La Belle was one of Robert de La Salle's four ships. She sank during a storm in 1685, and for over three centuries the wreckage of La Belle lay forgotten until it was discovered by a team of state archaeologists in 1995.
Archeologists used a novel technique to excavate the shipwreck. A large, steel doughnut-shaped structure called a cofferdam was built around the ship so seawater could be pumped out. They could then work in relatively dry conditions to recover the ship and her contents and precisely map artifacts as they were discovered.
The bottom 40 percent of the Belle and its contents were remarkably well preserved. Organic remains such as rope, cloth, bone, wood — and even insect parts — were in good condition. The reason? The mud covering the bottom of the ship created an environment in which bacteria could not flourish.
To date, more than one million artifacts from the Belle have been conserved and catalogued, and many of these objects are now on display in the following museums.