July 21, 2008 – Monday – One Big Jigsaw Puzzle

By James W. Hunter, III

At first glance, the physical remains of a shipwreck lying on the seafloor can appear as little more than a haphazard pile of hull timbers, scattered artifacts, intrusive debris and overburden. However, when these items are carefully analyzed, recorded and plotted, they reveal a wealth of information. This is critical, since shipwreck research and reconstruction are based in large part on the quantity and quality of the data that is collected.

Site plan – excavated timbers at left.

The primary goal of the recording process is to produce a precisely scaled graphic depiction of the wreck site in its position on the seafloor. These illustrations, called site plans, are intended to show the distribution of hull components and related artifacts, as well as any detailed structural attributes exhibited by the vessel’s remains. A site plan depicts the wreck in plan view—as it appears from directly overhead—and can be derived from a variety of recording methods. In the case of the Black Rock Wreck, the primary recording method has been offset and trilateration (measurements of features from two or more fixed points along an established baseline), as well as photography.

As luck would have it, hull remains at the Black Rock Wreck are extensive and very well preserved; most of the bottom midships portion of one side of the vessel is largely intact, and a collapsed portion comprising a series of deck knees (inverted L-shaped timbers that supported the deck) and associated structure is located a short distance away. Specific clues, including framing and fastening patterns, the position(s) of one or more of mast steps (slots cut into the centerline to accommodate the base of one or more masts), and dimensions (overall length and maximum beam) extrapolated from surviving hull elements, could indicate the vessel’s type, nationality, purpose, and temporal range.

Photograph – excavated timbers

Although development of the Black Rock Wreck’s site plan is ongoing, it has already enabled the Trouvadore Project’s archaeologists to develop tentative hypotheses about the site. In time, it will hopefully transform a confusing jumble of timbers into a comprehensive, illuminating portrait of a historic shipwreck significant to the Turks and Caicos Islands.