There is an interesting discussion going on in the ITRDBFOR related to shipbuilding in the early Americas.
Rob Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, School of Geography & Geosciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews. FIFE, KY16 9AL Scotland. U.K., received this email from Monty Larkin (UK) on 24 May 2012 14:42 - “Four years ago, I published a book on the local history of a locality in East Sussex. This included an extensive chapter on shipwrecks. This chapter included an unresolved section on the remains of a possible 18th century Spanish galleon. Due to the possibility to having a re-print of the book carried out, I'd very much like to try to solve the this query. Would your facility be interested in carrying out studies of timber samples (possibly a Mexican tree specie/s)? If not, can you possibly point me in an alternative direction?” Rob posted it on the forum for comments and ideas.
Daniel Patón Domínguez from the Numerical Ecology. Ecology Unit, Department of Plant Biology, Ecology and Earth Sciences, Faculty of Sciences. University of Extremadura, Avda. Elvas s/n 06071 Badajoz (Spain) replied: “Dear Rod: The masts of Spanish galleons usually had constructed with woods of Abies pinsapo. You have chronologies of this species in the ITRDB. We are finishing a ~500 year chronology with Pinus sylvestris from Central Spain.... probably the signal could be tested... Probably you can contact with archaeologists of Naval Museums in Cádiz (http://www.laisladelsur.com/museonaval/) one of the more important ports during XVIII century. However I think that is not difficult correlate with woods of 18th century. We have serious problems for elongate the limit of 500 years.... but 200-300 years is not difficult. Also this link: Aquatic archaeologists ;-) ... a rare work ;-) http://museoarqua.mcu.es/informacion/visita/reservas/index.html
Malcolm K. Cleaveland, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Geography, Tree-Ring Laboratory, Dept. of Geosciences, Division of Geography University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, Fayetteville, AR 72701 U.S.A. wrote: “ It really would be nice if Monty had bothered to have a ring count and the wood genus/species identified before he asked for assistance. Also, if it really is 17th century wood, 7 or 8 equally spaced single ring samples would potentially yield a quite accurate AMS radiocarbon wiggle match. That's probably a better bet than trying to get a dendro date on an unknown species of unknown provenance. How much major shipbuilding (i.e., galleons) was done in Mexico in the 17th century? My guess (and that's all it is) is very little, if any. Hence the guess that the wood is from Mexico is unlikely to be true, but could be better judged if the species were known. This is very much in the category of our previous recent discussion of dating a table of unknown provenance made of an obscure species not much used in dendrochronology.
Daniel Patón Domínguez May 26, 2012 wrote: “Dear Professor: During 17-18 th centuries the number of possible Spanish shipyards were very limited:
- Cantabric Sea (Orio, Guarnizo y Pasajes)
- Mediterraneam Sea (Barcelona, Cartagena, San Feliu de Guixols, Arenys de Mar, Mataró y Sitges)
- Atlantic sea (Ferrol, La Habana)
In the Naval Review (http://www.revistanaval.com) and related Journals (http://www.todoababor.es/) is possible to find information on dates of construction and probably origin of the wood material...We need to know almost the name of the galleon.... or the possible route, destiny, material that transport, etc ....
This is very much in the category of our previous recent discussion of dating a table of unknown provenance made of an obscure species not much used in dendrochronology.
Not so obscure and unused: Winter, M.-B.; Wolff, B.; Gottschling, H.; Cherubini, P., 2009: The impact of climate on radial growth and nut production of Persian walnut (Juglans regia L.) in Southern Kyrgyzstan.
Eur. J. For. Res. 128: 531-542.
;-) We are beginning a local chronology of Juglans regia for almost to respond if the table was or not from the area.... I agree with you: The problem of galleons and tables is that both can move... ;-)
Ir. Marta Domínguez Delmás, Wetenschappelijk medewerker – Dendrochronoloog, Stichting RING - Nederlands Centrum voor Dendrochronologie, p/a Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Smallepad 5, 3811 MG Amersfoort Postbus 1600, 3800 BP Amersfoort http://www.stichtingring.nl wrote:
“As Malcolm pointed out, it would be good to know at least what genus/species are involved.
It is definitely possible that an 18th century galleon found in Europe was built in the Americas. Huguette and Pierre Chaunu, in their work “Séville et l' Atlantique, 1504-1650” (edit. Colin, Paris 1955-1959) report that shipyards were established in the Caribbean islands and the coast of Mexico already in the early 17th century. Fernández González, in his article “El galleón español” (Investigación y ciencia 191,1992 , p. 54-63) also refers to the construction of ships for the “Route of Indias” in the Caribbean since the late 16th century, and mentions the common names of the species used for it. So there is no question that ships were built and repaired on that side of the Atlantic with the wood they had at hand (which is also described in several works as being more durable than the European woods). I also found tropical wood in the Ria de Aveiro F wreck (found in Portugal) during the inspection of ship timbers Nigel Nayling and I carried out at the IGESPAR/DANS in Lisbon in 2010 (in the context of the Iberian Heritage Project). With the help of Prof. Pieter Baas we could narrow the identification down to 27 hits on the Inside Wood website (not bad, considering the huge range of tropical species, but still too broad to even point at a continent).
