Sunken history: how to study and care for shipwrecks

Submerged mysteries: only 14 of Australia’s almost 2,800 shipwrecks have been properly Flickr/miamism surveyed and excavated.


By Mark Staniforth and Peter Veth - The Conversation

The study and preservation of Australia’s neglected and decaying historic shipwrecks stands to leap in sophistication through a new multi-disciplinary project.

Bringing in expertise from behavioural archaeology, maritime archaeology, conservation sciences and maritime object conservation, the Australian Historic Shipwreck Protection Project (AHSPP) aims to set new national and international benchmarks in historic shipwreck management.

The three-year project is primarily funded by the Australian Research Council with supplementary sponsorship from public and private organisations (AHSPP).

It investigates the excavation, reburial and in-situ preservation of degrading and at-risk wrecks and their associated artefacts, and could reveal much about technological innovation in the colonial period.

The AHSPP will focus on a particular shipwreck site at risk – the colonial schooner Clarence in Port Phillip. The ill-fated colonial schooner Clarence – built in 1841 and sunk in 1850 (with accusations of insurance fraud) – is considered ideal for study.

It has already been extensively monitored by Heritage Victoria for more than 25 years and was partially test excavated in the 1980s.

The first season of excavation on the Clarence runs from 16 April to 12 May 2012 from a jack-up barge positioned over the wreck. The barge will be the base for the diving operations, as well as purpose-built imaging and conservation laboratories.

Overseas researchers and practitioners from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, the US, and New Zealand will participate.


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Australia Australian Historic Shipwreck Protection Project colonial schooner Clarence