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Time Salvaged from the Sea
Museu Nacional de Arqueologia



The SEA, an ever-present resource in the Portuguese collective history, was chosen once again, at the start of this century, to serve a national purpose, emerging alongside a broad public debate on the need to create a national strategy that is based, for example, on the attainment of international recognition for the extension of the Portuguese continental shelf. In this context, the field of archaeology certainly makes an important contribution towards this debate in selecting an exhibition that includes mostly objects recovered from the bottom of the sea – a mysterious and inaccessible environment for most people, but one in which abundant evidence of stories of bygone times and of many people can be found, almost always in association with tragic maritime events -, while also drawing the attention of society to an important part of their heritage, which deserves to be known and safeguarded. In the exhibition Time salvaged from the sea, we present the main results of nautical and underwater archaeological activity undertaken in Portugal approximately over the last thirty years.

In the early 1980s, this scientific activity and the National Museum of Archaeology crossed paths, creating a line of research that contributed towards the subsequent organic and legal structuring of this activity, which began to rely on methods and techniques that are specific to archaeology. In regard to this initiative, we must highlight the important contribution of Francisco J. S. Alves, who was responsible for the development of pioneering research projects in this field while he was the director of the National Museum of Archaeology, namely from 1980 to 1996.

This exhibition includes a selection of objects recovered from marine, river or wet environments from all over Portugal, ranging in date from pre-Roman times to the twentieth century. However, most of these belong to the Modern Era, given that the large number of recorded shipwrecks has meant that research has specifically focused on some of these. The main objective of the scientific committee was to present archaeological contexts or to describe sites along the Portuguese coastline at which significant evidence has repeatedly been recovered, pointing towards the likely existence of well-preserved contexts or showing their importance in connection with navigation routes. Isolated finds, when relevant, have also been acknowledged.

Naturally, an exhibition on this scale was only made possible due to a series of committed internal and external collaborations, which came together harmoniously in the course of this process.

Amongst the many participants in this close collaboration between several institutions, one should note in particular that of the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQUA), in Cartagena.

We would like to thank in particular D. Xavier Nieto Prieto, former director of Arqua, who generously and hastily accepted and, along with the team of conservators working at this Laboratory (ARQUATEC), was responsible for the treatment of an impressive assemblage of Portuguese objects displayed in this exhibition, the most remarkable of these being the so-called dug-out canoe n.º 2 from the Lima River. At national level, within the tutelage of cultural heritage, Nautical and Underwater Archaeology is currently included in the Department of Cultural Property. The latter is responsible for the management of most collections of significant value and interest displayed in the present exhibition – which includes some objects that have never been on public display before – and the technical unit was responsible for the essential, delicate and permanent conservation and restoration of the entire collection of objects chosen for display. The preparation of this exhibition also provided a new opportunity for entering information into Matriz concerning objects which are under the guardianship of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage. It was agreed that, hereafter, all this information about nautical and underwater assets will be made available to all interested parties on this system for the online inventory, management and dissemination of Cultural and Natural Heritage. The collaboration of the José de Figueiredo Laboratory was essential for performing the radiographic examination of two major objects included in this exhibition, as was that of the nearby Maritime Museum. The workshops of the latter produced a replica of the stern knee of the Corpo Santo ship based on information provided by field records, which was made specifically for this exhibition by veritable masters.

We would also like to note the collaboration of several municipal museums, which also belong to the Portuguese Network of Museums, who have kindly loaned some objects for display.

The circulation of objects between institutions was assured by the generous support of Lusitania Insurance Company, a regular institutional patron of the national cultural heritage. Significant archaeological discoveries were made while this exhibition was in preparation, mostly in riverside areas of Lisbon. Although we have not been able to include objects found in these areas in this exhibition, due to time and technical constraints, this topic is nevertheless, and whenever possible, discussed in specific articles included in the catalogue, thereby providing up-to-date information on a subject that understandably arouses ample curiosity and interest.

This catalogue not only contains the usual record of the objects in the exhibition but actually provides a repository of contextualizing texts authored by some of the leading experts in the field, who tried to select and organize essential information systematically from the extensive existing information on this topic. Here we must highlight the partnership established with the Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, which has once again participated in a project of the National Museum of Archaeology. We are grateful for their trust and support in the preparation of this catalogue as well as other texts, namely a bilingual brochure and an educational activity book.

