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The Ship That Didn’t Rot

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    Archaeologists carefully examine the remains of a 16th-century ship found at a quarry. (© Wessex Archaeology)
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    Researchers made a 3-D model of the part of the ship that was discovered. (© Wessex Archaeology)
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    A scientist scans the ship. He uses a laser. (© Wessex Archaeology)
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    Wet sand and dirt kept the ship in good shape. (© Wessex Archaeology)
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    A scientist works on the ship. After the scientists finish, they will rebury the ship. (© Wessex Archaeology)
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At a quarry in the United Kingdom, workers unearthed a rare piece of history.

They probably expected a normal day at work digging for aggregates: gravel and sand used to make concrete. That’s the main product of their company, CEMEX. But on that April day, they discovered more than dirt. They struck the hull of an Elizabethan-era ship.

The Elizabethan era spans the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, from 1558 to 1603. During these years, ships played an essential role. They allowed trade to spread along the English Channel. They helped Britain explore uncharted corners of the world. They made possible Britain’s famous Royal Navy, which defeated the Spanish Armada.

Despite this history, only a handful of these ships survive today. The reason is simple: Wood rots. Exposed to air and water, wood can decompose in less than a decade. Most Elizabethan ships were lost to time and weather.

But the ship discovered at the CEMEX quarry didn’t spend centuries exposed to the elements. It stayed buried beneath a protective layer of sediment (dirt and rock left behind by water).

Today, the CEMEX quarry sits 1,000 feet from the sea. But in the Elizabethan era, this spot likely stood right on the water. The unearthed ship may have shipwrecked on shore. Or perhaps its owners abandoned it on the sand. Over time, the coastline shifted farther out to sea. Sediment piled up. All that muck and dirt preserved the ship’s hull for over 400 years.

To determine the age of the ship, archaeologists used dendrochronological analysis. (That’s a long way of saying, “They counted tree rings in the wood.”) They also studied the ship’s construction. The preserved ship has a frame-built hull. That ship-building technique that was new in the 16th century. Similar ships carried colonists to America.

Archaeologists can use this discovery to study the history of the land itself. Where exactly did the coastline fall during the Elizabethan era? What ports did ships visit?

The researchers want to preserve this find for future researches. Over the last year, they took many careful recordings of the ship’s hull. The team used laser scanning to capture every small detail in a 3-D computer model. Soon, they will bury the ship in the quarry once again. Future archaeologists might have more advanced research tools than those that exist today. When that day comes, they can dig up the ship again and learn even more.

God gave humans a fascination with nature, and the ability to learn from it. Through things like tree rings, sediment, moving tides, and the preservative quality of mud, we can piece together stories of the past. When we learn about history, we can learn about God. We call this “general revelation.” See Romans 1:20. What are you learning about God from the world around you?

Why? God’s handiwork is all over creation, including in the way that even mud can act like a preservative while other factors work to cause decay. Marvel at His creation order, and consider studying science and history to know more about Him.