Team racing to dig up Waterfront ship

Cape Town - The remains of a ship found at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town has caused some excitement in academic circles and archaeologists want to examine it to determine its exact age.

"The first priority is to get it out," archaeologist Liesbet Schietecatte told News24.

She said that the team would work in partnership with the Iziko Museum in Cape Town to study remains of the ship and artefacts collected at the site.

"Some of it is loose because the digging machine loosened it first and it was only then that it was discovered, which is the Catch 22 of archaeology: You break it before you find it," said Schietecatte.

The remains of the ship are buried in a pit on the construction site of an office development at the No. 1 Silo at the V&A Waterfront and archaeologists have not been able to determine exactly the extent of the find.

Historical value

"When all the loose parts have been removed, we will investigate see what is still left in situ, because we think that there is still some wood left the way the ship or boat got stuck on the sand," Schietecatte said.

The approximately 8m long hull lies buried in beach sand close to where the tidal zone was, in the 1800s. Schietecatte, however, said it was difficult to pin down an exact date until the team has had more time to study it.

"A guess now would be 19th century, but we will have to look at that again. It's like a jigsaw: We will put out all the pieces, clean them up, record them. See how they fit together and by the way the ship was constructed, we will probably be able to tell more."

Schietecatte said that finding items of historical value was not uncommon at the Waterfront, but this ship was unique in that it was the only one found, despite the area having been disturbed when the adjacent parking garage and silo were built.

"Everywhere where the shore has been reclaimed and people are digging, there's a chance of finding them [ships]. That's why we were monitoring here."

The No. 1 Silo is being transformed into an 18 000m² office space scheduled for completion in 2013 and the archaeological team has to conduct their investigation around the active building site.

"There is a big crane that needs to be built, but we can work around that," Schietecatte said.

Schietecatte was trained as a medieval archaeologist in Belgium where she worked for the Flemish Heritage Institute (VIOE) on research and CRM projects.


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