Analysing encrusted artefacts recovered from centuries-old shipwrecks can be challenging without risking damage to the items. Now an advanced X-ray machine is to be made available to scan artefacts from historic wrecks such as the Rooswijk in UK seas, thanks to a £150,000 grant from charity the Wolfson Foundation.
The beneficiary, Historic England (HE), says that the high-resolution X-ray equipment can accommodate large objects, and has a moveable tube that is much higher-powered than typical systems.
This, it says, offers “exceptional potential for scanning and analysing objects covered in thick concretions to a much higher degree of detail than would otherwise be possible”.
HE will now be able to upgrade a walk-in X-ray facility at its scientific and archaeological analysis centre at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth. Top of the list to be probed will be artefacts recovered from the Dutch East India Company vessel Rooswijk, the protected wreck site off Kent.
The Rooswijk sank on Goodwin Sands in 1740 while heading for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) with a cargo including silver coins. The wreck is being excavated by HE and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.
“This generous investment will place Historic England at the forefront of heritage X-radiography for many years to come,” said HE chief executive Duncan Wilson. “With this new technology, we will be able to analyse, conserve and better understand many more objects recovered from historic shipwrecks or excavated from archaeological sites.”