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
1 The Aanloop Molengat site, research history and techniques

1.2 The site and its main characteristics

The site lies in 16 m of water in a dynamic sand-rich offshore area with significant changes in sediment cover. It is a high-energy zone that is subject to annual changes in the coastal slope just outside the ebb-tidal delta of the Texel inlet (Sha 1990). Seas build up easily due to long fetch for all directions between south, west and north-northeast. Nevertheless, the general appearance of the site is that of a consolidated ‘wreck’ mound in the sense of Frost’s (1962) description of amphora sites in the sediment-lean Mediterranean. This is due to the fact that remains rest on a hard glacial till, which they could not sink into and which was resistant to the scouring that normally occurs around a wreck site in a dynamic sandy environment. The ship sits almost upright and the lower hull is kept in place by the heavy cargo, whereas the sides have been destroyed by biological processes. The fact that the top of the wreck mound consisted of lighter cargo material, packages of leather that were only partly abraded and degraded on discovery probably means that the process of site formation has been an intermittent one, interrupted by long intervals of sand cover. It is assumed that the process of abrasion had just restarted when material was caught in trawling nets in 1984 and discovery ensued. It remains unclear how much of the lighter cargo is missing.

The upper works of the ship are absent. Its remains are likely to have spread over a considerable area. No secondary site was discovered in the vicinity. Apart from a number of heavy, cast-iron gun barrels, the excavation produced few artefacts other than cargo material.

The wreck mound extends over approximately 27 x 9 m and is oriented northwest-southeast. The associated find layer extends somewhat further and was eventually examined over an area of 33 x 13 m (fig. 2 HyperLink Drawing. During the first observations, the bales of leather, or rather the smoothly rounded surface of the abraded vertically placed sheets, were conspicuous at the top (fig. 3). They were firmly concreted to a layer of wrought-iron bars running parallel to them below. Immediately southeast of these, but still on the wrought-iron, rested a tier of broken barrels containing rolls of tin. Lead ingots could be observed below the iron bars. To the northwest of the leather packages, but also on top of the iron bars, rows of cases were in evidence through the cubic concretions of their contents, notably cast-iron cannon balls of various sizes.


Figure 2 Aanloop Molengat site plan. The extended version includes find numbers, measuring points and excavation grid. The 1985 trial trench is not indicated. It is 1 m wide and runs parallel underneath the top girder of the frame. The plan was drawn on the basis of vertical and oblique photographs, sketches and direct measurements. For simplification the material removed before 1991, including two canon, tin rolls and bales of leather removed are not shown in this overview (drawing: A. Overmeer/A.Vos (RCE)).

A geological profile, cored perpendicular to the main axis of the wreck mound, shows a slight depression in the underlying till and a contaminated layer sharply wedging out away from the mound. It extends slightly more to the east than to the exposed west (fig. 4). A metre-wide trial trench excavated to check the extent of the find layer along the southwestern side produced a limited number of small finds. Hand-drawn profiles and descriptions show the top of the till to be irregularly eroded. It dates to the Drenthe phase of the Saalian glaciation (laagpakket van Gieten), also known as the Borkumriff Formation (Laban 1995). The contaminated find layer is well-sorted, with coarse shingle (and small finds) occurring only in its lower part (and pockets) (fig. 5). This is as much a product of natural reworking as of the repeated removal of topsoil before actual excavation could continue.


Figure 3 Tin rolls and leather in situ. The head of the barrel in which the tin rolls rests can be seen just in front of the leather sheets in the background. The packing of the bales has gone, but their even end is clearly visible. The leather sheets are vertically placed and only slightly abraded at the top (photo: A. Vos (RCE)).


Figure 4 Cross-section on the basis of 1985 observations and coring (drawing: Th. Maarleveld adapted by P. Kleij (RCE)).


Figure 5 A sketch characterizing the find layer in profile in excavation away from the wreck-mound (from: Dive „report Seweryn 20-07-1991).