X-ray grant lights up wreck investigators
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.”
The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity that supports and promotes excellence in science and health, heritage, humanities and the arts. “The beauty of X-ray technology is the way in which it reveals hidden secrets of the past as well as helping with conservation,” said its chief executive Paul Ramsbottom.
On the same day (30 June) the Wolfson Foundation also awarded a £1.35 million grant to the Marine Biological Association (MBA) to help fund a new Marine Microbiome Centre of Excellence at Citadel Hill in Plymouth.
Focusing on marine microbes to better understand ocean health and the impacts of climate change, the centre will be the first of its kind in the UK. Construction of the £20-million site is under way and projected to be complete by late 2021.
“The research conducted at the new centre will be a lens to a marine microbial world that is critical for the planet’s health,” said MBA director Prof Willie Wilson. “It is akin to the role the human gut bacteria play in human health.”