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How Tree Rings Helped Identify a Rhode Island Whaler Lost at Sea

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A whaling ship known as the Dolphin left the Rhode Island coast for its final voyage in 1858 and never returned to port. The 42-man crew was rescued from the South Atlantic waters the following year by Argentine sailors, whose captain continued to direct the voyage ten years after him, but the ship exists only in memory and records. did not.

That was until 2004, when the remains of a shipwreck were discovered off the coast of Puerto Madryn, a coastal city on the northern coast of Argentina’s Patagonia region.

Scholars have speculated that the remains may have been dolphins, though they were careful not to say conclusively due to lack of evidence. new research, It was published last month in the journal DendrochronologiaIgnacio Mundo, lead author and adjunct research fellow at the Institute for Dendrochronology and Environmental History, National Scientific and Technological Research Council, Mendoza, Argentina, says that researchers can identify shipwrecks with a high degree of certainty. made possible.

The discovery was made possible by analysis of a kind of fingerprint on the ship itself. It is a wooden plank and futok, or a ring of curved pieces of wood.

The effort to identify the ancient whaling ship fossils required the collaboration of experts from different scientific fields, including archaeologists, anthropologists, dendrochronologists and tree-ring experts like Dr. Mundo.

“It’s incredible to be able to start with a piece of wood on the beach and connect it to a boat built in Rhode Island,” he said.

The find is consistent with local accounts of shipwrecks in that area of ​​South America at the time. Dr Mundo said they also found the remains of a cauldron used to melt whale wax. In the 1850s, the area was explored by North American and European explorers. Whales preyed for commercial useProducts derived from hunting included oils used as lamps and lubricants, and wax in candles and soaps. I got

new england played an important role in the whale trade From the mid-1770s to the 1850s. Demand for whale oil declined as the popularity of petroleum began to replace it in the mid-19th century.

The town of Warren, Rhode Island, where the dolphins sailed, has been a popular whaling spot since colonial times, according to Michael P. Dyer, curator of marine history at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. . .

“Rhode Island has a great whaling history,” he said.

For him, the search for dolphins is now a closed case. Said he was.

“When there’s evidence that matches the historical record, like this shipwreck, it’s mind-boggling,” Dyer added. “I can think a little more firmly about the facts of history.”

The survey results are rhode island to the place A place far from the dolphin’s home port Publication Tracking development of scienceas annual rings Open Find Clues in historical research.

According to Dr. Mundo, tree-ring analysis allowed researchers to date the wood found in the dolphin fossil, with the pine dating to 1810 and the oak to 1849. rice field. These apparent discrepancies in dates are due to the loss of some of the rings when the planks were made to build the ships.

“Obviously they didn’t imagine that 200 years later they would be using this wood to date ships,” he said.

The study compared samples containing more than 75 rings, the minimum amount to ensure accuracy, to a network of tree-ring data from the northeastern and southeastern United States.

“We visually inspected the tree-ring pattern of cross-sections and measured the width of the rings to the nearest 0.001 mm,” the research paper states.

Little is known about Patagonian whalers today, says Christian Murray, a marine archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought in Buenos Aires. For him, the dolphin spotting adds knowledge about the dynamics between international whalers and communities near the waters they frequent.

For example, Murray wonders: Were the whalers still in contact with the indigenous peoples who lived in South America at the time? What was their relationship with the people in the area? Did they trade and learn from each other?

“For me, one of the greatest values ​​of this site from an archaeological and historical point of view is the ability to answer many questions about the time period and activity in the area,” he said. rice field.

The research contributes to Murray’s larger project on exploiting 19th-century Patagonian marine resources, not just whales, but penguins, seals and seabirds.

According to archaeologist Monica Grosso of the National Institute, residents of the Argentine coast who work at a museum in Puerto Madryn discovered the shipwreck at low tide. They were also involved with the site during excavations and through further study of findings.

“It’s a complicated process to interpret this because the wreck goes through different processes to degrade and dismantle,” she said.

Dr. Grosso and Mr. Murray have been studying shipwrecks for almost 20 years. She considers it the culmination of interdisciplinary collaboration. By adding the conclusions of tree-ring analysis to what was primarily a study of marine archaeology, she made it possible to answer some long-standing questions.

“The most exciting part was when we confirmed our suspicions that this could have been a whaling ship,” she said.

Mukund Palat Rao, a postdoctoral researcher specializing in dendrochronology, said he compared the wreck wood to a database provided by Columbia University. He took part in this project two years before him. This is similar to his work focused on determining the origin of the wood used to build New York City.

“We can glimpse past human history,” he said.

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