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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

World's Oldest Shipwreck

From the Guardian

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the world’s oldest intact shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea where it appears to have lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years.
The 23-metre (75ft) vessel, thought to be ancient Greek, was discovered with its mast, rudders and rowing benches all present and correct just over a mile below the surface. A lack of oxygen at that depth preserved it, the researchers said.
“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator with the Black Sea Maritime ArchaeologyProject (MAP), the team that made the find. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”
The ship is believed to have been a trading vessel of a type that researchers say has only previously been seen “on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum”.
The ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum: the shipwreck is believed to be a vessel similar to that shown bearing Odysseus.
 The ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum: the shipwreck is believed to be a vessel similar to that shown bearing Odysseus. Photograph: Werner Forman/UIG via Getty Images
That work, which dates from about the same period, depicts a similar vessel bearing Odysseus past the sirens, with the Homeric hero lashed to the mast to resist their songs.
The team reportedly said they intended to leave the vessel where it was found, but added that a small piece had been carbon dated by the University of Southampton and claimed the results “confirmed [it] as the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind”. The team said the data would be published at the Black Sea MAP conference at the Wellcome Collection in London later this week.
It was among more than 60 shipwrecks found by the international team of maritime archaeologists, scientists and marine surveyors, which has been on a three-year mission to explore the depths of the Black Sea to gain a greater understanding of the impact of prehistoric sea-level changes.
They said the finds varied in age from a “17th-century Cossack raiding fleet, through Roman trading vessels, complete with amphorae, to a complete ship from the classical period”.
The documentary team made a two-hour film that is due to be shown at the British Museum on Tuesday.
I wonder if they will try to explore the lives of the poor mortals who sat on the benches and wielded the oars....

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Viking ship burial discovered by radar

From National Geographic  by Andrew Curry

Enormous, rare Viking ship burial discovered by radar
ARCHAEOLOGISTS HAVE FOUND the outlines of a Viking ship buried not far from the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The 65-foot-long ship was covered over more than 1,000 years ago to serve as the final resting place of a prominent Viking king or queen. That makes it one of the largest Viking ship graves ever found.

An image generated by ground-penetrating radar reveals the outlines of a Viking ship within a burial mound.
Experts say intact Viking ship graves of this size are vanishingly rare. “I think we could talk about a hundred-year find,” says archaeologist Jan Bill, curator of Viking ships at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. “It’s quite spectacular from an archaeology point of view.”
The site where the ship grave was found is well-known. A burial mound 30 feet tall looms over the site, serving as a local landmark visible from the highway just north of the Swedish border. But archaeologists thought any archaeological remains in the nearby fields must have been destroyed by farmers’ plows in the late 19th century. Then, this spring, officials from the surrounding county of Ostfold asked experts from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Research to survey the fields using a large ground-penetrating radar array. They were able to scan the soil underneath almost 10 acres of farmland around the mound.
Underneath, they found evidence of ten large graves and traces of a ship’s hull, hidden just 20 inches beneath the surface. Knut Paasche, head of the archaeology department at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Research and director of the recent work at the site, estimates the ship was at least 65 feet long. It appears to be well-preserved, with clear outlines of the keel and the first few strakes, or lines of planking, visible in the radar scans. The ship would have been dragged onshore from the nearby Oslo fjord. At some point during the Viking Age, it was the final resting place of someone powerful. “Ships like this functioned as a coffin,” says Paasche. “There was one king or queen or local chieftain on board.”Whoever was buried in the ship wasn’t alone. There are traces of at least eight other burial mounds in the field, some almost 90 feet across. Three large longhouses—one 150 feet long—are also visible underneath the site’s soil, together with a half-dozen smaller structures.
Archaeologists hope future excavations will help date the mounds and the longhouses, which may have been built at different times. “We can’t be sure the houses have the same age as the ship,” Paasche says.
Paasche plans to return to the site next spring to conduct more sophisticated scans, including surveying the site with a magnetometer and perhaps digging test trenches to see what condition the ship’s remains are in. If there is wood from the ship’s hull preserved beneath the ground, it could be used to date the find more precisely.
The chances of finding a king’s treasure are slim. Because they were so prominent in the landscape, many Viking Age burials were robbed centuries ago, long before they were leveled by 19th century farmers. But “it would be very exciting to see if the burial is still intact,” says Bill. “If it is, it could be holding some very interesting finds.”

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A new(ish) kind of wind powered ship


But though it may look weird it will help save the planet.

