Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 12:32 UK

Maritime 'treasure trove' raised

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

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The Elizabethan cannon being raised

A treasure trove of artefacts is being recovered from what experts describe as one of the most important maritime discoveries since the Mary Rose.

The late 16th Century shipwreck hails from a pivotal point in England's military history.

The raised haul includes a 2m-long (7ft) cannon, which will give archaeologists an insight into Elizabeth I's naval might.

The wreck, discovered 30 years ago, is situated off the coast of Alderney.

Dr Mensun Bound, excavation leader and marine archaeologist from Oxford University, said: "This boat is really grade A in terms of archaeology - it is hard to find anything that really compares with it."

Archaeologically and historically this is an important day
Mensun Bound, excavation leader

The excavation of the Elizabethan warship is being filmed for the BBC's Timewatch series.

Recovering the cannon was a delicate operation; divers had to navigate through reef-strewn waters where strong currents prevailed.

Dr Bound said: "At first the weather was not too kind and we missed out on the window for the first attempt, but then the sea went down and the skies opened up, and everything was suddenly going our way.

"There were a few tense moments, but overall it went really well.

Dive at the Alderney wreck
Diving to recover the artefacts is dangerous

"The cannon is in perfect condition - nothing has broken - it has an intact hand grenade, part of its carriage system is in place, there is the barrel of a gun or a sword on one side.

"We cannot wait to get a closer look at it once it has been cleaned up.

"Archaeologically and historically, this is an important day."

The team hopes to raise another cannon in the coming days.

As well as the cannon, the team has also recovered many more objects, including a musket, a soldier's breastplate and an intact navigational calendar.

These join a large collection of artefacts - including another cannon - raised from another dive in the early 1990s.

Pivotal point

Experts believe the Alderney warship and its contents will help shed light on a key point of England's naval history. The boat is thought to have sunk in 1592, possibly after an encounter with one of the area's many reefs.

Just four years earlier, Elizabeth's navy had defeated the Spanish Armada and was embarking on expeditions that would exert its maritime and territorial domination around the world.

Dr Bound said: "The wreck illuminates a time when England was fighting for its very survival - the world was at war, the Catholic south was fighting the Protestant north."

Map

At the same time, he added, the navy was undergoing a technological revolution.

He said: "Henry VIII's Mary Rose dates to 1545 and is an old-style ship. It had all sorts of guns, of different types, different shapes, different calibres, different ages, different styles."

But just 47 years later, the Alderney warship looked very different - and by looking at artefacts such as the raised cannons the team hopes to discover just how advanced the navy really was.

"We hope they will demonstrate that this ship was carrying our first uniform, co-ordinated weapons system," Dr Bound explained.

"We think that here we have a standardised weapons system here; the guns are all the same type, the same materials, the same technology, the same calibre.

"It is a different type of navy, its a more professional navy. We have here the beginnings of broadside naval warfare."

The cannons and other arms, such as muskets and guns, will now be brought up the Thames to the Tower of London. There they will be examined and then flown to York for conservation.

The BBC Timewatch team will then follow the archaeologists as they rebuild and test the weapons, putting them through detailed ballistic tests to determine their precision and power.

Text and video reports on the Alderney wreck are published at the BBC Timewatch website. A BBC Two documentary will be broadcast in later in the year and will detail the findings of the investigation



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