Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - FORSEADISCOVERY (Forest resources for Iberian Empires: Ecology and Globalization in the Age of Discovery)

In the Early Modern Age (16th-17th centuries) the construction of ocean-going ships was paramount in the development of cultural encounters in what became known as the Age of Discovery and European expansion. In the case of the Iberian Empires, the establishment of new trade routes brought with it an increased need for armed merchantmen, galleons and other 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. This project addresses questions related to Iberian forest resources and the history of shipbuilding through a multidisciplinary and innovative training research program to improve the understanding and conservation of our historical past and cultural heritage. The project research combines knowledge and methodology from the humanities (history and archaeology) and the life sciences (wood anatomy, dendrochronology, isotopes and geochemistry).
The main objective of this project is to increase the research background and experience of the 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 exploitation of Iberian and other European forest resources for shipbuilding during the Age of Discovery and European expansion. During the first half of the project, research actions have focused on addressing specific scientific and technological objectives:
a) The creation of an inventory based on archival information of the sources of oak and pine used for shipbuilding in Atlantic Iberia during the Age of Discovery and European expansion (16th to 18th centuries).
b) The collation of historical and archaeological information regarding construction features of specific ships in Atlantic Iberian shipyards and contemporary timber usage.
c) The analysis of wood from living trees in source areas for ship timber in terms of tree-ring patterns, wood anatomy and geo/dendrochemistry.
d) Research into how the supply of timber (both local supplies and imported timber) and its dynamic trade networks were organized.
e) The production of guidance on best practice for multi-proxy methods for the analysis and provenance of timber employed in 16th to 18th centuries wooden ships.
f) The development of a GIS-based model to provide a tool to study the use of European forest resources in Iberian shipbuilding.

Archival research has been conducted in many Spanish and Portuguese archives, both national and regional, and also in Dutch archives complementing analysis of the Danish Sound tolls. Patterns of demand for timber (particularly oak and pine) for Iberian shipbuilding are also being identified through examination and analysis of shipbuilding contracts (‘asientos’), 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 has been designed to manage the diverse datasets being collected and synthesised 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. In the United Kingdom, timber samples were recovered from the Yarmouth Roads protected wreck, a suspected late-16th century Spanish merchant vessel. This shipwreck will be the subject of further investigation in 2016. A month-long diving campaign was undertaken in Galicia on three historic shipwrecks including the possible 16th century galleon in Ribadeo. Samples taken from these sites were passed to wood science fellows for dendrochronological analysis, and to provide those developing new analytical approaches with control samples from shiprecks with known origins (Bayonaisse, Magdalena). During the late summer of 2015, a team, working in collaboration with local archaeologists, undertook a detailed study of an early collection of ship’s timbers in Esposende, Northern Portugal. These had been washed ashore in winter storms from an, as yet unlocated, shipwreck site. They 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. 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 in 2014/5 have included black pine from central Spain and Andalusia; and oaks from the Basque country and Eastern Cantabria. Core samples from these living trees, and for isotopic studies from adjacent soil too, are being collected to characterise the chemical composition of relevant species of trees in these locations, and to help develop ring-width chronologies with which to date material from Iberian shipwrecks. The chronologies produced are being extended back in time through analysis samples from historic buildings in selected regions such as the province of Granada. 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.

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(See document attached in pdf: IMPORTANT NOTE: Please take into account that it is not possible to add here diagrams, photographs, project logo, etc. See the pdf version of the Periodic Report attached to SESAM for more information)


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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, School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lambedr Pont Steffan Ceredigion SA48 7ED, Cymru, United Kingdom.
Scientific Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Ignacio García-González, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Campus Lugo, Departamento de Botánica, Edificio Cactus Lugo, 27002 Lugo, Spain.

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