Thus the identification of (as many as possible) timbers of the wreck in question is the first step I would say. Is it possible that Monty Larkin speaks of Mexican species because they already know they are dealing with some tropical wood that grows there?
If the wood is deciduous oak I could check the eventual tree-ring series with my dataset, as I am still targeting wrecks of Iberian construction and I have compiled a set of (still undated) oak tree-ring series that potentially originate from the north of Spain (where most of the Spanish ocean-going vessels were built in the early modern period).
Russ Carlton RCA, BCMA, ASCA Registered Consulting Arborist #354, ISA Board Certified Master Arborist PD-0008B, PNW Tree Risk Assessor #891 on May 28, 2012 wrote: “In the early years of English colonization of the Americas, didn’t the British transport many large white pines and other timber to England for ship building, rather than building them here? Could not the Spanish have done the same? That wasn’t covered in history class...
Peter Ian Kuniholm, Professor Emeritus and Former Director, Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory
for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology, B-48 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 14853-3201 wrote: “Dear Russ, If you want a seriously good study of the problem, see:
Albion, Robert Greenhalgh, Forests and Sea Power: The Timber Problem of the Royal Navy 1652-1862. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1926.
Pines were floated down the Maine rivers to Portland (then called Yarmouth) and loaded through 3-foot ports in the sterns of the vessels (but below the deck, in a horribly humid environment). The pines were waterlogged to begin with, and, since most transport took place in the summer, they arrived at Royal Navy shipyards (Portsmouth, Sheerness) with fist-sized fungi growing on them and in an advanced state of decay. Masts were stepped in this condition, and often a ship was back in drydock within months after the re-fit. The same treatment applied to imports from Russia where the sapwood was left on to comply with the official specifications for dimensions.”
Robert Lanner on May 28, 2012 wrote: “Prior to exploiting the white pine resource, I believe the British navy relied on Scots pine masts from Latvia and other Baltic countries. So long distance transport of mast timbers was not unusual. Also, live oak from the southern US was used in New England shipyards for shaping hulls.”
Cathy Tyers (nee Groves), Dendrochronology Laboratory, Archaeology Graduate School, Sheffield University, West Court, 2 Mappin Street, Sheffield S1 4DT, UK on May 28, 2012 wrote: “We English relied heavily on imported conifer timber from Scandinavian countries and various other countries around the Baltic Sea but for general construction purposes in buildings not just for ship masts from the mid-seventeenth century, though some imported conifers did appear earlier than this - this has been demonstrated through dendrochronolgical studies and hence supports the documentary evidence that is also around.
Ryszard J.Kaczka, Geographer Ph.D., University of Silesia, Bedzinska 60, 41-200 Sosnowiec, Uniwersytet Śląski w Katowicach http://www.us.edu.pl on May 28 wrote: “The interesting thing, telling something about the source of timbers at that time, is to consider the etymology of the species (from Wikipedia):
The word "spruce" entered the English language from Old French Pruce, the name of Prussia. Spruce was a generic term for commodities brought to England by Hanseatic merchants and the tree was believed to have come from Prussia. According to a different theory, some suggest that it may however be a direct loanword from a Polish expression [drzewo / drewno] z Prus which literally means "[tree / timber] from Prussia". That would suggest that the late mediaeval Polish-speaking merchants would import the timber to England and the English would pick up the expression from them. This export last much longer, at least till 18th Century.”
Peter Ian Kuniholm on May 28, 2012 wrote: “Indeed. R. G. Albion's chapters on "thickstuff" are particularly interesting. The Royal Navy wrapped enormously thick oak timbers along the sides near the waterlines of their ships, rather like the bands of steel on W.W.I battleships. The one resource that the RN oddly did not exploit was live oak from the southern colonies. That would have been superb for repelling iron shot.
I have somewhere around a facsimile of a letter (1805, I think) sent by the Lords of the Admiralty to all the county clerks in England, asking about their oak supply and how many 72-gun ships of the line could be made from them. And bound in with this are the answers. The tallies ranged from nil to one and a half. One clerk said something like "Why don't you get your oak from Poland the way everybody else does?" And one of the speakers at Esther Jansma's seminar last Autumn had a fascinating list of the invoices of oak cargoes headed west from the Baltic. I'll see if I can find it.
Ryszard J.Kaczka on May 28, 2012 wrote: “Talking about Baltic oaks, I recommend the papers from T. Wazny and coauthors. (Where Does the Timber Come From? Dendrochronological Evidence of the Timber Trade in Northern Europe 1997, Baltic timber in Western Europe – an exciting dendrochronological question, Dendrochronologia 2003, and Provenancing Baltic timber from art historical objects: success and limitations, Journal of Archaeological Science 2005)”
Malcolm K. Cleaveland on May 28, 2012 wroteL “As Russ says, those trees most suitable for masts were blazed with a special mark that reserved them for the British Empire's naval needs. It was against the law to use a tree so marked for any other purpose and it is my understanding that the law was enforcd fairly rigorously. Such trees were exported, but also used in colonial harbors to repair naval ships with damaged masts. Those trees were valued commodities. Ron is correct. It was construction with live oak that earned the Constitution the nickname "Old Ironsides". British cannonballs bouncing off the Constitution's hull reportedly prompted a Brit to say something like "Her sides are made of iron!" Of course they were not. It was a time of wooden ships and iron men.”