Published On: Fri, Nov 7th, 2014

Archaeologists discover 17th Century Dutch warship sunk during battle in Tobago

DCIM100GOPRONEW YORK - United States underwater archeologists say they have discovered a lost Dutch warship that sank 337 years ago in Tobago.

The team led by Dr. Kroum Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut, after years of searching, has identified the remains of what may be the Huis te Kruiningen, the largest Dutch ship involved in a 1677 battle that influenced the course of history in the Caribbean.

The Rockley Bay Research Project is a joint initiative of the University of Connecticut and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M, with the participation of the Lampeter Dendrochonological Laboratory of Professor Nigel Nayling from the University of Wales Trinity St. David, working in cooperation with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Tobago Ministry of Tourism.

Dr Batchvarov made it clear that all of the discoveries of artifacts remain the property of Trinidad and Tobago.

scar-harbour-map“It is our hope that once artifacts have been properly conserved in the state of the art THA conservation facility, they will be displayed at the Fort King George museum or other appropriate venue for the benefit of interest locals as well as tourists visiting the island,” he added.

The U.S. Embassy in Trinidad said it “is very happy to support this worthy project, a true partnership with the local government to preserve important cultural heritage, and we want to emphasize that all artifacts recovered during the archeological work will remain property of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The team said the wreck will provide archaeologists with important information about this pivotal conflict and life aboard 17th century ships.

The Rockley Bay Research Project is using cutting-edge technology, including super-computer powered 3D photogrammetry to record the site.

Program Director of the U.S. State Department’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), Dr. Martin Perschler, is expected to announce the first AFCP grant awarded for a project in Trinidad and Tobago.

The prestigious award will help finance the conservation of the artifacts discovered by the expedition so that they can be displayed for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

On March 3, 1677, Dutch and French squadrons fought a pitched battle that would help transform the balance of power in the Caribbean. The location was Rockley Bay, Tobago, a strategically-located Caribbean island, a little over 70 miles off the coast of South America.

The Battle of Rockley Bay was one of the largest naval engagements fought outside of Europe in the 17th century. In all, about 2,000 people, including 250 Dutch women and children, and 300 African slaves, lost their lives.

While up to 14 ships were destroyed in the battle, the team may have found the final resting place of one or more of the Dutch ships including Huis de Kreuningen, a 56-gun warship assigned to hold the center of the Dutch line of battle.

The team said the wreck site known as TRB-5 is a 45 meter long pile of jumbled, encrusted bricks, ballast stones, and artifacts. Seven cannons lie on top the ballast pile – and they tell an important story. Only three of the Dutch vessels were large enough to carry the massive cannons found on the wreck site: Bescherming, Huis de Kruiningen, and possibly Middelburgh. Bescherming survived the battle.

Throughout the months of May and June, this year, RBRP archaeologists uncovered cannons, fragments of small arms, 17th century cutlery, dozens of smoking pipes, and extraordinary, intact pieces of pottery. One of the most stunning finds was an elaborately decorated Westerwald jug with three escutcheons depicting the three great generals of history – Joshua, David, and Alexander of Macedonia.

“Artifacts recovered from underwater are extremely fragile. If they are not properly conserved, they will rapidly degrade. For their protection, all artifacts discovered by the team were reburied on the site, after documentation.

“The RBRP has been working with the Tobago House of Assembly and the Tobago Ministry of Tourism to build a new state-of-the-art conservation and education facility at the Port of Scarborough,” a statement from the team added.

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