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Rhode Island Whaler – Scientists Find That It Sank Off Patagonia In The 1850s

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The Dolphin, a Rhode Island whaler from the northeastern United States, set sail in 1850 but became aground off the coast of Patagonia in 1859.

This research yields non-cutting dates until 1849.

Using dendroarchaeological provenance methods and a unique method based on the gridded North American Drought Atlas, good correlations were found between the wreck's tree-ring width series and white oak and yellow pine tree ring reference chronologies from the eastern United States.

The Dolphin was a globe-trotting whaling ship from Warren, Rhode Island, was lost in 1859, and her remnants have been discovered by scientists off the icy, windy coast of far southern Argentina.

This study conducted by a group of Argentine and American scientists has recently been published in the journal Dendrochronologia.

COPYRIGHT_SZ: Published on https://stationzilla.com/rhode-island-whaler/ by Dr. Cooney Blades on 2022-08-26T09:54:51.338Z

Archaeologists have spent years trying to figure out where the ship came from, but they haven't been able to do so.

However, a recent look at the tree rings in the ship's wood has given what may be the most convincing evidence to date.

Many shipwrecks have traced their construction date and country of origin, thanks to dendrochronological techniques.

Though there have been many shipwrecks off the coast of South America, dendroarchaeological methods have only begun to be used.

Whaling Ship Industry

From 1770 through 1850, when blubber oil was widely utilized for lighting and lubricating, and whalebone was used in many tiny home objects manufactured today of plastic, New England was a prominent participant in the global whaling trade.

Hundreds of Yankee ships sailed the high seas on expeditions that sometimes lasted several years.

After whale numbers dropped drastically and petroleum became more affordable, the business died out in the 1860s.

The whaling industry, hunting, killing and dismembering a whale, 1940's - Film 216

Dolphin Launching

From the 1770s through the 1850s, when blubber oil was widely utilized for lighting and lubricating, and whalebone was used in many tiny home objects manufactured today of plastic, New England was a prominent participant in the worldwide whaling trade.

Hundreds of Yankee ships sailed the high seas on expeditions that sometimes lasted several years.

The business died out in the 1860s after whale numbers dropped drastically and petroleum became more affordable.

The Dolphin, made of oak and other woods, was constructed between August and October of 1850, as stated in an unpublished paper by local Warren historian Walter Nebiker.

In the year or two before a ship was completed, in this instance, between late 1849 and February 1850, trees were often cut in cold weather.

On November 16th, 1850, the 111-foot Dolphin, with a carrying capacity of 325 tons, was put into service.

The Dolphin, a globe-trotting whaling ship from Warren, Rhode Island, was lost in 1859, and her remnants have been discovered by scientists off the icy, windy coast of far southern Argentina.

For years, archaeologists have tried to determine where the ship came from without success; nevertheless, recent examination of tree rings in its timbers has produced perhaps the most persuasive evidence to date.

How Were Dolphin Remains Discovered?

Puerto Madryn, located on the Golfo Nuevo, was founded in 1865 by a small group of Welsh immigrants.

Folklore has it that the first residents here rescued items from a sunken ship or ships, but whether or not the Dolphin was among them is unclear.

In 2004, the remains of a wooden ship were discovered in the intertidal flats near Puerto Madryn, partly due to shifting sands.

While locals knew about it, academics remained in the dark. Marine archaeologists, such as Cristian Murray of Argentina's National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, discovered the bones at low tides in 2006 and 2007.

They also took notes on several other nearby wrecks.

The ship's bottom futtocks (ribs) and a few boards of the hull and roof were all that remained.

In 2009, Murray and his team released their findings on the vessel's construction.

They determined it was most likely built in the 19th century, mainly using Northern Hemisphere oak and pine.

However, they could not determine whether it was a European or North American species.

With little more than a single leather shoe and a handful of brass nails to rely on, they speculated that the vessel was a fishing vessel, a trading vessel, or perhaps a whaler.

At some point, further proof surfaced.

