Monday, August 15, 2011

You may find this book hard to come by, but if you are in heritage education the quest to get Shipwreck by Claire Aston with illustrations by Peter Dennis will well be worth your trouble. The book follows a Spanish shipwreck from construction to its demise, rediscovery, and ultimate ending of a maritime heritage museum. Let’s
crack it open for a closer look.

First, I LOVE that the book begins where maritime research begins: boat construction. Before you have a shipwreck, you have to have a ship. And to understand what kind of ship you have, you must understand ship construction and diagnostic markers of the craft. In classrooms I point out the parts of the ship archaeologists will be more likely to come across: planks, frames, keel if they’re lucky.

The ship is loaded, sets out and is attacked by pirates. Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking…you had me until pirates.  I use the images as an opportunity to show how the material culture is the same between the two sides of the battle. How could an archaeologist ever know if they have evidence of a pirate? What are the ways shipwrecks can be identified down to the vessel name?

My second favorite illustration that sets this book apart--they included the salvaging of gold and cargo in historic times. A great real life example to use is the Urca de Lima (see below right).  After the vessel was grounded in a storm in 1715, the Spanish returned to burn the hull and recover cargo, including a private chest of silver.  Part of debunking the idea that all shipwrecks have treasure is to demonstrate the wide array of use of ships and to point out that treasure precious enough for us to recover in our own time was certainly worth it to the Spanish to recover back then.

This shipwreck story has an unbelievably happy ending. It is rediscovered by sport divers and eventually an archaeological unit is brought in to properly excavate the site. Information from the wreck is used to create a replica and outdoor museum where the public can go and learn about the history of the ship and those who worked on board. There’s only a handful of wrecks that have experienced such a success. The Vasa and King Henry XIII's Mary Rose come to mind. But this is the goal--to discover and share significant sites with the public.

The book is comparable to Discovery Kids' series that includes A Street Through Time, A City Through Time, and A Port Through Time.  They’re all good for showing change in landscapes over time but lack the archaeological component in Shipwreck.  In the credits Dr. Lucy Blue at the Centre for Maritime Archaeology is cited as the consultant.  The information presumably gain from Dr. Blue comes through in both the text and illustration.

Beautiful illustrations by Peter Dennis.

Shipwreck [Fast Forward (Barron's)] 2001 by Claire Aston and Peter Dennis.

There are 6 (SIX) available on Amazon or you can look around for a used copy.

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