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Institute/Center: CSIC - Instituto de Historia (IH)

Author: Ana Crespo Solana (ForSEAdiscovery) y Brandon Mason (Maritime Archaeology Ltd, Southampton)

In the Early Modern Age (16th-18th centuries) the construction of ocean-going ships was paramount to the development of cultural encounters in what became known as the Age of Discovery. In the case of the Iberian Empires, the establishment of new trade routes brought the need for armed merchantmen, galleons and 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. The main objective of this project is to increase the research background and experience of the research 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 the exploitation of Iberian and other European forest resources for shipbuilding during the Age of Discovery. During the project, research actions have focused on addressing specific scientific and technological objectives according to the three closely interdisciplinary work packages: a) History and GIS; b) Maritime and Underwater Archaeology and c) Dendrochronology and Wood Provenance Techniques. Archival research has been conducted in Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese archives in order to set and analysis patterns of demand for timber (particularly oak and pine) for Iberian shipbuilding are also being identified through examination and analysis of shipbuilding contracts (‘asientos’), merchant networks, 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 and Geographic Information System (GIS) has been designed to manage the diverse datasets being collected and synthesized 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.). 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. 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. More details at

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Archaeologists working at Ribadeo I wreck site (Galicia), Underwater campaign June 2019