17th-century Dutch warship wreck found in the Caribbean

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The wreck of a 17th-century Dutch warship has been discovered off the coast of Tobago, a small island in the southern Caribbean. Marine archaeologists believe the vessel is the Huis de Kreuningen, which was lost during a bloody naval battle between Dutch and French colonists.

The team of archaeologists was headed by University of Connecticut professor Kroum Batchvarov. They found the remnants this summer, while they were searching for 16 vessels lost during the battle.

According to records the French launched a naval offensive against the Dutch on March 3, 1677, at the Scarborough Harbour in Trinidad & Tobago. Tobago had been much sought after among the various European nations, mainly because of its strategic position along the major trade routes. The island had changed hands more than 30 times since Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.

A fierce battle erupted between the Dutch and the French; as many as 2000 people, including women, children and slaves were killed during the clash. Apart from the Huis de Kreuninge, the Glorieux - flagship of the French Vice Admiral Comte D’Estrée – was sunk, taking with it around 370 of its crew on board. Up to 14 ships were sunk during the battle, and none had ever been recovered.

Measuring 39.6 by 9.62 meters the Huis de Kreuninge was the pride of the Dutch navy, but still merely three-fourth of the size of the Glorieux. Smaller than its opponent, the Huis de Kreuninge carried only about 56 guns instead of the enemy’s 72. The Dutch nonethelessput up a fight but in the end set their ship afire to avoid capture. The Dutch were nonetheless successful in keeping the French out of the island.

Speaking at the Explorers Club headquarters on November 3 professor Batchvarov called the find one of the most interesting experiences of his life in archaeology, “and I have been in this field for about 17 years.”

Many of the artifacts they found at the site bear specific markings which hint that it did concern the wreck of a 17th century Dutch battleship. “The first thing we found was a canon” said the professor. They found eight canons in total.

Batchvarov said they also found Delft and Bellarmine pottery jars and other utensils; un-fired lead shots; a beer jug with the names of three famous generals- Joshua, David and Alexander the Great-craved onto it; several smoking pipes with the mark of a Dutch manufacturer operating between 1650s and 1680s in Amsterdam and bricks similar to the kind made in 1647 in Leiden.

As there are no conservation facilities in the area, the artifacts were left underwater. Batchvarov and his team have been granted permission by the Tobago House of Assembly to conduct more searches and dives in the area. They also secured the U.S. State Department’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. The project is currently being supported by the University of Connecticut and the U.S.-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

Batchvarov team will start recovery from next year itself. The artifacts will be on display in Trinidad and Tobago.