Azores and Angra bay's submerged cultural resources management plan

    With Azores's extensive maritime history and abundant coastline, shipwrecks are an important component of the region's underwater heritage. The vast majority of shipwrecks in Azorean waters do not contain gold, silver, jewelry, or other precious metals. So-called "treasure" galleons that were lost in the Azores were salvaged soon after the event whenever possible, since economic effects of so great a loss were profoundly felt throughout Spain an Portugal.

Divers check at 120 fsw (36 m.), two of the dozens of historical anchors of Angra bay  More than 900 ships are recorded as lost in the Azores; only 142 - circa 15% - of these ever carried treasure, of which 22 were wrecked inside Angra bay, in depths that go as deep as 60 meters.

    The real treasure of these shipwrecks is their potential to help us reconstruct a picture of the past. They represent time capsules left to us by the people who designed, built, loaded, and sailed the vessels.

Shipwreck sites, in contrast to most archaeological sites on land, often reflect the results of sudden cataclysmic events.

    They exist by themselves, isolated in time and space, providing what the archaeologists call a closed context view of the past.

    Angra bay. Diver at 120' (36 m.) checks  two of the dozens of historical anchors.
                                                    Photo: Christoph Gerik


    As such, all water craft found in the Azores reflect the history of the region and, quite often, its relationships with other parts of the world. Each has a particular story to add to our knowledge of the island's history. As such, Azorean submerged cultural resources, like its natural resources, are composed of an assortment of often accessible but fragile assets.

    The problem resides in the fact that, unlike living plant and animal resources, Azores's cultural resources are non-renewable. Once damaged or destroyed, they are gone forever and any information that may have been learned from them is lost. As Azores's rapid growth increasingly impacts the natural and cultural resources of the islands, resource management and preservation assume greater importance. Since 1994, a growing awareness of the significance of these resources has resulted in increasing concern for their protection and preservation.

    This growing awareness has also served as a way to identify the many ways in which underwater sites may be impacted. Some of these causes are natural, like storms and erosion. Others are related to human activities and are potentially controllable. Of these human impacts, many are unintentional or inadvertent. Potentially damaging activities such as dredging and boating, reflect the many demands placed on Azores's finite submerged cultural resources. Some human impacts, however, are more deliberate.

    Waterfront development in the Azores meant vast dredging and filling operations, that turned small areas of coastline into sidewalks and building lots separated by seawalls. Such activities are no longer occurring, but the pace of development along the coast continues and increases. Projects that have the potential to disturb submerged lands that might contain cultural resources, are now happening all over the islands, be it the construction of fishing harbors or the construction of marinas. These projects have all proceeded in the belief that no adverse impact to submerged sites would occur and there were never means available to actually examine shoreline construction areas in advance of work that might damage shipwrecks or other archaeological - even natural - sites.
    It was considering that the Azorean submerged cultural resources represent unique and valuable, publicly owned resources that have the potential to provide sustained cultural, recreational, and economic values and benefits, while significantly representing archaeological and historical values that are not renewable, that the Azorean Cultural Direction of the Regional Government (DRAC, actually DRC), the Institute of Nautical Archaeology from the Texas A&M University (INA) and the Portuguese Center for Nautical and Underwater Archaeology (CNANS) have developed, over time, isolated actions on this field, and promoted several initiatives
in collaboration with the non-profit cultural association Arqueonautica,  to locally create a group of interested and qualified people to develop the protection of the underwater cultural heritage.

The city of Angra, UNESCO's World Heritage Site, with the bay on it's left and the Monte Brasil in the background.    These initiatives were, unfortunately, in response to particular problems or issues - like the knee jerk reaction against the treasure hunting lobbies that afflicted the Azores between 1993 and 1997 - rather than having the benefit of comprehensive planning. So, taking into account the archaeological potential of the islands, the absence of a comprehensive management plan for submerged cultural resources in the Azores was striking.  This absence, mostly due to non-existing staff and lack of ability to survey, identify, and assess the resources, has since then been partly fulfilled by site investigations conducted on an occasional and informal basis by volunteers, framed by portuguese or american underwater archaeologists.

    The city of Angra, UNESCO's World Heritage Site,
with the bay on it's left and the Monte Brasil in the background.

    One of these site investigations involved the execution of a pre-disturbance survey, prior to the construction of a yachting harbor, in Angra bay, Terceira island. An underwater archaeological team, sponsored by the Regional Government of the Azores, by the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology and by the Angra Harbor Authority, developed a two-phase campaign, between September 1997 and July 1998.


