Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wood off Shipwrecks

Reprinted with permission from Dr Lee Spence

WOOD OFF SHIPWRECKS: People are always asking me whether wood survives on shipwrecks. The answer that I always give them is "it depends" (meaning there is no easy answer). Preservation of wood depends on a wide variety of factors. They range from whether the wood is buried or exposed on the wreck, to what type of woods are involved, and even whether the wood was treated or painted before it was lost.

These two pieces of wood came off the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner Georgiana, and I brought them to surface over 40 years ago. I photographed them (earlier today) to help shown the wide range of natural preservation in wooden artifacts recovered from wrecks (and in this particular case from the same wreck).

The piece on the left is one of the handles from the captain’s wheel or helm of the steamer Georgiana. If you look carefully, you will note that one end of the handle is charred (burnt), while the rest is almost perfect. This matches with contemporary accounts, which say that after the Georgiana was wrecked she was set afire while her decks were awash. This part of the ship's wheel was obviously protected from the fire by the water.

The piece on the right is part of a crate found in the forward cargo hold of the Georgiana. It was of a softer wood and has suffered more damage.

Both pieces had been covered by mud & sand, and were thus protected from damage by sea worms (teredo navalis), which quickly destroy most exposed wood on shipwrecks.

Photo © Copyright 2014 by Dr. E. Lee Spence

You can read more about the Georgiana at

Kathy Dowsett

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