The remains of the fisherman city of Walraversijde at the coast. These remains are no longer visible (Large View).
The first steps in underwater archaeological excavation in Belgium- Flanders- traces back to 1992 on the medieval fishing village Walraversijde. There have been some excavations underwater, while the remains of the medieval buildings still were visible, and also some excavation on land, where the extension of the village exists. In fact the maritime heritage research was initiated with this project and since then close cooperation with the Province of West Flanders shaped underwater archaeology activities. Still the base of Underwater Archaeology is in the Archaeological Museum in Raversijde in Oostende.
Later on, there was a Parliamentary decree on the protection of maritime heritage in 2002. Following this initiative the Maritime Heritage Research was started by the Flemish Government in about 2003.
A reconstructed image of Walraversijde in the museum of underwater archaeology in Raversijde.
At the VIOE (Flemish Heritage Institute) a group of archaeologists and historians are responsible for underwater cultural heritage and maritime archaeology. Their activities include theoretical research, underwater excavations, laboratory analysis and conservation of finds. At the same time awareness is raised through publications, an online maritime database, and exhibitions, especially through the museum of underwater archaeology in Raversijd.
The maritime database- www.maritime-archaeology.be – has been set up in cooperation with the province of West Flanders. The main focus of inventory is based on research done in the North Sea and the river Scheldt. This database is web-based and interactive; therefore it works as a reporting medium for the public as well. Apart from national activities, there are some international projects such as Planarch (http://www.planarch.org/), and MACHU, a project spanning September 2007 to September 2009. Information on that project is on these two websites: http://www.machuproject.eu/p-vioe-belguim.htm and www.machuproject.eu.
Through these projects an inventory of mainly wreck sites has been built up. There is also a collection of finds and documentation of maritime archaeological structures. These are on display in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Raversijde.
In order to collect existing knowledge and data for inventories and documentation there is a vast collaboration with different institutes. Flemish Hydrography helps to provide maps by side scan sonar / multibeam / seismic. VLIZ (Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee) provides equipped vessels to go to sea as well as other technical and laboratory collaborations. Ghent University-RCMG (http://www.rcmg.ugent.be/ )- helps to promote the activities and research with related research on underwater materials.
A general view of the Belgian coast, shipwrecks and important water ways and channels-Source: http://www.maritime-archaeology.be/LC_Chart_GenView.aspx?id=25 Click on map to zoom in for a closer look.
In brief, the underwater archaeological sites in Belgium can be categorized as follows:
- Shipwrecks underwater
- Sites and objects found in water saturated sediment in an anaerobic condition similar to underwater condition
- Underwater prehistoric landscape
- Underwater villages and settlements
The next post will highlight several actual underwater archaeological sites investigated by VIOE.
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