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19.12.2012

The public seminar "From the Vrouw Maria to the Titanic - What to do with intact wrecks?"


The Vrouw Maria underwater project organised a public seminar "From the Vrouw Maria to the Titanic - What to do with intact wrecks?" on 9 - 10 November 2012 at the Maritime Centre Vellamo in Kotka. Experts from countries including the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, the UK and the US were invited to speak at the seminar. The seminar also featured several presentations on the Vrouw Maria Underwater project and its final results. The speakers examined ways of researching and accessing underwater cultural heritage.

The purpose of the seminar was to draw on international examples to spark a debate on how underwater cultural heritage should be researched and presented. These experiences can be exploited in shaping the future of the Vrouw Maria and other well-preserved historic sites in the Baltic area. The seminar languages were Finnish and English. The seminar was open to the public and free of charge. Abstracts of the presentations were distributed to those attending the seminar on registration. The publication was published in English and Finnish. The seminar was attended by approximately 130 people.

Opening speeches were given by Dutch Ambassador Henk Swarttouw, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Päivi Salonen from the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Director General of the National Board of Antiquities Juhani Kostet. The opening speeches emphasised the international nature of maritime cultural heritage and the importance of teamwork. Next the head of the project Sallamaria Tikkanen described the aims and results of the Vrouw Maria Underwater project and stated that the Vrouw Maria can be seen as combining three different storylines: the story of the archaeology/history, the story of the environment of the wreck and the story of the landscape. The project sought to increase access to the wreck through as many different means as possible, looking at all of the above angles. For example, a virtual simulation created on the basis of a scale model of the Vrouw Maria wreck enables people to explore the wreck virtually in a way that also means they can observe the landscape in which it rests.

Researcher Riikka Alvik described the research into the Vrouw Maria in 2000 - 2012 and talked about the Vrouw Maria's cargo and research into the cargo carried out as fieldwork and in the archives. Specialist researcher Hannu Matikka talked about the Vrouw Maria as a ship, including a reconstruction of what the Vrouw Maria would have looked like before she sank. Eero Ehanti's presentation was given by Riikka Alvik. This described the Dutch works of art intended for the collections of Catherine the Great which presumably sank when the Vrouw Maria was wrecked. The lost works of art included several paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Due to the paintings, an exceptionally large number of archive sources have been preserved surrounding the wreck of the Vrouw Maria. After the shipwreck a hectic diplomatic correspondence began discussing the possibility of salvaging the wreck and the paintings lost at sea.

Dutch maritime archaeologist Martijn Manders spoke about research into and the management of Dutch shipwrecks located around the world. Some of the wrecks are still owned by the Netherlands, while others - like the Vrouw Maria - belong to the country in whose waters they sank. These too, however, are considered an important part of Dutch history. The successful solution in the Vrouw Maria case was to work together on research and conservation. Russian archaeologist Petr Sorokin described how the first news of the Vrouw Maria in the Russian media appeared only years after the wreck was located. The majority of articles about the wreck date from 2007-2010 when there was debate between Russia and Finland on possibly raising it. The catalogue of old Russian wrecks includes about ten preserved wreck sites in similar condition to the Vrouw Maria which are of important historic and cultural value. The second Russian speaker, Sergey Fazlullin, described plans aiming to display twentieth century wrecks in the Black Sea to the public. It is planned to open underwater parks in the area for the approximately 30,000 divers who visit every year. People who do not dive will be able to explore the sites by submarine.

In recent years several intact wrecks dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries have been found in Sweden. The finders were professional wreck hunters motivated by an interest in history and in diving. Andreas Olsson, head of the Swedish Maritime Museum's Archaeology Unit spoke about the wreck craze in the Baltic, which has attracted widespread media attention, from the point of view of the authorities responsible for wreck conservation. The Swedish authorities do not have sufficient resources for the task and legislation is also deficient in some respects. For this reason, the authorities appear to be passive and indifferent, while wreck hunters actively launch various projects on the basis of their finds.

15 April 2012 was the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which since then has been covered by UNESCO's 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. US lawyer Ole Varmer spoke about the application of the Convention to the Titanic and also considered the in situ preservation of the wreck, the ban on salvage rights and the necessity of a permit for raising any item from the wreck. A virtual simulation is also being produced for the Titanic. In the final presentation on the Friday conservator Rami Kokko, who was involved in researching the Vrouw Maria, talked about in situ preservation, covering and restoring wrecks.

