Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-1 (October 2012)Thijs Maarleveld; Alice Overmeer: Aanloop Molengat – Maritime archaeology and intermediate trade during the Thirty Years’ War1

4 Discussion: interpretation, historical context and meaning

4.1 Date of cargo and shipwreck

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Apart from the later intrusions, the assemblage should be regarded as a closed find, contemporaneous to the day that the ship went down. Despite the dynamic environment which caused the remains to be found uncovered or encapsulated in loosely shifting sands, there is strong unity and a strong correlation between the finds in the articulated wreck mound and those that were found in excavation. There is very little in the way of contamination and later intrusions. Parts of the cargo include dating clues, and other parts are dated accordingly.

The stamps on the lead from the Olkusz region include numbers, but cannot be linked to a date. The lavish presence of the marks of hooks or lifting thongs could indicate prolonged circulation, including repeated handling and warehousing as opposed to rapid delivery, but there is no benchmark for the number of actions involved in handling and transportation. For the iron bars and their industrial production, the date of other materials must be conclusive. Indications are more direct regarding the tin from the Erzgebirge. Many of the stamps have dates. They range from 1556 to 1630 and are related to the establishment of the mining venture and of quality patents under the patronage of the Habsburg Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors Ferdinand I and Rudolf II. The tin rolls were repacked in barrels at an intermediate stage and an extended period of warehousing and circulation before packing and use cannot be ruled out. Their final shipping was not before 1630, however.

The leather is dated by means of the other categories. It is unlikely to have been in circulation very long. Dated in the same way are its production according to various cultural traditions in dispersed small-scale tanneries and its lumping in bales of uniform composition of nevertheless varying quality – processes that were probably directed by a middleman. This also applies to the shipment of mercury in square bottles, to the brass wire pins with twisted heads, the ivory, pepper, shot and miscellaneous cargo. The armament and inventory are poorly conclusive, although the cast-iron cannon are assumed to be typical of the 1630s. The only two categories that add to the dating are the ship itself and the textiles as attested by the lead cloth seals.

A sample of the keel has a total of 148 rings, with no sapwood rings present. Dendrochronologically, the rings are dated to the years AD 1465 to 1612, with the best fit on the Westphalia curve (GL=67.3; t= 7.43; p= >99. 9%; Jansma & Spoor 1991). The tree was certainly felled after AD 1612. The absence of sapwood does imply, however, that an unknown number of missing rings must be added. In response to a tendency to make low estimates, Jansma (1995) developed rules of thumb for correction, and in applying these Jansma & Spoor (1991) posit that the tree was felled after AD 1632 ± 6. The correction rules are not written in stone, however, and although a felling date late in the first half of the 17th century would be consistent with the analysis, a felling date in the 1620s is equally plausible. Dendrochronology, dendrochronological provenancing and its application in ship research have continued to develop over the last 20 years (Daly 2007; Nayling 2008), and it is regrettable that only one sample was taken.

The lead cloth seals are deemed highly relevant to dating the wreck. For one thing, the only and recurring date is the Leiden production date of 1635 (fig. 43). For another, the detailed studies of the industries in Hondschoote (Coornaert 1930) and Leiden (Posthumus 1939) show that both centres increased capacity during this period to meet immediate demand. It is improbable that the expensive high-quality sayes were stored in the production centres for any substantial period of time.

In conclusion, we assume that the ship was built in the 1620s or early 1630s. It was laden in 1635 at the earliest, or quite shortly afterwards. A date for the wreck between 1635 and 1640 is the most plausible.


Figure 43 Drawing of a lead cloth seal from Leiden with the year 1635 at the reverse (drawing: M. Manders (RCE)).

4.2 Provenance

The provenance of the ship is indicated by the provenance of the keel. Westphalia (and northern Germany in general) was one of the regular timber sources for shipbuilding in the northern Dutch Republic (Maarleveld et al. 1994; Lemée 2006, 218, 256). The few observations on the hull itself are consistent with Dutch construction. When we convert the cargo’s encountered weight (550 to 600 tons) to 17th-century lasten of around 1975 kg (Hoving 1994, 40), it is 280 to 303 last. Although the relationship between length, beam and carrying capacity is problematic, it would fit a Dutch ship with a length of 37 m and a beam of 9 m (Hoving 1994, Tabel I). Witsen (1671, 100) gives a tableer for ships of 130 feet[11] (36.79 m) and a width of 34 ft. (9.62 m), in which the keel length is 95 ft (26.88 m), which is the minimum keel length fitting the Aanloop Molengat remains. For their keel he prescribes two or three pieces of sound wood from Wesel on the border of Westphalia, 21 inches (53 cm) square in the middle, tapering to 15 inches (38 cm) in depth at the end. Narrower ships would be longer for the same capacity. The scantlings of the keel would equally be 21 inches (Witsen 1671, 72).

All in all there is good reason to assume that the ship was built in Holland. Nevertheless, construction in the northern German coastal area, which is underrepresented in the archaeological record (Maarleveld 1992; Stanek 2011), cannot be ruled out, even though a ship of 280 last at the very least is awkwardly large for the harbours on the Ems, Weser or Elbe.

