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Recent Discoveries

The Paragan 1 shipwreck, Corsica: a 17th–18th century coaster

Eric Rieth et Franca Cibecchini
p. 181-186


L’épave, située dans la baie de Paragan près de Bonifacio (Corse du Sud), a été découverte en 2015. La faïence de la côte ligure retrouvée sur l’épave permet de la dater de la fin du xviie-début du xviiie siècle. De 2016 à 2019, elle a fait l’objet d’une fouille sous-­marine dans le cadre de l’école internationale de formation du Master « MoMArch » (A*Midex, Aix-Marseille Université, CCJ, DRASSM). L’épave présente plusieurs « empreintes architecturales » caractéristiques des pratiques de construction méditerranéenne sur membrures attestées archéologiquement depuis le Moyen Âge. L’un des objectifs de la fouille est de fournir des réponses sur les principes et les processus de construction du navire, un autre, de parvenir, grâce à la restitution de la forme de la coque et du gréement, à l’identification du type architectural du navire dans le contexte technique des caboteurs du bassin méditerranéen occidental.

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Texte intégral

1In June 2015, a Corsican diver from Bonifacio, Jérôme Poggi, discovered along the coast of the little Bay of Paragan, Corsica, a well-preserved hull exposed on the surface of the seabed at only 2.5 m depth (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Geographical location of the wreck in Paragan Bay near Bonifacio, Corsica

Fig. 1: Geographical location of the wreck in Paragan Bay near Bonifacio, Corsica

(drawing F. Cibecchini, DRASSM)

2A team of experts was quickly organised in July 2015 by F. Cibecchini, Corsica regional responsible of the French Department of subaquatic and submarine archaeological research (DRASSM). Several shards of Ligurian faïence, cooking pottery from Savona and other ceramics of the Provencal coast were found, dating the wreck to between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.

  • 1  In addition to the two authors of the article, the archaeological team is composed of H. Botcazou (...)
  • 2  The excavation of the Paragan wreck is financed by the AMidex* Foundation of Aix Marseille Univers (...)

3In April 2016, a fieldwork school began on the wreck as part the International Master of Maritime and Coastal Archaeology (MoMArch) course, led by Aix-Marseille University (AMU) and DRASSM. The excavation is co-­directed by the two authors.1 Three excavation campaigns, of two weeks each, have been carried out so far on the wreck (fig. 2).2

Fig. 2: The three areas of excavation 2016‑2018

Fig. 2: The three areas of excavation 2016‑2018

(photographs L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ; orthophotography D. Peloso, Ipso Facto)

4Beyond its educational objective of training MoMArch students in the methods and techniques of excavating a wreck, the excavation of the Paragan 1 also has precisely determined scien­tific objectives. These are part of a research programme on the medieval and post-medieval history of Mediterranean naval architecture.

5This nautical archaeology research initiative is based on archaeological sources, as well as written and ethno-­archaeological sources, and is conducted along two main axes: “thinking” the ship and “making” the ship. First, it is a question of studying the processes of designing the structure and the geometry of the hull forms within the concept of a frame-first principle of shipbuilding. Secondly, it is a question of analysing construction methods and practices by revealing, in particular, a corpus of “architectural signatures” specific to western Mediterranean shipyards.

6The latest campaign, April 2018, focused on the front part of the wreck, where the galley was probably located. In this area, which may well have felt the impact with the rocks, the wooden structures of the ship are dislocated and collapsed, effectively protecting the underlying layers, which are rich in archaeo­logical material. Particular mention should be made of a wooden box containing more than ten jugs of Ligurian faïence. In the same zone, various kitchen pottery items from Savona, Liguria, coarse and glazed ceramics from the south of France (Huveaune Valley and Frejus), fragments of bricks, and some elements of charcoal and firewood clearly indicate the presence of the galley in this area. The recovered pottery confirms a date for the shipwreck at the very end of the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century.