On Saturday the seminar began with Christopher Dobbs, who works at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth. Christopher Dobbs was involved in research into the Mary Rose and the raising of the ship in 1982. He emphasised that the decision as to what should be done with well-preserved wrecks has to be made by several bodies and involves a number of sectors and perspectives, including archaeology, politics, finance, museology, tourism, technology, legislation, conservation, and health and safety. He also emphasised that in the current climate the Mary Rose would probably no longer be raised, stating, however, at the same time, that the Mary Rose is important in terms of tourism and income. He considered the solutions chosen for the Vrouw Maria, of in situ conservation and presenting the wreck via a simulation, to be particularly good and bold. In 2013 a new museum building will open for the Mary Rose and Christopher Dobbs presented the plans and solutions for this. The new museum will display the preserved wreck on one side of the building with the objects found on the wreck on the other side, as if in a mirror image. He also spoke of the rich popular tradition linked to the Mary Rose, which features in cartoons and the names of restaurants.

Christopher Dobbs also described research into the wreck of the Chinese Nanhai no 1, its raising in 2007 and the display of the wreck, which he visited at the Marine Silk Route museum. The wreck is still being researched in a huge aquarium, where the water level is lowered during excavations. At the moment objects are displayed mainly as individual items in glass cases. Both of the wrecks have been flagship projects and serve as examples of how underwater cultural heritage can be presented in the 21st century. However, in these financially straitened times and with growing popularity of in situ preservation it is possible that in the future this approach will be more the exception than the rule.

Danish marine archaeologist Jørgen Dencker described research into a wreck in the Femern Belt. The wreck is possibly a Dutch ship sunk in a naval battle in 1644. The wreck has been preserved exceptionally well for Danish waters and the canons and a large number of objects have been preserved on the sea bed. The presentation of the Vrouw Maria continued with Sallamaria Tikkanen's presentation of the underwater landscape and soundscape of the wreck and the location and the space under the water. The concept of the underwater landscape was considered to bring a new and fresh approach to underwater cultural heritage.

Professor Lily Diaz from Aalto University spoke about the Vrouw Maria simulation and how it was created at Aalto University's Media laboratory. The simulation also received much positive feedback. The finder of the Vrouw Maria Rauno Koivusaari came to see the simulation and stated "this is really good". However, it is worth remembering that simulations are not capable of replacing genuine objects or wrecks themselves, but instead offer technology to present something that would not otherwise be accessible. A good wreck simulation always also requires archaeological and historical research and research into the natural conditions on site.

Ole Varmer's second presentation addressed the National Marine Sanctuaries' in situ preservation programme which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The purpose of the programme is to designate special areas in the underwater environment where the aim is to preserve natural and cultural heritage in the location in which it was found. There are currently 14 sea and lake areas protected under the programme from the State of Washington to the Florida Keys and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The programme also includes 13 national marine protection sites and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. All these sites contain cultural heritage, including hundreds of wrecks. The first protected site was the wreck of the USS Monitor which sank in the American Civil War in 1862. The aims of the programme also include increasing the accessibility of the sites, including providing anchoring buoys, underwater cultural trails and by developing teaching materials.

The final talk in the seminar was given by maritime archaeologist Niklas Eriksson who described the wrecks of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch fluyts and the use of space in them. The fluyts epitomised the Dutch maritime trade in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The fluyts also describes Dutch urbanism, the same features can be found in the ships as in the architecture of Dutch cities. The fluyts moved from one port to the next describing a particular Dutch ideology and attitude to trading. Eriksson also asked how the ships influenced people.

During the seminar there was active discussion on the need to train divers, improving cooperation between authorities, universities and wreck hunters and improving access to the sites, partly through anchoring buoys and underwater parks. The divers also considered "self regulation" to be important. The protection of underwater cultural heritage is an issue that affects the whole of society and as the number of wreck finds increases, the important question is how we manage cultural heritage such that it enables the long-term preservation of underwater cultural heritage in the Baltic Sea.

At the end of the seminar it was possible for attendees to have a guided tour of the "Lost at sea - the story of the Vrouw Maria and the St. Mikael" exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Finland. The exhibition also includes the simulation of the Vrouw Maria.