Case Study: The Duart Point shipwreck

Figure 28: Duart Point, Mull. The value of this shipwreck site goes far beyond the increase in knowledge about the maritime past of the wreck, and encompasses the capacity-building aspect of expertise and skills-development for current and future marine and maritime researchers, heritage professionals and archaeological divers, ©RCAHMS DP018039.

Figure 28: Duart Point, Mull. The value of this shipwreck site goes far beyond the increase in knowledge about the maritime past of the wreck, and encompasses the capacity-building aspect of expertise and skills-development for current and future marine and maritime researchers, heritage professionals and archaeological divers, ©RCAHMS DP018039.

The wreck of a small Cromwellian warship lost in 1653, probably the Swan, was discovered off Duart Point in 1979. In 1992 the site was found to be under threat from erosion. After a rescue and recovery operation by the University of St Andrews in collaboration with Historic Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland, work to consolidate and protect the wreck was conducted between 1993 and 2003 under Colin Martin’s direction. This involved limited excavation and stabilisation with sandbags. Circumstances allowed the work, although rescue-driven, to be conducted to research standards. The site is designated under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act.

Figure 27: General plan of the Duart Point wreck after excavation, ©Colin Martin.

Figure 27: General plan of the Duart Point wreck after excavation, ©Colin Martin.

Detailed survey and environmental observations led to an understanding of formation processes, allowing an interpretation of the archaeological remains. Parts of the lower hull survive along its full length, while some of the upper works, particularly towards the stern, have collapsed in a relatively coherent manner. From this the vessel’s dimensions and general proportions have been ascertained, and aspects of its internal layout established. Structural elements from the transom stern and pieces of carved decoration have informed a reconstruction of the ship’s symbolic iconography.

Finds include furnishings and fittings from the stern cabin, where a sword hilt and pocket watch were found. Navigation is represented by the remains of a binnacle, mariner’s compasses, and dividers. Parts of the ship’s pumping system were identified. A patent iron gun - the first of its kind known to survive - was identified, together with its carriage and associated items. Domestic objects include pottery and clay pipes, and many wooden utensils. Weights and measures were found, including the oldest known examples of pewter ‘tappit hens’. An assemblage of animal and fish bones, and a rotary quern, indicate that the vessel’s provisioning was locally-based. A human skeleton provides evidence of physique, diet, and health, and shows work-related characteristics which suggest the individual was a seaman.

The University of St Andrews have been using XRF/XRD techniques (see also section 3.2.1 of the ScARF Science panel report) for rare Earth element analysis and geochemical fingerprinting of archaeological material from the Duart Point wreck.  In particular this work has focussed on metal analysis of guns from the site.  

 

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