Iván Negueruela: “The oldest ship in the world could disappear due to errors in its protection” | Culture

On October 5, 1804, despite going through times of peace, the frigate Our Lady of Mercedes it was attacked by the British fleet. A total of 249 Spaniards died. Every year since 2014, Iván Negueruela (Valladolid, 70 years old), until mid-October director of the National Museum of Underwater Archeology of Cartagena, placed a plaque in his memory on a pole with the Spanish flag in front of the institution on the anniversary day. museum. “I hope my successor continues to put them on,” he says. Released from the pressure of a position he has held since 1993, Negueruela recalls the challenges and difficulties he has faced since then. He assures that the treasure hunters have tried to buy him on several occasions and that the State has ceased functions when it comes to recovering the cargoes from the frigates. Juno Y Galga, despite the fact that President Bill Clinton congratulated Spain on its success in the US courts. And the most serious thing, that the Mazarrón 2, the oldest preserved ship in the world, is in danger of disappearance.

Ask. How was your arrival at the address of the National Museum?

Answer. I arrived in January 1993, after winning the contest. I had to present a project and it was ambitious. First, we had to build a new building, because at that time we were occupying 600 square meters in four isolated pavilions in a corner of the port of Cartagena, without the minimum conditions for a national museum. The staff had to go from 8 to 50 researchers, historians, divers … He wanted to turn the city into the main Spanish underwater archeology training center. I was trained at Trinity, London, at the age of 27, dazzled by the best teachers. In 1977 I went to excavate in Petra (Jordan), with the Sorbonne in Paris. It had a lot of land formation, but not at sea. My idea was that underwater archeology could not be distinguished from land archeology, except that we carried oxygen cylinders to breathe. The meticulousness should be the same as in Atapuerca.

P. Did you do it?

R. I proposed to create a training center and search for an iconic ancient ship, no matter what period it was, excavate it, extract it and restore it for display. Thus the technicians would be trained.

P. Did you find it?

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R. I was infinitely lucky that as soon as I arrived, the divers told me that there were Roman ships in the Mar Menor and that in Mazarrón they had found 36 fragments of Phoenician pottery. My thesis was precisely about Phoenician ceramics and I was a great specialist. They looked like pieces from the last third of the 7th century BC. C. and, in addition, there was a wood. Some said it was a keel, others that it was part of a car. I went to see it and it was clear it was a keel. We did a small excavation and thus, on October 4, 1993, the project began Phoenician ship. We were 17 scientists with all the equipment and the adventure began. In this way it was discovered Mazarrón 1, a ship that has gone around the world. We found 9,700 pottery shards, nothing like it has ever been done. They gave us 20 million pesetas [120.000 euros] to pay wages. In March 1994, I was in Cairo and the consul called me to put me in touch with the ambassador. “What’s the matter?” “Run back to Cartagena,” he told me, “they have found another Phoenician ship and it is whole.” It was him Mazarrón 2. It was complete, bow to stern, and sealed by some kind of carpet of dead seaweed. It was ideal for archaeologists. It was like the tomb of Tutankhamun that Howard Carter found sealed. Chunks of ship wood and seaweed were shipped to Holland, and dated between 630 and 600 BC, the oldest in the world.

State of 'Mazarrón 2', during the placement of the protective box in 2000.
State of ‘Mazarrón 2’, during the placement of the protective box in 2000.MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND SPORTS

P. The Mazarrón 1 went to the national museum. And the Mazarrón 2?

R. We protected it right away with an inverted steel drawer. And it stayed that way from 1995 to 2000. Flawless. Between the ship and the steel roof we put sand, which is the best protector, the one that has preserved it for 2,700 years. In 2000 we opened it to excavate it and remove objects it contained. I said that I had to extract it entirely, but the ministry only offered me 500,000 pesetas [3.000 euros]. Well then we leave it, better times will come.

P. Y?

R. In 2008 they reopened it, but they did not know how to close the drawer. They left the plates that protected it without the padlocks that prevented it from moving in the event of a storm. The Government of the Region of Murcia, which was responsible, did not send quarterly inspections to check that everything was going well. 80 sandbags have already been broken. Since 2013, the national government began to be alarmed when reading the reports: the plates were out of place. It was then proposed that the ship be taken out in June 2019. It was published in the official Murcia bulletin. Without contest. The project proposed to saw it in two pieces and then in four. And since each one measured two meters, the union of the strakes was going to be cut into 30 or 40 pieces. My heart still hurts. I wrote to the minister [José Guirao], which reacted immediately and prevented it.

In 2019, it was proposed to cut the oldest ship in the world into four pieces. My heart still hurts

P. And now where is the ship?

R. At the bottom of the sea, surrounded by the walls of the box, but without lids. What’s more, the last two expeditions say that not even the crossbars on which they were based remain. As a dana comes [gota fría], the ship disappears; sorry, it could disappear, and it’s the oldest preserved ship in the world.

