By Jean-Sebastien Guibert

New Projects in the West Indies in 2021

A June project was undertaken via a partnership between the University of the French West Indies and the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks and non-profit organization ABSAR. It resulted in the location of a shipwreck in the middle of Tank Bay in English Harbor, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2016. Side scan sonar survey and diving exploration were conducted for the project. A wreck was discovered that could be identified as Lyon, a French vessel that was seized by HMS Maidstone in 1778 and convoyed to Antigua. The year before the ship was sent to America to help the Americans in the US revolutionary war.

The project confirmed the site was a historic shipwreck, measured its remains, documented the characteristics of its visible structure, and excavated a test trench (Fig 1). The wreck consists of a large ballast pile, with part of one side of the hull exposed, situated in 3 to 4 meters of water. Wood structure and stone ballast samples were sent to laboratory for analysis.

A very interesting aspect of this project is the fact that Lyon was the former Beaumont, a French East India Company vessel built in 1762 and involved in the trade with China and the Indian Ocean through Lorient. It could be the only known ship from the French East India Company ever discovered.

Figure 1 J-S Guibert
Figure 1: Test trench in process on the Tank Bay wreck, J.-S. Guibert (Université des Antilles / AAPA)

In St. Lucia, a project took place in July resulting from a partnership between the St. Lucia National Trust and the University of the French West Indies. The project focused on the possible wreck site of two English vessels, HMS Thetys and HMS Cornwall, abandoned in Vigie Cove near Castries in the 1780s. After a side scan survey, done thanks to Maritime Police Unit of Saint Lucia Police Force, and exploratory dives, it seems clear the vestiges of the wrecks are no longer visible (Fig. 2). Perhaps the wrecks were dismantled and their timbers salvaged for reuse. Others areas were also surveyed, and data is currently being processed.

An Old Project Renewed

A project focusing on the wreck of a French frigate is currently underway in St. Vincent. The project consists of an assessment of a known site originally investigated in 1997-1998 by the Institute of Maritime History (IMH) and Florida State University (FSU) directed by David Johnson and Chuck Meide. The 1990s project produced an accurate map of the shipwreck and other data indicating it was a French frigate lost in the late 1770s or early 1780s, disproving the hypotheses that it could be the 80-ton British slave ship Africa or a British warship.

Analysis of an assemblage of artifacts collected before the 1990s investigation, and of a cannon raised by the IMH/FSU team, later conserved in St. Vincent, left no doubt as to the French origin of the wreck. Recent archival research indicates the likely possibility that this is Junon, a 32-gun frigate built in Rochefort, and the sister ship of the famous Hermione. Junon was lost on 11 October after anchoring in Kingstown Harbor during the Great Hurricane of 1780.

Figure 2: Photogrammetry of canon found in the proximity of the Castries area surveyed, (G. Pachoud Université des Antilles / AAPA)

Chuck Meide, currently the Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, has joined the team from the University of the French West Indies and supported by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust, to re-investigate this shipwreck after 23 years.

The project consisted of a multi beam sonar survey to determine the locations of  the modern wrecks of Nomad and Seimstrand sunk in 1984, and the vestiges of the Junon, located nearby (Fig 3). This was followed by scuba and rebreather diving assessments to document site formation processes and changes since the late 1990s project. The last goal of the project was to create a 3D photogrammetric model of the site to update the earlier map.  This first year of the project could bring the team to study naval shipbuilding and material culture of this vessel.

Good News from Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic)

In July 202, the permanent delegation of Dominican Republic (DR) in the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) deposited the instruments of ratification for the Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001). This step is very good news for the DR and should allow the country to sign the convention after 20 years of debate and administrative processes. In the short-term, collaboration should take place in the DR to improve maritime heritage management because it is a country that has a very rich potential, with both submerged pre-Columbian sites and colonial shipwrecks.

Figure 3: First photo of the Junon Site foreground coper sheathing of the Junon’s stern background shadow of the Seimstrand, C. Michaud (Université des Antilles / AAPA)

Maritime Heritage UNESCO Class for Latin America and the Caribbean

Recognizing that one of the main challenges for the protection of underwater cultural heritage is the provision of adequate knowledge and skills to study, protect and manage it, UNESCO with the support of the Maritime Program of the Heritage Agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, designed and implemented a virtual training course. The course was designed to promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through the training of archaeology students and university teachers from Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the course was designed in a blended learning format that combined synchronous sessions with asynchronous work through learning strategies including: virtual learning environments (virtual classroom – modules), multimedia resources (microcapsules and virtual learning objects), videoconferences (keynote lectures), reference documents and related bibliography, and flipped classroom. From August to November, 2021, 32 trainers and more than 80 students from various countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe participated in the training (Figure 4).

The author would like to thank Pedro Morales director of Oficina Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático
ONCPS (Republica Dominicana) y Carlos del Cairo Hurtado Academic Coordinator for the UNESCO Class, Universidad Externado of Colombia (Colombia).

Figure 4: Graphic showing the number of students during the UNESCO Class (source: UNESCO).

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