Dendrochronologists identify lost whaling ship

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(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists claim that a long-lost whaler, built in the middle of the 19th century in New England, was found off the coast of Patagonia.

About 15 years ago, maritime archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Studies of Argentina discovered the remains of a wooden ship on the shores of Golfo Nuevo.

The bay is located in the south of Patagonia, not in the most hospitable places.

Until 1865, no one lived on its shores at all – only whaling ships sometimes came there, since this is one of the few convenient natural harbors in the south of the continent.

At the beginning of the 21st century, as a result of the displacement of sediments in tidal waters near the city of Puerto Madryn, the remains of a wooden ship were brought to the surface of the soil in the tidal zone.

Dendrochronologists identify lost whaling ship 2
The maps show the location of Golfo Nuevo and the city of Puerto Madryn. The satellite image shows the places where parts of the sunken ship were found

Only parts of the frames and hull plating remained from the ship. Archaeologist Christian Murray determined that the ship was built in the 19th century, mostly from oak and pine from the Northern Hemisphere. But from what breeds and European or North American origin, it was not possible to find out.

A little later, two iron boilers and the remains of bricks were found next to the sunken ship. This suggested that whale oil (blubber) was boiled on the ship – that is, most likely, it was a whaler.

Searches in the Lloyd’s marine insurance registers showed that during the period of interest, somewhere off the coast of Argentina, the whaling ship Dolphin disappeared.

But archaeologists did not have any evidence that it was he who was found in Golfo Nuevo. Then they turned to the history of the ship.

It was built in 1850 in Rhode Island, on the east coast of the United States. New England was a major player in the global whaling trade from the mid-1770s to the 1850s.

Oil extracted from the blubber was used for lighting and lubrication, and whalebone was used to make many of the small household items that are made of plastic today.

Hundreds of ships plied the distant seas, often on voyages that lasted for years. For the construction of ships used local wood, oaks and pines grown in New England. Trees were usually felled in cold weather about a year before the ship was built.

For the construction of the Dolphin, trunks cut down between the end of 1849 and February 1850 were to be taken. The whaler, about 34 meters long and weighing 325 tons, was launched on November 16, 1850.

As a result, archaeologists invited dendrochronologist Ignacio Mundo to study the remains of the vessel. The joint work of Argentinean and American researchers is published in the journal Dendrochronologia.

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Processing of the wood sample: a) photograph before obtaining the sample, b) analysis under wet conditions after preparation of the cross section, c) polished sample after gradual drying and grinding with progressively finer sandpaper

Mundo insisted that the only way to get samples of wood suitable for analysis was to cut a couple of dozen cross-sections of the ribs and decking with a chainsaw and dry them.

Archaeologists were horrified by this, but realizing that there was no other way out, they gave up and chose places where, in their opinion, the least damage would be done.

After processing the samples in his lab, Mundo turned to Ed Cook, founder of the Lamont-Doherty Tree Ring Laboratory and a pioneer of dendroarchaeology, the science of accurately determining the age and origin of old wood structures.

Cook analyzed many old buildings in the northeastern United States of America and various wooden objects that showed tree rings.

Its database contains ring samples from about 30,000 trees of many species across the continent over more than two thousand years.

Changing rainfall levels create subtle annual changes in the width of the rings, allowing researchers to trace the climate of the past, determine the exact years of germination and growth of trees, and in the case of old wooden structures, determine where and when the trees were cut down.

Dendrochronologists have determined that the ship’s frames were made from white oak ( Quercus alba ), which grows in the northeastern United States.

Sheathing boards, in their opinion, are made of yellow pine (aka – Jeffrey’s pine, Pinus jeffreyi ), which once grew in the southeastern States.

The wooden fasteners that hold everything together are made from rot-resistant false locust ( Robinia pseudoacacia ), common in many eastern states.

Tree rings showed that the oaks were cut down in 1849, which coincides exactly with the time the Dolphin was built.

According to archaeologists, only finds of unique items can still be considered as absolute evidence that the lost ship was the Dolphin whaler.

However, dendrochronologists believe that their data are quite reliable and one can confidently speak of confirming the name of the sunken ship.


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