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We are water: shipwreck Scheurrak SO1, Martijn's favourite heritage

Saturday, July 14, 2018 - 18:05

Maritime Heritage is a subject that I am working on continuously: doing research on everything that has to do with the relationship between people and water, to find out what we wish to protect and safeguard for future generations. I also have my favourite heritage: the Scheurrak SO1 wreck in the Wadden Sea, for several reasons.

Early symbol of the Dutch East India Company

It was a grain trader that perished during a storm - probably the one on Christmas eve 1593. A simple ship, but illustrative of one of the main activities of our country: trading over sea. And we were very good at it, at that!

The grain trade was called the 'Moedernegotie' in the Golden Age, meaning: ‘the mother of all trades’. The production and distribution chain was almost completely in the hands of Dutch traders, making them enormously powerful and eventually rich. It started with harvesting the grain to the granary of Poland, from the transport of the grain over the Vistula river to Gdansk up to the thousands of Dutch ships bringing the wheat to the Amsterdam market, to be sold all over Europe. Sometimes profits rose up to 3000% ! With that kind of capital, the Golden Age was inaugurated. But the rich merchantmen wanted to go further, to earn more. To make a long story short, they established the Dutch East India Company (VOC). And that story is all hidden in this one shipwreck: Scheurrak SO1.

Maria Tesselschade

Of course there is much more to tell. Thousands of finds from the wreck tell a number of stories about this exciting period in Dutch history. From 1989 to 1997, it was the first ship to be excavated underwater in The Netherlands. To this day, the research performed on the wreck also forms the foundation of our underwater archaeological discipline.

During that storm on Christmas eve 1593, several grain ships sank. Some of them were insured by Roemer Visscher, a successful Dutch merchantman. He lost a lot of money that night... His unhappiness about this showed when in March 1594, he named his daughter Maria Tesselschade. ‘Tesselschade’ means ‘damage of Texel’ – Texel is the island where all the ships were harboured and left for the open seas). A nice father, you would say. Yet that name did not stop her from becoming famous as the muse of the Muiderkring (Muider Circle), a group of painters, poets and other artistically (and politically) important people. 

The ship itself has appeared to be technically interesting. Its shipbuilding contains all sorts of technical details that indicate the transition between different construction methods of that era. These innovative changes were the reason why the Dutch could take the leap to trade more bulk goods - like grain - over the big seas and oceans.

Heritage on all levels. Even personal.

We determine what heritage is at different levels. There is world, national, local and personal heritage. From my perspective, the Scheurrak SO1 wreck checks off many boxes. It is located in the Wadden Sea on the Texel Roads, but it also shows importance for the Mother Trade and how it changed the economic markets into an international and even worldwide economy. At the very end of the spectrum, the wreck meant a lot to me personally: this is where I made my first archaeological dives as a student, I participated in the conservation and did my first research. Here lies my personal cradle of maritime archaeology. The wreck deserves a good and beautiful final publication, which - after 20 years of research - is still not written. Fortunately, this wish is growing in people's attention: it’s being worked on as I write this. So this will definitely be continued.

Scheurrak SO1, part of the film