The Avondster (1659)

The Avondster was originally a British ship, captured and modified by the Dutch. After a long life span of long distance trans-oceanic voyages it was assigned to short-haul coastal runs. The vessel was 30 meters long and constructed with two decks. The Avondster was wrecked on 2nd July 1659 while anchored in the Galle harbour. The choice of the Avondster for excavation was however based mainly on the physical condition of the site rather than the identity of the ship. After the ship was discovered in 1993 the site was monitored; it became clear that the wreck was increasingly exposed through changes in the dynamics of the seabed, and it was considered important to implement a rescue archaeology project on the site to safeguard this important collection. From 2001 till the end of 2004 important sections of the ship have been excavated and conserved in-situ. logo

Under the Avondster project the Sri Lankan team of Archaeologists and Conservators were trained to implement effective and professional maritime Archaeology. The site was surveyed and recorded systematically. It was a slow process. The aim, however, was not only to survey but, it was through this process that the team was trained in different methods and theories. After the surveys and the recordings, the team was set up to do the first excavation..

Excavation on the bow area - It was decided that the bow was to be the first area to be excavated. This area was well defined and the shape of the bow provided suitable conditions to train excavation techniques as part of the training for the Sri Lankan team. The excavation lasted over 7 week.

The excavation and recording method was the use of a base line from bow togalley with 2x1 meter excavation grids at set positions along this baseline. This system is familogoliar to the land-based Sri Lankan archaeologist. Because of the shallowwater the Water Dredge systemwas used to excavate. Just underneath the protectivesand layers, a large amount of coiled ropes was discovered. In addition, a collection of pulley blocks, wheels, deadeyes and cannon balls was found. The ropes and woodenparts appeared to be well preserved but in fact were subject to damage. We had to be very careful during the recording and excavating work so as to not to harm these artefacts. The rope layers were spread all over the bow section. Further excavation was stopped at that point and the team brought the remaining artefacts to the surface after recording.

Excavation in the amidships area - This was the most important and successful excavation done on the Avondster. Beginning in the March 2002, excavation was implemented in a 4m wide amidships trench.This continued through to April 2004, in conjunction with a number of other activities. The excavation was commenced under the foreign consultation (Robert Parthesius, Karan Miller, Martijn Manders and Wendy van Duivenvoorde). However, after 2003 it was carried out and completed by the Sri Lankan team. An aluminium pole placed in a horizontally just in front of the galley was used as a control in measuring the depths of the layers, artefacts and the ship’s structure during this excavation. It was decided to carry out the excavation layer by layer, six in all, recordingthe depths and descriptions of each.logo
 
In the end the trench was extended to the starboard side, and to the area outside of the hull to find any evidence of artefact distribution. After reaching and recording the bottom of the ship the trench was reburied. A layer of plastic netting was placed over the excavation area to delineate the boundaries for future activities.

Excavation on the stern section - The excavation was carried out in November-December 2004 after recording the stern section of the wreck carefully. A 2m wide trench athwart the ships was established which ran approximately from the starboard to the port side.
The initial plan was to excavatethe trench following the structure of the wreck, but poor visibility and the risk of working on more complicated and undisturbed layers required the excavation be moved occasionally to a more trouble-free area suchas the centre of the trench. We were not able to reach the bottom and complete the excavation due to many reasons such as the lack of time and bad sea conditions. Also, it was the last fieldwork season of the project. Much rope, musket balls, wood planking and equipment were found. The team managed to get more information and have a correct idea about the ships construction.

In-situ Conservation - Thein-situ protection of archaeological objects has become an important issue over the years. The main reason for this is the necessity to protect a representative part of our cultural heritage – our past - for the future generations. At the beginning of the ‘Avondster’ project, the decision was made to safeguard the valuable archaeological information about the wreck site by excavation, preserving the recovered artefacts “ex-situ”, but leaving the wreck in-situ. Throughout the years, its wooden structure has been damaged by wood-eating organisms, erosion and also human activities such as fishing and diving. Not only the ship, but also the objects that belong to the wreck are logodeteriorating and are being moved all over the surrounding area by currants, swells and wave movement causing the loss of possible archaeological information. logo
After few experiments and attempts, a suitable solution was found and also a material to cover the wreck. It was a non-woven 100% polypropylene and 40-50% density net. Using stripes (25m x 4m) of this net, we lay them across the wreck from starboard to port side. They were placed on the wreck by using the sand bags and the edges of the each net/strips were joined by the plastic wires (Ty-raps/ Cable ties) 07 strips of these plastic nets were placed from the bow to the stern area, covering approximately 22 meters of the wreck. After monitoring the site regularly we realized that the covering was very effective, as it gathered more sand onto the wreck and held it tightly. After one year only the parts of the galley was able to see. Also it stood against the Tsunami (Dec. 2006) very well and protected the whole wreck and keeps it intact. 
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Conclusions - The excavation and the site work produced much information on the construction and the shape of the ship and the contemporary culture on-board. In the very bottom of the ship intact sections of construction timbers and artefacts were found among undisturbed contemporary sediments. As less than 30% of the Avondster site has been excavated, the site has the potential to answer future questions and reveal more information about this important phase in the Sri Lankan and Dutch history.
The hypothesis formulated in 2002 has not been supported by information revealed by subsequent surveys of excavation. The wreck leans much more on one side than was previously suspected.
The inclination of the ship was 30% to the starboard side. That means that more of the starboard side has been preserved than previously thought.
It seems likely that the account of the Avondster breaking up after it ran-ground must be referrers to the breaking of the stern post, causing the vessel to sink immediately and the disintegration of the superstructure caused by the forceful swell on shore during the S/W monsoon.
It was believed that during the sinking process, part of the ship and many artefacts would have been scattered outside the ship’s hull on the starboard side; however, the excavation of the extended amidships excavation trench does not supported that assumption.
For more details visit : www.hum.uva.nl/galle