The Rooswijk sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, off Kent in January 1740 carrying a large cargo of silver ingot and coins. Find out what archaeologists have discovered so far
Ornate carved knife handles, glass bottles and large wooden seaman’s chests are among the finds discovered on wreck of the Dutch East India Company ship, Rooswijk.
Dutch and British maritime archaeologists are in a race against time to recover and record as much as possible from the protected site.
The Rooswijk is threatened by currents and shifting sands, and an exploratory study of the wreck last year cemented the urgent need for the current excavation, which is happening throughout the summer.
The wreck, which is owned by the Dutch Government, is classed as ‘high risk’ on the Heritage at Risk register due to its exposed remains and vulnerability. It is also threatened by an invasive sea worm.
Historic England, which manages the wreck on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that never before had an execution of this scale been carried out on a Dutch East India Company wreck.
Maritime archaeologists are concentrating on excavating the storage rooms and living quarters in the stern of the ship.
Items such as large wooden seaman’s chests, pewter jugs and spoons, glass bottles, ornately carved knife handles and personal items such as shoes have already been recovered from the wreck and brought to shore at Ramsgate where they are being conserved.
The Rooswijk sank on Goodwin Sands, off Kent, on 8 January 1740.
The ship was outward bound for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) with a large cargo of silver ingots and coinage on board.
Some of these have already been recovered during an excavation in 2005.
The current project is being led by Martijn Manders.
“The Goodwin Sands has been a treacherous place for ships throughout the centuries and is now a treasure trove for archaeologists. It is also popular with sports divers,” he explained.
“The rapidly shifting sands mean that the site is even more exposed now than it was during our initial dives to assess the condition of the Rooswijk last year. This makes the excavation urgent,” said Mander, who is also maritime heritage programme manager at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.
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There are a total of 250 Dutch East India Company shipwrecks around the world, of which only a third have been located.
Material recovered from the wreck site of the Rooswijk is being taken ashore to a warehouse in Ramsgate where first-aid conservation will be carried out and the items fully recorded.
From here finds will be taken to a Historic England storage facility where work to assess, analyse and conserve them will take place.
The finds will be returned to The Netherlands and in future some material may be made available for display in Ramsgate.
Maritime archaeology students are based at the Ramsgate venue and are benefiting from a programme of training delivered by Historic England specialists as well as the opportunity to be involved in the project.
During the excavation, public open days and training sessions are being held in Ramsgate, where the extraordinary finds from the Rooswijk will be on display.
Marine archaeologist at Historic England, Alison James, said wrecks, such as the Rooswijk, are “time capsules that offer a unique glimpse into the past and tell a story.”
“Sharing that story with a wide audience is a key part of this project and we look forward to the fascinating insights and discoveries that the Rooswijk excavation will uncover this summer,” she added.