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Forest resources for Iberian Empires: Ecology and Globalization in the Age of Discovery

Final Report Summary - FORSEADISCOVERY (Forest resources for Iberian Empires: Ecology and Globalization in the Age of Discovery)

In the Early Modern Age (16th-18th centuries) the construction of ocean-going ships was paramount to the development of cultural encounters in what became known as the Age of Discovery. In the case of the Iberian Empires, the establishment of new trade routes brought the need for armed merchantmen, galleons and smaller vessels, placing unprecedented demands on Iberian forests for the supply of construction timber. Forestry and sea power became inextricably linked, creating new geopolitical tensions, alliances and forest regulations. The main objective of this project is to increase the research background and experience of the research fellows through a combination of dedicated training in both transferable and research specific skills, and their participation in a truly multidisciplinary research project which combines historical, archaeological and dendrochronological methodologies in the study of the exploitation of Iberian and other European forest resources for shipbuilding during the Age of Discovery. During the project, research actions have focused on addressing specific scientific and technological objectives according to the three closely interdisciplinary work packages:
Archival research has been conducted in Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese archives in order to set and analysis patterns of demand for timber (particularly oak and pine) for Iberian shipbuilding are also being identified through examination and analysis of shipbuilding contracts (‘asientos’), merchant networks, treatises and standards (e.g. ‘ordenanzas’). A multi-lingual thesaurus of Iberian shipbuilding terms, focused on ship timbers, has been developed and continues to be expanded as the terminology of different authorities are added. A relational database and Geographic Information System (GIS) has been designed to manage the diverse datasets being collected and synthesized including the journeys of ships and fleets which sailed from Spain and Portugal to the Americas and Asia; shipwrecks which have been identified as archaeological sites or in archival sources; architectural features of such shipwrecks; samples of timber coming from different sources (shipwrecks, historical buildings, and wood from living trees); and results of different types of analysis (dendro-analysis, isotope analysis, DNA analysis, etc.).
An archaeological diving team has been developed through a combination of assessment of fellows’ diving qualification and competence, a period of intensive diver training leading to qualification (UK HSE SCUBA) as scientific divers, and a sustained campaign of archaeological diving and sampling of historic shipwrecks. Nautical diving campaigns have been undertaken in Spain, Portugal and United Kingdom on Iberian historic shipwrecks. Samples taken from these sites were passed to wood science fellows for dendrochronological analysis, and to provide those researchers developing new analytical approaches with control samples from shipwrecks with known origins (Bayonaisse, Magdalena). A team, working in collaboration with local archaeologists, undertook a detailed study of an early collection of ship’s timbers in Esposende, Northern Portugal. This sub-project provided an opportunity to develop innovative 3D digital approaches to recording and analysis, allowed targeted sampling for wood science, and, through running of an open summer school, access to this innovative work for other researchers and interested local volunteers. In the United Kingdom, timber samples were recovered from the Yarmouth Roads protected wreck, a suspected late-16th century Spanish merchant vessel. There has been very positive engagement with external archaeological projects with ForSEAdiscovery divers recovering timber samples from the Delta III wreck (Cadiz), the suspected 16th century Highbourne Cay shipwreck (Bahamas), and the Emanuel Point wrecks (Florida, USA). Throughout these research actions, public and journalistic engagement has been excellent leading to numerous opportunities for outreach of project objectives and actions, and the wider aspirations of the Marie Curie program to a wide, non-academic audience.
The third main group of researchers, developing approaches to wood provenance, have been equally industrious carrying out sampling of living trees and historic buildings in targeted locations in the Iberian Peninsula where, historically, timbers were sourced for shipbuilding. Such sampling campaigns included black pine from central Spain and Andalusia; Scots pine from central Spain, and oaks from the Basque country, Eastern Cantabria, and Asturias. Core samples from these living trees were used to develop chronologies of ring-width and anatomical features with which to date material from Iberian shipwrecks. The chronologies produced were extended back in time through analysis of samples from historic buildings, reaching the beginning of the 14th century for the oaks in the North, and the 11th century for the pines. Studies on wood organic compounds using FT-IR and pyrolysis, Sr-isotopic and elementary composition of the wood and nearby soil and rocks, and DNA-analyses helped develop a set of techniques for improving wood provenancing. This historical material, together with that obtained in Southern Spain, and several samples from the first shipwrecks were the basis for the first methodological tests of the groups involved in organic and inorganic markers.
The project so far has been characterised by the multi-disciplinary approach with researchers training in each other’s core disciplines, as well as their own, and participating in each other’s research actions. Collaboration and interaction within teams has been encouraged to foster the skills needed for successful research career development. The project is developing a relational database to hold diverse data on historical shipbuilding in the Iberian Peninsula which will become a major research and heritage management tool in the future. In parallel, guidance on protocols and best practice (in areas such as archaeological diving and sampling practices) and the development of wood provenancing methods will foster scientific approaches in the understanding and protection of underwater cultural heritage wherever Iberian shipwrecks survive. These developments will have impacts within government policy, heritage practice (within both academic and commercial research environments), and more widely in terms of non-academic appreciation of the role of science in understanding our common maritime heritage.
ITN Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Ana Crespo Solana, Instituto de Historia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Calle Albasanz, 26-28, Madrid, Spain.
Training Coordinator: Prof. Nigel Nayling, Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, Ceredigion SA48 7ED, Wales, United Kingdom.
Scientific Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Ignacio García-González, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Campus Terra, Departamento de Botánica, EPSE, 27002 Lugo, Spain.