Archaeologists create 3D record of Gresham shipwreck

Posted on November 5th 2015

MARITIME archaeologists have used the latest technology to create a 3D record of the historic 440-year-old Gresham shipwreck.

By recording the exact measurements and arrangements of the timbers, the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) has developed a unique digital map of the Tudor merchantman that was found in the Thames Estuary.

Now scientists and members of the public can make a virtual dive on the wreck from the comfort of their own desks using the 3D simulator. Viewers can 'float' over any part of the wreck, even zooming in to examine individual timbers that are normally off-limits to anyone but trained divers. 

Five sections of the hull of the Gresham, including parts of the bow and port side, and the anchor, are now a major exhibit at the popular inland dive site Stoney Cove, in Leicestershire, sitting submerged on a plateau six metres below the surface.

The Gresham Ship - Stoney Cove, Feb 2013 by maritimearchaeology on Sketchfab

 The shipwreck was discovered in the Princes Channel, in the Thames Estuary, midway between Margate and Southend, in July 2003, during an operation to remove obstructions posing hazards to ships at low tides.

Working with the Port of London Authority, scientists from Wessex Archaeology carried out a detailed survey of the 47 timbers of the carvel-built vessel and recovered numerous artefacts.

Among the finds were iron bars, lead ingots, Spanish olive jars, leather shoes, barrel staves and rope. Two cannons were also recovered. One was marked with the insignia 'TG' and a grasshopper motif. This stamp was used in the Mayfield furnace of Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), an Elizabethan financier and founder of the Royal Exchange, whose name has been given to the wreck.

Analysis of dendrochronological samples from timbers suggested the English oak used in the ship's construction were felled around 1574. The timbers are likely to have come from East Anglia, possibly Essex.

While no record of a ship being lost in the area has been found, a report in The Whitstable Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, of 2 May 1846, referred to divers salvaging six guns, tin, iron and lead from a wreck on the Girdler Sand. The precise location of the wreck was not specified but the depth was given as four fathoms (7.4 metres) at low water, consistent with the depth of the wreck site in Princes Channel. 

The discovery of the Gresham, also known as the Princes Channel wreck, is considered of great importance to Tudor historians and maritime archaeologists. It is a rare example of a small English-built merchant ship of the Elizabethan period, and the only known archaeological example of the practice of ‘furring’, a method of rebuilding which allowed a foot to be added to the width of the ship.

The interactive photogrammetry survey was created using images taken by NAS photographer Martin Davies. They were post-processed this year by Brandon Mason at Maritime Archaeology Ltd. The 3D simulator can be viewed on the project's website. The shipwreck serves to train the next generation of nautical archaeologists on NAS's  Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology and Part 1: Certificate in Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology.



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