The Angra bay survey and excavation project related with the marina

    In 1996, related with the project of the construction of a marina in Angra bay, the national department of cultural heritage (IPPAR) agreed with the DRAC to promote preventively the archaeological survey of the bay. A strategy was then drawn and developed with the coordination of the Museum of Angra do Heroísmo, with the portuguese underwater archaeologist Francisco Alves as an adviser.

    In the same occasion, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), from the Texas A&M University was invited
to develop a survey project in Azorean waters. Professor Kevin Crisman accepted to begin it in Angra bay with a geophysical survey. The INA team - Professor Kevin Crisman, leading archaeologist, Arthur Cohn, director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vermont,  and Professor William Bryant - used for that purpose  a CHIRPS
sub bottom profiler. Although no conclusive data could be obtained, the divers found that  bottom conditions
were ideal for shipwreck preservation and, as such, a hand held metal detector and test pit phase were in order. Magnetometer use was in vain, due to the volcanic origin of the sea bottom.

R/V Aguas Vivas, surveying the bottom of Angra bay, September 1997.    The project was developed in two phases. The first phase happened between September 1996 and February 1997. A four member team of divers performed a pre-disturbance underwater archaeological survey of Angra
bay, specifically in the zone of the future marina. The survey, designed to retrieve the maximum amount of information with a minimal amount of disturbance to the site, used non-intrusive archaeological techniques,
which included a visual survey, a sub bottom profiler and a metal detector, as well as  sample excavations done
at the location of several metallic anomalies.

    During the first phase of the project, three historical wrecks were discovered and summarily identified on the east side of the bay.

        R/V Aguas Vivas, surveying the bottom of Angra bay, September 1997.
                                        Photo: Christoph Gerrik

    One of those wrecks was identified as being the American Civil war blockade runner CSS Run'Her, run
aground on the 4th, November, 1864, with bits of the wreckage spread all over the north area of the bay. The
other two were two wooden hulls, buried under 1 to 2 meters of sediments, in depths of water of circa 7 meters,  identified for archaeological purposes as Angra C and Angra D (Angra A and Angra B being already located on the west side of the bay). Six samples of wood, taken from both wrecks, suggested that both dated from the same period, the last quarter of the XVth century or the first quarter of the XVIth century.  In spite of the little size of the identified areas of Angra C and D, it was clear - and the radiocarbon datations confirmed it - that those two wrecks should be completely excavated.

    Therefore, a second phase of the project was necessary, and the three entities already involved in the first phase prepared a new protocol of collaboration, that was sent by the National Center for Nautical and Underwater Archaeology (CNANS) of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology (IPA) to the regional authorities in June 1997
(the position of the IPPAR was transferred to the IPA in May 1997 with the creation of this autonomous Institute).

     The project was placed under the responsibility of the CNANS by inherence. Under the terms of that protocol,
an archaeological team of eight people would be created during 14 months, and a period of eight months was defined for the intervention. All the expenses would be assumed by the regional authorities. More than eight months later, in March 1998, with the protocol not yet returned by the regional authorities, the CNANS was suddenly contacted by the Administration of the Angra Harbor to prepare an immediate intervention, because
the works of the marina would begin the following week. The second phase was carried in four months, from
April to July, by a team of 16 people of six nationalities (Portugal, Spain, Canada, France, Italy, and USA).

Filipe Castro and Kevin Crisman deploying the Side Scan Sonar fish from the R/V Aguas Vivas    As external consultants, the CNANS invited Eric Rieth, from the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and archaeology professor at the University of Paris 1, and Peter Waddell, from Parks Canada, the former a specialist in medieval and post-medieval ship building, the latter a world leading expert in hull dismantling.

    Both did extended dives on both sites. After the excavation the two shipwrecks were completely dismantled piece by piece, all of them being stored in several giant palettes that were placed outside the intervention area of the marina works, in a deeper zone of the bay.

                    Filipe Castro and Kevin Crisman deploying
                the Side Scan Sonar fish from the R/V Aguas Vivas.
                                    Photo: Christoph Gerrik

Project design

    The whole campaign was laid out in accordance to the UNESCO Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations (New Delhi, 5 December 1956), the ICOMOS Charter for the Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage (Lausanne, 1990) and the new ICOMOS Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage, ratified on October 9, 1996 by the UNESCO’s General Assembly, in Sofia.

    According to the fundamental principles stated on the article one of the ICOMOS Charter, public access to the wrecks was encouraged, with local divers visiting the site and been shown around the site and the archaeological archives. Public awareness was also promoted by articles published in the local, national and international press and TV.

