SCIENTISTS and archaeologists from Wales and Spain could soon be working more closely thanks to “a major new finding” about the origins of the Newport Ship.

Hull timbers from the 15th century medieval vessel, found at the building site for the Riverfront Theatre in Newport ten years ago, have recently been matched to the Basque Country in northern Spain, renowned for its medieval ship-building industry.

As we reported last week, scientists from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and the Arkeolan Foundation, based in the Basque town of Irun, collaborated to date the wood.

The ship’s fascinating history could prove to be an “economic regenerator” for the city, said Cllr Charles Ferris, patron of the Friends of the Newport Medieval Ship.

“Time is marching on and we’ve got to be thinking about making Newport city centre interesting,” he said.

Trinity Saint David said they hoped the new findings would encourage closer cooperation between archaeologists, historians and scientists in Wales and the Basque Country as research continues, and conservation of the ship proceeds in advance of its eventual display in a new museum. The ship currently resides in a Maesglas industrial unit, where a team of specialists have cleaned and recorded each of its timbers and are working to restore them.

The wood is being freeze-dried and the process is scheduled to finish in 2014. It will take another three years to rebuild the ship.

Newport City Council is spending £290,000 on the ship this year. It has commissioned a study to find a new home for the vessel, which is ongoing.

Cllr Debbie Wilcox, cabinet member for leisure and culture at Newport City Council, said the findings “reinforce the international significance of the ship and how it should be viewed as a find of national importance.”

Vessel owned by a notorious pirate

THE ship is believed to have been built in the Basque Country, northern Spain, circa 1450. Previous guesses included Portugal or Bayonne, which lies in the region straddling the Basque Country and Gascony in southern France.

A coin found on board dates from 1447, but new findings reveal the ship is slightly younger than first thought.

The ship was damaged when it arrived in Wales in the midst of the War of the Roses, explained Newport City Councillor Charles Ferris, patron of the Friends of the Newport Medieval Ship.

“The ship was laid up in 1467, but it wasn’t obsolete at that point,” said Cllr Ferris.

“It was owned by Warwick the King-maker who was a notorious pirate and we know he gave passage to a ship called the Marie of Bayonne from the Basque Country, so our ship could have been the Marie.

“It could also have been taken in an act of piracy.”

Born in 1428, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was called ‘the king-maker’ because of his political influence.

It is possible that pirates operating under the Earl’s sponsorship may have captured the ship, but it never left Newport, possibly due to the Earl’s death.