July 27, 2013
Two More Ships Found While Exploring 19th-Century Shipwreck
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
While excavating one of the deepest shipwrecks in US waters, researchers discovered two other ships sitting amongst the wreckage.The Ocean Exploration Trust's Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus helped researchers discover two more ships while investigating an early 19th century wooden shipwreck that was first explored by the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer last year. The Shell Oil Company initially discovered the wreck about 170 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas in 2011 while surveying potential drilling sites.
The "Monterey Shipwreck," which sits 4,300 feet underneath the ocean's surface, is the deepest wreck currently under excavation in US waters. The initial target for the team was a copper sailing vessel, but after several days of exploring the team investigated two additional targets less than five miles away.
According to a report by National Geographic (NatGeo), all three of the ships are well-preserved, including anchors, eyeglasses, leather-bound books, muskets and cannons.
James Delgado, director of maritime heritage with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Marine Sanctuaries, told NatGeo they believe all the ships were sailing together, as they found the same kinds of bottles and navigation tools in the same area. He said it is likely all three vessels fell to Davy Jones' Locker at the same time.
"For now, there's lot of conjecture, lots of hypotheses," Jim Delgado, the director of the Maritime Heritage Program for NOAA, told reporters during a Thursday news conference. "We may have answered some questions, but we have a large number of new questions. But that's archaeology."
All of the vessels most likely went down during the first two decades of the 1800s, which was a time when Spain was losing its grip. Mexico and Texas were becoming independent and the US was beginning to stake its claim in the Gulf. The researchers believe two of the ships were privateers, or armed ships governments would hire. The third ship contained hides and large bricks, suggesting it could have been a prize ship seized by the privateers.
The researchers believe each ship could have been carrying 50 to 60 men, none of whom would have survived. They believe these men did not survive because the team discovered navigational tools they wouldn't have left behind in an attempt to stay alive, such as telescopes.
The expedition team discovered what could be the ship's logbook, which the team left behind because it was too fragile to take up at this time. They did take a slate they found back up to the surface, which would have held the ship's last commands and movements before it went down.
"The most complex artifacts are the muskets," Amy Borgens, state marine archeologist for Texas, told NatGeo. "The muskets are made of wood, they have iron barrels and brass fittings, and each of those are treated separately in conservation."
The expedition has partnered with a nonprofit educational organization called ExploreOcean to develop school curricula based on their findings.
"The photo mosaic maps of all three wrecks are to a new standard never before seen in US maritime deep water archeology," Delgado told NatGeo. "In the words of a longtime colleague, deep water archeology in the Gulf will never be the same."
Overall, the team was able to recover more than 60 artifacts from the initial shipwreck site, including ceramic cups and dishes, liquor bottles, clothing and even a toothbrush. The researchers were not allowed to retrieve artifacts from the two new sites under the terms of their agreement to examine the initial one. However, they were able to take thousands of photos and closely examine the wreckage using remote-controlled machines.
Shipwrecks can yield all kinds of interesting findings. One shipwreck discovered in 2010 has even lead researchers to recreate a beer found amongst the wreckage from the mid-1800s. Scientists believe this beer would have had hints of rose, almond and clove. This same shipwreck also housed the world's oldest drinkable champagne.