P. Then it is in danger.

R. Very serious.

P. What percentage has been restored from the treasury of the Mercedes, the galleon that Spain recovered in 2012?

R. About 200,000 coins. There are people who say that it is little, because there are 600,000. (Laughs)

As a dana comes, the Phoenician ship ‘Mazarrón 2 ′ disappears

P. Did you like Alejandro Amenábar’s series on the Mercedes?

R. If I did not know the story, I would say how beautiful and how good. As I know it, it is remotely based on what happened, because some Spaniards reacted, but not the politicians. Whitewash politicians. The series is very good, but it was not them, but the journalists and the lawyers. The press, for once, was unanimous. All journalists, whatever their trend, supporting, supporting, supporting …

P. You proposed to build a new museum. Who approved the idea?

R. In 1995, Minister Carmen Alborch called me. “Let’s see, convince me why we should build a new headquarters,” he told me. I replied that we are the country that has discovered the most seas and oceans, the most rivers, archipelagos, deltas, the one that has built the best ships, that we have never been confused when we went from one point to another on the planet since the 16th century, not from the XVIII like the English. We had routes throughout the Pacific, the Spanish lake, they called it. English or French scientists came to see the old national museum and we had that crap, with the oldest ships in the world, with the submarine Peral used as a fountain in a roundabout with six streams, and damaging the metal. Alborch understood. She was a great woman.

P. Was the museum too small for you when it was inaugurated?

R. I asked for 12,000 meters and they gave me 6,000. We were going to fill it with 12,000 in 10 or 15 years. And that, without knowing that the 600,000 coins of the Mercedes. When the whole set goes to theaters, in 2022, it will already be full.

P. Is there a project to expand it?

R. No.

P. This museum has been given two important distinctions by international organizations.

R. We are the only one in the world that has two Unesco awards, for the three campaigns of the Mercedes, which were an international success.

P. Spain reacted with that ship, but not with the frigates Juno Y Galga, sunk in Virginia in 1802. Why?

R. The Galga It has not been excavated, and that has a million coins. I proposed it between 2001 and 2005. Why wasn’t it done? I do not know. I know that a museum has been created in the US with the Juno. Which minister authorized the material, even if it was a simple coin, to stay there? None, nor the Courts, since it is non-transferable public property. But there it is.

P. Has much been looted?

R. Since the end of the Franco regime and in the eighties, the treasure hunters did not stop, the most famous is Robert Marx, who plundered the Santa Maria de Atocha, a mythical ship. His pieces were auctioned in London, at Sotheby’s, a worldwide scandal, but the Spanish Government not only did nothing, but also awarded him a decoration. To a looter!

The Spanish Government decorated Robert Marx, a treasure hunter, a looter

P. Have they tried to buy you?

R. Poof!

P. Can you give me names?

R. I give you a hint. Treasure hunters came looting regularly. While I was in Cartagena, the San DiegoIt was done by a Frenchman, Frank Goddio. He excavated and looted the San Diego, in the Philippines, a ship from the first half of the seventeenth century. It was distributed with the Government of the islands. He auctioned one part at Sotheby’s and another at Christie’s and the rest was offered to the Spanish Government for the Naval Museum in Madrid. The Community of Madrid bought it for 800 million pesetas [4,8 millones de euros], I would have dug it for 20 million [120.000 euros]. But what was acquired was not His Majesty’s gold coins, but cannon balls, remains of a helmet, remains of armor … Nothing worth 800 million. Some archaeologists signed in 1995, when everything happened, against this, but nobody paid any attention to us. Another part of the material was exhibited in the Calle de Serrano in Madrid, in front of the National Archaeological Museum, between 1989 and 1990. The material looted by Goddio from a Spanish galéon was exhibited in the Durán auction room!

P. And nobody did anything?

R. No one. That scandalized me. In 1998 I received an anonymous call from the US alerting me that the American press was making fun of the looting. They were counting it The Washington Post Y The New York Times. We hired the best lawyer in the world: James Goold. He beat Sea Hunt, the treasure hunting company, very quickly in court. The sentence said that all the cargo and more the two ships belonged to the Spanish State. Nothing has returned to Spain, despite the fact that the sentence was even praised by President Bill Clinton, who was pleased that his courts had put things in their place, which was a state ship from a friendly country. Despite this, not a single coin has come, neither to the national museum nor anywhere in Spain.

Spain won in 2000 in the North American courts the return of the shipment of the ‘Juno’ and the ‘Galga’. Not a coin has returned

P. What is the state of national archeology?

R. In general good, but the transfers to the autonomies have spoiled it a lot. Archeology is subject to the whim of local power. There is ideological affinity. If I am in Catalonia, it is better for me to be a friend of Convergence or whatever they are called now; if it was excavated in Andalusia, of the PSOE; and if it was investigated in Murcia, of the PP. That has done infinite damage. If it were possible to remove that link, that the commission of contracts depended on Madrid, that there would be a central power …

P. Why are you so controversial?

R. Because I have been educated in, with and for the truth. And the truth is annoying. In our society there are more corrupt and expectant stomachs than people of integrity. The important thing in running this museum is pristine integrity.

P. What have you advised your successor?

R. I don’t know who it is.

P. And so?

R. They have not named anyone at the moment. I hope they name him on a merit contest.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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