From the Economist

AN OIL tanker that ferries nearly 110,000 tonnes of the black stuff between the Middle East and Europe does not sound like a green ship. But Maersk Pelican is unique among the world’s biggest cargo ships in that it does not rely on fossil fuels alone for propulsion. On September 29th it arrived in Saudi Arabia on its first voyage since the installation of two 30-metre rotor sails.

Coal- and oil-powered cargo ships wiped out wind power in the 19th century. But interest in wind propulsion, and in rotor sails in particular, is growing as shipping lines seek ways to slash fuel bills. Placed on a ship’s decks, these giant rotating cylinders propel it using the “Magnus effect”, the force that causes a spinning ball to curve through the air.

The concept was demonstrated by Anton Flettner, a German engineer, in the 1920s, but rotor sails failed to catch on, partly because coal was a cheap alternative. The first ones he made were metal and so heavy that they slowed ships.

The rotor sails that Norsepower, a Finnish firm, has developed are made of carbon fibre and are far lighter, says Tuomas Riski, its chief executive. They are also automated, so no extra sailors are needed to operate them, unlike Flettner’s version. As well as Maersk Pelican, Norsepower has already fitted them to several other ships, including Estraden, a ferry which operates between the Netherlands and Britain, and Viking Grace, which sails between Sweden and Finland.

The interest in the sails comes because they can slash fuel bills and emissions, says Tommy Thomassen, chief technical officer of Maersk Tankers. The Maersk Pelican’s two rotor sails will cut its fuel bills by 7-10%, he forecasts; if it added two more that could rise to 15-20%. Such savings help with another priority for the shipping industry; complying with new climate-change targets. In April the International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency, agreed to cut by half the global shipping sector’s carbon emissions from 2008 levels by 2050.

Sails can make serious contributions to that target. Most other technologies (such as adding bulbous bows) shave only a few percent off fuel bills. Electric batteries cannot store enough energy for long sea voyages.

Upfront costs remain a problem. Norsepower’s rotor sails cost €1m-2m ($1.15m-2.3m) to install; it takes five years on average to earn that back in lower fuel bills. Mr Riski hopes to slash that figure to three years by making the sails more cheaply in China. It would then become worthwhile for charterers, which only tend to lease ships for under three years, to install them.

Rotor sails are not the only ones about. Modern versions of the sort of sails fitted to conventional ships, as well as kites attached to the front of the vessel, have also been mooted as energy-saving solutions. But these are a health-and-safety risk to sailors in bad weather. Wind power may be back in fashion but no one needs to mount the rigging.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Another oligarch and his super yachts in trouble

Super yacht Queen K

A small item in today's paper caught my eye, because the theme seemed eerily familiar.

OLIGARCH'S US ASSETS SEIZED IN FBI SANCTIONS CRACKDOWN, it was headlined, going on to say that the FBI has reportedly frozen the US assets of Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, in a continued crackdown on Vladimir Putin's allies.

The industrialist, worth an estimated US$3.3 billion, was placed on a list of individuals sanctioned by the US treasury in April -- April 2018, that is. Deripaska's US assets, which include a Central Park town house bought for $42.5 million in 2008 -- are now frozen.  And what was really interesting about that town house, is that it is the address of Dasha Abramovich, the ex-wife of Roman Abramovich, who reportedly was found lurking inside there, along with her children.

I have already written about Abramovich, who sold super-yacht Luna to a fellow oligarch, Akhmedov, who was also involved in a bizarre divorce case. And, guess what, according to the New York Post, Roman Abramovich is now dating Polina Deripaska, the estranged wife of Oleg.  And this very strange wife-swap could be part of a convoluted tax- and sanction-avoiding deal.

So, who is Oleg Deripaska?

Radio Free Europe sums up his story in a few succinct words:  he is a billionaire tycoon who throws lavish parties, has been barred from the United States, and did business with Paul Manaforte, Trump's one-time campaign chair.  He also -- though under the radar, as it were -- has very close ties with the Putin administration.  And much of this has been conducted on his yacht, Queen K, pictured above.

Queen K is a 72.60m (238.19ft) motor yacht, custom built in 2004 by the German company, Lurssen Yachts. She was designed by Espen Oeino with Lurssen Yachts developing the naval architecture, and the interior design was created by Donald Starkey.  Her current flag is that of the Cayman Islands.  Nine suites accommodate up to 18 guests, on cruises of up to 5000 nautical miles without refueling, while all the time 21 crew members look after the privileged passengers. And, just in case she runs into trouble, she has a support craft, named Sputnik.

