Polish-Croatian exchange of experience on the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage
In spring 2022, the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk began cooperation with a group of underwater archaeologists and conservators from the International Centre of Underwater Ar-chaeology (ICUA) in Zadar. Thanks to funding from the Polish Ministry of Culture and Na-tional Heritage within the framework of the ‘Inspiring Culture’ programme, a two-year project entitled ‘Polish-Croatian exchange of experience in the field of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage’ has been launched. The Embassy of the Re-public of Poland in Zagreb is also a partner of the project.
Underwater archaeologists from the ICUA in Poland
The aim of the project is to promote Poland’s underwater cultural heritage in Croatia and to develop cooperation between the two countries in the field of protection of underwater sites, development of underwater archaeology and conservation of monuments. In July 2022, the first visitors from the ICUA arrived at the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk. Croatian underwater archaeologists Mladen Pešić, Luka Bekić, Roko Surić and Maja Kaleb had the opportunity to see the methods of exploration, documentation and monitoring of wrecks used in Poland. Upon arrival, the guests visited the Shipwreck Conservation Centre together with the Study Warehouse in Tczew (CKWS), and then went to Puck, where the National Mari-time Museum’s Underwater Research Department conducted research on the 12th century wreck P5 in the area of the sunken medieval port. In the conference room of the Scouts Mari-time Centre in Puck, the parties presented a brief history and achievements to date of the NMM and the ICUA in the field of underwater research and ways to popularise and protect archaeological sites within the scope of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Next, archaeologists from the Underwater Research Depart-ment of the National Maritime Museum presented to the guests their methods of exploration, documentation and in situ protection of underwater archaeological artefacts, using objects found in the above-mentioned Puck harbour as an example. It is worth mentioning that thanks to Poland’s ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cul-tural Heritage, our museum has been equipped this year with a new RIB-type vessel, making it possible to conduct underwater archaeological research and monitoring of objects of maritime cultural heritage in the Baltic Sea. It was from this vessel that the ‘Wicher’ and ‘Catharina’ wrecks were monitored with a team from the ICUA. The first of these, lying off Hel, is the wreck of a Polish destroyer sunk in the first days of the Second World War. The second, lying near the small coastal town of Rewa, represents the remains of a merchant sailing ship destroyed in 1945 as a result of a Russian air raid. It is an interesting site in that it has not yet been subjected to an archaeological survey, which, after a positive verification this year, has been tentatively scheduled for next year. The monitoring of the ‘Wicher’ wreck also gave visi-tors an opportunity to tour the Hel branch of the National Maritime Museum, the Fisheries Museum.
Meeting with the conservators from Croatia
In September 2022, a visit by a team of conservators Antonija Jozić, Anita Jelić and Zdenka Vrgoč from the ICUA in Zadar took place. The ICUA representatives’ stay began with a meeting at the Maritime Culture Centre in Gdańsk, where representatives of both teams pre-sented the scope of their conservation work and the challenges they face. The ICUA guests then toured the workshop and laboratories that have been set up for the conservation and re-search of wet archaeological wood and metal. The first day’s visit culminated with a guided tour of the ‘Boats of the World’s Peoples’ exhibition by Przemysław Węgrzyn, head of the Education Department. On the second day, the guests continued their meeting at the Museum headquarters in Gdańsk, where they met with Dr Robert Domżał, Director of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, and the project team. On that day, the conservators also saw the permanent exhibition in the Granaries on Ołowianka Island and the two newest exhibitions ‘To DNA. 50 years of archaeological underwater research at the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk’ and ‘Truso. Legend of the Baltic’, which was guided by dr Domżał. During their visit to the Shipwreck Conservation Centre, the ICUA representatives became acquainted with the specifics of the work and the equipment used by the National Maritime Museum’s conservators, e.g. equipment for cleaning metal historical objects. Particular interest and nu-merous questions were aroused by the bathtub system with automation and mechanics, spe-cially designed for the conservation process of wet archaeological wood within the framework of the project ‘Construction of the Shipwreck Conservation Centre with a Study Warehouse in Tczew’, financed from Norwegian funds and co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The ladies’ attention was also drawn to the X-ray laboratory, with two types of X-ray tube of varying power with an indirect and a non-direct radiography system. Both lamps are used to examine inorganic and organic historical objects. During the meeting at the Tczew branch, guests and the representatives of the National Maritime Museum had the opportunity to listen to an online lecture presented by Dr Susan Braovac from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo on the results of the ‘Saving Oseberg’ project. The aim of the project was to conserve and thus save Norwegian boats and their furnishings from the ninth century from degradation resulting from the alum method used for conservation in the past. In addition, the conservators had the opportunity to visit two branches of the National Maritime Mu-seum, i.e. the Fisheries Museum in Hel and the Dar Pomorza in Gdynia, and, courtesy of the Directorate of the Naval Museum in Gdynia, both groups visited the warship ORP ‘Błyskawica’ – the oldest surviving veteran destroyer which took an active part in the Second World War, a branch of the Naval Museum in Gdynia.
Summary of the study visits and the opening of an open-air exhibition in Zagreb
During both visits to Poland, both archaeologists and conservators visited the museum exhibi-tions at the branches of the National Maritime Museum and the workshops for the conserva-tion and documentation of archaeological artefacts at Maritime Culture Centre in Gdańsk and Shipwreck Conservation Centre in Tczew. During the visit of Croatian archaeologists, we had the opportunity to exchange experience in the methodology of underwater archaeological re-search and equipment used for underwater exploration and documentation. We also ex-changed observations on the protection of submerged archaeological sites, including the pos-sibility of protecting historic wrecks in situ and the principles of making them available for underwater tourism. The stay of conservators from the ICUA enabled the exchange of experi-ence in methods of conservation and research of metal, wooden and ceramic artefacts from the marine environment. The first part of the project was summarised by an open-air exhibition entitled ‘Underwater archaeology in Poland. History and perspectives’, opened on 23 Septem-ber 2022 in Zagreb. The official opening was attended by the director of the National Mari-time Museum in Gdańsk dr Robert Domżał, the director of the ICUA in Zadar dr Mladen Pešić and the representative of the Polish Embassy in Zagreb Marina Hercigonja. The aim of the exhibition was to promote Poland’s underwater cultural heritage in Croatia. Several posters set up in the very centre of the Croatian capital presented wrecks important in terms of the development of boatbuilding traditions, trade and participation in military activities. Medieval boats from Puck, the wreck of a medieval ship called the Copper Ship, the 17th century Swe-dish ship ‘Solen’ and the warship ‘Wicher’ were considered the most significant. Subsequent charts present the effects of the conservation of monuments excavated from the depths of the sea and the history and prospects for the protection of the Baltic’s underwater heritage. The exhibition could be viewed until 6 October 2022.
The first part of the project is now over. We are looking forward to a visit to Croatia and the opportunity to learn more about how to protect Adriatic wrecks in situ and the methods of preserving artefacts retrieved from the sea used at the International Centre of Underwater Archaeology in Zadar.
The project “Polish-Croatian exchange of experience in the scope of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage” was co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage within the framework of the “Inspiring culture” programme.