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Raising Asterix, Guernsey's Roman shipwreck

Excavating and preserving Asterix

Dr Margaret Rule clearly remembers receiving a phone call from diver Richard Keen on Christmas Day 1982 saying he had found a ship wreck.

The ship was located in the mouth of St Peter Port and was suspected to be a medieval barge.

Closer inspection in summer 1983 revealed it was in fact a Roman ship and so work began to "rescue" it.

It was raised between 1984 and 1986 and since 1999 has been at the Mary Rose Trust undergoing preservation work.

Artists impression of Asterix off Guernsey
Asterix in the Little Russel as imagined by Penny Falla

Dr Rule described raising the ship as "a rescue operation" because "the ship was being destroyed by the propeller wash of the large vessels entering and leaving the harbour".

She said that discovering it was a Roman vessel was "the most exciting moment of my life" from both a personal and historical perspective.

She explained that the discovery was very important as it is a rare sea going Roman ship, while most found are canal or river vessels and that it would shed light on the trade routes used due to the pottery found from as far away as Spain and Algeria!

Dr Jason Monaghan from the Guernsey Museum added to this saying the Asterix is "one of only two of its type surviving and it is Britain's largest Roman object".

Diver excavating the Asterix
Excavation of the ship took place in the dark waters of St Peter Port

He went on to say that once the ship had been raised, thanks to private funding from the Guernsey Maritime Trust, it was studied and cleaned up before eventually being sent to The Mary Rose Trust in England for preservation work.

By the start of 2010 this preservation work was largely complete and the feasibility of bringing the vessel back to Guernsey was being investigated.

Dr Monaghan said: "It would need to be displayed in a 'giant goldfish tank' or glass tank to keep the bugs and dust off and keep the humidity stable... if it gets too dry it will fall apart or too wet it will go mouldy."

Richard Keen who first found the Asterix also hoped to see it return to Guernsey, but acknowledged it would be "a fairly massive undertaking" and that it would "require a lot of money".

The ship's namesake is a the small but fearless French comic book character created in 1959, who lives in the only free village in Gaul (modern France), which was part of the Roman Empire.

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27 Jan 10 |  Guernsey
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