Vietnam maritime archaeology project: Day 4-5, to Bai Lang and beyond

While the first 3 days were spent practicing our diving skills and getting comfortable in the water, Day 4 and 5 marked the beginning of our scientific approach to maritime archaeology. This is a process that will be developed and perfected over the coming weeks to make our work better, easier, and hopefully create a new generation of (Vietnamese) maritime archaeologists.

The first dives were performed at Bai Lang, where our main wreck site is. As mentioned before, Bai Lang is a beautiful, historic bay on the main island and this is where we attempted to set up our first research area. These “research areas” consist out of squares marked by buoys and GPS coordinates and are mainly used for surveys. Setting up these areas helps us in marking which regions we have already surveyed as to avoid redundancy. However, the beauty of the bay means that many tourists in speedboats visit the region, creating a safety hazard for our divers. It was therefore decided that we would continue to work in Bai Lang at a later stage and for now go to a nearby bay just around the corner. As this area had no name (or we just didn’t know its name) it was spontaneously dubbed “around the corner of Bai Lang bay”.

Setting up a research area with the GPS
Setting up a research area with the GPS
“Around the corner of Bai Lang bay” much resembles a less touristic version of Bai Lang bay. This does also mean that it is likely that there is less evidence of human activity in this area. However, the presence of a small, ancient temple along with pillboxes from the Vietnam war indicates that there is still plenty of (maritime)archaeology to be found here. An added bonus is that the island is also a military base which increases the likelihood that any possible archaeology has not been plundered yet.

An important part in setting up an underwater survey is setting up the baseline. This makes redundancy less likely and stops people from getting lost underwater. Furthermore, a measuring-tape is laid out so people know where they left off in their previous dive and thus know where to start on their next dive. This proved to be a tricky undertaking as many people, experienced as they are with diving, had little experience in using tools underwater or effectively tying water resistant knots. After we got most of the basic requirements out of the way it was time to start the first circular surveys. These initial circular surveys yielded some interesting results. A set of circular ballast stones was found and this at least proves that we are searching in the right area.

Setting up the baseline
Setting up the baseline
A circular ballast stone
A circular ballast stone
Another important process that we started at the end of this week was the GPS mapping of the bay. By taking coordinates of certain points along the bay, alongside a rough sketch, it becomes easier to keep track of where certain objects are found so we can find them again in the future. As this can be done from the surface, this was mostly done by divers who were on their surface interval to increase our efficiency.

One of the divers mapping the bay
One of the divers mapping the bay
After a week of mostly training and getting used to the circumstances these final 2 days showed great promise and created a perfect starting point for us to fully kick-start the project next week. Hopefully this means that the discovery of many interesting sites will follow!

Greetings from Hoi-An,

Mike

Over Maritiem Programma

Het Maritiem Programma van de Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed houdt zich bezig met het onderzoek naar scheepswrakken, bruggen, havens en andere maritieme landschappen. Het doel is om kennis, onderzoek, beleid, samenwerking en educatie op het gebied van maritiem erfgoed in Nederland een stevige basis te geven. Het programma loopt van 2012 tot en met 2015.

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