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Analysing the timbers of an ancient shipwreck

Analysing the timbers of an ancient shipwreck

The stern section of the Batavia hull housed in the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, Western Australia

Full article issued by Plos One.

Researchers supported by an ARC Linkage Projects grant have dated and sourced the origin of the timbers of an ancient shipwreck, to discover new insights into the construction techniques of its 17th century Dutch shipbuilders.

The Batavia was a 45-metre-long wooden vessel, constructed to meet the demands of a tough ocean voyage halfway around the world, while conducting the trade of the Dutch East India Company. Launched in 1628 from Amsterdam as part of a fleet of ships headed for Jakarta, she ran aground several months later on a reef in the Houtman Abrolhos archipelago, leading to a grizzly massacre among the survivors who were trapped on the remote islands for several weeks.  

Dr Wendy van Duivenvoorde, an associate professor in maritime archaeology at Flinders University, along with colleagues at the University of Amsterdam and University of Copenhagen, has conducted a detailed tree ring analysis on timbers from the wreck of the Batavia, which is now on display at the Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle. 

Their analysis was able to determine the age and origin of the timbers used in the construction of the ship, with planks for the ship's hull found to originate from the Baltic region, and the Lübeck hinterland in northern Germany, while the stronger oak beams for the frames originated in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany. 

The discovery sheds light on the skilful woodworking craftsmanship involved in the ship's multi-hulled construction, as well as the complex arrangements that sourced timber for Dutch ships from across Northern Europe. The researchers say that these innovations were essential to allow the Dutch to produce the large number of ocean-going ships required for long-distance voyaging and trade in Asia, which was essential to their success in 17th century world trade.


The stern section of the Batavia hull, housed in the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, Western Australia. Image Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).



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