Texas A&M University plans to rebuild a French exploration ship, The La Belle, which was built in 1684 and sank during a storm near Galveston. The historic shipwreck will first be freeze dried at a temperature of about -60 degrees, which will remove all moisture from the remains. The large freeze drier is housed at Bryan Air Force and is the largest of its kind in the country used for archaeological purposes.
Once completed, the rebuilt ship will take its place in Austin’s Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The ship was rediscovered in 1995 when a ten year search led a group of archaeologists from the Texas Historical Commission to its whereabouts. The team then began the task of recovering the wreckage. They first built a dam around the wreck and the water was pumped out. 1,8 metres of mud was then removed from the area and the ship. The La Belle was then lifted from its resting place, along with thousands of items including cannons, swords and trade goods.
Up until now the wreck has been kept in a chemical solution to stop it falling apart. Recently though, the ship was digitally scanned and dismantled. It was decided that freeze drying the wood would be more cost effective compared to the chemical method. Member of the Center for Maritime Archaeology at Texas A&M University, Peter Fix said; “If we were to take any piece of wood, say it’s been in the water for 300 years, and pull it out, it would shrink, crack, warp within a couple of days. The physical stress on wood would essentially cause it to fall apart and crumble and powder into pieces.”
The reconstruction of The La Belle will begin at the Bullock Museum in about a year’s time.
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