Ten years of excavations and nearly 4500 dives were necessary to study, analyze, and reconstruct the structure of a shipwreck at Villefranche-sur-mer, identified as the Genoese "nave" La Lomellina.
The ship sank in a hurricane on 15 September 1516, and was rediscovered in April of 1979, 400 meters off the harbor basin of Villefranche, at a depth of 18 meters. Divers, archeologists, and technicians were at work on it until September of 1991. The merchant ship was very probably constructed in Genoa, and outfitted for a wealthy family of the city, the Lomellini. Its cargo was artillery, much needed in the Italian wars. Surprised by a violent storm while effecting repairs at Villefranche, the ship capsized and sank because it took on too much water.

The archeological study focused on the ship's structure as representation of the Mediterranean tradition of construction methods and equipment: highly interesting rudders, capstan, halyard ploughs, wedge pumps, port holes, and powder storage. "Naves", ships with a large tonnage, were actually the backbone of the Genoese fleet. They ensured transportation of heavy cargoes on the Mediterranean, and with destinations in the North-West of Europe.
The other purpose for the excavation was the study of artillery made of forged iron and affiliated equipment. Tubes, mobile breeches, gun carriages, shells, ignition sticks, rammers, spoons, and powder kegs were recovered and studied.

The drawing shows the hull intact, such as the excavators, working on successive slices, never saw it. Actually, the sections of the dig under study were again covered at the end of each campaign. In the center, one can see the pieces of artillery, the wheels of guncarriages, and the shots; the powder storeroom in front contained 21 caskets.

The base of the great mast, as reconstructed here, bears unique witness to the tradition of Mediterranean construction of the great "round" ships of the Renaissance.

A large range of archeological objects was recovered, tracing the work and daily life of the sailors. Also found were some albarello jugs and majolica bowls.

Excavation conducted by Max Guérout, Group for naval archeological research (GRAN) in collaboration with Éric Rieth (CNRS) and Jean-Marie Gassend (CNRS).
Web site of the Lomellina.

Photos : J.C. Hurteau, CNRS
Authorized reproduction only

Drawings by Noël Blotti with the kind permission of the magazine Géo.