    Although, the preservation of underwater cultural heritage in situ was considered as a first option, building constraints ruled out the use of non-destructive techniques, non-intrusive survey and sampling for the second phase. Since both of the wrecks were in the precise path of the breakwater soon to be built - and it's associated dredging activities - all the authorities involved in the process agreed to conduct the excavation, the dismantling and the removal of both wrecks to a secondary location, in deeper water, to allow further study of them, while the construction of the breakwater could proceed.

    In all the steps, the investigation was accompanied by adequate documentation. Accordingly to the article 2 of the Chart, the project design took into account the mitigatory or objectives of the project by devising an adequate methodology to be used. All the techniques to be employed were discussed on the national and international levels of academic underwater archaeology.

    Fourteen months served as a time-table for the completion of the project while the investigating team was formed by a mix of sixteen underwater archaeologists and divers from Portugal, France, Italy, Spain, Canada and United States of America. This team was coordinated by the Director of CNANS, Francisco Alves who, according
to the article 6 is an underwater archaeologist with recognized qualifications and experience appropriate to the investigation. The leading archaeologist provided on-site management, together with two local coordinators, who took care of all the documentation, the health and safety code of practice and the report preparation.

    Unfortunately, no provisions were made regarding the material conservation of the artifacts recovered, although all the items brought to the surface were stabilized according to basic conservation procedures. The investigation was carried out in accordance with the project design, which was revised and amended as necessary.

    The project design was also made available to the international archaeological community while dissemination of the archaeological data has already started, in the form of scientific papers and articles. No provisions were made for the deposition of the archives, including the underwater cultural heritage removed during investigation, although plans exist to transfer all the treated materials to the Angra Museum.

    On matters regarding article 3, the funding of the campaign, adequate funds were not assured in advance of investigation to complete all stages of the project design including conservation, report preparation and dissemination. The project design did not include contingency plans that would ensure the conservation of underwater cultural heritage and supporting documentation in the event of any interruption in anticipated
funding, which as occurred immediately after the physical removal of the wrecks.

The excavation of the protecting trench for Angra C

The excavation of the protecting trench for Angra C

Photo: Paulo Monteiro


    As what regards the time table principles, stated in article 4, although adequate time was assured in advance of investigation to complete all stages of the project design including conservation, report preparation and dissemination, the discontinuing of the funding after the first 4 months of the campaign was preventing the safe keeping of the wrecks with the inherent loss of archaeological data. Even the contingency plans that were devised - and that would ensure the conservation of underwater cultural heritage still underwater in the event of any interruption in anticipated timings – and which included the reburial of the dismantled wrecks, were not implemented, at the time, by the Harbor Authority.

     Artifacts recovered during the investigation are now stored and stabilized at the team's headquarters, in Angra. Unfortunately, without complicated and expensive stabilization treatments, virtually all organic, and most metal, artifacts recovered form Angra C & D will be destroyed. There is now an urgent need for the development of long-term management strategies for the sites, to provide a measure of on-site management and to respond to periodic requests by the public for information.
     In conclusion, the project for the archaeological rescue of Angra C and D was not an easy task given the pressures from the media and political arena to speed up the excavation, conceivably at the expense of systematic and controlled scientific procedures. Were it not for the most recent developments, all might have been lost, and all the money, time and efforts devoted to the project would have been in vain. Worst, the underwater heritage recovered would have been forever lost.

    Recently (late November), adequate funds were finally made available by the regional authorities in advance
of investigation to complete all stages of the project design including conservation, report preparation and dissemination. In fact, the initial project design did not include contingency plans that would ensure the conservation of underwater cultural heritage and supporting documentation in the event of any interruption in anticipated funding, which has occurred immediately after the physical removal of the wrecks. This makes it possible to proceed with the stabilization treatments for all organic and  metal artifacts recovered form Angra C
and D.

     Although much has been accomplished in this way, more regional and site-specific data, more complete inventories, better management policies, and increased inter-agency coordination would improve the Regional Government's ability to promote its unique cultural resources for the public benefit. In regard to the more pressing matter of the wrecks rescued prior to the construction of Angra's marina, the availability of funds will now make it possible to undertake the post-fieldwork analysis of artifacts, wreck timbers and documentation, which is integral to the investigation. Only with further study of the remaining artifacts and the intensive study of the preserved timbers will it be possible to shed some light as to the origin and shipboard life, naval architecture, and other questions concerning sixteenth and seventeenth-century ships as well as the natural and/or intentional circumstances surrounding the wrecking episode, contemporary salvage and deterioration of the vessels now know as Angra C and Angra D.