By George Schwarz, Ph.D, Underwater Archaeology Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command
The last few days of the multi-partner search for Bonhomme Richard resulted in yet more information on the buried shipwreck as well as the surrounding areas planned for the 2016 mission. With strong support from US Navy’s 6th Fleet, the NOMWC, NHHC, and French Mine
Clearance Dive Unit, teams continued surveying from small boats deployed from USNS Grasp in the North Sea in search of Jones’s elusive ship. Fortunately, the North Sea weather was cooperative and most days were suitable for small boat operations. The teams were able to complete mission objectives of scanning the sea bottom in the vicinity of the known shipwreck, as well as two planned survey boxes to the west and southwest of the shipwreck. While the information still needs to be fully processed, preliminary results indicate the likelihood of several additional artifacts of interest exposed on the seafloor within the wooden wreck site, as well as outside of the immediate area of the wreck—effectively expanding the known boundaries of the site by 20 to 30 meters.
In addition to the materials located on or near the wooden wreck, the teams detected over 200 further contacts of interest within the two blocks that were scanned as an expansion of previous survey boundaries. These objects were measured with the sonar acquisition tools, and ranged from approximately 20 cm to 24 meters in length. While some of these contacts at first glance seem to be seafloor debris or geologic features, perhaps two to three dozen are of interest due to their general shape and position on the bottom, and may represent material culture. The shipwreck was also surveyed with the marine magnetometer, which was able to map magnetic anomalies (typically representing substantial iron objects) within and around the site to aid in location of buried materials. The objects detected by sonar and magnetometer will be further analyzed, mapped, and added to previous data sets, then prioritized for possible future investigation.
“While the information still needs to be fully processed, preliminary results indicate the likelihood of several additional artifacts of interest exposed on the seafloor within the wooden wreck site…”
The operation was a success in that more detailed information was gathered from the unknown wreck site, two planned survey boxes were scanned with high-resolution sonar technology yielding additional targets of interest, and multiple teams from the US and French navies, as well as the non-profit Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, were able to work collaboratively to accomplish mission goals during a seven-day operation in the North Sea—also lending to an exercise in military readiness. The plan is to analyze and map the gigabytes of newly acquired remote-sensing data to determine the next step toward locating Bonhomme Richard. Depending on final survey results, project partners will determine whether to continue remote-sensing operations, deploy remotely operated vehicles, or potentially use divers for further inspection of the shipwreck and other targets of interest.