7The ballast present inside the hull has been sampled and analysed. It is mainly composed of serpentinite pebbles that are found both in Cap Corse and in Liguria.

1. Architectural study

1.1. Strategy and search areas

8As part of a multi-year excavation programme (2017–2019), and following a survey to assess the wreck (2016), the excavation strategy was based on a dual choice. Firstly, it was decided to operate by sectors. The three limited areas selected (north, middle, south) were however representative enough to provide an initial approach to the general architectural characteristics of the shipwreck. Secondly, a decision was made not to dismantle the architectural elements, except for a limited area around the master frame in order to obtain an integral cross section of this particularly significant part of the hull. It should be noted that this scientific choice was also linked to the need to protect the archaeological remains, which are endangered by the shallowness of the site and the risk of degradation in the event of a storm.

9In this paper, we will limit our remarks to the most important architectural aspects: the general arrangement of the frames, the area of the master frame, the mast step, and the lower element of the sternpost. First of all, it is important to remember that among the various architectural signatures observed, two are very revealing of the practices and methods of the Mediterranean frame-first tradition of shipbuilding. These are, firstly, the systematic assembly of the carvel planks (4 cm thick) to the frames by two nails per frame as a rule, and more generally the assembly of the various architectural elements with iron nails and bolts. (In the current state of progress of the excavation, no assembly with treenails has been observed.) The second signature to be noted is the existence of a removable transverse ceiling between the keelson and the stringers. This transverse ceiling, palhol in Mediterranean terminology (Fourquin, Rigaud 1993, p. 269), extends the entire length of the keelson. The ends of the ceiling planks rest on half-lap longitudinal joints in the keelson and the stringers.

1.2. The general arrangement of the frames

10In the entire wreck, only the floor timbers, madiers in French Mediterranean vocabulary (Fourquin Rigaud 1993, p. 230–231), and the first futtocks, estamenaires (Fourquin Rigaud 1993, p. 158–159), are preserved. Their average dimensions are 9.5 to 10.5 cm wide (sided) by 9 to 10 cm high (moulded). These elements of the framing have two main characteristics.

11Firstly, in the aft and fore areas, the floor timbers are systematically oriented to face the centre of the wreck, i.e. towards the master frame, with the first futtocks of the south area fixed to the aft face of the floor timbers, and those of the north area fixed to the fore side of the floor timbers. There is, therefore, a regular arrangement of all the preserved frames on either side of the master frame, which represents the transverse centre of symmetry of the framing in both the conceptual and structural plans.

12Secondly, in the aft part (south) of the wreck between the master frame and the aft end, i.e. on a length of 8.50 m, two sets of frames were identified at the level of the connection between the floor timbers and the first futtocks. A first set located towards the aft and fore ends of the wreck consists of frames whose first futtocks are simply fixed, without scarfs, to the floor timbers. A second set, located towards the centre of the wreck, is composed of frames whose first futtocks are joined by a hook scarf to the floor timbers. This double morphology of the assembly nailed between the floor timbers, and the first futtocks as architectural signatures refers directly to the design process of the geometry of the frames. The set of frames with a hook scarf definitely corresponds to predetermined and pre-moulded frames: and the set of frames assembled without a scarf corresponds to the frames that were shaped during construction, probably using ribbands. In this architectural context, the frames F 106 / F 107 must correspond to the aft tail frame.

13In the fore part (north) of the wreck, the excavation revealed within the limits of the studied surface only non-predetermined frames, which are characterised by a simple assembly without scarf between the floor timber and the first futtock. Logically, the continuation of the excavation of this zone towards the master frame should reveal an organisation of the frames in two sets (assembly with hook scarf and without scarf), identical to those of the aft part of the wreck.

