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Archeologists begin excavation of sunken ships
by Saman Indrajith and Lalith Chaminda

Maritime archeologists have commenced underwater excavations and studies of two wrecked ships of archaeological value off shore at Hikkaduwa.

One of the ships belonged to the world’s oldest bulk oil carrier fleet - Conch. It had been wrecked off the coast of Akurala. Both ships capsized well over a century ago, one in late 19th century and the other in the early 20th century. "They are vast stores of artifacts that could support many further studies," Rasika Muthukumarana of the Maritime Archaeology Unit, Central Cultural Fund, Galle Fort told The Island yesterday.

One, was a steam ship. The other a sailing vessel. The ‘Conch’ was one of the first four ships built to carry bulk oil, he said. ‘Conch’ has been confirmed to be over 120 years old and was the 12th oldest such ship. It sank in 1903.

The other ship ‘Earl Shaftesbury’ also a century and half old was wrecked in 1884 and lies at the bottom of the sea between Hikkaduwa and Akurala. Artifacts of the ‘Earl of Shaftesbury’ lie at a depth of 13 meters scattered all over a flat sandy terrain, he said.

The two would be converted into field schools of UNESCO’s Asia Pacific region’s Maritime Archaeological School programme. "Twelve field officers have been already selected as trainers of the school and are undergoing training," he said.

One of the ships had been requested by a group of businessmen to be broken and salvaged to be sold as scrap iron, but the move was rejected by the Archaeology Department, he said.

 

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