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The phases of the Vrouw Maria Underwater project
Third research phase
The third and final research phase in the Vrouw Maria Underwater project will take place between 1 January and 31 December 2012. The budget for the research phase is €300,000 and it is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The second research phase in the project ended at the end of December 2011.
Work in early 2012 included the completion of articles written by the project staff for a publication linked to the exhibition "Spoil of Riches - Stories of the Vrouw Maria and the St. Michel". The exhibition itself will be open at the Maritime Museum of Finland at the Maritime Centre Vellamo in Kotka from 25 April to 2 December 2012. In March 2012 user testing of the Vrouw Maria simulation was completed at the National Museum of Finland in partnership with Aalto University's Media Lab. The simulation will form part of the above exhibition. In the simulation, visitors to the museum will be able to explore the wreck and its underwater world in 3D virtual reality. In the simulation visitors see the Vrouw Maria sink, peer into the hull of the wreck, full of cargo, explore the ship's galley, see video footage taken at the wreck and listen to underwater sounds and move through the landscape, the underwater valley in which the Vrouw Maria lies. In the simulation the unique underwater landscape of this valley opens before the viewer's eyes, a scene that has never been seen before.
Early 2012 will also see follow-up work done on the fieldwork carried out in 2011 and planning carried out for the archaeological research dives which will take place between 4 and 15 June 2012. The wreck will still mainly be studied using non-itrusive methods. The focus in 2012 will mainly be on producing pictorial material. Work will also continue on identifying the cargo and measuring the wreck. The fieldwork can be followed at the Vrouw Maria Underwater blog at http://vrouwmariavedenalla.wordpress.com/.
In late 2012 an international wreck seminar will be held at the Maritime Museum of Finland where research into the Vrouw Maria and other current wreck projects will be presented. The seminar also offers an excellent opportunity to discuss what should be done with the well-preserved wrecks in the Baltic Sea.
Second research phase
The second research phase in the Vrouw Maria Underwater project will take place between 1 April and 31 December 2011. The budget for the research phase is €300,000 and it is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The first research phase of the project ended at the end of March 2011.
At the start of the year, follow-up work was carried out on the fieldwork completed in summer 2010, plans were made for field research in 2011 and a virtual simulation was created presenting the wreck and its underwater landscape in partnership with Aalto University's Media Lab. In addition, an exhibition on the wreck, "Lost at sea. The story of the Vrouw Marian and the St. Mikael" and an exhibition publication were also planned jointly with the Maritime Museum of Finland. The exhibition will run from 25 April to 2 December 2012.
In conjunction with reorganisation of the National Board of Antiquities on 1 May 2011 the project was moved to the Archaeological Field Services Unit under the Cultural Environment Management department. In June the project's staff moved from Hylkysaari to the National Board of Antiquities' offices in Nervanderinkatu. The new address is Nervanderinkatu 13, 00100 Helsinki.
Fieldwork will be carried out at the wreck between 4 and 15 July 2011, during which period the wreck will mainly be studied using non-invasive methods. Documentation of the hull of the ship will continue, particularly inside the hull. Attempts will be made to take samples from the packing cases in the hull to identify their contents. The fieldwork can be seen at the Vrouw Maria Underwater blog at http://vrouwmariavedenalla.wordpress.com/.
The wreck of the Vrouw Maria is located in the protected zone of the Archipelago National Park, which may only be entered with a permit. The wreck is surrounded by a protected area under the Finnish Antiquities Act, within which anchoring and recreational diving are prohibited.
First research phase
The first research phase was carried out between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011 and its budget was €270,000. Funding was obtained from the Ministry of Education and Culture.
In the spring negotiations began on the contract for the virtual simulation with Aalto University's Media Lab. Professor Lily Diaz's international team began the work itself in August, and work continued through the winter and spring. The simulation was completed in autumn 2011.
During the spring artefacts raised from the wreck were also measured using a three-dimensional optical scanner. It is easier to examine the details of the objects in the digital models produced in this way than it would be to examine the original finds in a glass case in a museum because the models can be turned around freely with no risk of damaging a fragile artefact.
In the first research phase, research dives took place at the wreck of the Vrouw Maria between 30 August and 10 September 2010. Research continued to document the structures of the wreck. The research vessel was once more the Finnish Environment Centre's r/v Muikku. The ROV operator / diver Immi Wallin's vessel Yoldia was also on site.
In addition to the multibeam sonar carried out by Meritaito Oy in summer 2010, the immediate environment of the wreck was also surveyed in more detail and three-dimensional pictorial material was produced on the basis of depth data for the area.
During the first research phase, work also progressed on preparations for the exhibition "Spoil of Riches - Stories of the Vrouw Maria and the St. Michel" to run at the Maritime Museum of Finland at the Maritime Centre Vellamo in Kotka from 25 April to 2 December 2012.
The Vrouw Maria Underwater project began with a planning phase for which funding was applied for from the Ministry of Education in February 2009 in the name of the Maritime Museum of Finland's fundraising and support organisation Suomen merimuseon tuki ry. €170,000 was received in funding for the period 1 April 2009 - 31 March 2010.
During the planning phase the aims of the entire project, the budget, opportunities for creating a virtual simulation and potential partners were outlined in more detail. An inspection visit was also made to the Vrouw Maria on 20 - 24 July 2009. The dives were related to the protection and management of the wreck and the aims of the project. The research vessel was the r/v Muikku owned by the Finnish Environment Institute.
During the planning phase questions relating to any paintings which might be on the wreck, the origin of the cargo and archive sources relating to the wreck were also clarified and the text for a touring exhibition on the Vrouw Maria was written. The story of the wreck was publicised in Russia in an article in a scientific publication. A meeting was held with Russians interested in the wreck in Helsinki in November 2009. Process descriptions and a budget were drawn up for the possible raising of the wreck, its conservation and a new museum building and its maintenance, which came in at a total of €80 - 100 million.
The purpose of the international Vrouw Maria Workshop held at Suomenlinna in November 2009 was to discuss the research carried out, consider the need for further research and to discuss the future of the wreck with maritime archaeologists and conservators as well as with international experts who had carried out environmental and material analyses. The workshop also aimed to evaluate the alternative plans of the National Board of Antiquities for the future of the wreck. The event took the form of a workshop, not an open seminar for the public. Nine foreign and three Finnish experts were invited, plus the staff of the Maritime Archaeology Unit itself. Three of the invited foreign experts were unable to attend due to illness.
As a result of the workshop it can be stated that the international experts considered that the views of the National Board of Antiquities on the future of the wreck were to be recommended and that in their view too, the prime option was in situ preservation of the wreck. No-one unreservedly recommended raising the wreck as the primary option, but it was seen to have points in its favour. In considering raising the wreck, the following viewpoints should be borne in mind: should this particular wreck be raised? What would be the best way of raising the wreck? These issues are linked to the question of whether the Vrouw Maria is the wreck on which Finland wishes to focus, in other words, is the wreck sufficiently interesting? Discussions also raised the option of underwater excavations but this was found to be the most demanding alternative in terms of fieldwork.
The workshop was successful on at least three levels: 1. Discussion of the Vrouw Maria and the current plans at international level, 2. Evaluation at international level of the Vrouw Maria Underwater project, which was considered to be a good project worthy of support, 3. Presentation to the Maritime Archaeology Unit of two current projects (the Mary Rose and the Hunley).