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

1.1 Discovery, impact and preliminary survey

The Aanloop Molengat site was discovered on July 8 1984, 2.5 nautical miles west of the isle of Texel (53° 3.58’ N / 4° 39.30’ E; WGS84), in the approaches (aanloop) to the Molengat gully that leads to the Texel tidal inlet (fig. 1). When the find was reported to the authorities by Texel-based diver, salver and maritime explorer C.J. Eelman, this started a process that proved critical to the development of archaeological heritage management in Dutch waters. Policy development had been ongoing for several years, but in the absence of clarity in the relative applicability of heritage and salvage legislations, finders considered themselves keepers whatever the nature of the find, but all the more so if valuable metals were involved, as in this case. Lavish and intriguing stamps on the lead and tin ingots found in the wreck convinced the discoverers of the unique historical character of their find. It created an opportunity to settle the issue in favour of heritage policies. A decision was taken to conduct a systematic excavation and there was a political decree to stop applying salvage legislation to heritage, and instead to deploy the protective regime of the Dutch Ancient Monuments legislation both at sea and on land (Maarleveld 1993; 2006). The discovery and subsequent fieldwork and research have thus been vital for the development of underwater archaeology in the Netherlands and for the principle of authorised excavations only. Fieldwork was undertaken in close co-operation with the discoverers, whose maritime expertise and equipment were engaged. Local supporters and a large body of volunteers, wide exposure in local and national media, together with local and international exhibitions lent an air of ‘action archaeology’ to the project (Tilley 1989; Sabloff 2008; Carver 2011), which had a significant impact on perceptions of diving and heritage. It was intended as an example.


Figure 1 The location of the Aanloop Molengat site in the high-energy zone at the entry of the Texel tidal inlet (drawing: Th. Maarleveld (RCE)).

Fieldwork started in July 1985 with a first assessment of the site and the collection of data needed for the further design of the project. This included establishing a provisional rectangular grid of baselines marked by measuring poles at 3 m intervals alongside and 4 m intervals at the ends, recording overall characteristics and dimensions of visible remains, and recording the stratigraphy and the extent of find layers through coring and by excavating a trial trench.