October 6, 2022

Scientists say the shipwreck in Patagonia is an 1850s Rhode Island whaler

Scientists say the shipwreck in Patagonia is an 1850s Rhode Island whaler

Tree rings help identify remains about 10,000 miles from home

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The remains of a ship believed to be the 19th century Rhode Island whaler Dolphin At high tide in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. (U. Sokolowicz)

Scientists examining the remains of an old wooden ship off the cold, windswept coast of southern Argentina say it’s almost certainly DolphinA whaler from Warren, RI, lost in 1859. Archaeologists have spent years investigating the ship’s origins without a definitive identification, but new analysis of tree rings in its timbers has provided perhaps the most compelling evidence yet. A team of Argentinian and American researchers only published the findings in the journal Dendrochronologia.

“I can’t say with 100 percent certainty, but tree-ring analysis suggests it’s most likely the ship,” said the paper’s lead author. Ignacio Mundo From the Dendrochronology and Environmental History Laboratory of Argentina, IANIGLA-CONICET. Mundo and Columbia School of Climate scientists Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used a massive database of old North American tree rings to show that timber was cut in New England and the southeastern United States just before the ship was built in 1850. Other evidence includes artifacts found near the wreck and historical accounts from Argentina and Rhode Island. This appears to be the first time tree ring science has been used to identify a shipwreck in South America.

“It’s interesting that people built this ship in a New England town a long time ago and it’s found on the other side of the world,” said the Columbia Tree Ring scientist. Mukund Raoone of the authors of this study.

New England was a major player in the world whaling trade from the mid-1770s to the 1850s, when oil extracted from the blubber was common for lighting and lubrication, and whalebone was used in many small household items now made of plastic. . Hundreds of Yankee ships roamed the remote regions, often on voyages lasting years. The industry died out in the 1860s after the whale population was decimated and oil entered the country.

According to an unpublished manuscript by Warren local historian Walter Niebacker, Dolphin Between August and October 1850, it was built of oak and other woods. Typically the trees were felled in cold weather a year or more before the ship was built, in this case between late 1849 and February 1850. Dolphin It was launched on November 16, 1850. Nebiker described him as “probably the fastest square machine of all time”.

Lead author Ignacio Mundo measures one of the ship’s ribs in preparation for sampling. (Monica Grosso)

The ship sailed across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans for nearly two and a half years, returning in March 1853 laden with oil. Later voyages took him to the Azores and around the Horn of Africa to the Seychelles, Zanzibar and Australia. His last journey started from Warren on October 2, 1858. The ship ended up in Patagonia a few months later. A letter from her master, Captain Nouri, to the owners states that she was wrecked when she “lay on the rocks in the south-west part of Nuevo Bay” – an obvious reference to Golfo Nuevo, one of the few good natural harbors in Patagonia, where it is known The whales used to go there.

Beyond the ships that were stationed temporarily, there was no real European presence along the Golfo Nuevo until 1865, when Welsh settlers landed in what would later become the town of Puerto Madryn. Local tradition says that the early settlers collected material from one or more shipwrecks, but it is not clear whether these were from shipwrecks. Dolphin or other unfortunate ship or ships.

In 2004, shifting sediments revealed the partial remains of a wooden ship on the tidal flats near Porto Madrin. The locals knew it was there, but the scientists didn’t. In 2006 and 2007, marine archaeologists including Cristian Murray of Argentina’s National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Studies excavated the remains during low tide. They also recorded several other wrecks nearby.

Almost all that remained of the ship were the bottoms or ribs and parts of the hull and roof. that in 2009 articleMurray and his colleagues concluded that the ship was probably built in the 19th century, mostly from Northern Hemisphere oak and pine. But they could not say which species and origin is European or North American. Noting the other things – some brass nails, a leather shoe – they guessed it could be a fishing or trading ship – or a whale.

In deeper water near the wreck, next to the diver, are the remains of a heavily covered upside-down iron cauldron, along with bricks from a furnace that may have been used to heat the dust. The object on the right may be a pipe on the deck through which the anchor chains passed. (Courtesy of PROAS-INAPL)

Other evidence was eventually found. There were two iron pots and brick remains It was found near the carcass, suggests a ship that works to destroy the ghoul. Murray and his colleagues also realized that he was an Argentinian sailor Luis Piedrabona 42 had saved the crew of the plane Dolphin; He took them to Carmen de Patagonia, a town about 100 miles to the north, from where the refugees hoped to reach home. where would it be particle for direct object Dolphin In the Lloyd’s marine insurance register it indicated that it came from Warren. The researchers then contacted the Warren Preservation Society, which provided Nebiker’s manuscript and other information.