14This design of the connection between the floor timbers and the first futtocks, very different from that with dovetail joints characteristic of the Ibero-Atlantic tradition (Oertling 2001, 2005), represents an architectural signature, among others, peculiar to the practices of Mediterranean shipyards: the so-called ‘whole moulding Mediterranean method’, the French method du maître-gabarit, de la tablette et du trebuchet, i.e. master mould, rising square and scale for narrowing the breadth (Rieth 1996). The oldest archaeological evidence of this method of design to be found so far is the Culip VI shipwreck in Spain, dating from the late 13th-early 14th century (Rieth, Pujol i Hamelink 1998), and one of the most recent (late 18th-early 19th century) is that of Kitten, Bulgaria, in the Black Sea (Batchvarov 2014), which represents a kind of ‘memory’ of Mediterranean technical culture of medieval and post-medieval shipbuilders.

1.3. The area of the master frame

15The area of the master frame, which is particularly important in terms of design principle (shape and structure) and construction process (chaîne opératoire), is characterised by two floor timbers, the madiers jumeaux (Fourquin, Rigaud 1993, p. 230), which have a very small room and space of 6 cm. The average room and space between floor timbers is between 24.5 and 26 cm, characteristic of Mediterranean shipbuilding practices with a relatively light framing (fig. 3). The first futtocks are fixed to these two floor timbers by a hook scarf and horizontal nailing. The first futtocks of one of the master floor timbers are assembled on one side of the first floor timber, and the other first futtocks are assembled on the opposite side of the second floor timber. There is therefore a reversal of the position of the first futtocks determining the two sets of predetermined and pre-moulded frames in the fore and aft parts of the hull. This double master frame, located nearly 1.50 m forward of the middle of the presumed length of the keel, conforms to Type 2 of Rieth’s typology of the Mediterranean master frame (Rieth, forthcoming), of which the oldest archaeological evidence is that of the Boccalama galley wreck in the Venetian lagoon dated to the 14th century (Fozzati 2002). We should remember that Type 1 is characterised by a floor timber with hook scarfs at both ends, and that Type 3 is characterised by a floor timber with first futtocks connected by a hook scarf at each end.

Fig. 3: The area of the two master frames

Fig. 3: The area of the two master frames

(photographs L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ; orthophotography D. Peloso, Ipso Facto; drawing H. Botcazou, CNRS/LA3M, Ipso Facto)

16The architectural recording of the cross section of the master frame revealed a flat floor timber, without any rising, with only a very slight deadrise of about 3 cm at the presumed point ­d’escoue (start of the turn of the bilge) and the length of the floor line between the two presumed points d’escoue measuring 2.32 m (fig. 4). This design of a flat floor timber with a bilge displaying a wide curvature radius, whose theoretical mould has been restored, is characteristic of a large Mediterranean family of boats and ships: local Mediterranean trading and fishing vessels whose shallow draught allowed easy access to the shore and facilitated beaching. As a research theory, three preliminary sketches for the reconstruction of the master frame up to the level of the greatest breadth were proposed. They are characterised by a beam between 4.40 m and 5.60 m, and a depth in hold from 2.10 m to 2.70 m.

Fig. 4: The transverse sections of the wreck

Fig. 4: The transverse sections of the wreck

(drawing S. Greck, Ipso Facto, H. Botcazou, AMU/LA3M, Ipso Facto)

1.4. The mast step

17The mast step consists of a set of elements constituting a particularly solid composite structure (fig. 5). The keelson is doubled by a reinforcement nearly 2.80 m long, in which the tenon of the mast heel rested. On either side of this longitudinal element are sister keelsons of 2.60 m long, 30 cm high and 14 cm wide. The two sister keelsons, the escasses (Fourquin, Rigaud 1993, p. 152), which constitute the walls of the mast step are not sunk into the floor timbers. They are only connected and nailed together at the lower part of the keelson. Each sister keelson is reinforced transversely by two buttresses, the coignets ­d’escasse (Fourquin, Rigaud 1993, p. 105), located between the sister keelson and the stringers. Each buttress, 95 cm long, 30 cm high at the level of the sister keelson, and 10 cm wide, rests on a floor timber. The two starboard (eastern) buttresses delimit the lateral partitions of the pump well of which only a few lower elements (planks and corner posts) are preserved. Two wooden cleats, 46 cm long, 13 cm wide and 6 cm thick, are dovetailed into the top of the sister keelsons. Both cleats are nailed to the sister keelsons. The mast step mortise, 62 cm long, 16 cm wide, 14 cm deep, which held the foot of the mast is blocked by two chocks. This massive composite mast step corresponding to the position of the mainmast is, by its composite structure, one of the most representative architectural signatures specific to Mediterranean shipyards, the oldest archaeological evidence of which is that of the medieval wreck of Culip VI. It should be added that in the current state of the excavation, no data suggests the existence of a second mast, neither near the bow, nor near the stern.

