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A Look at La Belle

By: Lindsay Liepman
By: Lindsay Liepman

Texas A&M researchers are lifting the veil of mystery that hangs over the past.

Ever since the discovery of a 17th century ship wreck off the Texas coast, it's been their mission to save as many treasures as possible.

Now, they've created new techniques to preserve a piece of Texas history.

A look at La Belle is a glance into history.

"When we found La Belle and began excavating and researching it, we realized the ship was a small event that impacted Texas history," said Dr. Jim Bruseth.

Bruseth has written the book on one of the greatest archeological finds in history.

La Belle's captain was La Salle, the great French explorer.

When the ship sank beneath troubled waters in 1686, so did France's aspirations of colonizing Texas.

For hundreds of years the ship remained buried in a watery grave.

Until Texas A&M researchers embarked on their own journey in 1996.

It was thinking out of the box that allowed them to recover over a million artifacts.

"We had built a dam to pump the water out and that season several cold fronts came through and a tremendous storm flowed over the dam, but despite it all we had the ultimate success," said Bruseth.

But the story doesn't end there.

For almost a decade, they've tried to reconstruct and preserve what has been immersed in water for centuries.

"Our job is very controlled and we have to be very careful so in the end we have an artifact that looks much like it did before it went under water," said Helen Dewolf.

Dewolf is among the researchers that have developed an innovative way to display and conserve the ship.

La Belle was never meant to be out of water, and it could literally break if it weren't for a new carbon fiber and fiberglass laminate they've created to support the ship.

"In the end, the ship will almost appear to float in the museum," said Dewolf.

The technology is now spreading throughout the world and being used in other recovered ship wrecks.

And it's allowing the voyage La Belle began three hundred years ago, to continue.


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