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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise
 

Mission Blog: August 16, 2008
Documenting the Dunnottar Castle

By Jason Raupp, Consulting Nautical Archaeologist
Adelaide, South Australia

Perhaps the most interesting part of this expedition is that the archaeology team is tasked with inspecting and documenting shipwrecks from different eras in history.  From relatively small wooden brigs of a few hundred tons used for hunting whales to large steam-powered iron-hulled cargo-carrying sailing ships, the range of vessel types represented in the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument’s shipwreck inventory represents the variety of shipping that took people and goods from all over the world across these waters.  Though each shipwreck site here contains an incredible amount of archaeological data relating to these vessels, recording the remains of some are more challenging than others. 

The scale of the site dwarfs Cathy as she draws her section.

The scale of the site dwarfs Cathy as she draws her section.

The Dunnottar Castle is a good example of one of the more challenging sites to map. While most of the shipwrecks we have investigated so far lie in high-energy surf zones that make recording physically difficult, this site is located in an area of the atoll with relatively good visibility and negligible currents.  So instead of environmental issues, the challenges faced with documenting this site are simply its size and the complexity of its iron remains. 

Dunnottar Castle left Sydney (Australia) with a load of coal and was bound for California when a faulty chronometer caused it to run aground on the reef at Kure.  Some salvage efforts were initiated, but the ship was eventually abandoned and slowly collapsed and disappeared beneath the waves.  The result of this deterioration process is the puzzle that is now left for our team to decipher.  Though much of what remains of the wreckage appears to be a jumbled mess, several diagnostic features allowed us to pinpoint areas of the former ship.

Jason tackles a complicated section of wreckage on the Dunnottar Castle.

Jason tackles a complicated section of wreckage on the Dunnottar Castle.

The plan for the day sounded simple; set two baselines, one along the primary debris field and another along a smaller section located to the east.  This would allow us to get a relatively accurate representation of the remains and to better understand the wreck site. Additionally, it would also serve as a starting point for future expeditions to map the wreck in detail. Once the baselines were set on an initial dive, buddy teams deployed to compile a measured sketch of the wreckage along 40-meter sections of the baseline.  With over 120 meters of baseline to cover and one day to complete the task, we had to move quickly to gather the necessary measurements and details.  A photo team supplemented this information with overhead shots that will help orient our drawings.

Though Dunnattor Castle broke up where it grounded, the site has been prey to heavy storms over the years, which have displaced a lot of the features. Over the course of the day, the site began to take shape on our slates. Upon completion of the teams’ third dives each diver surfaced with the information necessary to complete the measured sketch and more. 

Hans hovers over a debris field while recording data.

Hans hovers over a debris field while recording data.

The best part of taking the time to understand complex sites like this is that you constantly notice important features that you had missed on previous dives.  Some of these features included the ship’s prow, several portholes, deadeyes and other parts of the vessel’s rigging.  One interesting find was several large pieces of coal that were initially obscured with marine growth.  Finding these tell us something about the size of the cargo that Dunnottar Castle was carrying when it wrecked. 

All in all it was a very productive day on the Dunnottar Castle wreck site.  The information that we recorded will be used to produce a measured sketch of the site and will allow Monument archaeologists to determine the best way to create a detailed map of this complex and interesting site.

To ask us questions, you can email the team at: sanctuaries@noaa.gov and we will answer your questions within the blog, or in a live internet broadcast later in the cruise. Again, stay tuned for details.

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