From forest to fairway : hull analysis of 'La belle', a late seventeenth-century French ship
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This thesis is a comprehensive analysis of the hull remains of La Belle, a ship wrecked off the coast of Texas in 1684 during the failed attempt by Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The analysis of La Belle's hull focused on five research goals. The first was to reconstruct the conception and design of the hull. Because La Belle was built on France's Atlantic coast, it was expected that the ship would fit into Atlantic traditions of shipbuilding. Instead, it exhibits an ancient Mediterranean method known only from Renaissance manuscripts. Until La Belle's discovery no archaeological example associated with this method had been identified. Reconstruction of the lines also revealed the unexpected use of surmarks that reflect a transition from a largely empirical approach to the architecturally-based ship plan. The second goal was the documentation of a previously unstudied ship type, the barque longue, through an analysis and description of the hull's assembly and its comparison to contemporary shipbuilding practices. The third goal was an analysis of newly discovered registries, letters, and documents specific to La Belle that raised fundamental questions regarding the ship's genesis and typological identification. The fourth goal was species identification of the timbers to provide a more detailed picture of forest exploitation and to identify whether Old or New World timbers were used in the repairs noted in the hull. The fifth goal was to obtain information on the origin of the wood through dendrochronological analysis. That analysis raised unexpected questions regarding dating and the possibility of re-use of whole frame sets. Because there are no other investigated late 17th-century shipwreck sites from the Rochefort region with species and dendrochronology data, La Belle has provided a benchmark for these two analyses. These five research foci provide a unique picture of late 17th-century shipbuilding in French Atlantic shipyards and contribute to the study of hull design, ship typology, construction and assembly, wood species use and origin, dendrochronological dating, and timber reuse.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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