4.3 Political context

The production year of the Leiden cloth, 1635, saw pertinent changes in European political relations. The economy in the Dutch Republic was booming, but the Eighty Years’ War with Spain was far from over. Peace-oriented and military factions competed for control (Israel 1995). In central Europe the multifaceted troubles and military campaigns that had raged since the Bohemian rebellion of 1618 and that are commonly denoted as the Thirty Years’ War entered a new phase as alliances were restructured in the aftermath of the battle of Nördlingen (6 September 1634), where imperial troops gained the upper hand over Swedish and Protestant forces. The Peace of Prague, concluded in May 1635, brought temporary stability between the Catholic Habsburg Empire and Saxony, one of the leading Protestant states in Germany. It isolated Sweden and benefited Imperial and Spanish troops. France renewed its treaty with Sweden, campaigned in Italy, intensified its intervention on the central European scene and formally entered the war (Pagès 1972). Moreover, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to wage simultaneous military campaigns in order to rid the southern Netherlands of Spanish rule. In May 1635, France declared war on Spain (Israel 1995). The treaty that the States-General and the French political leader Richelieu agreed in February 1635 saw to the partition of Flanders and the other southern provinces along predetermined lines, which has been the object of much contention in the historiography of the Netherlands.

It is thus in a climate of war, shifting alliances and troubled international politics that the Aanloop Molengat cargo was laden and lost. The military and political balance of power would keep the wars raging and intensifying on land and at sea for more than another decade until the Peace of Westphalia was concluded in Münster in 1648. It is almost inconceivable that the assemblage postdates that event.

4.4 Location, economic context, route and destination

The location in the approaches of the Molengat channel into the Texel roads means that the ship was outward or inward bound. It is unlikely that it was just passing. The heavy iron cargo was probably sourced from Sweden or from Nuremberg through Hamburg. The lead is assumed to have come through the Baltic port of Danzig, the tin through Hamburg. Mercury, iron nails and cannonballs have various provenances, but like ivory, pepper, leather and brass pins, they may well have been sourced through the markets centring on Amsterdam. This is true for the heavy metals as well. For the luxury cloth, it is certain that it was an export product of the Low Countries and it is very unlikely to have been brought back into the country. We must therefore assume that we are dealing with a Dutch vessel, sailing from the Republic with a cargo loaded there, but where to and for what purpose?

Despite the uncertain international relations, the 1630s and 1640s were a period of continued economic growth and integration. In the Dutch Republic, shipping, shipbuilding, manufacture, industrial production and trade, the sectors that the Aanloop Molengat assemblage informs us about, continued to grow in unprecedented fashion (de Vries & van der Woude 1995). The Holland staple traded in almost any goods and commodities in every possible direction. Ships of more than 300 last, laden with valuable and heavy cargo, are no exception, but they were generally confined to specific routes – the East and West Indies and the Mediterranean (Table 1).

Hier Table Maarleveld

[ *image not found: m0401a04:TAB7 ]

Contingencies relating to the international situation had both a negative and positive impact on trade, but also prompted deviations from established trading patterns. Incidental price advantages and the need to ballast ships did lead to counterintuitive movements of goods. Heavy cargoes were suitable ballast, even if they did not fetch a higher price at destination than at departure. Outgoing voyages ‘in ballast’ were standard practice in the East and West India Companies, but also on routes to the Baltic. The Sound toll register for the year 1635 and onwards list many Dutch vessels travelling ‘east’ with heavy cargo. Among the 71 sailings in 1646 there are two whose cargoes closely resemble Aanloop Molengat in that they combined ivory, steel, mercury, tin, nails and pins (Bang & Korst 1906-1933). The skippers are listed as coming from Terschelling and Vlieland and it is likely that the entries represent a coordinated shipment. After all, it was good practice for merchants to spread risks by dividing their shipmentsover several vessels. Most certainly, however, it indicates that such commodities were transported along this route. Would the Aanloop Molengat cargo be similarly destined? It is not impossible. On the other hand, Baltic traders generally clustered at around 100-150 last. Ships of 250 last would still engage in this trade, but a ship of more than 300 last is hardly conceivable. The size of our vessel makes it unlikely that it was outward bound on this route.

Another possibility is that it was an East Indiaman, which certainly could have matched the dimensions. Most of the cargo that was found could be taken to Asia, and the absence of a single company stamp on any of the find material would be remarkable, but not conclusive. The VOC was a very bureaucratic organisation, however, with detailed administration of what was required and what was lost. The only outgoing vessel that was lost in the area in the relevant time bracket is the Rob or Zeerobbe that wrecked in a storm when ready to leave Texel on January 5, 1640 (Bruijn et al. 1979). Interestingly, the wealth of archaeological sites in the Texel roads proffers other candidates for this identification. A very large contemporaneous wreck on the Burgzand, BZN 3, has provisionally been presented as such, although the find assemblage and archival research did not provide definite proof (van den Akker 2007, 16; Vos 2012).

