Sanguinaires C: technology at the service of archaeologists

The 2022 excavation campaign is coming to an end on the mysterious Sanguinaires C wreck in the Gulf of Ajaccio. On board the Alfred-Merlin, flagship of the scientific fleet, archaeologists have made considerable progress thanks to a partnership with a medical radiology laboratory.

Dockside day for the underwater archaeologists on board theAlfred Merlin, a new technological gem from the Department of Underwater and Underwater Research (Drassm). The latter are forced to stay in port due to a strong swell that hits the Gulf of Ajaccio at the end of June.

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But there is no question of strolling on the bridge. The 2022 excavation campaign on the Sanguinaires C wreck ends at the end of the week and the hours are counted to finalize the objectives of this new season. Sorting of pieces collected, measurements of each object, securing of ceramics. A huge, time-consuming job, but essential to the smooth running of the wreck recovery process. Especially since this ship, which lies 19 meters deep in the Sanguinaires Islands, at the exit of the Gulf of Ajaccio, has not yet revealed all its secrets.

READ ALSO. VIDEO. Ajaccio: Sanguinaires C, the wreck from the North

Since 2005, the year of the discovery of this ship during a survey by the Drassm, archaeologists have been working to trace the thread of history in search of the exact origins of this ship and trace its last voyage to its shipwreck in the Gulf of Ajaccio.

The research work has already made it possible to formulate the first hypotheses on the origin of the construction of the ship and on that of its loading of stones.

So the story could be that of a clapboard ship built in the 16the century in Northern Europe which, after descending the Atlantic, crosses the Strait of Gibraltar to reach the port of Genoa. The crew proceeds to load dolomitic stones as well as Pisan and Ligurian ceramics to finally set sail for Ajaccio.

And this is where the story darkens for the sailors who have to weather a storm at the level of the Sanguinaires Islands. Too overloaded, this thirty-meter Nordic ship will sink, with all its cargo, nineteen meters deep off the Parata. The shipwreck would have taken place during the first half of the XVIe century.

“Chestnuts found in the holds of the boat”

Here is the scenario drawn by the archaeologists. But, to date, there are few certainties.

In addition, the first objects discovered testify to the richness and diversity of the wreck: Pisan and Ligurian ceramics from the beginning of the 16the century, iron anchors with wooden jaws, large stone conglomerate millstones, extremely rare wooden lid of a box of navigation compasses and portable firearms.

This 2022 campaign was particularly successful thanks to the technological means developed on theAlfred Merlin. At the heart of the archaeological room, a room where first aid is given to objects as soon as they come out of the water, archaeologist Marine Sadania rinses and packages ceramics in numbered plastic bins. Each gesture is precise and meticulous. “We try to collect anything that can represent a clue to the activities on board, the origin of the boat and its crew”, explains this seasoned scientist, presenting wood shavings from the hull of the ship. Pieces that will make it possible to determine the species and traces of tools that were used in the manufacture of the ship, also highlighting the trades that worked on the ship. “We even found chestnuts in the bottom of the holds of the wreck”, smiles Hervé Alfonsi, president of the Association for Underwater Archaeological Research, stating that “Swedes and Danes were very fond of chestnuts”. A clue perhaps as to the origin of the boat.

So many objects that will then be stored in laboratories and subjected to analysis. Wooden parts and ferrous concretions will be kept in cold rooms and in baths in the Drassm premises in Marseille. The ceramics will be deposited in the premises of the Association for Underwater Archaeological Research (Arasm) in Ajaccio.

It then remains to find solutions for recovering and returning the wreckage to the general public because all these precious pieces cannot be stored forever. “More than a hundred wrecks have been listed in island waters and no maritime museum has been built to showcase the naval history of Corsica”deplores Hervé Alfonsi, director of the Arasm, noting that “ten shipwrecks lie in the Gulf of Ajaccio. Why not simply create site museums?”

“The cultural potential is enormous”, adds Marine Sadania. To do this, archaeologists will have to embark on a new quest: that of patronage.

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