Underwater archaeologists from Bournemouth University have discovered the remains of a 13th century shipwreck and its cargo off the Dorset coast in England.
The vessel, known as a clinker ship, is made from overlapping planks of wood and was carrying a cargo of Purbeck stone, a form of limestone made from densely packed shells of freshwater snails.
The shipwreck is referred to as the ‘Mortar Wreck,’ since much of the cargo includes several Purbeck stone mortars and grinding stones. Other items found in the wreck site includes a cauldron and two Purbeck marble gravestone slabs.
Purbeck marble gravestone slabs were widely used across the south of England and were exported to Ireland and the continent. One of the slabs features a wheel headed cross in an early 13th century style, whilst the other slab features a splayed arm cross, common in the mid-13th century.
A tree ring analysis of the ship’s hull indicates that the timbers are from Irish oak trees, felled between 1242-1265. The Irish origin of the timbers doesn’t necessarily mean the ship was constructed in Ireland as Irish oak was widely exported for shipbuilding during the medieval period.
Maritime Archaeologist, Tom Cousins who is part of the team at Bournemouth University assigned to uncover and preserve the wreck said: “Very few 750-year-old ships remain for us to be able to see today and so we are extremely lucky to have discovered an example as rare as this, and in such good condition. A combination of low-oxygenated water, sand and stones has helped preserve one side of the ship, and the hull is clearly visible.”
The site was first identified by local charter boat skipper Trevor Small of Rocket Charters who reported the discovery to archaeologists from Bournemouth University.
Small said: “I was born into a seafaring family. I’ve skippered thousands of sea miles looking for shipwrecks from my home port of Poole. In summer 2020, I discovered what I believed to be an undetected wreck site. Recent storms had revealed something unknown on the seabed. I was granted permission to dive the wreck. The rest is history! I’ve found one of the oldest shipwrecks in England.”
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, who has been working closely with the university said: “The 13th century ship with its cargo of medieval Purbeck stone is fascinating because it is the earliest English protected wreck site where hull remains are present.”
Header Image Credit : Bournemouth University