Interestingly, too, the name of her owner is generally given as "unknown."  Super Yacht Fan. however, is convinced it is Oleg Deripaska, along with other intriguing details.  So, if the Department of Justice gets involved, as it did with the case of the super-yacht Equanimity, the Queen K is within its grasp -- according to Vessel Finder (which has many technical details of the craft), she is currently in the eastern Mediterranean, a bit south of Cyprus.  

Deripaska has another yacht, named Selenga, which was launched in 2016, after a number of unusual difficulties.

According to Yacht Harbour, her construction began in 2007, at a Ulan-Ude-based shipyard.  But then the GFC (Great Financial Crisis) intervened.  Deripaska lost a huge amount of money, and the yacht had to be put on hold while he recouped his fortunes.  In 2014 the outer build was finally complete, but then it was found that the local water was too shallow to carry the yacht to her intended marina in lake Baikal. 

So a custom-built dock had to be built, to carry her there, in rather undignified fashion.

But at least it meant it was easy to finish off her interior, designed by Igor Lobanov.

Selenga can accommodate 12 guests in one master, 2 VIP, 1 twin and 2 guest cabins.  Rather bizarrely, the owner's cabin is divided into two, one being a master bedroom, and the other a yoga room.  

Unlike Queen K, Selenga is not vulnerable to seizure, if the DoJ should take an interest an appropriating her. Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake (by volume) in the world, is located in Southern Siberia.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shipmaster fined for hitting protected rock

Gorgeous ship, isn't she?  L'Austral, one of a fleet of small luxury vessels specializing in taking small groups to the sub-Antarctic.  The trouble is, much of the southern ocean is protected territory, hedged around with rules and regulations.  And the captain of this lovely vessel has been fined for hitting a rock in one of those protected zones.

From RadioNZ

Compagnie du Ponant and Captain Regis Daumesnil, a French citizen, were sentenced in the Wellington District Court today, after earlier admitting charges in relation to the grounding of the cruise ship L'Austral at the Snares Islands.
The company was fined $70,000 and the captain $30,000, for the incident in the remote New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands in January 2017. The stern of L'Austral hit an uncharted rock 220m from shore.
Charges of endangering human life and entering a prohibited zone were brought by Maritime New Zealand and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
L'Austral had 356 passengers and crew on board. It was found to have had inadequate passage plans and failed to monitor the ship's position near navigational hazards.
As a result of the grounding the vessel's hull was punctured in three places, but rather than return to Bluff, the nearest port, Captain Daumesnil decided to continue on the cruise schedule to the Auckland Islands - a further 285 kilometres south.
The ship returned to Bluff several days later, when divers were contracted to inspect the damage, and temporary repairs were carried out.
Maritime New Zealand officers inspected the ship and began an investigation when made aware of the grounding and the discovery that L'Austral had also entered an environmental exclusion zone.
Maritime NZ compliance manager Mike Vredenburg said it could have ended in tragedy and was a graphic warning of why passage planning was mandatory in New Zealand and internationally.
DOC operations director Aaron Fleming said it was "pure good luck" that an environmental disaster was avoided.
"The Snares Islands are one of the jewels of our conservation estate and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. DOC expects all visitors to respect and comply with the regulations which are in place to protect and preserve this pristine environment."
Mr Fleming said more than five million birds, as well as sea lions, and whales used the pristine region as a regular breeding ground.
The court directed that 90 percent of the fine laid under the Resource Management Act charges be awarded to DOC, which planned to use the funds for its Auckland Islands pest eradication project.

L'Austral, built in 2010 at  Fincantieri's Ancona shipyard, is the sister vessel of Le Boréal and Le Soléal.   

Like her sisters, she has 132 cabins and suites for 264 passengers, on six decks --who are pampered by a crew of 124.  It's cruising with a difference -- as the critic in Traveller mused, L'Austral is "petite, sexy" and with a "French flair."   

The lucky (and definitely well-heeled) passengers are carried in safety as well as comfort -- each ship has an ice-strengthened hull and carries Zodiacs for shore landings 
Tempted?  Despite that unfortunate brush with a valuable bit of the sub-Antarctic?   HERE is the Ponant website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Paint the world a haunting blue

For the last 25+ years I have been a huge fan of cyanotypes by Robert A. Schaefer Jr., and every now and then the world takes notice of his amazing talent.

The latest is ViaNolaVie, a site in New Orleans. 

Look up at the sky. What do you see? Blaring sun? Dark clouds promising torrential downpours and rain-soaked socks for everyone who thought, It’s beautiful out. It’s not going to rain. For photographer Robert Schaefer and artist Jennifer Shaw, that sky provides them with all they need to make a photograph. But not just any photograph. They make cyanotypes," the writer, Kelley Crawford records.