All in all, it is more probable that the ship was a straatvaarder engaged in trade through the straits of Gibraltar. These ships were well-armed and of considerable size. They engaged in a tramping trade and while sailing ‘west’ would not necessarily directly load a cargo destined for a Mediterranean port. If commercially attractive, they would stop in France, Spain or Portugal, enemy territory or not.

A secondary source, the Chronyk van de Stad Medenblik, published by Dirk Burger van Schoorel in 1710, informs us of a southwesterly gale that wrecked dozens of ships off Texel during the moonless night of November 3, 1638 (Buisman 2000, 448). The account is consistent with Gotfridus’ chronicle of 1660 (Gottschalk 1977, 133). Two of the ships were from Hoorn; they were returning from Brazil with sugar and were 200 and 250 last respectively. A third ship that is explicitly mentioned is a straatvaarder from Enkhuizen. No other details are given, but the total loss, apparently comprising another 32 (smaller?) vessels, was valued at the substantial sum of 10 tons of gold. It is quite possible that it included the material discovered at Aanloop Molengat. A systematic study of local archives and newspaper reports on post-medieval ship losses may shed more light on this in the future (cf. Hell & Gijsbers 2012).

4.5 Significance and further avenues of research

The Aanloop Molengat discovery and project perfectly illustrate the diversity of heritage significance at different levels and in different contexts. Significance is not a static fact. There are many contingencies that determine whether it is created at all (Maarleveld 2010). In the exploration of new environments, such as the North Sea bottom, or new types of archaeological sites, such as early modern ships, significance and its development are highly dependent on popular images of what an explorer is meant to explore (Eelman 1986; Maarleveld 2007; Holtorf 2007). But there are intrinsic factors as well. They need to be recognised early on, preferably by the discoverers, but can develop only through research.

The significance of the individual find categories lies in what they contribute to the quantitative and technological study of production processes in the early modern world. Half-finished and intermediate products stand out, as these are not normally available for study. The assemblage as a whole represents an accidental cross-section of industries, each with their own structure and scale. The sectors range from the culturally diverse rural livestock processing and primary tanning, to the urban domestic industry of pin-making, large government-controlled mining operations, early modern steel production and the modernised urban cloth industry. At the micro-level, material studies of these tangible shipments help to unravel what has been called the chaîne opératoire both technologically and in terms of social organisation (Lemonnier 2002). For some of the materials presented, such as the iron bars, this approach can be further elaborated.

The combined cargo, its packing and composition contribute to our understanding of distribution and routes, the organisation of intermediate trade, stocking, warehousing and stapling. It is obvious that only a selection of related questions is addressed here. Analysis of the plethora of merchant marks on ingots and the body of lead cloth seals that are tentatively attributed to merchant houses is just one aspect that calls for further scrutiny.

In its intricate detail the material approach of the archaeological Aanloop Molengat project is a relevant complement to the analyses of socioeconomic historians such as Posthumus, Coornaert and others in the Annales School, and the synthesising work of De Vries & Van der Woude (1995) on the economic development of the Dutch Republic. It is equally obvious that such detailed work informs the conceptualisation at the macro-level of narratives on social change, on the development of the modern world and on any competitive technological edge on the part of the West (Vries 1995; Pomeranz 2000; Palumbo-Liu 2011). A condition for this significance is the accessibility of the source material in the context of its assessment and analysis, which is what the present overview of primary data and underlying analyses is attempting to achieve.

If we apply the Annales School’s classical division of time, the significance of the Aanloop Molengat assemblage as presented above is mostly at the longue durée pace of time of very slowly changing structures and the cyclical pace of the upswinging economy. This also applies to the study of ship structure. Despite rudimentary plans to cut out and lift a section, the ship itself did not become a priority in the Aanloop Molengat project. Nevertheless, construction is discussed at some length, as it complements ongoing discourses in ship-archaeological research.

At the more contingent level of histoire événementielle, significance could lie in the direct identification of shipment by an individual merchant, presently concealed behind one of the many individual merchant marks and cloth seal tags. It can also lie in the development of an explanation for the wrecked cargo as such. Although somewhat remote from the general strength of archaeological information, it could for instance be interesting to pursue and test the hypothesis that the heavy cargo in this large ship was destined for France, or more specifically, for its armies. Richelieu faced constant problems of supply and it is not inconceivable that overtly or not, his accord with the Dutch Republic’s governors, who were all in one way or other closely connected with maritime trade, would have included the supply of iron, lead, leather, cloth and ammunition, adorned with some ivory and purple cloth .... It is an aspect that could well have been neglected in both Dutch and French historiography.

The significance of the Aanloop Molengat project for the development of underwater archaeology is another aspect altogether. Methodological choices and pioneering have widened the scope of fieldwork experience in the Netherlands and beyond, thanks to broad international involvement. Technical possibilities and impossibilities, strengths and weaknesses of mixed teams, successes and failures in photo documentation were all part of this. The pivotal role of the discovery of the site and subsequent decisions in setting the course for the legal protection of underwater cultural heritage is a certainty that adds to its significance in terms of the history of the discipline.