Medieval grave slabs recovered from historic shipwreck by maritime archaeologists at Bournemouth University

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Incredible underwater footage shows the moment when two medieval grave slabs were recovered from an ancient shipwreck by maritime archaeologists.

Maritime archaeologists from Bournemouth University (BU) have recovered two grave slabs - weighing a combined 270kg - which have been lying at the bottom of Studland Bay for nearly 800 years. The slabs, carved from Purbeck Marble, were amongst the cargo of England’s oldest historic shipwreck, which sank off the Dorset coast during the reign of Henry III in the thirteenth century. Divers and archaeologists brought the slabs to the surface on 4th June in a two hour operation from a depth of around seven metres where the stones lay. One immaculately preserved slab measures one and a half metres and weighs an estimated 70 kilogrammes. The other, much larger slab is in two pieces, with a combined length of two metres and a weight of around 200 kilogrammes. 

Both have carvings of Christian crosses which were popular in the thirteenth century and the research team believe they were intended to be coffin lids or crypt monuments for high status individuals in the clergy.

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Tom Cousins, the Maritime Archaeologist who led the operation, said: “The wreck went down in the height of the Purbeck stone industry and the grave slabs we have here were a very popular monument for bishops and archbishops across all the cathedrals and monasteries in England at the time.”

The slabs will now be desalinated and conserved by the Bournemouth team until they can be put on public display along with the other recovered artefacts in the new Shipwreck Gallery when Poole Museum reopens next year. The site has been named the “Mortar Wreck” because other items in its cargo included a large number of grinding mortars, also made from Purbeck stone. Details of the discovery will shortly be published in the journal Antiquity.

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