If you are like most people, "cyanotype" isn’t a word in your daily parlance, but it soon may be. 

“It’s a camera-less process achieved by laying objects or transparencies on top of light sensitive material,” Shaw, who has been teaching cyanotypes at McGhee for the past thirteen years, explains. 

“All you need is sun, water, and a light sensitive material,” she says.

From Robert Schaefer’s newest series “Melange” incorporating black and white negatives with placed objects. (Cyanotype/Photo by: Robert Schaefer)
This light sensitive material can take on many forms; in fact, there are few mediums that can’t be used when creating a cyanotype. Robert Schaefer, who studied 19th century photography methods in both Germany and the US and who teaches a course in New York, has tried many of those mediums. 

When asked which one he prefers, he says, “It depends on the image I’m thinking of creating. I like both fabric and paper.” It has been rumored that eggshells also offer a perfect place to transpose your cyanotype dreams. 
A cyanotype of the Empire State Building in NYC. (Cyanotype/Photo by: Robert Schaefer)

Although this dream of cyanotypes came somewhat out of a nightmare. That nightmare being the first publicly available photographic process, the daguerreotype, which was invented in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

The daguerreotype included silver-platted copper (sounds nice), a latent image (not so bad), and fumes of mercury vapors (oops). 

You might be envisioning the Mad Hatter at this point, and in an over-dramatic way, you wouldn’t be wrong. Not wanting to make the only publicly available photo process also a publicly available health epidemic, Sir John Herschel stepped in (you know, the man who also gave us the words photography, negative, positive and snapshot). 

He discovered the cyanotype procedure in 1842, and it continues to be used today. 

In fact, here’s a little story that will link the past with the present and cement the future presence of cyanotypes. As Schaefer explained, soon after the announcement of the discovery of the cyanotype, Sir John was asked by Anna Atkins, a neighbor and friend, who was a botanist and putting together a book on the subject, if the cyanotype process might be used to illustrate her book (by placing plants, leaves and flowers) on a piece of paper coated with the chemicals used for the cyanotype process. Sir John’s resounding yes to the question put Anna Atkins into motion to make such cyanotype and become the first woman to illustrate a book with photography.  

The New York Public Library (main branch on 42nd Street) is going to offer an exhibition of Anna Atkins, including an original copy of her book illustrated by cyanotypes of leaves, plants and flowers.

And here a sampling of Robert's wonderful work from our own collection:

Early Maori in New Zealand

Fascinating new details of pre-European settlement in New Zealand are revealed --

Much of the South Island of New Zealand is tussock country -- swathes of tall grasses where once tall trees reigned.  It has been known for a couple of centuries that it was fire that created this landscape, but only now is it proven that the fires were set by humans.

And, believe it or not, it is by tracing human poo in the ashy sediments.

Two studies of lake bottoms near Wanaka and Queenstown has turned up human faecal  matter in the same layers as charcoal and ash from the burning.

a team of nine researchers, from Italy, the USA and New Zealand, did the sampling.  The result:  little or no evidence of widespread burning before AD1280, the date that Polynesians first arrived in Aotearoa (plus or minus 20 years).  The only traces of previous burning probably came from lightning strikes, or burning ash blown over from wild-fire-prone Australia.  Up until that era, podocarp forests reigned supreme.

But then, about 1350, fire blazed across the plains -- or so the researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.  The ash is abundant in the sedimentary layer of that time -- as is coprosterol, a trace of human stools that lasts for centuries.  And why that date?  Presumably because a giant chook -- the moa (Polynesian word for chicken) -- was on the verge of being hunted to extinction, and a major food source was gone.

A pity, that.  I would have liked to have seen a moa -- though not to eat, as I am sure they tasted like chicken.  Back in the day, tales drifted into the European colonial settlements that a moa had been sighted -- there was the little girl, for instance, who reported seeing "a huge chicken with legs like a Roman soldier."  According to a reminiscence in Fulbright in New Zealand, this tale set American Fulbrighter Max Carmen to wondering aloud what he would do if he saw a moa.  Take a photograph, of course!  But no, a friend argued.  A photo could be faked, so no one would believe it.  It would have to be shot, to provide final proof of the existence of the last living moa.

But, Carmen mused, how would anyone know that it was indeed "the last living moa"?

But, as to those great fires, there could have been another reason for their deliberate setting.  According to archaeologist Atholl Anderson and fellow Maori scholars, the fires could have been deliberately launched to promote the growth of bracken, the roots of which were a major source of carbohydrate, back in the day.