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Sunken Slave Ship

 

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Overview
The Henrietta Marie's trip began in 1700 in London. The ship stopped in Africa to trade glass beads, guns, and pewter to tribal chiefs in exchange for a human cargo of 190 African slaves and continued on to Jamaica and sold the slaves to plantation owners, but never returned to London from there. It was overtaken by a violent storm and went down off the Florida coast. We know the details of the Henrietta Marie's voyage as a direct result of a painstaking sleuthing of marine archaeologists and historians. Marine archaeologists unearthed the ship's artifacts in 1982. Using items such as the bell and shackles, historians pieced together the ship's saga, providing a rare look at how slave ships operated. The first step for archaeologists was to establish a base line and grid on the ocean floor around the wreck to serve as reference points. Then they began mapping out where artifacts were discovered. Some of the 7,500 artifacts were covered with layers of encrustation made up of the tiny skeletons of microorganisms. As one group of the organisms died, another would attach itself on top of the original layer. Other ship artifacts were preserved by layers of sand, creating an absence of oxygen that protected them from microorganisms that feed off organic matter, waves, and other forces of nature. Conditions such as the depth at which the wreck was found and the cold temperature of the ocean also helped to preserve the artifacts. After carefully gridding, tagging, and excavating artifacts from the site, conservationists removed sand and small shell encrustations. Then, in a lab, they removed any rust from metal artifacts through a process of electrolytic reduction, where the oxidation (or rust) process is reversed. Some artifacts are beyond help for this method to work, but if the layers of encrustation are thick enough, they can be filled like a mold with an epoxy resin to create casts or replicas of the pieces. What is finally preserved provides us with a time capsule, a glimpse into the past, particularly the conditions of the slave trade during that period. This glimpse may help us to understand our history and move more wisely into the future.

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