Newport Ship to be reassembled in ‘world’s largest 3D puzzle’

Newport Ship

Newport Ship

When the remains of an ancient wine merchant ship were found on the muddy banks of Newport’s Usk River, archaeologists quickly knew they had stumbled upon something very important.

But history doesn’t always proceed according to a modern timeline, and only now, 20 years after the accidental discovery during the construction of the town’s Riverfront theatre, can the historic craft begin to reassemble.

It took this long for experts to dry, restore and process the ship’s more than 2,500 550-year-old timbers.

Now the hard part begins – putting together what has been described as the world’s largest 3D puzzle.

Rebuilding the 15th-century ship, known as the Newport Ship since its discovery in 2002, will take time, patience and some luck.

Newport River Usk Archaeological Excavation - Roy McCormick

Newport River Usk Archaeological Excavation – Roy McCormick

Historian and television presenter Dan Snow described the ship’s discovery and restoration as a “missing link” in maritime history, illuminating the moment just before the European powers set sail for the New World.

“The Newport Ship comes at the dawn of an era that is changing the world in every conceivable way,” he told The Telegraph. “He was a coastal merchant who brought wool from the British Isles to Iberia and returned with wine, and a generation passed before we turned our attention across the Atlantic.”

When the Newport Ship puzzle is complete, it will rival Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose, which was launched from Solent in 1982, and the Vasa warship in Stockholm, which was salvaged in 1961 with a largely intact hull.

Toby Jones, project curator of the Newport Medieval Ship project, said: “Mary Rose will be the 16th century ship of the world, Vasa in Sweden will be the 17th century ship of the world – Newport will be the 15th century ship of the world.

Newport will be at the top of the major ships on display worldwide. There will never be another like it in the world.”

But the restoration of the ship will differ from previous ones in complexity and scale.

“Mary Rose and Vasa were never taken apart, preserved and displayed as a whole – we have the largest ship ever attempted to be reassembled,” Jones told BBC Wales.

Around £8m from the Welsh Government has already been spent protecting and restoring the 2,500 pieces of timber that make up the ship.

Newport River Usk Archaeological Excavation

Newport River Usk Archaeological Excavation

On Thursday, the mission to freeze-dry the nearly 13-metre-long timber finally came to an end with the last 100 batches collected from the Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth.

Each was treated with an ammonium citrate solution to remove iron salts and then impregnated with a polyethylene glycol (PEG) solution to act as a bulking agent in the wood cells, displacing water and preventing the wood from collapsing as it dries.

Historians and conservationists now hope to reassemble the wreck and display it within the next five years.

There are hopes that, when completed, it will be housed in a museum to rival that of the Mary Rose, along with more than 1,000 medieval artifacts found in the ruins of the Newport Ship.

Artifacts Found on the Newport Ship

Artifacts Found on the Newport Ship

Climate-controlled rooms will allow the moisture and temperature of the wood to be controlled to provide optimal conditions for the rebuilt ship.

Built in the Basque country and launched around 1449, the ship was involved in the lucrative wine trade between Portugal and the Iberian peninsula and Bristol.

After sinking, most of the ship’s timbers and ironwork were salvaged, with the remaining third covered by the tide and mud, leaving it untouched for more than five centuries.

Mr Snow said: “This ship shows that before that moment we had longstanding ties with Europe and that the coastal communities of northern Spain and Newport had much in common, as if crossing the seas and united by trade.

“It’s so special to touch those restored woods and see the rings of trees that once grew on the Iberian peninsula during the Black Death, before they were cut down to bring wine and covered with tar and animal hides. this country. It’s like discovering an important fossil that has been buried for centuries.”

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