Fig. 5: The mast step

Fig. 5: The mast step

(photograph L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ)

1.5. The lower element of the stempost

18This element is not connected with the main structure of the shipwreck. It lies along the longitudinal axis of the remains of the hull, about 20 cm from the northern end of the keelson. It is fully preserved at 3.35 m long. It consists of a stem element, 30 cm wide, and a false stem element, 18 cm wide, which were scarfed with other elements (a gripe in particular), which were not preserved (fig. 6). The main characteristic, very rarely found in a wreck, is the presence of four underlined Roman numerals – V to VIII – separated by a line in the middle of the interval, interpreted as draught marks. Two anomalous characteristics should be noted: the irregularity of the intervals and the orientation of the lines, which, if they are in fact draught marks, should be parallel to the waterline. Two main questions arise: the first is that of the value of the interval, which is decisive for indicating the draught; the second is that of the restoration of the position of this lower element of the stem. The average interval between the engraved numerals is 26.2 cm. Cautiously taking into account the irregularity of the intervals, this average value appears to match the ‘palm’ of Cagliari and Sassari, which was defined officially in the 17th–18th century at 26.23 cm (Zupko 1981, p. 183–184). This hypothesis implies that the mini­mum light draught would be of the order of 1.30 m, and the fully loaded draught, in the state of conservation of the element, would be 2.30 m. The presumed value of the minimum draught, 1.30 m, is also an essential reference for restoring, as a preliminary working hypothesis, the original position of this stem element.

Fig. 6: The lower element of the stem and the false stem with the draught marks engraved in the wood

Fig. 6: The lower element of the stem and the false stem with the draught marks engraved in the wood

(drawing H. Botcazou, AMU/LA3M, Ipso Facto, A. Sabastia AMU/CCJ)

2. Conclusion

19In concluding this paper about the main results of three excavation campaigns, we can state that the data acquired provide an “anatomical portrait” of the Paragan shipwreck, revealing practices and a cultural technique specific to medieval and post-medieval Mediterranean shipyards. If questions remain, one thing is however certain: xylological analysis, conducted by S. Greck of Ipso Facto, has shown the use of a single species of wood – deciduous oak (Quercus sp.) – for the frames, the planks and for the main parts of the hull. This exclusive choice of oak for major elements of the architectural structure is logically an indication of a quality construction.

20The Paragan 1 shipwreck, a vessel no doubt designed for regional trading, is particularly representative of the fleet of coasters that was the basis of the sea transport economy in the various ‘Mediterraneans’, as in the inspired phrase of the French historian Fernand Braudel, “… la Méditerranée, plus qu’une masse maritime unique, est un complexe de mers’’ (Braudel 1966, p. 21). As such, it represents an important archaeological research laboratory for investigating the history of Mediterranean naval architecture, and will be the subject of at least one new excavation campaign in 2019.


Thanks to Deborah Cvikel, University of Haifa, for proofreading the translation.

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Braudel F.
1966 La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II, Paris, Armand Colin (2nd ed.).

Batchvarov K.
2014 “The Hull Remains of a Post Medieval Black Sea Merchantman from Kitten, Bulgaria,” IJNA 43.2, p. 397–412.

