Atlantic World Marine Archaeology Research Institute amari
Warwick Ballast

Analyses and Research

The Warwick Project

The remains of the Warwick are one of the largest and most cohesive extant sections of an early 17th-century English ship.

   The wreck is a prime example of the vessels that played a fundamental role in supplying the nascent English settlements in North America and perhaps other less reputed functions. Archaeological evidence suggests that Warwick was built in a traditional style at a vital time in English ship design and construction. It has a unique place in both the history of shipbuilding and the social history of Bermuda. The ship is an iconic representation of the many English business ventures that occurred on board vessels sailing between England, Bermuda, and Jamestown, carrying colonists, supplies, and tobacco between Europe and the New World. As such, the excavation, analysis, and reconstruction of Warwick teaches us more about the island’s history and the 17th-century Atlantic world.

   Over the course of four field seasons, an international team of professional archaeologists, students, and archaeologically surveyed and excavated the Warwick shipwreck site. The shipwreck was systematically excavated and recorded in three sections corresponding to vessels original hull structure: the stern section (2010), the midship section (2011), and the bow section (2012) (see the images below).

Warwick Site Plan 20123D Siteplan

>> As visible on this site plan, what remains of the Warwick is one of the largest and most coherent surviving sections of an early 17th-century English ship found anywhere in the world. The amount of the ship’s structural timbers and artifacts that has survived underwater for almost 400 years is unprecedented. It is also an important cultural and historical relic that allows us a glimpse into the 17th century world. As a result, the wreck is providing a new insight into the 17th-century shipbuilding techniques and Bermuda’s and America’s early colonial history.

>> A 3D visualization of the site as recorded underwater. This site plan was created using an AgiSoft software and manipulated using an open source MeshLab package. The goal was to produce a visualization of what archaeologist have seen while working on this site through imagery and graphics in order to better communicate this project with the public. 

   Warwick is preserved from the turn of the bilge, where the hull broke in half during the wrecking, to just above the first deck. The shipwreck structure was covered by a thick layer of sand and silt, as well as an undisturbed pile of stratified ballast. The top layer of ballast included large irregularly-shaped blocks of dolerite that were quarried somewhere in the area of Newcastle, England. Beneath these larger stones was a mixed layer of small to medium dolerite rocks, while the bottom-most layer consisted of highly compacted river pebbles mixed with gray clay-like bilge sludge.

   This overburden was mixed with numerous cultural objects which were mapped, recorded, and raised to the surface for further analysis and conservation at the National Museum of Bermuda. Upon clearing the shipwreck timbers and brushing off extra silt obscuring the surface details and fastener impressions, the team began the meticulous process of recording the hull remains as an intact structure in situ. Each timber was sketched and mapped in relation to the other structural timbers and established datum points were placed strategically around the site.

   Warwick’s visible framing included the extremities of the floor timbers (wrungheads), first futtocks, and third futtocks; the second futtocks were covered by nearly undamaged ceiling planks. With the exception of two frames horizontally fastened with treenails, the timbers overlapped loosely and the framing elements did not appear to be fastened to each other. The internal planking consisted of six common ceiling planks arranged in an alternating pattern with three stringers and a shelf clamp. The stringers were noticeably more robust than the ceiling planks.

   Testifying to the nature of the ship and the voyage, the external planking was composed of three distinct layers separated by tightly compacted caulking material. The innermost layer of planking had two significantly narrower and thicker strakes which have been identified as the ship’s first and second wale. The second layer of structural planking, referred to as doubling, was only visible near the stern of the wreck. The doubling was protected by a third layer of thin sacrificial wooden sheathing (see the image to the right). ..................................................................................................

External skin of the Warwick was composed with 3 layers of planking.

   Excavation also revealed an intact portion of the deck. Observations of the position and arrangement of the shelf clamp, knees, and beams suggest they supported the first (or orlop) deck. The lower remains of gunports were still discernible, and this deck would have most likely been the vessel’s gundeck. A thick L-shaped waterway (which functioned as a gutter) was fastened to the hull with treenails and iron bolts and covered with deck planks. Directly above the waterway there was a run of thick planking or spirketting finished with filler boards (see the image below).

Overview of the preserved deck structure of the Warwick

3D Reconstruction of the Warwick

   Numerous cross-sectional profiles spanning the entire uncovered structure were taken using a Direct Survey Method (DSM). The aim was to create a digital 3-D research model using the cross-sectional profiles of the excavated starboard side of the ship. This will facilitate the reconstruction process and the recreation of the missing sections of the hull.

   The profiles were recorded in the midship section in 2011 followed by the profiles in the stern and bow in 2012. The profiles were recorded independently with offsets and direct measurements between features. A goniometer was also used to measure every visible and accessible angle on the exposed timbers. Each profile had datum points along its length - labeled A up to G - depending on the length of the timber. Using DSM we measured and linked all the profile datums to each other creating a powerful web. The relative depth was also taken at each datum along the frame in order to mould the curvature of the wreck into the correct shape.

   In Rhinoceros, a 3D modeling software, the points are joined to recreate the curvature of the hull. This will allow us to determine not only the position of the midship of the vessel, but also to recreate the bottom of the hull and the missing port side.

New Non-invasive Recording Method

   In order to record features covered by the well-preserved ceiling planks, the Warwick team used the methodology developed by Dr. Kroum Batchvarov for studying the framing of the Swedish royal warship Vasa. The framing timbers are traced through the seams between the planks of the ceiling by taking a thin wire and attempting to find a timber's edge. After one edge has been determined, the timber is tracked along its surface until the opposite edge has been reached: thus obtaining the sided dimensions. The moulded dimensions is obtained by measuring offsets from the inner face of the ceiling. The edges of the timbers are then marked with flagging wires, recorded, and mapped. Although the theory is quite simple; the practice is complicated. The archaeologist recording the timber has to be able to interpret what they feel which requires an understanding of the framing system and what individual frame timbers are supposed to be doing. All of the framing of the Warwick underneath the ceiling was completely mapped from the floor timbers all the way to the second and third futtocks.

Dendrochronological Analysis

   One of the most important aspects of the final season of the Warwick project in 2012 was the examination, identification, and proper dating of the Warwick’s timbers by dendrochronology expert, Nigel Nayling, from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Successful tree-ring dating of oak (Quercus spp.) timbers with surviving bark edge indicate that trees used for conversion into the ship's timbers were felled during the winter of AD 1616 and up until the summer of AD 1617. In other words, the ship could not have been completed before summer AD 1617. The correlation of a sixteen-timber mean with numerous oak ring-width masters from sites in the area of southern Britain is consistent with the Warwick having been constructed from timbers felled in southern Britain.

   In situ examination and recovery of wood identification samples from inner and outer planking and sheathing at the aft end of the surviving articulated wreck indicates the presence of oak (Quercus spp.) inner planking at P0; an oak wale at P1; oak inner and outer planking at P2 and P3; an oak wale at P4; oak inner and outer planking and sheathing at P5 to P8 inclusive; and elm (Ulmus sp.) inner planking at P9 to P13 inclusive. Surprisingly, slow growth rates in oak planks at P3, P5, P6 and P8 suggest viable tree-ring samples could be recovered from these planks.

Watch the latest 3D Visualization and Modeling of the Warwick Site!