Tree rings help explain the secrets of Dutch maritime rule in the 17th century

Many Dutch ships crossed the west coast of Australia on their way to South East Asia in the 1600s – and one ship in particular was exposed to the Western Australia Museum revealed through its woods the history of shipbuilding materials that allowed the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to flourish against big European rivals for the first time.

Built in Amsterdam in 1626-1628 and wrecked on her maiden voyage in June 1629 on Morning reef disabled Beacon Island (Houtman Abrolhos archipelago), the Batavia embodies Dutch East India Company shipbuilding at its best, experts revealed this week in a study conducted by Flinders University archaeologist and associate professor Wendy van Duivenvoorde with the co-authors Associate Professor Aoife Daly of University of copenhagen and research associate Marta Dominguez-Delmas of University of Amsterdam.

According to van Duivenvoorde:

“The use of wind-powered sawmills became common in the Dutch Republic around the mid-17th century, allowing the Dutch to produce an unprecedented number of ocean-going vessels for long-distance travel and inter-regional trade in Asia, but how have they organized? the offer of such an intensive shipbuilding activity? The Dutch Republic and its hinterland certainly lacked national resources.

Thorough sampling of the from Batavia hullwood, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, offers a piece of the puzzle of early 17th century Dutch shipbuilding and global shipping that was still missing.

Little is known about the wooden materials that enabled the Dutch to build their ocean-going ships and dominate international trade against competitors in France, Portugal and mainland Europe.

Dominguez Delmas Explain :

“Oak was the material of choice for shipbuilding in northern and western Europe, and maritime nations struggled to ensure sufficient supplies to meet their needs and support their ever-growing fleets. Our results show that VOC was successful in coping with wood shortages in the early 17th century through the diversification of wood sources.

Fortunately, the from Batavia The remains were brought up in the 1970s and are on display at the Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle.

Cross section of an oak hull board from the Batavia ship of 1629 showing its rings. This sample was taken from a loose hull board in 2007 before the research team came up with a much less destructive sampling method (Image credit: Patrick E. Baker, Western Australian Museum).

This allowed archaeologists and dendrochronologists to undertake the sampling and analysis of the woods in the hull.

Aoife Dalyou say :

“The preference for specific wood products from selected regions demonstrates that the choice of wood was far from arbitrary. Our results illustrate the variety of wood sources supplying the VOC Amsterdam shipyard in the 1620s and demonstrate the builders’ careful selection of wood and their craftsmanship.

(Featured image credit: Patrick E. Baker, Western Australian Museum)


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