding from the 16th-18th centuries maybe have impacted them. Therefore, a series of known Iberian ships or shipwrecks with surviving hull timbers is necessary to provide information on the raw wood material used in ship construction.
The shipwreck at Yarmouth presents an ideal case study as a supposed Spanish ship dating to the 16th century. The ForSEAdiscovery partnership provides the opportunity to approach the site with updated research questions and support with which to answer them.
A focused on-site investigation of this shipwreck from June 2015 will significantly increase understanding of the ship itself and its wider socio-economic, political, environmental, and even philosophical contexts during a period of rapid and widespread change. This vessel’s selection for inclusion within this multi-partner international project serves to underscore the global research value of its remains.
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This historic wreck was first discovered in 1984 during an archaeological survey of the seabed off Yarmouth, during the Isle of Wight Maritime Heritage Project. Initially only a few centimetres of timber were visible beneath the seabed, but not long afterwards three pewter plates associated with the wreckage and dated to the 16th century were also found. It was soon realised that this was an important site and the wreck was designated as a Protected Wreck site. The site is marked by a large yellow buoy, visible east of Yarmouth Pier.
Archaeological investigation followed, including survey and excavation. The project team included a mixture of professional and volunteer archaeologists, and their work began to reveal more about the ship structure and the finds associated with the wreck.
Exactly how much of the ship remains buried within the seabed sediments is unknown. The trenches excavated revealed that substantial timbers survive, especially around the stern. However, towards the centre of the site the hard clay seabed rises up and has meant that less of the ship survives here. By carefully choosing where to excavate research questions about the site could be answered. This work has revealed that the Yarmouth Roads Wreck was once a thirty metre long ship, which was a large vessel for the 16th century.