17th century ship to be freeze-dried, rebuilt
By Michael Graczyk
Published: 8:47 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012
BRYAN — Like the French explorer Robert de La Salle, whose ship sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 1685, researchers at Texas A&M University are in uncharted waters as they try to reconstruct his vessel with a gigantic freeze-dryer the first undertaking of its size.
By placing the ship, La Belle, in a constant environment as cold as 60 degrees below zero, more than 300 years of moisture will be safely removed from hundreds of European oak and pine timbers and planks. The freeze-dryer, located at the old Bryan Air Force base several miles northwest of College Station, is 40 feet long and 8 feet wide — the biggest such machine on the continent devoted to archaeology. Researchers will rebuild the 54½-foot vessel, which will become the centerpiece of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
From a historical perspective, it's "an icon of a small event that dramatically changed the course of Texas history," said Jim Bruseth, who led the Texas Historical Commission effort to recover the remains.
The supply ship, which carried France's hopes of colonizing a vast piece of the New World, was built in 1684 and sank two years later in a storm on Matagorda Bay.