Firing cannons at model shipwrecks — for science!

Why fire a cannon at a model of an Israeli shipwreck? For science, naturally!

The vessel in question was found in the walled port city of Akko — known in English as Acre — the historically strategic coastal link to the Levant. The shipwreck apparently dates to the 1840 campaign the British, Austrians and Ottomans waged against the Egyptians who held Akko at the time. A direct hit by a shell on the main powder magazine in November of that year caused a giant explosion, and Akko was taken the following day.

The wreck was discovered in Akko harbor at a depth of about 12 feet and its roughly 75-foot-long hull was excavated over a span from 2006 to 2008. Researchers think it was a small armed Egyptian vessel with 16 guns in total — 11 cannonballs, several lead bullets, and six muskets were found inside, among other finds.

The sides of the ship were made of solid oak about 6.7 inches thick, raising the question of what protection they offered against cannon fire. To find out, researchers created a scale model to shoot at, assuming that a roughly 12-pound cannonball found in the shipwreck site was a typical projectile.

They found that a 12-pounder cannonball would have easily penetrated the side of the original ship, causing much internal damage. Their experiments also showed in gunners truly wanted to be nasty, they made sure cannonballs traveled slower — that increased the number and size of splinters generated, potentially inflicting more casualties.

The scientists detailed their findings online February 23 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Credit: National Maritime Museum, Haifa, Israel.