The exhibition program was devised by Adolfo Silveira Martins, the scientific curator. The resulting scenographic museographic project, which appeals to the senses while emphasizing the monumentality of the exhibition’s setting, was developed by Maria Manuela Fernandes and materialized graphically by the creative team of the FBA studio, the art of Ana Sabino. Their intense dialogue was always followed by Maria Amélia Fernandes, who also shared responsibility in coordinating.

This exhibition has also come to fruition, in particular, due to the small and cohesive team formed by the National Museum of Archaeology, the Underwater Archaeology sector and other services of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, which has provided the necessary technical and human skills for accomplishing the various types of work involved in this project.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to Isabel Cordeiro, then Director-General of the Cultural Heritage, by acknowledging the fact that it was a privilege to share the path that led to the realization of Time Salvaged from the Sea.

Lisbon, February 10th, 2014

António Carvalho Director of the National Museum of Archaeology

«Time Salvaged from the Sea» is the title of the exhibition that evokes the history of nautical and underwater archaeology in Portugal, which is included in the program for the 120th Anniversary celebrations of the founding of the National Museum of Archaeology, in 1893. This museum thus accomplishes one of its goals as an institution devoted to the study and dissemination of archaeological collections, and also as a precursor of nautical and underwater archaeology in Portugal during the last decades of the twentieth century.

The National Museum of Archaeology is currently under the auspices of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage (DGPC), as is the National Centre for Nautical and Underwater Archaeology (CNANS), and both institutions have joined forces in order to bring to light the last 30 years of research conducted in this discipline, almost exclusively with recourse to collections that have not yet been on public display.

This exhibition proposes a journey through time, and every step is taken with a view to reconstructing contexts and piecing together the evidence that has been hidden under the sea for centuries. «Time capsules» now emerging to retrieve this maritime memory that belongs to all of us.

Thirty years of actual archaeological fieldwork conducted in Portuguese waters, would necessarily suggest that interventions were made at various sites and the existence of a well-established course of research. Nevertheless, unknown fragments of the territory will continue to be identified, as still happens today and will continue in future generations, bringing more knowledge to this intimate and centuries-old connection with the sea.

In light of the chronological and typological diversity of the collections, we have chosen to exhibit not only the most representative and unique assemblages for each period, but also those that have been studied and have therefore provided further insight into our history. We have established a time-frame from pre-Roman times to the Contemporary Period, providing an interpretation that not only indicates the importance of an object as an underwater find, but that, above all, allows the visitor to become familiar with the archaeological unit that represents all aspects of the site and how these are interdependent in the transmission of knowledge.

Evidence of each shipwreck is displayed as a whole reflecting an accident, a misfortune, whose remains are exhibited in order to tell us, today, when, how and why it happened. Each unit is illustrated with images in order to demonstrate how excavation and salvage work is conducted. The idea of recovering submerged objects arbitrarily, or a “treasure hunt”, is thus demystified and we provide examples of the methods and techniques of archaeological excavation, which must be undertaken by duly qualified experts. As visitors will probably already be familiar with archaeological work conducted on land, they now have the opportunity to see how it is conducted at sea.

The exhibition begins with a display of finds from Antiquity. Although we have yet to find a structure that could be more representative of a ship of the time, we still present evidence that shows such ships travelled along the coast, mainly in the form of amphorae that carried different products and anchor stocks, amongst several other types of maritime artefacts or objects lost at sea.

The dynamics of harbours and the numerous remains this left behind, namely those recently discovered on the Lisbon seashore, as shown by excavations conducted along the Avenida 24 de Julho all the way to Cais do Sodré, namely at Largo do Corpo Santo, Boavista and Largo D. Luis I, have shed new light on the city as it was before the earthquake of 1755. The extensive archaeological excavations undertaken in the Ria de Aveiro have also yielded evidence from Medieval and Modern times. Special emphasis has also been placed on the study of remains from harbour contexts and three shipwreck sites, which reflect maritime trade activities in the region of Aveiro, as well as trade and navigation along the Portuguese coast. The remains of the wreckage of approximately ten ships dating from the 16th century onwards, found in the bay of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores Islands, at an anchorage site which was a port of call for ocean routes, are currently being studied. Some of these have yielded particularly important information concerning Iberian ship building techniques.