Evidence of a "try-works" for refining blubber, including bricks and the remains of two iron cauldrons, was found near the wreck.

Argentine mariner Luis Piedrabuena rescued the Dolphin's crew and took them to the town of Carmen de Patagones, which is about 100 miles to the north.

As discovered by Murray and his colleagues, the refugees made their way back home from there.

Who knows where that idea came from?

According to the Dolphin's marine insurance registration with Lloyd's, it's country of origin is Warren.

The crew got in touch with the Warren Preservation Society, which gave them the text Nebiker had written and other materials.

Remains of a ship in the ocean
Remains of a ship in the ocean

Cook's Secret Weapon

Murray and colleagues re-excavated the wreck and invited Mundo to study it.

Mundo advised them the only way to acquire good samples of the sodden wood was to chainsaw off ribs and plank and dry them.

Archaeologists eventually relented and chose sites where they'd inflict the least harm.

After analyzing the samples in his lab, Mundo went to Ed Cook, creator of the Lamont-Doherty Tree Ring Lab and pioneer in dendroarchaeology, the discipline of wooden dating constructions.

Cook has researched historic structures in the Northeast and artifacts like an 18th-century sloop found during the World Trade Center investigations in 2001.

Cook created the North American Drought Atlas in the early 2000s.

The atlas includes ring samples from 30,000 standing trees spanning more than 2,000 years.

Varying precipitation levels generate small annual fluctuations in ring width, allowing researchers to map historical climates, date trees' germination and development, and in the case of ancient wooden buildings, typically where and when trees were felled.

The ribs were made of white oak, which grows in the northeastern US.

Old-growth yellow pine originally blanketed most of the Southeast U.S.

Many eastern states use rot-resistant black locusts for nails.

Oak ring analysis revealed that some of the timbers were dated 1679.

The trees' outermost rings were cut in 1849, corresponding with the Dolphin's 1850 construction.

The latest rings in the pine planking were from 1810, but scientists weren't concerned. Unlike the sturdy ribs, the planks had been cut down, so no one anticipated to uncover the outer rings.

Most of the pine samples matched chronologies from live trees in Alabama's Choccolocco Mountain and Georgia's Lake Louise, both of which exported pine to the north in the 19th century.

The researchers couldn't identify for sure where the planks originated from, but their signatures suggested Alabama, Georgia, or northern Florida.

The oak ribs' rings mirrored Massachusetts tree chronologies.

Dry, low-growth periods marked the 1680s-90s, 1700s, and 1810s.

The thin tree rings suggest they grew in thick, old-growth forest, which was chopped down in New England in the early to mid-1800s.

Many Massachusetts oaks went to Rhode Island shipyards.

People Also Ask

Where Was The Whaling Ship Industry Found?

Having been constructed in Westport, Massachusetts, in 1815, the whaling brig spent the next two decades pursuing whales in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

It went down on May 26, 1836, after a severe storm tore its masts from their rigging, exposing the ship's hull to the waves.

What Is A Whaling Ship Used For?

Whalers, also known as whaling ships, are vessels specifically built or modified for whaling.

How Did Whaling Start?

By the 11th century, the Basques had begun killing and exchanging the products of the northern right whale, marking the beginning of whaling as an enterprise (now one of the most endangered of the great whales).

Next came the Dutch and the British, the Americans, the Norwegians, and many more.

Conclusion

The current research remains equivocal, claiming the ship might be the Dolphin but could also be any other American whaler from the same period if no specific item is found.

A researcher of the same team has suggested that there were other whaling ships in the region at the period in question, making it unlikely that this is the Dolphin without more proof.

In contrast, the opinion of another dendrochronologist is that he is 100% persuaded.

You can't criticize the archaeologists for being more traditional in their approach and holding themselves to a somewhat higher standard.

Indeed, we don't have a bell on board.

However, the rings of a tree tell the whole tale.

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About The Authors

Dr. Cooney Blades

Dr. Cooney Blades

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