Accordingly, a local Rhode Island newspaper It was speculated in 2012 That Dolphin had been found Finally in 2019 Murray published an article It suggests this – but it cannot be proven to say. Enter tree ring scientists.

That year Murray and his colleagues excavated the wreck again and invited Ignacio Mundo to examine it. They were horrified when Mundo told them that the only way to get decent samples of wet wood was to cut out a dozen cross-sections of ribs and planks with a chainsaw and dry them. Finally, realizing that there was no other way, the archaeologists gave up and chose the spots that they thought would cause the least damage.

After processing the samples in his lab, Mondo turned to this Ed Cookethe founder Lamont-Doherty Tree Ring Lab, a longtime collaborator with South American colleagues and a pioneer in dendroarchaeology, the science of accurately dating and provenance of ancient wooden structures. Cooke has analyzed many older buildings in the northeastern United States, including objects including an 18th-century tilt-up that was accidentally discovered during excavations after the 2001 demolition of the World Trade Center.

Rib section made of white oak (specifically, the first photok). This sample had 156 rings. Its last ring dates back to 1845. Holes in the upper part are made by wood-eating marine worms. (Ignacio Mundo)

Cross section of a body board made of yellow pine. The upper panel shows the raw sample. Bottom, after sanding to highlight the tree rings, this sample contained 258 annual rings. (Ignacio Mundo)

Cook’s secret weapon: Drought Atlas of North America, a massive database he led the creation of in the early 2000s. The atlas collects ring samples of approximately 30,000 standing trees of various species across the continent, dating back more than 2,000 years. Different levels of rainfall create subtle annual variations across the ring that allow researchers to map past climates, determine the exact dates of tree germination and growth—and, in the case of older wooden structures, often where and when the trees were felled. Because the weather is different in different places. Instead, distinct regional signatures remain.

Dendrochronologists determined that the ribs were made from white oak, many species of which grow in the northeastern United States. They could tell the body and roof boards were old-growth yellow pine, the forests of which once covered much of the southeastern United States. The wooden pegs that hold things together are made from rot-resistant black locust, which is widespread in many eastern states.

Analysis of oak rings revealed that some of the timber came from trees that had sprouted as early as 1679. Most interesting: the outermost rings show that the oaks were felled in 1849 – right around the time of the period Dolphins Made in 1850. The last rings in the pine board were found in 1810, but scientists were not upset about this. Unlike thick ribs, the boards were widely milled, so no one expected to find the outer rings.

The scientists then compared these rings to specific regional chronologies. Many of the pine samples matched well with chronologies taken decades earlier from living trees in Alabama’s Choccolocco Mountain and Georgia’s Lake Louise regions, both known for exporting large quantities of pine to northern states in the 19th century. Researchers could not say whether the boards came from those locations specifically, but the signatures indicated they must have come from somewhere in Alabama, Georgia or northern Florida.

In the case of oak ribs, these rings are very similar to the chronology of old trees in Massachusetts. Among the markers: distinct dry, low-growth periods in the 1680s-90s, 1700s, and 1810s. The very narrow width of the rings indicates that the trees grew in dense, old-growth forests, most of which were cut in the early to mid-1800s in New England. because the loggers passed through there. Many of those Massachusetts oaks no doubt ended up in neighboring Rhode Island’s shipyards.

The new paper is still hedging its bets, saying the ship may very well be DolphinBut in the absence of unique artifacts associated with the ship, it could be considered another American whaler from the same period. “There were a lot of whaling ships in the area at the time,” said Murray, who co-authored the paper. So I don’t like to say that it is Dolphin “Until we can get more evidence.”

Still, Lamont dendrochronologist Mukund Rao says he’s completely convinced. “Archaeologists are more conservative — they prefer a slightly higher standard, and I don’t blame them,” he said. It is true that we do not have anything like a ship’s bell. But for me, the story is in the tree rings.”

This paper was also co-authored by Monica Grosso of Argentina’s National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, and Ricardo Villalba of the Laboratory of Dendrochronology and Environmental History, IANIGLA-CONICET. Ignacio Mundo is also an adjunct professor at the Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo.

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