Elizabethan-era ship discovered in Kent quarry

Since the excavation, the team from Wessex has laser-scanned and digitally recorded the entirety of the ship.

The remains of an Elizabethan ship have been excavated in Kent, preserved in the sediments of a quarry on the Dungeness headland.

IMAGE: Wessex Archaeology

The vessel was initially discovered by a CEMEX quarry team last April. After they realised the significance of the find, they called Wessex Archaeology, who led an excavation of the site with specialist support by Kent County Council and emergency funding from Historic England. Although the quarry lies 300m from the current coastline, it is believed that this site would have once been much closer to the sea. It may be, then, that the ship was either wrecked on the shingle headland where it was found, or it could have been decommissioned and abandoned there after it was no longer needed or considered beyond repair.

Ships from this period are rare finds, so the excavation team were thrilled to be able to recover more than 100 timbers from its hull. Dendrochronological analysis of the planks has revealed that the vessel was built using English oak felled sometime between 1558 and 1580. This was not only a time of significant seafaring, as European ships started to explore and colonise the Atlantic coastlines of the New World, but it was also a transitional period for ship-construction in northern Europe. Around this time shipwrights stopped using the traditional clinker style of construction, which was common in Viking vessels, and had moved to ships built frame-first (the technique seen in the Dungeness example). As the name implies, the internal framing of such vessels is made first, and then the planking is laid flush to create a smooth outer hull.

Commenting on the discovery, Andrea Hamel, Marine Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, said: ‘To find a late 16th-century ship preserved in the sediment of a quarry was an unexpected but very welcome find indeed. The ship has the potential to tell us much about a period where we have little surviving evidence of shipbuilding, but yet was such a great period of change in ship-construction and seafaring.’

Since the excavation, the team from Wessex has laser-scanned and digitally recorded the entirety of the ship (pictured above). Now that this is done, the timbers will be reburied in the quarry lake where the ship was found, so that the silt can continue to keep them well preserved.