S. Julião da Barra, near Lisbon, is a world-renowned location for accidents due to its natural setting and geostrategic location on the Tagus River bar. It is therefore a complex underwater archaeological site displaying great cultural diversity. The chronological range of the shipwrecks recovered at this site spans a period from the early sixteenth century to the present day. Since disturbance is frequently caused by currents, winds and shallow depth, this is one of the most difficult sites to interpret given the dynamics of soil movements. However, the wreckage of a ship from the Orient was identified at this site, presumed to be the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, which sunk in 1606. The remains recovered from this site were used as a theme for the Portugal Pavilion exhibition during Expo’98, as part of a broader project on the India run (Carreira da Índia).

Thousands of artefacts reflecting different cultural origins were identified as well as a small part of the hull which has been the subject of thorough study and reconstruction. Three astrolabes, which are included among the navigation objects on display in the exhibition and are presented in the catalogue, were also recovered at this site.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the most representative finds include the remains of an alleged British ship, shipwrecked along the Algarve coast, carrying on board a large number of pewter plates from Cornwall; the set of guns from Ponta do Altar, as exemplified by the culverin on display; various artefacts from Baleal Beach, in Peniche and the artefact assemblage recovered from the rugged Cape Raso, in Cascais.

The first excavation conducted entirely under water in Portugal dates to the early 1980s. This was the excavation of the remains of the French ship L'Océan, which sunk just off Salema beach, in the Algarve. When written documents were compared with material evidence, we were able to reconstruct one of the episodes that marked eighteenth century military maritime history in the context of the Seven Years War. When the Spanish ship San Pedro de Alcantara sunk in Papoa, in Peniche, economic implications were felt across Western Europe and hundreds of crew and passengers lost their lives. This is a good example of a combined archaeological and historical interpretation approach, as excavation and documentary research paved the way for a complex research project that contextualized and shed light on the events that took place and had implications across Europe, and, in particular, had a strong influence on the course of the history of this region. Finally we reach the Contemporary period, as attested by the remains of a ship sunk during World War II.

We have therefore included many periods in a single timeline, and we have salvaged knowledge based on the research of several teams working in the field of nautical and underwater archaeology. We have discovered more about ourselves and also about those who have passed by, and we have revealed a little more about our history.

As the DGPC found favourable conditions for staging this exhibition, a team of experts was invited to author the first part of this publication, with a view to updating current knowledge and disseminating information on this subject, while creating a publication that is also intended as a reference for teaching and research.

All the periods and themes represented in the sequence of the exhibition are thoroughly discussed adopting a scientific approach, while using plain language which is easily accessible to the visiting general public. The objects on display are presented in the catalogue, organized chronologically into archaeological sites, each of these being preceded by a brief note indicating the identification and description of the place of provenance.

Several initiatives will be in place during the course of this exhibition, including educational events for children, such as the publication of a children’s guidebook, as well as workshops, lectures by national and international experts, scientific conferences, planned external trips and other activities associated with intervention at and the dissemination, safeguard and protection of underwater and coastal archaeological sites.

The present exhibition, the first exhibition to feature a global perspective on nautical and underwater archaeology in Portugal, has also come to fruition due to an exemplary collaboration between different partnerships established in order to meet technical and logistical requirements.

The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Cartagena, Spain, offered to conduct the lyophilisation treatment of the two dugout canoes and other wooden artefacts. The Municipality of Cascais and Abreu Cargo were responsible for transportation between Portugal and Spain. El Corte Inglés and Fundación Ramón Areces sponsored the first revision of the edited texts and Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda the final proof-reading, the publication of the catalogue, the promotional brochure and the children’s guidebook. We are also grateful for the collaboration of the authors and translators mentioned in the catalogue. Moreover, this project was made possible due to the commitment of the DGPC teams as a result of a close institutional collaboration between the National Museum of Archaeology, the Department of Cultural Property, CNANS, the José de Figueiredo Laboratory Division, the Photographic Archive and other entities within the DGPC.

While preparing this exhibition and on taking a closer look at archaeological activities undertaken in Portugal, in spite of the numerous accomplishments and the establishment of this science, we cannot help but think of the difficult situation we are experiencing today. In spite of the fact that limited financial resources are available at present, the continuity and establishment of nautical and underwater archaeology in Portugal may nevertheless be assured if the new opportunities and challenges that arise are aligned with this new reality.

Adolfo Silveira Martins Scientific Curator

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