Fourquin N., Rigaud Ph.
1993 De la nave au pointu. Glossaire nautique de la langue d’oc (Provence, Languedoc). Des origines à nos jours, Saint-Tropez / Toulon, Objectif mer.

Fozzati L. (ed.)
2002 “La galea,” in L. Fozzati (ed.), La galea ritrovata. Origine delle cose di Venezia, Venise, Consorzio Venezia Nuova.

Oertling T.
2001 “The concept of the Atlantic Vessel,” in F. Alves (ed.), Proceedings of the International Symposium of the Archaeology of Medieval and Modern Ships of Iberian Atlantic Tradition, Lisbon, IPA, p. 213–228.

Oertling T.
M. Hocker, C. A. Ward (eds), The Philosophy of Shipbuilding, College Station, Texas A&M University Press, p. 129–136.

Rieth E.
1996 Le maître-gabarit, la tablette et le trébuchet. Essai sur la conception non-graphique des carènes du Moyen-Age au xxe siècle, Paris, CTHS.

Rieth E.
Forthcoming, Typology of the Mediterranean master-frame.

Rieth E., Pujol i Hamelink M.
1998 “L’arquitectura naval,” in H. Palou, E. Rieth, M. Izaguirre et al., Excavacions arqueològiques subaquàtiques a Cala Culip.2, Culip VI, Monografies del CASC 1, Girona, Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya-CASC, p. 115–189.

Zupko R. E.
1981 Italian Weights and Measures from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society.

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1  In addition to the two authors of the article, the archaeological team is composed of H. Botcazou (AMU/LA3M-Ipso Facto), B. Debrand (Ipso Facto), S. Greck (Ipso Facto), D. Peloso (Ipso Facto), S. Legrand (DRASSM), L. Roux (CNRS/CCJ), A. Sabastia (AMU/CCJ). M. El Amouri (Ipso Facto), K. Baika (AMU/CCJ). S. Marlier (Musée départemental d’Arles Antique) also participated in the first campaign in 2016. Only MoMArch Master’s students, up to a maximum of eight people, can participate in the field school excavation.

2  The excavation of the Paragan wreck is financed by the AMidex* Foundation of Aix Marseille University and by DRASSM, with the collaboration of the municipality of Bonifacio. The Natural Reserve of the Strait of Bonifacio has provided valuable help by providing a boat and the personnel necessary for transporting the material to the archaeological site.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Geographical location of the wreck in Paragan Bay near Bonifacio, Corsica
Crédits (drawing F. Cibecchini, DRASSM)
Fichier image/jpeg, 199k
Titre Fig. 2: The three areas of excavation 2016‑2018
Crédits (photographs L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ; orthophotography D. Peloso, Ipso Facto)
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,0M
Titre Fig. 3: The area of the two master frames
Crédits (photographs L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ; orthophotography D. Peloso, Ipso Facto; drawing H. Botcazou, CNRS/LA3M, Ipso Facto)
Fichier image/jpeg, 570k
Titre Fig. 4: The transverse sections of the wreck
Crédits (drawing S. Greck, Ipso Facto, H. Botcazou, AMU/LA3M, Ipso Facto)
Fichier image/jpeg, 531k
Titre Fig. 5: The mast step
Crédits (photograph L. Roux, CNRS/CCJ)
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,2M
Titre Fig. 6: The lower element of the stem and the false stem with the draught marks engraved in the wood
Crédits (drawing H. Botcazou, AMU/LA3M, Ipso Facto, A. Sabastia AMU/CCJ)
Fichier image/jpeg, 135k
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Eric Rieth et Franca Cibecchini, « The Paragan 1 shipwreck, Corsica: a 17th–18th century coaster »Archaeonautica, 21 | 2021, 181-186.

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Eric Rieth et Franca Cibecchini, « The Paragan 1 shipwreck, Corsica: a 17th–18th century coaster »Archaeonautica [En ligne], 21 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 06 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Eric Rieth

LAMOP - Laboratoire de Médiévistique Occidentale de Paris

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Franca Cibecchini


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